Based on the characters by Bethesda, Emma and Grumpy, and the terrain by Teutonic
With notable nods to items by soticoto, antiscamp, Fandorn Delavie, and Bad Karma
And others I’m sure.
The ground was course underfoot, and betrayed each step taken. Flattening against the wall, the sounds of the ash zombie’s ragged breathing competed with the sounds of the rumbling volcano. Heat…far worse than a Seyda Neen summer day whipped his face, worsened by the smell of sulfur and death. An ashen gray arm groped the darkness, nearing his face, which was blended with the jagged rock walls. Chameleon spells, one must love them.
A head appeared, the face of nightmares. Grey as the Dunmer it was once, its Elven heritage only visible in the ears that remained on its head. The eyes and nose, once of use to it now scooped away. All that remained was a gaping hole of darkness, the faintest hint of reflecting light off of the back of its empty skull.
Taking a step, his foot landing on the traitorous soft rock that crumbled loudly, gave his position away. Its head snapped to the sound. Its arms rising with crooked fingers and broken nails, it opened its wet drooling mouth in alarm.
No time! No time! He thought.
Lunging, the blade’s enchanted glow bathing its face in moving light soon replaced the smoke and flames of the fire that ignited its flesh. Howls of pain and fury echoed along the cave walls, soon to be cut short by the arc of the glass sword in his hand.
“Ewwwyyuuhh” it spoke, a stranger sound than remembered.
“Ewwwyyuuhh” he heard again, this time followed by the wet sound of a bucket filling.
Dandowin snapped awake, his skin awash in sweat from the nightmare.
“Ewwwyyuuhh”, the sound again, followed by the coughs and spits of someone vomiting. It was then he noticed he was alone. The wolf pelts pulled back to his feet, crumpled in a tangle of fur and linen. The dying flames of the crackling fireplace cast dancing shadows on the wall dimly lighted the room.
He searched the room, its play of lights and smells of firewood and sweaty furs hitting him as his vision cleared of sleep. There, off to the corner, the source of the sound. The familiar warmth spread in his heart, as his eyes settled on the shapely feet that sat beneath a curvy backside. Broad shoulders ending in a tousled mane of silver-white hair, which bobbed up and down over an open bucket.
Lifting from the bed, the cool of the floor sent a chill that went straight to his spine. Kneeling to her side, he asked with concern:
“Are you okay?”
Laurenna raised her head, affixing her bloodshot crystal blue eyes on Dandowin. She cocked an eyebrow, which in one movement said “How could you be Nerevarine and be this dense?”
Turning to vomit again, her poor shoulders shuddered with the effort. Dandowin placed a hand upon her cool shoulder, a feeling of helplessness welling. Caring for loved ones are never as easy as fighting.
“I told Sonja that Vvardenfell mudcrab meat won’t keep from the long voyage. The soup was a bit off.”
She raised her head from the bucket, and gave him a knowing look that was both amused and slightly pitiful.
“I’m not sick you dope…I’m pregnant!”
Dandowin fell back on his backside. Mind racing, all he could do was sputter…”Pregnant? But, How?”
Laurenna shifted, her legs to her side, the fireplace light now replaced by the cool gray of an early Lokken morning. Reaching up, she grabbed a mead tankard from the nearby table. Taking a mouthful, she swirled and gargled, spitting in into the bucket she leaned on. Smiling weakly, she looked at Dandowin. All he could think was how beautiful she is even now, hair tousled and face flushed. She stretched a leg to his now parted ones, running a now warm foot along one of his bare calves. The look upon her face glowed with pure naughty remembrance.
Dandowin moved to her, and scooped her into his arms. Nearly as tall as he, taller with her wig on occasion, he drew her tightly. She sighed a throaty “Mmmmmm” as she then moved to sit upon the bed. He moved to join her but she put up a hand and stopped him.
“Nuh-unh, my love. You’ve got to tell the news to Sigrid.”
Sigrid. Mother-in-law. The true Ruler of Lokken, by all accounts. Dandowin mused to himself how to approach the subject. Searching the room for his leggings, he found them at his feet and pulled them on. Fastening them with his long leather belt, he turned this way and that looking for his tunic. He turned back around and was smacked in the face by his crumpled tunic, by a now giggling Laurenna. It was times such as these, when he looked at her in the early morning light that he felt he was truly blessed. She was beautiful, far too beautiful for the likes of he, he though to himself. Now dressed, he closed the distance between them to kiss her. Nuzzling her silver-white hair under his chin, he breathed in her scent and held her tightly. The room, now all aglow with morning light told him that it was probably a good time since everyone should be awake now.
