Categories > Games > Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion > The Quest For The Ruby Throne: Book One

Chapter 5: A Soldier's Journey Home

by karnag_gro_gornish 0 reviews

As Karnag makes his way home from the war, he tells the rest of the story of how he became who he was. And along the way, he meets a new ally who shares more in common with him than he would ever k...

Category: Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion - Rating: R - Genres: Drama,Fantasy - Warnings: [!!] [V] - Published: 2019-09-20 - 5334 words - Complete

Chapter Five: A Soldier’s Journey Home
I turned my back on Windhelm, my heart drawing me west. The usurper Ulfric had met his end at the tip of my sword, and my only thought was of home. I’d had enough. Enough of the violence, the killing, the needless bloodshed.
I made the long walk back to camp, saddled my horse, and just like that, my service in His Eminence’s Army was over. The Eighth Legion was placed under the command of General Tullius, and I was relieved of command. As I led my horse down the well-trod cobblestone road, I couldn’t help but think of the war. The battles we’d won, the men we lost. So many good soldiers cut down in their prime, and for what? In the grand scheme of things, the Empire was just as broken as it had been before. Only slightly less broken now, with the rebellion put down. But the threat still remained from the Thalmor, and Talos was still shamed in this cold, cold province.
But these thoughts gave way to my dreams of home. My longing for my warm bed, crackling fire, and my beloved Serana. She was truly my saving grace, my light shining in darkness. These emotions are difficult to process, and quite frankly, I don’t understand them. Love is somewhat of a foreign concept in Orcish society, with our only goals in life being strength and an honorable death.
As a youngling, growing up in the stronghold, my father told me that all of my failures were due to my mother. She had died when I was still very young, slain by vampires. And because of this, my father resented me until the day I left to join the Legion, to serve in the Great War. As I set out for Cyrodiil, he shouted at me, ‘Don’t bother coming back unless you win, or die!’ And we did win. But we were so disgraced in our victory, it didn’t feel like victory. And so, I never went home.
I made my way to Skyrim, and it was here that I found my purpose in life. For years, I traveled the province from town to town, city to city. The rural settlements were kind to me, and appreciated me for my talents as a smith, as well as my sword arm. The cities were, shall I say, less welcoming? Not shunned, per se, but not accepted either. The horns and tusks tend to make people stare.
I made my living in those early days as a traveling bard, and made decent coin singing the songs of Gornish-Shul to the Nords. I was looked upon by many as something “exotic.” And I always had a pointer or two for aspiring soldiers or smiths I came across. But the knowledge, I shared for free.
The strongholds of Skyrim took me in as kin, when I had nowhere else to go. It was always good to be with my own kind, but I never overstayed my welcome. The chief of Dushnikh-yal in those days even tried to get me to marry one of his daughters. Nearly drove me out of there with a sword when I declined. But I couldn’t be tied down. Not back then.
After taking an arrow in the shoulder, I had to take a few months to rest, and found work as a bartender at a little Inn in Ivarstead. It was good work, if a bit dull. And the what they say about bartenders is true, I learned a lot of things about the locals tending bar.
But time came again for me to move on. I ended up in Riften, running odd jobs for the Thieves’ Guild there, and that’s when I experienced something that broke me as an Orc.
I had been sent to “retrieve” a certain item of value for one of our wealthier clients in a crumbling old fortress that had become infested with a band of necromancers. No big deal, I thought to myself. I’d dealt with magic users before, and had somewhat of a natural magic talent myself. That was before I knew I was Dragonborn though.
But one of those necromancers shot a bolt of lightning straight into my right eye, blinding it permanently. Dazed and confused, I had to abandon the mission, and because of that, the Guild made sure, with their network of contacts all across Skyrim, that I never found work again. And soon, my coin ran out.
