This is the second scene inspired by my recent play of the Project AHO plot in my Kendeshel Skyrim playthrough. Events here are specifically inspired by running the main Skyrim plot The Blessings of Nature, and doing the version of it where I agree to let Maurice Jondrelle accompany me to the Eldergleam Sanctuary.
But on the way through Mixwater Mill again, I spotted the same character whose encounter with you sparks off the Project AHO plot–now back in the very same place.
And suffice to say, my Dragonborn had some opinions about this. So this scene is the result. It’s more detailed than the game allowed me to play, but it is my official headcanon for how seeing that character again went. And I’m also accounting for Kendeshel’s mindset in the aftermath of Project AHO’s events, and how that ties in with my ongoing play of Legacy of the Dragonborn, too.
So here we go, a fic called “Repentance and Resolve”. 4,272 words. The playthrough post this goes will be my next official Kendeshel post!
I had to admit, I was not pleased about the prospect of going back into Eastmarch on the way to find the Eldergleam Sanctuary. But I didn’t see a way around it. The pilgrim Maurice had begged me to let him come with me. And the man was a pilgrim, not a fighter. He wore no armor and carried no weapons. If he tried to go to the Sanctuary by himself, I told myself, he’d probably get eaten by bears. Or robbed and left for dead by bandits.
Or, worse, found by Sadrith Kegran.
And even though Maurice Jondrelle seemed like an arrogant bastard–he had, after all, chastised a priestess of Kynareth in her own temple–nobody, not even him, deserved to be captured as a slave.
I was better prepared now. Better armed, better armored, and with a few more Shouts to bolster my growing power as the Dragonborn. Lydia, too, was prepared. Almost too much, truth be told; I could barely convince her to let me out of her sight long enough to let me sleep.
On the other hand, having my housecarl setting her jaw and standing guard over me, with fire in her eyes for anyone who made a move in my direction she didn’t like, was a comfort.
We were still only two women, though, armed and armored though we were. We’d been three, when Shaglak and his men had taken me before. And so before any of us left Whiterun in search of the Eldergleam, I swallowed my pride. Last time I’d left the museum, Auryen had handed me a large bag of gold and insisted I use it to hire additional protection if I had to go through Eastmarch for any reason whatsoever. I took the money he’d given me, went to Jorrvaskr, and asked the Companions if they could spare three of their number to escort us to the Eldergleam Sanctuary and back again.
I don’t know if it was the power of my being Dragonborn, my position as thane in Whiterun, or the size of Auryen’s purse that made the Companions immediately take my contract. Maybe all three of them at once. Three of them signed up for the escort: two brothers, Vilkas and Farkas, and a fierce-eyed woman in warpaint and armor that looked even older than Whiterun itself. Her name, she told me, was Aela.
And she was the one who gave me a measuring look, when I offered Jorrvaskr Auryen’s gold.
“You look strong,” she said. “So does your housecarl, Dragonborn. You killed a dragon right on Jorrvaskr’s very steps. Why do you need the Companions’ aid?”
“You are strong,” Farkas added. He sounded admiring. “You can kill a dragon. You should be one of us. Be a Companion.”
I smiled a little. Farkas, for all his size, had an innocent candor to him that I couldn’t help but like a little. And on the strength of that, I admitted, “I’m still growing as a warrior, and not too proud to know that even a strong fighter can be overcome. It has…” I paused, considering my words, and hoped my voice didn’t grow too obviously rough as I went on, “It has happened to me. I’d prefer it doesn’t happen again. Especially while Maurice Jondrelle travels with me and my housecarl. He’s not any kind of fighter at all, and I’d like help making sure he, Lydia, and I all make it safely to the Eldergleam Sanctuary.”
Vilkas raised dark eyebrows, looking thoughtful, and then finally inclined his head. “You act for the temple of Kynareth; this is good. The Companions will be pleased to give you escort, Dragonborn.”
But I still wasn’t done gathering my group. Auryen’s money covered the Companions. I had enough of my own funds, however, to go to the Dunmer Jenassa, who’d guarded me at Bleak Falls Barrow. She looked pleased the instant I offered to hire her–and then offended, when I admitted why.
“There are reasons I left Morrowind,” she told me, her tone turning dark. “And the slaving ways of the Great Houses are very high among them. If some of my people abused you and others, I will not take your money for this. It will be a point of honor and pride for me to aid you for free.”
