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

Chapter 11: Sins Of The Father

by karnag_gro_gornish 0 reviews

A trip to Windhelm digs up a dark part of the past that was meant to remain buried, and Serana and Karnag return home with a new addition to their little family.

Category: Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion - Rating: R - Genres: Drama,Fantasy - Warnings: [!!] - Published: 2019-09-29 - 5312 words - Complete

Chapter Eleven: Sins Of The Father
Serana woke up from a nightmare this morning. Gladly, they don't happen often, but since she became human again, she's been suffering from intense nocturnal visions, and I can't help but wonder if she might have been more content staying a vampire. But I clear those thoughts from my mind as I prepare her a hot bath to calm herself in. I took a few lavender blooms from the drying rack over the hearth. “To ease stress away,” I assured her, soaking the flowers in a pot of boiling water before pouring it into the wash basin. She immersed herself up to her neck, her body still looking as porcelain as always. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, the floral-scented steam filling her lungs. She exhaled through her mouth, her troubles leaving with her breath. She opened her eyes and met my gaze from across the room, smiling softly, and asked, “Karnag, why are you so good to me?”
“What do you mean?” I asked, confused at such an abstract question. “First you released me from Dimhollow,” she began, shifting so that her arms rested on the sides of the basin, “Then proceed to follow me all across Skyrim on a quest to end my father's tyranny, then you literally give your soul for me. I don't understand it at all.”
“I love you, Serana. I would follow you to the end of the world if you asked me to.”
“But why? Why me? What's so special about me?”
“Why does something have to stand out for me to love you? I told you before, I fell in love with you the instant I saw you, Serana. I never gave it a second thought as to why. You're everything I've ever needed in my life.”
“That's awfully sweet of you to say, but surely you've met other women in your travels that would make better wives than me.”
“I can't bear children, and when you had an upbringing like I did, there wasn't much emphasis on learning the finer points of domesticity.”
“But I don't care about those things, Serana.”
“But why? I just don't understand, Karnag.”
“All I've wanted is someone who understands me and I can try to understand; someone who gives me peace. My life has been one long battle after another, but whenever I'm with you,” I said, kneeling beside her and taking her hands in mine, “The deafening racket inside my mind is quieted. When you're with me, I feel like I can breathe, and just enjoy life. To Oblivion with a normal life, our lives are far from normal. I just want you.” I kissed her hand, seeing that my words had made some impact on her disposition. “You've certainly got one thing right,” she said as she prepared to dry herself off, “our lives are far from normal.” I handed her a towel as she abandoned all attempts at modesty, wiping the moisture from her body. “What are the plans for the day?” She asked as she dried her long, sable hair. “I need to make a trip to Windhelm,” I replied, handing her a set of clothes that had been warming by the fire. “Jarl Free-Winter has requested my presence there. The letter said something about how a man of honor always pays his debts.”
“Debts? Surely he doesn't mean to say that you owe him any restitution?”
“I doubt it. I believe Jarl Free-Winter means to compensate me for my role in the liberation of Eastmarch from Ulfric Stormcloak and his fanatics.”
“But didn't you already receive compensation from the Empire?”
“Of course, but I'm a soldier of fortune, Serana. I've never been known to pass up a Septim offered to me.”
“Do you mind if I accompany you there?”
“Of course not. What for?”
“Windhelm is Ysgramor's city. I heard that there is a memorial there that has the names of each one of the five hundred there.”
“It's true, I saw it during my time there in the Legion. What about it?”
“I'm curious. I want to see if I can confirm something.”
“What's that?”
“Hopefully, nothing. But there's a story my father told me when I was a girl, I want to see if I can prove he was lying. I don't want to say any more than that until we get there.”
“Fair enough. I'll let Valerica know, you get dressed and I'll meet you outside.”
“Just be careful,” Valerica said with a sigh, her head hanging low over her alchemy table, “Serana doesn't know what she wants from the sound of it.”
“What makes you say that?”
“I won't say anything that she hasn't said already, Karnag. Best to leave old wounds unopened.”
“Fair enough,” I said annoyedly, “But I don't appreciate being kept in the dark like this.”