As he turned to leave her, she held him fast with an iron grip and said, “Take the bucket.”
Just outside the door the castle was already busy with the usual daily milling about. Guards shouldered past, some giving him a hard slap on the back as they laughed openly. As Nords go, Dandowin was hardly the largest or tallest. Many times he would joke with them at the Main Hall during his earlier days in Lokken that he was “built for speed, not punishment.” This caused much raucous laughter from regulars such as Rolf Klang and Didrik. More times than he could remember, also the spewing of mead in laughter.
It was in the memory of such times that distracted him from noticing the outstretched Snow wolf skin boot in front of him. He caught it in the sweeping of his right foot, spilling forward bucket still in hand. Landing hard on his stomach with no guards about, it was then a great weight landed on his back. Before he could right himself, a silver Nordic dagger immediately went to his throat lifting his head. A voice, chill and filled with memorable mischief, chided evenly, “Well Nerevarine, what are you going to do now?”
Dandowin froze, shoving the bucket from his hands he stiffened, smiling wryly, he uttered, “What can a simple hero do?” In that instant, he arched his back up, slipping a few fingers under the attacker’s wrist. When they were airborne he twisted, grabbing the knife as the attacker came down hard on his stomach. He let out a great “Oomph!” as he moved his arms up and grabbed the attacker’s waist, hands knitted in their brown tunic. With a firm grip he dug his fingers in and started tickling as hard and fast as he could.
“Quit it!” Solveig bellowed as she laughed and giggled, turning this way and that, trying desperately to break free from Dandowin’s grasp. He continued, chuckling, ”Yes…what can a simple hero do?”
They sat there a moment, breathing heavy and chuckling still. The hall was empty but the sounds of the castle activity were everywhere. It had only been the better part of a year since he was first sent to pick up the children for Sigrid. He looked at her now, a few inches taller and a few pounds heavier. Sonja’s good food is agreeing with her. You could see easily that, like Laurenna, she was going to grow up as beautiful as she was skillful. Still holding on to her, he stood up, shifted her weight, and started to walk when Solveig tapped him on the shoulder and said…”The Bucket?” He put her down and she snatched it to take a look. She immediately grimaced followed by an “Ewwwwww”, shoving the bucket back into his hands.
Handing her back her blade, she sheathed it and took his free hand, swinging it back and forth as she hummed. They were just about to Sigrid’s door when she stopped and pulled him face to face. The serious look she gave confused him, sad, with that unmistakable line of worry between her eyebrows. “You’re not going to send me away just because Laurenna’s having a baby are you?” Her face still serious, now held the welling of her tears in the corner of her eyes.
The question stung. Not caring to even wonder how she knew, he just reached out and grabbed her close, lifting her straight off the ground. “Never.” he choked, “Never!” Solveig hugged him so tight his neck snapped in response. She struggled free, wadding her tunic sleeve in her hand to wipe away her tears. “I love you, Dandowin, Laurenna too.” Wiping his own tears away, he bent, kissed her forehead and said, “We love you too, sweetie; we love you too.” She opened the door, but stepped aside. Puzzled, he turned to see her take the bucket and wink, sniffle, skipping away to breakfast.
Sigrid. By Azura, how was he going to approach the subject? After all, she was the one who talked of babies first. But with Lena and Solveig here, would another one be too much? Pushing the door wider he marveled at Sigrid’s room. It would seem she was prepared for everything. Off to one side, he heard the lilting tones of a playing Lena. She looked up with her now longer silver/white hair about her shoulders, the eyes wide and only outshined by her very toothy smile. He noticed she was missing one. “Dandowin!!” she screamed joyously, running and jumping into his arms. “Mmmmmwahh!!” she kissed his cheek, smiling wide as she pointed at her missing tooth with her tongue. “Look, I lost a tooth! I’m a big girl now!”
“You certainly are!” he chuckled, lifting her over his head as she giggled gleefully. Dandowin looked to Sigrid who was busy mixing one liquid with another, her brow knitted into a stern look of concentration. She pinched some dried yellow petals; the aroma from them filled the well-lit room with their sweet floral scent.