I was truly, truly broken at that point. I couldn’t bear living anymore. I would rather die than live as a beggar, so I went out into the wilderness, I dropped my sword and my shield, and cast aside my armor. I accepted my fate, waiting for the wilds to claim me. But just as I had given up hope, four lights glowed in the sky, and descended upon me. They manifested themselves as godly beings, and I found myself in the presence of Malacath, Meridia, Akatosh, and Talos. They spoke to me, with voices that sounded both from around me and from within me, and commanded me to rise, and take up my sword and carry on. Talos gifted me his strength, that I may crush my enemies. Malacath gifted me his armor, that nothing may overtake me. Meridia gifted me her sight, so even though my eye was broken, I could see the world in a new way, using all of my senses at once to give me absolute awareness, as well as my mighty blade, Dawnbreaker. But Akatosh, he gifted me a drop of his own blood, and it courses through my veins, and I felt incredibly powerful.
The gods had favored me. The purpose was unclear at the time, and even still, I struggle to find my destiny. But I have a clearer picture now than I did then. I know what I must do. Akatosh gave me his blood so that I may vanquish a great evil from this land, his own first-born son, Alduin.
The road forked ahead of me, and I consulted my map to judge my path. I headed south, towards Whiterun. The road would take me past Whiterun, to Falkreath, where Serana was waiting for me.
From anywhere in Skyrim I roamed, I could always see the Monahven, the Throat of the World, somewhere. Where the land meets the sky, I remember my friends, the Greybeards. And my ally, Paarthurnax. It was where Alduin first tasted my steel, and where I realized my true purpose. The mountain looms, a monolithic sentinel, ever vigilant over Skyrim. I passed under its shadow on my journey home. I felt the icy chill as the sun was blocked from my sight. I remembered climbing it for the first time.
As the dragon blood coursed through my veins, I could hear the sky-shattering Thu’um of those men of wisdom bellowing down across the plains, on my battle-worn ears. The voice echoed like thunder, resonating a single word; Dovahkiin.
I can still hear the distant echoes sometimes, pushing out through the thunder and rain, the word tugging at my soul.
Dragonborn. The thought that I have the immortal soul of a dragon within this body still confounds my mind. As an Orc, I have given much thought to death and what comes after. And after Alduin’s defeat at my hand, I was given a place in Sovngarde. But is that truly where my soul can rest? Am I free to choose my own afterlife? These questions haunt my dreams at times.
But more often I dream of Serana and the family I hope to have with her. Then my thoughts wander to how we’re going to make ends meet. The Legion will pay me a pension, but not quite enough to raise a family on. I made myself a promise that my fighting days are done, now that the civil war has been ended. But fighting is all I know.
A peal of thunder echoes through the dusk. The sky darkens just as I reach Ivarstead, and I tie my horse right outside the same inn where I tended bar all those years ago.
I walked inside and immediately, Wilhelm, the old man who owns the place, recognized me. “Karnag! By the Nine, it’s been years! Finally come for good this time?”
“Afraid not, Wilhelm,” I said with a laugh. It was Wilhelm who gave me a job all those years ago when no one else would. “How have you been, old friend?”
“Well, I can’t complain. Business is steady, and the war has steered clear of our little town.”
“Well, you won’t have to worry about that anymore.”
“You don’t say?”
“Indeed. Ulfric Stormcloak was executed early this morning. The war is officially over, my friend.”
“Is that so? Well, this is a time to celebrate then! Lynly, bring us a few bottles of the good stuff from the cellar, the war is over!” Lynly, the bar maid, smiled and said, “Right away, Wilhelm!”
A couple of the patrons scowled at Wilhelm’s toast. “The war will never be over, dog.” One of them said as he rose from the bench he was sitting on. “I saw that Imperial war horse you tied out there. You an Imperial boot-licker, dog?”
“I’m no dog, milk-drinker.” I stood a head taller than the man. I didn’t want to start anything, but I was going to defend myself and my honor if necessary. “Leave the Orc be, Klimmek. He hasn’t done anything to you.” The man, Klimmek I assume, backed up a step. “Damn elves, all the same.”
“What was that?”
“You heard me, elf. I see those ears of yours.” I took a step and closed the distance between us. “I’m no elf, little man.” My voice echoed around the room. “I’m an Orc. And you’ll do well to remember that.”
“You want to take this outside, Orc?”
“Karnag, don’t egg him on!” Wilhelm scowled at me, irritated at the scene unfolding in his inn. I turned to reassure him but as I did, Klimmek sucker punched me in the jaw. His fist impacted against one of my tusks and chipped slightly. I could taste the iron of my blood, which ignited a unique fury in me.