“Trust me, it's better that you don't know until Serana is ready to tell you. It's in her own interest.”
“If you say so. We'll be gone for a day, two at the most. Sure you can handle Lucia on your own?”
“Absolutely. She won't be a bother at all.”
“Just don't teach her how to make any poisons, alright?” Valerica shot me a sideways glance, silently indicating to me not to push my luck. I smiled, and backed out of the doorway of her cottage, to where Serana was saddling the horses for the first leg of our journey.
It was a short and uneventful ride to Whiterun, where after some bargaining with the young man running the stables, we arranged for our horses to be boarded for the next few days, and took the carriage the rest of the way to Windhelm. Since the end of the war, the roads were safe enough to ride by carriage again. Our path would take us directly to Windhelm, hugging the White River and we would make the journey in half the time it took me to ride on my way home, the last time I was in Windhelm. Even though it was only a few months, the war already felt a lifetime ago. But the more that things change, the more they remain the same, and as time goes on, I find myself unable to distinguish one war from the other anymore. Times change, power balances and shifts, but the motives remain the same; from gods to justice to simple hatred, nothing changes on the field of battle.
I tried to pry further into what secret Serana was attempting to conceal from me again, to no avail. “It'll be a lot easier once we get to Windhelm,” she said, her head hanging low. I held her chin in my thumb and forefinger and turned her face to me and I stared into her eyes. I saw a great deal of pain in them, but, then again, I so often do. But I didn't say any more. I could tell she was steadfast in her resolve to keep me in the dark, for now at least. So, I simply put my arm around her and pulled her close to me.
When we finally reached Windhelm, Serana and I roused, stiff from the cold, and I paid the carriage driver for the trip. We strode confidently up the long avenue leading to the gate to the city, Imperial legionaries standing at attention lining the road. When we reached the gate, two young soldiers, no older than seventeen winters if a day, pushed the stone door aside for us and ushered us in.
The city was different than I remembered it. Not nearly as much fire and rubble. “It's this way,” I said to Serana, leading her to the Snow quarter. I caught a glance at the monument that has transfixed Serana's attention of late the last time I was here. Even though I was preoccupied with slashing and burning my way to Ulfric's doorstep, I still noticed it. Just past the alchemist's shop, turning towards the residential quarter, there it was. Serana left my side and ran towards it, scanning the names painstakingly carved into each of the five hundred bricks that formed the monument. After a few minutes of searching, her eyes stopped and locked on one. She reached out a hand towards the wall, and upon touching the stone, her fingers curled into a tight fist. “So,” she said under her breath, “The one story you told that wasn't a lie, father.” Her eyes remained locked on the stone in the wall, and when I followed her gaze, I felt a stone develop in the pit of my stomach. It was a name I recognized, and had grown to hate. “Harkon Raven-Storm,” I muttered, my eyes just as locked on the stone as hers, “Your father was one of Ysgramor's Five Hundred.”
“I guess he was,” Serana said, her voice breaking. I knew the tears were coming before I could see them, her lips curling into a pained scowl. She pounded her fist against the wall over and over again, the dust of centuries floating into the air with every impact. She slumped against the wall, and I put my hands on her shoulders, holding her as she rested her head on the stones, her sobs producing clouds of vapor with every sharp exhale. I pulled her away from the painful memories, and pushed her face into my shoulder, wrapping my arms around her and holding her close as she continued to cry uncontrollably. I held my hand on the back of her head, as she buried her nose into the space between my neck and shoulder. “He's gone, Serana,” I whispered into her ear, as she slowly regained composure. “I know,” she said between sobs, “I know he's gone. But the damage is done, Karnag. He's going to be remembered as long as this wall stands.”
“No one will remember Harkon, Serana. He's just a name on a wall. It doesn't mean anything. That brick won't tell anyone the horrible things he did.”
“It doesn't matter,” she said through a heavy sigh, “Father got what he wanted. Everlasting life, even if it's just his name.”
“Let's talk about this, alright? Come on, let's get a mug and clear your mind. I want to hear this story already.”