Clearing his throat, he set Lena down and moved slowly to Sigrid. “Sigrid?” he started to say, but was cut off by the sight of her single finger, raised as her back was to him. Her long silver hair seemed as disciplined as the movements she made. Deliberate, knowing, and precise. He was about to speak again when she turned abruptly, smiled, and thrust a full spoon into his now parted mouth.
“Swallow this Dandowin dear.” She said as she tilted the spoon handle upward, spilling the contents of the elixir into his mouth. All at once his tongue tingled and his eyes watered. He was about to spit it out, when she pinched his now tingling nose and gave him a wink. When he regained his composure, she replaced her thumb and forefinger with a peck on his nose. “How are you dear?”
“*Cough* just fine Sigrid…what was that?”
“Just a tonic to help you stay healthy, dear, since you have some traveling to do.”
“Yes dear. You’ll have to go to the mainland and get a cradle. Then I have a list of some items as well as lists from Sonja, Granny Torunn, and the Klangs.”
“A cradle? Then you um… know that she um…”
“Oh Dandowin” she smiled, putting down her tools and walking to him. She put both hands to his cheeks and shook his head. “She’s my daughter. This is my home. You’re my family.”
He softened at the remark. After so many years of prison, so many lost friends to death and blight, to finally be part of something, a family. A home. “But Sigrid…” How could he breach the subject of the corprus curse? Divayth Fyr didn’t really cure the disease he was cursed with in Ilunibi; he just removed the harmful effects and symptoms. What of the child in Laurenna’s womb?
It would have to wait, he thought. There are answers that need to be found, but best to gather the information from the source.
The throne room was already a buzz with activity. Kielreen was at her post at the bar, smiling wide and very much awake. She was busy moving clean glasses from a basket to the shelves and boards behind her. As Dandowin entered, she gave a quick wink followed by a broad smile. Like Laurenna, she possessed her own unique beauty. He was beginning to understand the rumors about Wulfgar, if all the women of Lokken were as beautiful. Lucky me, he mused, to have married the most beautiful of them.
Lena was busy with her teddy bear, cradling and dancing in small circles. Solveig flitted like a butterfly from throne, to floor and table then back to throne. Her blade in hand, sometimes on her toes or firmly footed.
Lost in this idyllic moment, he jumped slightly at the slender arms that encircled his waist, wrapping around him. They drew him close, firm breasts pushed into his back as Laurenna’s lips placed a kiss to the back of his neck.
“My love.” She purred.
Turning to face her, she was wearing the new Bonny Swan dress he had bought her in Ebonheart. He drew her tightly, and kissed her lovingly. They moaned for the tiniest moment before their ardor was abruptly broken as Sigrid yanked Laurenna by the arm, dragging her to their table.
“Good day dear!” she said with a smile. Laurenna stumbled at first, chuckling all the while as she said to an amused Dandowin, “Good bye my love.”
It was a rare, sunny Lokken morning. The air was its usual crisp, nose burning cold, but the day was bright and white amongst the dark castle stone and brown timbers.
Passing Ulfgrun, he nodded a greeting as Ulfgrun yelled in return, “Good work Castle Master!” He motioned with his hands a round pregnant belly. How in Vvardenfell did he find out? Sensing his bewilderment, Ulfgrun just shrugged and yelled, “Sigrid!”
The main hall was oddly full, since two of its regulars were forever absent, Lisendra, now sister-in-law and pilgrim of Dibella. The other one, Didrik’s former pet Lucky who now keeps the kitchen staff amused snapping up any food that falls to the floor. Many familiar faces did remain. Karl and Stephann were there, lamenting the loss of Lisendra one would wager. Ingrid entertained the usual smiling Muller, who beamed upon seeing Dandowin. He raised his tankard, a gesture of thanks for his sharing the Treasure of Zeke Traeff with him. Didrik and Rolf Klang stood at their usual place, amused with some of the new faces that graced the hall, fresh from the Solstheim coast.