“I’m not comfortable with paying you nothing,” I said. “At least let me cover your provisions. Or buy you your choice of new weapons from Warmaiden’s.”
Jenassa grinned at this. “Adrianne does have a matched pair of daggers I’ve had my eye on.”
“Come with us, and those daggers are yours.”
And so we set out.
Most of the ride was uneventful. Maurice and I kept to the middle, while Lydia, Jenassa, and the Companions flanked us on both sides. The strange rolling Dwemer machine I’d discovered in the depths of Bkhalzarf clattered along with us, its chirps and warbles as cheerful as birdsong. I’d started calling it Snippy, though I had yet to see it display any of the wickedly sharp slicing implements many of its brethren in Bkhalzarf had wielded. A charm against it ever turning dangerous, maybe. I didn’t know.
All of my temporary compatriots were astonished by the thing, and kept peppering me with questions about it as we proceeded along the road. I answered them as best I could, while grudgingly measuring how much I could tell them against the pledge I’d made to Marisa Verendas to not directly reveal her town’s presence to the rest of Skyrim. Yes, it was a Dwemer machine. Yes, I’d found it in a ruin. Yes, it was friendly, and I hadn’t figured out all the things it could do yet, I was sure.
Nothing more worrisome than two wolves and a sabre cat challenged us, which we swiftly dispatched. And Maurice, for all his arrogance, was smart enough to take cover when those creatures attacked us. He murmured prayers to Kynareth as we took down the beasts, who must have been hungry indeed to charge at an armed group as large as ours, and made himself useful after by cleanly skinning the sabre cat and burying what parts of the remains we couldn’t use ourselves.
Which, admittedly, wasn’t much. We made a quick camp just shy of the Valtheim Towers while Maurice did his work, and the Companions roasted most of the cat’s corpse. All three of them had appetites as large as their weapons, and while the rest of us helped, they did most of the work of reducing it to bones within a couple of hours of slaying it. “The big cats make great eating,” Farkas told me happily. “They’re best as soon as you hunt them.”
The wolves, on the other hand, the Companions handled themselves. With a reverence almost matching Maurice’s for the Gildergreen, striking for a woman the people of Whiterun had nicknamed the Huntress, Aela took over burying the first of the two dead wolves. “Some of us in Jorrvaskr revere the wolf,” she said, when I asked her about it. “It is strongest when it hunts together with its pack, as we do.”
“It’s why we honor the wolf in our armor,” said Vilkas, gesturing at the helmet he wore. “And we will not eat of a wolf, even if one tries to hunt us. It would be like eating one of our own.”
“We’ll be ready to continue soon enough, Dragonborn, if you will but let us take the time to honor these two wolves before we go,” Aela said, as she passed her shovel to Vilkas to let him attend to the second fallen beast.
I wasn’t eager about this. Our group was large, but we were also slow, as the only horse amongst us was my Heidrun. And while night hadn’t fallen yet, the sun had dropped low enough in the sky by the time we were on the move again that I knew it’d be dark by the time we made it into Eastmarch. But it seemed ill-mannered to push the Companions to go faster, even though I’d bought their time and their weapons with Auryen’s coin. I couldn’t help but think that I needed them more than they needed me. Never mind that I was the Dragonborn.
Still, we were six fighters strong, twice as many as when Delphine had tried to lead me to Kynesgrove. It was going to have to be enough. It would be, I told myself as we followed the road eastward–the same path Delphine had taken, since that was our best and safest route.
If bandits were still taking refuge in Valtheim Towers, none of them challenged us as we went by. A rough-featured Nord woman was out tending the cooking pot–but she took one look at us and ran into the tower. No one shouted us from above, or tried to pepper us with arrows.
Lydia chuckled as she strode along beside Heidrun. “Bandits are cowards,” she said. Loudly, while we were still within range of the tower’s open door.
“These ones seem a little smarter than most,” I answered, then raised my voice to call back over my shoulder. “And if they’re really smart, they won’t be there when we come back!”
We kept going, unchallenged. I forced myself to keep that confident air as I rode, surrounded by the little force I’d assembled. Yet fear and fury I still hadn’t managed to dispel skittered along my nerves the closer we got to Mixwater Mill.