We walked in silence back towards the Avenue of Valor, and were about to open the door to Candlehearth Hall when a young girl around Lucia's age stopped us. “Excuse me, would you like to buy some flowers? I picked them myself!” I knelt down to the little girl with the basket full of blue and purple wild flowers, and I took one from her basket. “How much for this one, youngling?” I asked her, holding a beautiful sapphire flower up between us. “Just two Septims, sir!” She said enthusiastically. I smiled, and took two coins from my pocket and handed them to her. She reached for the coins, but I held them fast, tilting my head to the side and asking, “Where are your parents? Do they know you're out here?” The little girl's face went from excited to somber, and I realized that I had struck a nerve. “My mama, she, well, she died when I was little. I don't remember her much. My papa was a Stormcloak soldier. He died when the city was attacked by the Empire. Ever since then, I've been selling flowers so I can buy food. It isn't much, but what else can I do? I don't have anywhere to go.” I felt a heavy pang of guilt when she recounted her story to me. I nearly broke down myself, knowing that there was a very real possibility that her father died at my blade. I know that I had nothing to feel guilty for. Good soldiers follow orders, and I am a good soldier. But still, the pain was all the same. I took a small purse of gold from my satchel and handed it to her. “I tell you what, little one. I really, really like this flower right here. And I am willing to pay you all the gold in my purse here for it.” Her eyes lit up again, the promise of a hot meal and a warm bed enticing her. “Now here's what you do. Go to my friend, Ambarys Rendar, you know him?” She nodded her head rapidly, still astonished at my generosity. “You tell him that Karnag says to give you whatever you want, and to put it on my tab. And you take this gold, and you save it for a rainy day, alright?” Overcome with gratitude, the little girl dropped her basket of flowers and gave me a tight hug, and said, “Oh thank you, thank you mister Karnag! I'll never forget you! You're the best person ever!” I chuckled and said, “You're very welcome. What's your name, little one? I'd sure like to be able to thank Ambarys properly.”
“My name is Sofie.”
“Well, Sofie, it was very nice meeting you. Now go on, and I mean it, order whatever you like, as much as you want.”

Serana and I ordered a mug of ale each and we sat down at a table upstairs. “Everything,” I said, taking a sip from my mug with one hand and holding hers with another, “From the beginning.” She took a deep breath, took a hearty swill and said, “Back long before the ages of recorded history, Ysgramor was a settler from the land of Atmora to the north of Tamriel who settled in Skyrim. He was one of the founders of the ancient city of Saarthal. Well, when the Falmer sacked Saarthal in the Night of Tears, Ysgramor alone survived and fled back to the dying society on Atmora. There he told those who remained of the events that had transpired and raised an army of five hundred of the best warriors that he could muster. Those warriors returned with Ysgramor to Skyrim, landing at Hsaarik Head, now Winterhold, and drove the Falmer to the brink of extinction.
“One of the five hundred was a power hungry spellsword by the name of Harkon Raven-Storm. He followed Ysgramor gladly from the frozen and dead lands of Atmora, where blood to spill was in short supply. The Companions have become legendary in Tamrielic culture as heroes. Even before I was sealed away, their renown was vast. But history tends to remember people differently than they actually were.
“Harkon Raven-Storm was no hero. He was a warlord and a cold-blooded killer. Even before he became a vampire, he was known to ritualistically drink the blood of his fallen victims. Anyone who crossed his path was fair game at the end of his blade; women, children, the sick and elderly, he didn't care. All he wanted was the thrill of watching the life drain out of the eyes of those who he slaughtered. He believed that the blood of the elves would prolong his youth.
“It was during this time that, in service to Ysgramor, he was gifted lands in what is now Haafingar, near the border of High Rock. And it was also in this time that he learned of the tragedy of Lamae Beolfag, the Blood Matron. He became entranced with the concept of eternal life. And so, just the same way that she had, he had his own wife and daughter turned into the same unholy creations of the night, the Daughters of Coldharbour.
“That was the story I was told all my life. The story of my father and how he came to be. I never wanted to believe it, I tried to tell myself it was all lies and stories. But seeing that stone in the wall, that just confirmed that everything that my father told me was true. He was one of Ysgramor's five hundred. He forced my mother and I to be raped by Molag Bal because of his lust for power and eternal life.”
“By the Nine, Serana. I don't know what to say.”
“I just take solace knowing that we ended his reign of terror. We denied him the eternal life he desired.”
“I'll drink to that,” I said, raising my mug to hers. She raised hers, and we downed our glasses at once.