But, I maintained my restraint and didn’t tear the scrawny Nord apart. “You shouldn’t have done that…” I growled. He made for another punch, but I grabbed his arm as it swung, and twisted it around his back. Klimmek yelped like a kicked dog, as I picked him up by his most likely dislocated arm, and proceeded to carry him outside the inn. I tossed him to the ground like a sack of flour. “I ever see your face again, it’ll be the last thing you do.” I bared my teeth as I growled the words, striking fear into Klimmek’s heart. He scurried off, and I calmed myself down before going back inside.
The other patrons averted their eyes, hoping to avoid the same fate. “Deepest apologies, Wilhelm. Couldn’t be helped.”
“Klimmek’s good people, just headstrong as they come. Now, let’s have a drink.” Lynly poured us each a mug of some very fine, and probably very expensive, Colovian brandy. We sipped and picked up our conversation where we had left off. “So, tell me, Karnag, you ever think of settling down, hanging up your sword and having a family? You must have had forty winters by now.”
“Forty-three, actually. And it’s funny you mentioned that. With my service up, I’ve found a piece of land in Falkreath where I’m going to build a home, and live the rest of my life in peace. Found an absolutely beautiful and brilliant wife. We’re working on the family part.” I said with a chuckle. Wilhelm brightened and a smile the size of a mammoth crawled across his bearded face. “That’s great news! I’ll drink to that!” He took a big gulp from his mug and slammed it on the bar, and I did the same. “You’ll have to bring her by one of these days. What’s her name?”
“Serana. She’s everything I’ve ever wanted, Wilhelm. She’s smart, kind, and knows how to swing an axe too. It was love at first sight.” Wilhelm gave me a puzzled look as Lynly gave a small “Aww,” from behind me. “Serana? Doesn’t sound like an Orcish name to me.”
“Well, she’s not an Orc. She’s, well, she’s a Nord.” Wilhelm gave me an incredulous look, followed by, “Do my ears deceive me? Karnag gro-Gornish, the mightiest Orc this side of Orsinium, fell in love with a Nord?” We laughed, and the other patrons loosened up a bit. The atmosphere lightened as the brandy started to get the better of us. “Well, you’d understand if you saw her, Wilhelm. She’s one of a kind.”
“Well I’d like to meet the lass who could keep a man like you down!” We drank and reveled like we had when we were younger, and gradually the night wore on. Eventually the time came to rest for the night, and Wilhelm offered me a room free of charge. I graciously accepted his hospitality and laid down to sleep.
I dreamed of Sovngarde that night. I saw Shor, with all the heroes I had met on my journeys alongside him, smiling at me, beckoning me to join them. But it isn’t time yet. Not now.
Eventually my dream drifted towards my wife, and of my love for her. But a darkness encroached upon my psyche, as I felt the presence of an immense darkness. Thinking about it now, I believe it was Molag Bal. He still looms, ever present in the shadows. Serana had been freed from his grasp, but for how long? Was the effect of Gelebor’s blessing permanent, or would something linger? Would we ever truly be free? My vision became consumed by the countless men who fell at the hands of my army, and I heard the distant war cry of Durnehviir. Fire rained from the sky. My vision darkened, and I woke up to the sound of the rooster’s call.
Morning came quickly, and I gathered my things, paid my tab, and bid my farewell to Wilhelm, with a jovial promise that I would return soon. I saddled my horse and set out north from Ivarstead. My path skirted the Monahven as I made my way towards Whiterun, then finally Falkreath. As it so often had on my journey, my mind raced with the thought of seeing Serana once more. And as my thoughts drifted to distraction, I looked around me and realized that I was completely lost. I must have made a wrong turn because I was now on a woodland path, surrounded by trees with no landmarks visible except for the Monahven. As I struggled to orient myself with my map, an Imperial woman riding a horse came upon my path. I hailed to her, “Good morning, miss, can you-” but before I could finish my question she had a sword inches from my face. I raised my hands to show her I was no threat, but internally began calling to mind the Rotmulaag for my fire breath Thu’um. “Stay your weapon, I mean you no harm!”