It was then he noticed the hooded figure at the bar. Hoods in a frozen island are far from unusual. But this one was so covered, the face fully submerged into the dark folds of hood. Far stranger than the hood, was that no one in the main hall seemed to take note of the stranger. Walking slowly forward, Dandowin froze. He had seen these hands before. The unmistakable mismatched golden and gray hands lifted the hood back to expose an equally mismatched hairless head. What outshined the head was the uncharacteristic smile.
“Lord Vivec.” He said with astonishment.
It was nearly midday when Laurenna’s stomach finally settled. Breakfast over, the dishes collected by Anneliese, she set about her day. The stairs to the children’s rooms echoed her footsteps, as she thought about her condition. Pregnancy. Motherhood. It was both exciting and frightening. She felt that she’d be a great mother. Laurenna a warrior and Dandowin the adventuring hero of some note. The things she could teach her, or him. Perhaps both, or the three she mused. Mother could teach them many things, as well as the young aunts Lena and Solveig. ‘Uncle Wulfren’ could teach them great things too, if he could get free of Lisendra for an hour or so. Lisendra, she grimaced. Thank goodness she was on the mainland with Wulfren. No need to have two reasons to have a sick stomach.
She was deep in unpleasant thought when the door to Solveig’s room opened wide before she could knock. She stood there, all wide eyed and smiling.
“Feel like a walk into town?” she asked Solveig excitedly.
Solveig just jumped into her embrace, giving her an audible kiss on the cheek.
“Maybe we can run into Dandowin before he reaches Skullum?”
“Maybe.” She chuckled.
They were just about to leave when Solveig pulled her back. Puzzled, Laurenna cocked and eyebrow, smiling. Solveig beckoned her with her finger whispering…
“I have something for you.”
Laurenna played along. “You do? What is it? She whispered back.
The look of mischief on Solvieg’s face was priceless. Looking left, then right, she slowly produced the now clean bucket from behind her back. They laughed out loud together, so much so that the guards stopped walking, looking down the hall with amusement.
Dandowin was still in shock. Seeing Lord Vivec in Lokken can’t be a coincidence with his nightmares. This is far too strange, especially with a smiling Vivec.
“Lord Vivec.” But he was stopped with a mock frown and a wave of his hand.
“Just…Vivec will do, Dandowin.” His smile was unnerving.
“It’s good to see you out of the temple. Traveling? A holiday perhaps?”
Vivec seemed tense now. “Would that it was so. I come on a matter of some import.”
“But first –“
Vivec waved his hand and there was silence. Not just the ceasing of all noise, but everyone, and everything, stopped. Looking around, Dandowin could see the entire room was frozen in a moment in time. It seemed as if the entire room was hit by a “paralyze” spell, but all items were frozen too. Ingrid poured a tankard of mead now frozen still. Didrik sputtered from a joke told by Rolf Klang. His spew stopped about his face like a foamy fan. All about him, nothing moved.
Vivec broke his concentration. “Dandowin- what I must ask you, is for you alone. This situation demands both the Nerevarine, and the Hortator of the Great Houses.”
Dandowin stiffened, “What situation?”
“The Sleepers and Dreamers. Something terrible is taking place in the great cities. You must-“
It was his turn to cut him off. “I must?” “Azura herself said I deserve this rest. But what did I do? Instead of resting, I still ended up the slayer of men and monsters. Even now, I have an entire island kingdom to care for. My wife…she is with child.”
Vivec was nonplussed. “Yes I know of your feats and exploits. I know of Thirsk, the White Wolf, and yes, I even know of what you prevented on Tel Nechim.”
Dandowin grew impatient. “Has not Dagoth Ur been slain? His brothers dispatched? Whatever befalls those that follow him, is this not their due?”
Vivec stiffened, pointing a finger to his hand. He tapped it angrily with each word spoken for emphasis. “Dandowin- this is a GENOCIDE!”
Backing a step away, he continued.
“Even as we speak, in some major cities and small towns, all the Sleepers and Dreamers are being rounded up, and incinerated.”
Dandowin was conflicted. When he vanquished Dagoth Ur, he had encountered the Sleepers and Dreamers that were just in the early stages of the blight. Sightless, soulless, and without purpose, they just stand there. No food and water. No rest. Eyeless sockets staring at a world they no longer felt kinship with. He felt for them, but compared to the alternative, surely it was better than being Corprus spawn.