I left Serana at the Candlehearth to stay in the warmth while I attended to my business at the Palace of Kings. By boots fell heavy against the stones that lined the pathway up towards the old hall. As I approached the doors to the palace, which had been replaced since the last ones were broken down by my soldiers breaching them, I addressed the guards standing watch just outside. “I am Karnag gro-Gornish, here to see Jarl Free-Winter. He's expecting me.”
“Right away, sir,” one of them said, taking his wooden knocker from his belt. He struck an iron plate on the pine door thrice, and a heavy bolt slid aside on the inside, and the door opened with a long creak. “The Jarl is waiting for you, sir, go right on ahead.” I stepped through the door, which was closed and bolted behind me. I walked down the hallway once again, and I heard Jarl Brunwulf Free-Winter conversing with his steward, Jorleif, from the other end. “I don't mean to intrude,” I interrupted, “but I do believe you asked to see me, Jarl Free-Winter?”
“Karnag!” Brunwulf said as he got up from his throne to shake my hand, “It is good to see you again. How have you been?”
“I'm well, thank you. How has the reconstruction been? I noticed the new door.”
“Slow, but we're getting there. Ulfric's rebellion drained Windhelm of more than just gold. When it was all said and done, our reserves of iron, stone, and wood were all but none. But we're rebuilding all the same. General Tullius has seen that we've been getting the assistance the Empire promised us.”
“I'm glad to hear it, my Jarl. I ordered my men to be mindful not to cause any unnecessary collateral damage, but you know how soldiers can be when the heat of battle overtakes them.”
“I know all too well, indeed. The city infrastructure was not heavily damaged, but we did have to spend quite a while getting the walls shored up against bandits and the stray dragon still roaming the mountains.”
“And what of the conditions in the grey quarter?”
“Improving, I'm very proud to say. Jorleif has been working tirelessly with Rendar and Sadri to ensure that all of Windhelm's residents are treated fairly and equally.”
“And how have the resident Nords been adapting to the change in management?”
“Like Nords, of course. There are a few stubborn ones that continue their bigotry, but for the most part, the people have taken the change in stride and adapt to the times.”
“Well, it surely seems like you have things well at hand here, my Jarl. But I get the sense you didn't summon me here to discuss politics.”
“Right you are, Karnag. I wanted to formally recognize the service you've done to Eastmarch and to Windhelm by extending you the title of Thane. I'd be honored if you would take it, even if it is mostly ceremonial.”
“The honor is mine, my Jarl. I'll gladly accept the right to stand at your side as Thane of Eastmarch.”
“Excellent,” Jarl Free-Winter said, clasping my hand tightly, “Now, it is customary to give a gift befitting your new title. Perhaps a weapon from my personal armory to add to your collection?”
“Actually, I have something else in mind, if you're up for a short walk.”
“Absolutely. Lead the way.” The Jarl draped his cloak over his shoulders and followed me to the doorway. The door was unbolted and swung open for us, and I led Jarl Free-Winter to the spot where Serana and I had been not too long ago. I stopped in front of the wall of names, and found the stone that bore the name of Serana's father. I pointed it out to him and said, “This stone. My Jarl, Harkon Raven-Storm was no hero of old as the stories would have you believe. He was a murderer, cold blooded and wicked in thought and deed. He followed Ysgramor for no other reason than to shed the blood of guilty and innocent alike. His name does not deserve to be remembered as a hero, like the rest of the five hundred warriors who crossed the icy waves to liberate Skyrim. It is this that I humbly ask of you, that this stone be removed from this wall, and his name stricken from all records of such.”
“That's a bold accusation you make, Karnag. Can you substantiate it?”
“The story is my wife's. Harkon Raven-Storm was her father. He was a vampire, and made her one as well. She has been cleansed of the disease now, but his influence remains on this world. You know as I do that names have power.”
“Aye. For you, Karnag, it will be done. I'll have the stone removed at once and set Jorleif to going over the official records. My gift to you.”
“My Jarl, you have my undying gratitude for this favor. But, if you may indulge me one further?”
“Name it, Karnag.”
“The young girl selling flowers, Sophie. Is it true she has no family?”
“Aye, terrible shame that. Her father was one of Ulfric's boys that died during the defense of the city. I've done what I can to help her but no family has the room to take her in.”
“I'll be happy to take her home with me to Lakeview, if you'll allow.”
“If she wishes to, I see no reason that she can't.”
“Thank you, again, my Jarl. My wife and I will make our arrangements immediately. We'll be at the New Gnisis until we depart.”
“Very well. Let Ambarys know that I received word that the banners he requested from Morrowind are due to arrive within the week, would you mind?”
“Not at all. And again, thank you for everything.”
“No thanks, needed, Karnag. Windhelm will forever be in your debt for ridding us of the traitor Ulfric.”