“Stormcloak, or Imperial?” the woman growled. I knew I had to choose my words carefully. Based on her facial features, and her accent, I was fairly certain she was NOT a Stormcloak. “My name is Karnag, and until recently, Legate of His Eminence’s Eighth Legion.” She sheathed her sword. “Good. I would hate to have to gut you like a salmon.” I gave her an expression of ire, and she laughed. “Name’s Lyanna, of Cyrodiil by way of Markarth. Well met.” She extended her hand and I shook it, and she surprised me with her grip. Strong for a lady so slight of frame. “Well met, Lyanna. I’m traveling to Whiterun, and onwards to Falkreath and I seem to have gotten myself turned around. Any chance you could point me in the right direction?”
“Well, I’m actually on my way to Whiterun right now. You’re welcome to follow me.”
“That’s very kind of you. I’m glad our paths crossed.” I saddled my horse once more, and we set off down the road, towards Whiterun.
“So, miss, tell me about yourself. You said you were from Cyrodiil?”
“Well, I was born there. But I haven’t seen the place since I was very young. My ma died giving birth to me, and my dad, well, he had no family and no reason to stay in Cyrodiil, so he packed me up and brought me to Markarth. Lived there with my da and my aunt and uncle until recently. Left Markarth to find my fortune and return to Cyrodiil. Never even made it to the border before I was caught in an imperial ambush meant for some Stormcloaks.”
“Wait, Imperial ambush, Stormcloaks...have we met before?”
“I don’t rightly think so.”
“Because I was also caught in an Imperial ambush near the border to Cyrodiil. I was working as a mercenary then and was hired to escort some men to Cyrodiil from Solitude. Wasn’t until we were caught that I realized I was unknowingly helping Ulfric Stormcloak escape justice.”
“Wait. That were at Helgen, weren’t you?”
“I was. I was taken prisoner, and nearly beheaded when, well, when Alduin laid waste to the place.”
“Wow. I was in the dungeons when it happened, I heard all the commotion and barely made it out with my life.”
“It’s a small world, or so they say. For what it’s worth, I’m glad you made it out of there. A lot of good people didn’t. But at least Ulfric got the justice he deserved.”
“I had heard that he met his end. You have anything to do with that, Legate?”
“Indeed. My Legion stormed Windhelm two days ago. I drove my sword through his heart and sent his head to the Imperial City.”
“Well then, I’ll have to buy you a drink someday. The world is a better place without men like Ulfric in it.”
“Aye. You know, it’s funny actually. The two greatest threats to Skyrim save my life, and both meet their ends by my hand.”
“What’s the second?”
“That damned dragon, Alduin. Saves my life, and I end up taking his.”
“There’s no way you killed Alduin. Only a Dragonborn can kill Alduin, and I’m the Dragonborn.” I reared my horse and, faster than lightning, drew my crossbow. “What did you say?” The sighting bead was set right between her eyes. “I said, I am the Dragonborn, and I alone can kill Alduin.”
“That’s impossible. I’m the Dragonborn.”
“Well, so am I.”
“Prove it. Shout.” My crossbow never left her face, as she took a deep breath, and towards the path in front of us, summoned the power within her soul and uttered those words, “Fus Ro Dah!” and a wave of unrelenting force uttered forth, and shook the very fabric of the world around us. I must say, I was as impressed as I was surprised. “Anyone can learn the Thu’um from the Greybeards. Even Ulfric. Do another.” Slightly annoyed, she dismounted her horse, and planted her feet on the ground, the way a sprinter would. She took another deep breath, and Shouted the words, “Wuld Na Kest!” and she shot herself at least twenty paces ahead of where we had stopped. “Satisfied now?” she smirked, walking back to her horse. Feeling quite uneasy, I said, “Quite, indeed,” and went to sling my crossbow when she had her sword in my face, again. “Your turn. Shout.” With a finger, I nudged the sword away from my face, and turned skyward, and spoke the words, “Yol tor shul!” and held the last word for a few seconds, as a stream of fire uttered from my breath, at least twice as tall as the trees around us. “Well then, looks like there can be more than one Dragonborn. But why did the Greybeards choose you?”
“Perhaps they didn’t. Didn’t you hear the call?”
“I did. But when Alduin attacked, those of us that were in the keep were shuffled out, still in chains first. I spent the next three weeks in a jail in Falkreath before they figured out I wasn't a damned Stormcloak, and by that point you had already gotten there before me.”