“Vivec” he softened. “Even you must see that their need is beyond my help. What of Divayth Fyr? Why can’t he just expand the Corprusarium? Or what of Mistress Dratha and her experimentation? I have seen both, and they-“
Vivec cut him off again with a wave of his hand and a raise in his voice.
“NO!” “You would turn a victim into a weapon? As for Divayth Fyr, his subjects alone would annihilate those blinded helpless beings. No, there must be another solution!”
“But what? Dandowin snapped back. “Even if I could stop the genocide, what do you propose I do with all of these people? The Ashlanders don’t want them. The Great Houses I daresay are probably behind the extermination themselves. There aren’t enough beds in all the temples of Vvardenfell to care for all of them. So what do you expect me to do about it? We don’t even have the facilities here in Lokken to care for that amount of people.”
“I didn’t say the solution was easy or even feasible.” Vivec softened now, looking very much like the stoic Vivec that Dandowin remembered in his trials of the Nerevarine.
“But…these are Dunmer. These are the very same people you, as Nerevarine swore to protect. You cannot pick and chose who can be saved and who cannot. Your duty-“
Dandowin had enough and snapped dangerously- “My duty, is to my pregnant wife, my loving family, and to the peoples of this island I have been given charge of. Do not begin to lecture me about the duty of a Nerevarine, when on your orders, your own Dunmer were snuffed out like an evening candle just for believing themselves “The One”.
At that comment, Vivec rose, placing the hood upon his head. His face, before being swallowed by the dark folds of cloth, looked like that of someone who had just heard of their own demise. His voice tired, the smile that beamed in greeting now replaced by the stoic flat face that Dandowin remembered too well. When he spoke, it was in a voice that felt like broken glass as it entered his ears.
“Perhaps you’ll do the right thing. Perhaps you won’t. It was my duty, as one who cares for his people to seek out the one who swore and promised to protect them. It was my duty to try. I have done that. Remember this, Nerevar reborn. Not all who suffered under Dagoth Ur’s evil were willing sycophants. Some, like yourself, were cursed.”
With that, he left, life returning to the main hall as soon as the door closed.
Dandowin looked around the room then, his mind tired, his heart even more. Remembering what he told Solveig this very morning, he murmured to himself,
“What can a simple hero do?”
Karl and Stephann turned then, a puzzled smile on their faces. They both slapped his back as he walked past them in congratulations for Laurenna’s condition, but to him they felt no better than the lash of an Imperial whip.
Such was the heaviness in his heart.
The outside air was a welcome chill. His entire conversation with Vivec had left him sweaty and his clothes stuck uncomfortably to his skin. The crunch of the snow underfoot brought him a measure of relief, as it was this he missed the most when he dared to remember his days in an Imperial prison. How he missed the snow then.
He passed by Silja, her furred top and leggings moving slightly in the Lokken breeze. She waved a single wave, lost in her conversation with Kolbein, who chatted and laughed. Ismir nodded a “Hello”, whilst Ingegerd waved both hands in a comical manner, to show she was wearing both her gloves. Her amber eyes shone brightly in the reflected sunlight off the snow. The Njorns were about as well, as they passed Dandowin on their way to their home, holding hands as the children Marianna and Joar took turns making ugly faces at one another. They smiled just long enough to form a new face.
By the time he came to pass the Lokken Brewery, the door opened and he saw Laurenna giving a huge hug to ‘Aunt’ Gwen, followed suit by Solveig. Gwen opened her eyes to shout a greeting to Dandowin, which caused his wife and spirited cousin to run and close about him, nearly knocking him over with their embrace. Closing his eyes he let the cold outside and the warmth of his family take over from the gloomy mood that remained from his talk with Vivec. Sensing something amiss, Laurenna honed in on his previous mood and brought her face to his. Her crystal blue eyes searched his with concern, as she asked warmly, “What is it?”
Smiling, he just brushed the question aside with a kiss to her face. She gave him a smile and a raised an eyebrow which said that this was far from over.
The dock was in view, and already some friends were there. Anna the Clothier stood talking with Leilana the Trader, their arms about their waist, their breath was visible now as the cold started to increase. Town guard Gudmund was patrolling the docks, turning and pointing as the longboat pulled down the channel, turning to wave at the lot of them as they came closer. The sail was being lowered, the crunch of the ship’s keel against the shallow water and rocks signaling that Skullum and Dagfeal had returned.