When I returned to the Candlehearth, I found Serana by the fire, staring deeply into her mug. I held out my hand to her, saying, “Come with me. I have a surprise for you.” She took my hand and stood, stretching her back in the process. “What is it?” She asked, draining her mug. “Not much of a surprise if I just tell you, is it? Come on. This way.” I led her by the hand back out to the market. There, a Dunmer stone mason was chiseling away at the wall where Harkon's stone was inset. “Karnag, what is this?”
“The Jarl granted me a favor. This is what I asked of him.” The mason inserted an iron bar into the wall and pried the stone loose, breaking the centuries old mortar holding it in place. The stone fell to the ground with a clash, and Serana picked it up, brushing the dust away from the weathered surface. “The Jarl's steward is also in the process of removing Harkon's name from all written records in Windhelm,” I continued as her gaze was locked on the brick, “His name will never again be spoken in praise, Serana.”
“After all these years... Finally.”
“No, not justice,” she said, breaking her gaze and meeting my eyes, “Just the ending of something else. There will never be justice for the people whose lives he destroyed in the pursuit of power.” Her hands glowed, and she held the stone in the air, suspended by an ancient magic. She closed her eyes and whispered a few words in a long forgotten language, and the stone melted, but re-formed in the same form with a new inscription: “Valerica Wise-Heart.” I looked at the stone as the words took shape on it before my eyes, then at Serana who said, “One of Ysgramor's forgotten companions. History remembers the warriors, not the wives they brought with them. Now it will remember one.” She handed the newly formed stone to the stone mason and said, “I hope you won't be upset if I ask you to reinstall this?”
“Not at all, m'lady. I know some members of House Telvanni that would love t'see the bit o'magic ye did just then.” Serana gave a friendly laugh and said, “I'm afraid the words to teach the magic I know don't exist anymore. Secrets older than these stones are locked away inside my mind.”
“Trust me,” I said, “I've tried to get her to teach me a little bit of what she knows for months now. You'd have better luck asking a netch how it flies.” We all laughed together, and Serana slugged my shoulder lovingly. “Let's go home,” she said, the light returning to her eyes after a long absence. “Not just yet,” I said, “We're not entirely done here. We still have one last bit of business to attend to before we go home.”