Especially when we drew within range of the place and I spotted a familiar figure in a red robe, standing out in plain sight. Right where he’d been when he’d stopped me the first time.
“My thane,” Lydia barked urgently, her gauntleted hand shooting to the hilt of the greatsword at her back. Taking their cue from my housecarl, the Companions did likewise.
“What’s wrong?” cried Maurice, looking between us all in dismay, even as Jenassa pointedly moved him behind her.
“I see him,” I said to Lydia. To the others, I added, “Be ready. If anything comes near us with blade, bow, or magic, kill it.”
The fear and fury stabbed at me, and I fought them off by latching my thoughts hard onto the Words of Power I’d come to learn. FUS. RO. DAH. I knew all of Unrelenting Force now. And with it, other Shouts that could turn my breath to flame like any dragon’s, lend additional speed and strength to the weapons of my companions, or turn my body ethereal so that harm passed right through me.
And there was Whirlwind Sprint, the other Shout the Greybeards had taught me. That one was the one that burst out of me as I leapt off Heidrun’s back. Fury overrode fear now in me, both at the consul who’d not even once shown the slightest sign of remorse for her town’s shattering the lives of their slaves, and at the Orc before me now. Who claimed to love Marisa Verendas as a mother.
He had barely enough time for his eyes to go wide before I reached him, and had my Dwemer-made sword at his throat. With my left hand, I pressed the bone dagger I’d bought from Tamina Elenil into his gut. I’d sliced bark from Tel And with it. And if Shaglak made the slightest move, I was ready to use it again to pierce out his entrails.
“It’s you,” he gasped, his voice hoarse. “Why… hello. Wh-what are you doing here?”
“Hello, Shaglak. I would very, very much like to know the same thing of you. You remember how we went drinking, and you told me afterwards how terrible certain things you’d been doing were making you feel?”
The Orc had no obvious weapons on him, unless he had something stashed underneath the folds of his robe. But then, he hadn’t been obviously armed when he’d caught me the first time. He’d relied on others, hiding nearby.
This time, though, I had five armed warriors with me. All of whom now scanned every bit of foliage that surrounded us, along with every shadow around the mill and its neighboring buildings. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Aela advancing, her bow out, with an expression turned positively feral. Her bow sang. And somewhere overhead, in one of the nearby trees, someone yelped in pain. A body fell, clattering onto the cobblestones of the road.
Vilkas and Farkas, likewise, charged forth at another angle. Their swords clanged–and then one struck home somewhere just behind me, with a bone-shattering crunch. Probably taking off a head.
What Jenassa was doing, I couldn’t tell. But I knew from Bleak Falls Barrow that she was swift, silent, and lethal. Someone else screamed, somewhere just off to my right, where none of the Companions had targeted.
I didn’t turn to look. I kept my sword in place and my eyes locked on the face of the increasingly nervous-looking Shaglak.
“Of course I do,” he rasped.
I let a rumble of thunder come into my reply. “Good. Because I must say, your being out here again in that very same red robe looks damned suspicious to me. Out of curiosity, did you hear from your adoptive mother that I am, in fact, the Dovahkiin?”
Sweat started beading along Shaglak’s green brow. “Yeah. Sh-she said something about that.”
“How nice. Then you’ll understand the implications when I say I am now watching over this place. I have some friends in high places who are also watching over this place. And what do I find but signs that you are pulling the exact same trap that you did on me? I take this extremely personally.”
I heard Lydia yell, along with Snippy, Maurice and my horse–and that made me risk looking over my shoulder. Snippy had begun emitting a metallic wail of alarm, rolling in circles all around Lydia and Maurice, and spinning out of the way at the last moment towards me. Heidrun screamed in fury, while Lydia bellowed a battle cry, swinging her greatsword at someone and knocking them to the ground. Heidrun reared–and when her hooves came down, they landed squarely on the skull of Lydia’s opponent. Maurice, at least, still looked entirely unharmed. But he also looked like he was about to be ill.
“We’ve got them all, Dragonborn,” Aela called then, pointing now at Shaglak. “I don’t smell anyone else near us. Nobody else except for him.”
One corner of the back of my mind twigged on how she put that, but I didn’t have time to ponder its meaning. I refocused on the big Orc in front of me. Pressing my sword a little further against his neck, I added, “Do I need to emphasize exactly how personally I’m taking this?”
“I got the idea,” Shaglak croaked.
