Previously: Unraveling

A/N ~ Normally I enjoy listening to the Skyrim soundtrack while writing these chapters, but today I decided to switch to some Tagaq. 😅

Morthal, Hjaalmarch Hold the winter-blasted hellscape is this???

Morthal was one of those places that simply had to be seen to be believed. The stories didn't do it justice. The legends didn't do it justice. The irreverent jokes she'd heard all through the carriage ride from Haafingar didn't even do it justice.

In Skyrim, there were rundown villages with unwashed citizens and livestock roaming free. There were desolate, haunted woods and dejected-looking marshes. In the northern regions, there was relentless, year-round winter. 

...And then there was Morthal.

"What the fuck?"

The toothless carriage driver laughed heartily at her reaction. Without looking at him, Indrathel paid him the rest of her fare before heading through the gates and into town.

It was nighttime and the snow was coming down heavily. In the weak murky light of the braziers and guards' torches, everything appeared to be either rotted or crumbling. There wasn't a single paved street and though the town (she refused to call it a city) had a wall around it, it was neither tall nor strong enough to keep out any real threats.

Even the Stormcloaks won't fuck with it, she marveled, as frozen earth and snow crunched beneath her boots. Burning Morthal to the ground would've been a quick and easy victory, yet it seemed Ulfric Stormcloak didn't think it was worth the effort.

Highmoon Hall--the Jarl's residence--was like a giant wooden hovel with thatched roofing and stone floors that hadn't been swept or scrubbed in an age. The rooms were drafty, and whatever warmth was produced by the firepit in the mead hall was likely escaping straight to the rafters.

Thank the gods isn't raining, Indrathel stared as she wordlessly made her towards the throne. We'd all be soaked by now.

The worst part of it all was just how comfortable she felt here. Instead of tensing, her body surprisingly relaxed. She found herself wondering what the local tavern was like, if it had a good bard, and decided to treat herself to a warm bottle of mead before bed. For the first time since arriving in Skyrim, Indrathel felt oddly at home.

As she entered the Jarl's hall, she was stopped by a regal Nord dressed from head to toe in fur and armed with a long sword.

Indrathel resisted the instinct to smirk. Classic Skyrim.

"I am Lord Aslfur," he stated in a neutral tone, though his eyes betrayed his suspicion. "Steward and husband to Jarl Idgrod Ravencrone. Speak your purpose."

She can't even afford a separate--never mind, Indrathel cut off her own thoughts.

"I am Commander Indrathel of the Thalmor," she greeted in an equally neutral tone. "I've been sent on urgent business and need to speak with the Jarl."

He stepped aside so she could stand before the Jarl, an old woman with a pale wrinkled face, yet whose hair was still long, thick, and black. She was clad in dark furs like her husband, her head adorned with a silver circlet set with moonstones. Indrathel briefly glanced over at the much younger man who had claimed to be her husband, but kept her face emotionless as possible to avoid revealing judgment.

"We don't get many Thalmor out here," the Jarl mused, her dark eyebrow raised. "Your colleagues have never deemed us worthy of attention."

"Recent events changed that point of view, Your Grace," Indrathel assured her in a strong, commanding voice, standing straight and stiff. "A vampire attack nearly wiped out one of our military installations. It was on such a scale that my superiors decided Morthal was worth a second look."

The Jarl let out a half-snort, half-chuckle as dry and raspy as the bitter winter winds outside her hall.

"Where was the Thalmor years ago?" Ravencrone scoffed. "We could have used some warriors of the your caliber to fend off an infestation."

"So," Indrathel nodded, "Morthal does have a vampire problem."

"Had a vampire problem," Ravencrone corrected her. "I hired hunters to wipe them out."

For the first time since her arrival, Indrathel faltered, feeling strangely unsure of herself.

"So...Morthal doesn't have any vampires?" she asked awkwardly.

"Not anymore," the Jarl wheezed. "Seems you came all this way for nothing, Commander Indrathel. It's no trouble though; just head on over to Moorside Inn, and tell Jonna you're my guest. You're welcome to join me for breakfast tomorrow, of course. Do you like snowberry tortes?"


Indrathel headed back out into the brisk cold. It was late in the evening, and though she hadn't expected there to be much of a nightlife in Morthal, the bleak, empty streets redefined the word "dead".

One rundown house over and she was at the inn, a typical Skyrim tavern. And while she did appreciate the cleanliness and spaciousness of the Winking Skeever, the Moorside Inn--like so many of its kind--had "character".

The streets might have been empty, but the inn certainly wasn't. Every walk of life was represented, from bards to sellswords to harlots and even nobility, as she would later notice. Jonna, the keeper, was a graying Redguard woman. Indrathel found her sweeping past the firepit, near the counter.

"You Jonna?" Indrathel asked. She suddenly noticed she was speaking differently. Despite her clothes, she didn't walk or talk with the full authority of the Thalmor.

The innkeeper appeared to panic at first at the sight of Thalmor robes, but when the firelight caught Indrathel's face, fear gave way to slight confusion.

"Who's asking?" she demanded, her eyes searching Indrathel's face, trying to reconcile the conflicting features.

"Name's Indrathel. Jarl told me I could crash here for the night." Crash here? Seriously?

Jonna seemed to relax. "Sure. Of course. I'll fix you up our nicest room and bill it to the Jarl."

"I've got it," Indrathel shook her head. She glanced around herself. "The old crone needs to keep her cash." She turned back to Jonna. "Got mead?"

The Redguard woman blinked. "This is Skyrim."

"Dumb question," Indrathel conceded. "Can I get a warm bottle and whatever's on the menu tonight?"

"Sure thing," Jonna nodded, fully relaxed now. "Benor killed a boar this morning. He can show you to your room."

"Benor?" Indrathel blinked, glancing around herself again.

"That's me," a dark-haired Nord piped up behind her. He was wearing armor with an axe strapped to his back. "Room's this way."

She couldn't resist the urge to smirk. Classic Skyrim.

As was the room, replete with straw on the bed, and dead animals on the floor and walls.

"So what's a sellsword doing in Morthal?" she asked, both amused and curious. "You don't strike me as the type that's just passing through."

"It's my hometown," he shrugged. "I actually tried to be a hold guard, but the Jarl never took me on. Guess I got into one too many brawls." He looked her up and down before flashing a roguish grin. "I'd ask what a Thalmor is doing all the way out here, but you're not like other Thalmor, are you? What brings you to Morthal?"

"Truth be told, I have no idea," she sighed.

"Well, the town might not be much, but Jonna runs a great inn. She's a good cook, and everyone likes to help her out, even Lurbuk the bard."

Indrathel raised an eyebrow. "Lurbuk?"

"Tone-deaf Orc who couldn't find the right key if it slapped him in the face...yet he somehow managed to graduate from the Bard's College in Solitude," Benor shrugged. "If he offers to sing for you, turn him down, even if it's free of charge."

He paused, before taking a small step forward. "You know," he said lowly, with a half-smile, eyes twinkling, "I can bring you a tub and some hot water, if you'd like. It just might be a little while, but it'll be worth it to finally strip down after a long day on the road, hm?"

Indrathel sighed in blissful gratitude, desperately eager to wash away her travels. "I was gonna go get dinner anyway," she smiled back at him, disarmed by his small-town charm. "A bath sounds like the perfect end to this day."


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