“Welcome to the- by Azura, Karnag! I heard you were in town! I was hoping you'd stop by,” Ambarys Rendar said from behind the bar of the New Gnisis Cornerclub, “And I'd assume that this is that wife of yours you spoke so highly of the last time you were in Windhelm?”
“Good to see you too, Ambarys,” I said, shaking the hand of the rugged old Dunmer. “And aye, this is Serana, my wife. Serana, this is Ambarys. He runs the place and makes the best Sujamma south of Solstheim.” Ambarys took off his hat and bowed to Serana, who returned his gesture. “I've never had Sujamma before,” she said. “Well then,” Ambarys said, ducking down behind the bar, “We'll just have to remedy that.” He popped his head back up with an earthenware jar, and poured two mugs of that sweet, red liquor. “What's in it?” Serana asked as she inhaled the vapors of the drink. “Well,” Ambarys said as he re-corked the jug, “It's a barley-based spirit allowed to mellow in barrels with lemons and comberries, both rather hard to come by in these parts. But I manage to get a decent supply of lemons from Cyrodiil and comberries from Solstheim. After Red Mountain blew, we thought that they went extinct, but a few managed to survive and they've been able to thrive in the the ash lands on the southern half of the island. I also add a few spices of my own personal selection to give it a personal touch.”
I raised my mug to hers and said, “To new beginnings.” She took a sip and I tossed mine back, feeling the burn hit my throat and warm my belly from the inside. Serana coughed and had to set her mug down, as the one sip had her red in the face. Ambarys and I laughed and he said, “Bit strong if you aren't ready for it. Dunmer spirits pack more punch than your average Nord mead!”
“You got that right!” She said, her coughs turning to laughter along with us. She took a deep breath, then downed the rest of her mug in a single gulp, her face scrunching like she had just bitten a ripe lemon. We all laughed again, and when the laughter faded, I turned to Ambarys and said, “By the way, message from the Jarl. He wanted me to tell you that the banners from Morrowind you asked for are expected within the week.”
“Ah, good. I was starting to get worried that he had forgotten. He's a good Jarl, that Free-Winter. Treats us Dunmer like actual people, not like that bastard Ulfric.” A young Dunmer man sitting at the end of the bar raised his mug, saying, “Ye've got that right.”
“Oi!” Ambarys suddenly shouted, as the rest of the patrons of the bar turned around to face him, “Next round's on the house, in celebration of the man what ended the life of Ulfric Stormcloak!” The six or seven patrons in the bar all raised their mugs with a cheer, and I did the same, humbly accepting my praise. “I didn't do it alone,” I said, trying to retain some shred of modesty, “I did have two Legions standing behind me, after all.”
“Ye, but it were you what stabbed that prick through 'is 'eart!” The bar had a few more cheers, and I conceded to them. I drank another mug of whatever cheap swill everyone else was drinking before I asked Ambarys, “Say, did a little girl come by here not too long ago?”
“Sofie? Aye. Give me a sack of gold, said it were from you. Said you told her to get whatever she wanted. Didn't believe her at first, but I'm never one to turn down gold, so I gave her three bowls of horker stew and a warm bed.”
“She still up there?”
“Aye, full as a tick, asleep before her head hit the pillow. My heart huts for her, ye know. No home to go to, no ma and da. The whole city pays her no mind and it breaks my 'eart, thinkin' she's just like us Dunmer in that way.”
“Well, you don't have to worry anymore. Jarl's given me permission to adopt her.” Serana's jaw dropped open in astonishment. “I told you I had a surprise for you,” I said through a smile. “Karnag, are you sure we can take care of another child right now?”
“Well, the house will need some more work. But we have the rest of our lives to make it perfect, Serana. Besides, it'll be good for Lucia to have someone to play with.” Serana threw her arms around me, and the many drunk patrons whistled and jeered.

We stayed for a few more hours, until a sleepy-eyed Sofie came downstairs from the bed for rent. “Thank you for letting me stay here, Mr. Rendar,” she said to Ambarys as he was cleaning mugs behind the bar, “I made the bed for you and I'll be getting out of you way now.”
“Oi, hold on just a second there,” Ambarys said, setting his mug and cleaning cloth down. A fearful expression gripped her face as he knelt down to her. “No worries, young'n. I just want to tell ye, ye don't have to go back out on those streets. Ye see, these two 'ere have talked with the Jarl, an' 'e says that if ye want to, ye can g'home with 'em.” Sofie's face immediately lit up when he said this. She turned to us and she said, “Is that true, mister? Are you taking me home with you?”
“Only if you want to. That's up to you,” I said, one hand in Serana's, the other outstretched to her. She didn't say a word, just ran and hugged the two of us by the legs. Understanding the fairly universal “yes” that the gesture implied, the three of us left the bar, with a hearty farewell to Ambarys for the hospitality.

We got on the next carriage headed out of Windhelm, and Sofie fell fast asleep on the way home, safely tucked in between Serana and I. I knew that the spur of the moment decision I made to bring Sofie home with us was not going to be without it's share of challenges, but knowing what I know now, I am comforted knowing that I made the right decision, and made something good come of a bad situation. I may have many sins still to atone for, but if I can make a difference in at least one little girl's life, it will be worth the sacrifice to me.
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