Now at my side, Snippy click-chirruped. It sounded dubious, for which I could not fault it.
“I have three Companions, a mercenary, and my housecarl with me, all of whom are very angry. Would you like me to bring the rest of the Companions back here?” And as Shaglak frantically shook his head, I went on, “How about the Empire? My friends in high places can get word to General Tullius about what your town has been doing here. Do you think Tullius would take kindly to that news at all? Before you answer that, let me remind you, slavery is illegal in the Empire. Think very, very hard about how badly the Empire will take it if they find out your town, established in secret in Imperial territory, has been abducting Imperial citizens.”
“Oh gods. No. You can’t tell the Empire about us! Don’t let them kill Lady Verendas! Please!”
Shaglak sounded both horrified and terrified now. And heartsick.
And, damn it all, sincere. Behind the panic in his face, I saw the same remorse he’d shown me in the inn in Sadrith Kegran. There, it’d been unveiled by strong drink.
Here and now, it was revealed by the edge of my sword. And that sign of remorse in his face was the only thing that kept me from pressing my weapons any deeper into his flesh.
“Then convince me I don’t have reason to,” I growled. “I told your precious mother that the only way I’d let your town stay hidden is if you stopped taking any further slaves. Period. You need a new line of work, and you need it now.”
“But I can’t defy–“
“The hell you can’t. If you want to live, then you’ll march right back to your Oblivion pit of a town and tell your lady mother you’re done.”
Around me, the others drew nearer, listening. Jenassa reached me first, the ebony daggers I’d bought from Warmaiden’s for her two slivers of darkness in her hands. Since I had Shaglak covered from the front, she moved to his rear, fast enough that he had no time to spot her before the points of both her daggers found the small of his back.
The Companions held themselves in readiness, all three of them with lupine glints in their eyes. Aela’s bow was ready again, an arrow poised to fly. On either of side of her, the brothers from Jorrvaskr held their blades ready to strike. Vilkas carried a shield with his one-handed blade. His brother, by contrast, held a greatsword even bigger than Lydia’s, the greatsword that had probably caused the crunch of bone I’d just heard.
Lydia for her part planted herself firmly at my side. And since she was wearing the Daedric plate armor I’d claimed for her from the bandits at Knifepoint Ridge, the sight of her helmet alone seemed enough to provoke a little rattle of dismay out of the Orc.
Even Maurice joined us, his earlier terror now subsiding. “It’s never too late to listen for Kynareth’s winds,” he said. “She will send you her songs of grace, if you only open your ears to listen.”
Shaglak was visibly sweating now, and moreover, his dark eyes had gone damp. He blinked at Maurice, dewily, and I realized that the big Orc was crying. “She’d never forgive me,” he rasped. He didn’t specify who, but I suspected all at once that he wasn’t speaking of Kynareth. “But you, Dragonborn… you said you would. Back at the inn. I remember.”
I paused, not liking that my grip slackened a little on my sword hilt without my entirely willing it, but keeping both my blades steady nonetheless. To be frank, I did not recall everything I’d said to this Orc while we’d drunk together. I’d put down far more ale and beer than I’d ever swallowed in one night in my life, and there was still a gap between what I last remembered of the two of us in the Chitin and Flin, and when I’d awoken later underneath the greenery in the Sadrith Kegran farm.
But damned if his claim didn’t feel somehow right.
‘You said you’d forgive me,” Shaglak repeated, plaintive now, almost crushed.
With that, finally, I lowered my weapons. None of the others did likewise, not quite yet. They were all waiting for a confirmation from me, I knew. Even Snippy, who trilled uncertainly.
“You owe penance to much bigger powers than me,” I said. “If you can’t go back to Sadrith Kegran–“
“Lady Verendas would have the Morag Tong gut me if I defied her orders!”
“Then this is your other option. You seem to like that robe, so I strongly suggest you make it a permanent change to your wardrobe. Go straight to Solitude and present yourself to the Temple of the Divines.”
Shaglak’s brow crinkled. “You think I should be a priest?”
“If you want my forgiveness, then go. Now. Tell the Temple of the Divines you are there to do penance, and then do anything they tell you to begin to make your reparations to the people of Skyrim. If they tell you to take holy vows, you take them. If they ask you to clean every floor in Solitude with a single wet rag and a cup of water, you make that water last until those floors are spotless. If they ask you to feed the poor, you will give them every scrap of food you have. If they tell you to join the Imperial Legion and raise a sword in the Emperor’s name, you will commit yourself to the fight.”