“Well, for what it's worth, I'm sorry about that. By the Nine, I didn't even know I was Dragonborn until I killed one a few days after Helgen and consumed its soul. How did you find out?” Lyanna became quite serious at my question. “It’s, it’s a long story.”
“We’ve got plenty of open road ahead of us.” She breathed a sigh, and said, “I was in Solitude, on a job. I was sent to the Blue Palace to take care of a vermin problem. I took a wrong turn, ended up in the Pelagius Wing by mistake. Before I could leave, I found myself in the Shivering Isles somehow.”
“Sheogorath. Figures. I’ve dealt with him before. Makes my head hurt just thinking about it.”
“I don’t know why, but he chose that moment to reveal my destiny to me. That I was Dragonborn, that I’m a descendant of Martin Septim.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, but at the same time, I couldn’t imagine why she would lie. It made sense, somewhat. “So, you’re telling me that you’re a Septim?”
“So says Sheogorath. I’m inclined to believe him.”
“Did he say how?”
“According to him, back ten generations, my ancestor named Lyna fell in love with Martin Septim and was with his child when he sacrificed himself to defeat Mehrunes Dagon. And so, as the Amulet of Kings was shattered, so too was her heart. So great was her pain that she hid her child away, so that they would never feel her anguish. And so my bloodline continued until now. And as the fates would have it, we have crossed paths. So close, yet so far. But enough about that. What about you?”
“Well, I can’t say. I believe that Akatosh chose me for some reason. Maybe he likes me, maybe there is no order to the universe and I was chosen at random. That’s for the Divines to know.”
“I like the way you think, Karnag.” I heard a growl come from behind us, and I turned and saw a grey wolf half-running behind us. “Damn wolves, I’ll take-” but before Lyanna could finish her sentence, I fired a bolt through the wolf’s skull, and it was dead before it hit the ground. “By the Nine, how did you do that so fast?”
“I am an Orc, after all. I was raised in a stronghold on the border between Cyrodiil and Skyrim, in the Jerall mountains.”
“The very same.”
“My da spoke of them when I was younger. Said they were good people, but definitely weren’t fans of outsiders.”
“Well, you’d find that true of most Orcs. Outsiders bring trouble. When the rest of the world fails us, we have family. And family, has tribe. But I left the stronghold some twenty winters ago when I joined the Legion.”
“Good that you weren’t there when it burned down, then.” I stopped my horse abruptly and he reared back. “What? Burned down? Speak sense, woman!”
“Oh, I thought you knew…”
“What in Oblivion are you talking about?”
“My da told me that during the war with the Thalmor, Gornish-Shul resisted the elves, and as punishment, the stronghold was burned.” My blood ran cold as I listened to the words she spoke. My stomach turned, and I felt a sensation welling up inside of me that felt like burning. Like my body was constricting and releasing at the same time.
And then, I broke. I uttered a cry that must have been heard for miles around. A primal shout, like I had never uttered before. I may be an outcast from my home, but they were still my brothers, my kin, my tribe. And at that moment, I felt truly alone. For the first time since my mother was killed, I shed tears of sorrow. I cannot describe the pain which I do not understand.
Lyanna was silent, and we rode along that stretch of cobble until we came to a signpost. We took the road on towards Whiterun, and the trees broke, and off in the distance, I could see Dragonsreach towering above the plains. I had regained my composure and broke the silence. “So, tell me Lyanna. Why are you going to Whiterun?”
“Well, for the time being, I live there. I’m a Companion of Jorrvaskr. I live in the hall with my husband.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“Why?” I let out a sigh that was both irate and amused at the same time. “Because I’m Companion of Jorrvaskr.”
“By the Nine, how have we not crossed paths before now?” I chuckled, and said to her with a smile, “We are not unalike, you and I. We’re both soldiers without an army.”
“I’ll drink to that!”
“You said you were married. Who’s the lucky man?”
“He’s another one of the companions, maybe you might know him. His name is Farkas.” I couldn’t help but laugh again. “I take it you do,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Farkas was my shield-brother, when I was sent on my trial by Kodlak. Did he not mention me?”
“He did mention that he took an Orc on a trial once, but he never mentioned your name.”