“B-but I can’t–“
“I said anything. I will be back in Solitude in five days, and I will check with the Temple. If you’re not there, I will then come back here, because I’ll have to assume you’ve lied about your desire to repent. I will return to Sadrith Kegran and will personally drag your mother, kicking and screaming, out to face the Empire’s justice. And if I find you again here, we will have a very different conversation.”
“With battleaxes,” Lydia put in, her voice hard. And far less forgiving than even my own.
“And daggers,” said Jenassa. “Give me an excuse, Orc, and the next blood my new daggers will taste will be yours.”
Shaglak visibly sagged, his shoulders slumping, while his head bobbed up and down. “Right. All right. Now that you mention it, Dragonborn, I-I think I feel some holy calling coming on. Yeah, that’s it. Stendarr. Stendarr’s good. I’ll go with some nice merciful Stendarr.”
“Good call. Now get out of my sight.”
He straightened up a little then, just enough to seek my eyes. “Are you going to forgive me?”
“Forgiveness starts when I see you in Solitude, and not a minute sooner. Go.”
Shaglak fled, and only then did my party stand down. As he bolted northward along the road, Aela and Farkas watched him go, with stances that reminded me again, eerily, of wild creatures tracking running prey. Maurice likewise watched him leave, but with the haughtiness he’d shown to Danica Pure-Spring still absent, still replaced for the moment with a sad kind of compassion. And rolling slowly around us all, Snippy let out a warble that sounded like curious hope.
Vilkas, however, turned to me. “I could track him for you, Dragonborn,” he offered. “Make sure he actually reaches the temple in Solitude, as you’ve bidden.”
I studied him. “I can’t say no to that, but it’s not what I paid you for,” I said.
“My brother and Aela must speak for themselves in this, but I for one will give you this for free, outside the terms of our contract,” Vilkas answered, with a lopsided grin. His expression was still sharp, his wolf-pale eyes shining just a little in the light of the torch Lydia lit as the day grew darker around us. But the grin, at least, made him almost handsome. “I think it would be wise to make sure the Orc does not disgrace Stendarr’s mercy. Or yours.”
“Wherever my brother goes, I go,” Farkas said staunchly.
Sheathing the daggers I’d bought her, Jenassa said, “I stay with you, Kendeshel. As I said before: a point of honor.”
Aela stepped closer to me. “You paid us to protect you, so if Vilkas and Farkas want to pursue the Orc, I will remain with you. You did after all want us to make sure you reached the Eldergleam safely. At least one of us must stay to fulfill the terms of the contract.”
That was a relief and no mistake, and I offered both women what felt like my first honest smile in days. “Thank you. Oddly enough I feel like we won’t have any further trouble–but it would be stupid not to make sure. And Aela, if you’d be willing to take the time, I’d appreciate any tips you can give me about the bow. I meant it when I said I’m still growing in my strength. I still have much to learn, and if I can learn it from a seasoned warrior, all the better.”
The other woman flashed me a broad smile in reply. “Good. I would be pleased to teach you. And if I can convince you to join us at Jorrvaskr when we return to Whiterun, I’ll call it time well spent.”
With that, once Vilkas and Farkas loped off into the twilight on Shaglak’s trail, those of us that were left made camp by the river. I took the time to knock on the door of the mill and call out to identify myself and my companions, and to my relief, I heard glad replies from within. The people of Mixwater Mill had heard our fight with Shaglak and his band, and were overjoyed to know that the danger was passed. They offered us food and wine, and water and oats for my horse, which I gratefully accepted.
As Lydia took the first watch, Maurice fell asleep the instant he stretched out upon his bedroll. I couldn’t sleep, not quite yet. Instead, I stared for a while into the flickering light of our campfire, mulling the invitation the Companions had given me.
I’d spoken the truth; I didn’t want to ever be caught by surprise again, by slavers or by anyone else. Which meant I did indeed have much more to learn, not only about my gifts as a Dragonborn, but about how to defend myself. And how to fight for the people of Skyrim, and for any warrior who stood at my side.
And the Companions, the most renowned warriors in Whiterun, seemed like an excellent place to start.