“Well when we get to Whiterun, I’m sure he’ll recognize me. It wasn’t that long ago.”
“So, what about you, do you have a family?”
“Starting to. My wife and I married just a few months ago. We’re trying to have a child together.”
“Recently? Aren’t you a bit old to be a bridegroom?”
“So I keep hearing. It doesn’t matter to me. I just never found the right woman. Took me forty-three winters to find her.”
“What’s she like?” I smiled, the thoughts of the pain in the corners of my mind evaporated, and I felt the warmth that accompanied thoughts of Serana. “She’s like an angel sent by Akatosh himself. Her name is Serana. She saved my life on more than one occasion. And me, her, as well. She’s as tough as she is smart, as fierce as she is beautiful.”
“She’s lucky to have you, Karnag.”
“Please, I’m the lucky one. She’s saved me from myself. I wouldn’t trade a second with her for all the gold in Skyrim.”
We were approaching the Whiterun stables as I said my last. “Looks like we’ve reached your destination.”
“Well, I guess this is goodbye.”
“I don’t think so. The Divines have intertwined our paths for a reason, Lyanna. I do believe we’ll see each other again.” She smiled, and said to me, “Listen, Karnag. This life hasn’t been kind to me, and the people in it even less. I don’t have friends. Allies, yes. But no friends, until now. So for now, I say farewell. You’ve been a good friend in the short time I’ve known you. Divines bless the road you walk, Karnag.”
“Give Farkas my regards, Lyanna. I’m very glad to have met you today, even though it feels like I’ve known you a very long time. Until fate brings us together once more, farewell.” She waved goodbye as I started southwest along the Falkreath road. It was midday at this point, and I was going home.
I wanted nothing more than to see Serana again. I spurred my horse to a gallop, and we tore down the Falkreath Road. Trees flew by, the landscape a blur, the wind rushing in my face. Every hoof-beat matched my heart as we thundered along. No more distractions. No more detours. I could see my home through the trees. I was close now.
But as I got closer, I saw something out of place. There was a small cottage next to my house that wasn’t there when I left. I slowed my horse to a gallop and approached with caution. What was this cottage doing there? Who built it, and when? And why? I drew my sword as I dismounted, and walked up the narrow path slowly.
But before I could investigate further, the door flew open, and I dropped my sword. Serana ran at a full sprint, and leapt into my arms. I threw my arms around her and picked her up with a twirl and held her close. I had never felt this kind of joy before. I couldn’t let her go, I didn’t want to. I never wanted that moment to end.
She whispered in my ear, “I missed you so much.”
“I missed you too, my love,” I whispered back. I set her down, and our eyes met for the first time in months. I saw my grey face reflected by her emerald green eyes, and smiled. She smiled back, then smacked my chest, and with a stern face she declared, “Don’t you ever do that again!” I couldn’t help but laugh, and she laughed with me. She placed her hand on my face, rough with the winter’s chill. Her hand brushed against my tusk, and she leaned in and kissed me.
I’ve said this many times, I know. But I just don’t have the right words to say what she means to me. She is everything that is good and righteous in me. She truly is my better half.
But our reunion was interrupted by the sound of a woman’s throat clearing behind us. I turned, and saw, of all people, Valerica. I was confused. “I see you have been enjoying my daughter’s company, Karnag.” If it was possible for my face to turn red, it would have then. I tried to sputter a response, but her feigned disapproval turned to a motherly smile. “It’s good to see you again, safe and sound.”
“Likewise. I thought you would be staying at the castle.”
“Well, when I got Serana’s letter regarding your, shall I say, issues, I had to come.”
“I was wondering about the cottage…”
“The castle holds with it too many bad memories. I have the rest of eternity to make new ones.”
“Well then, welcome to Lakeview, Valerica. What do you think?” Her demeanor turned once again to the modest arrogance that she typically held against me. “It needs work,” she smirked, and turning back once again with a smile, “son.” I beamed at her. I never had a mother growing up. But she would be the next best thing.
I walked to the tree where I had left my axe those months ago, it’s blade still sunk deep into the bark. With a feeling of triumph, I pulled it from the tree, my mission complete, my journey over. I had been away for six months, twelve days, and fourteen hours. And now, I was home. And there is no place I would rather be.
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