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

Chapter 13: Home No Longer

by karnag_gro_gornish 0 reviews

A stop along the way is a bitter homecoming for Karnag, in which more and more of the walls he has put around himself are slowly broken down, and his haunting past comes to life.

Category: Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion - Rating: R - Genres: Drama,Fantasy - Warnings: [!!] [V] - Published: 2019-09-29 - 2698 words - Complete

Chapter Thirteen: Home No Longer
We stopped our horses short of what remained of the gates. It didn’t even look like a gate anymore, just a haphazardly strewn stack of charred logs. I could already feel the sorrow welling up inside of me. But I kept it down. For now.
We dismounted, and walked towards the burnt-out remains of the palisade. Farkas stayed behind to watch the horses. “Is this it?” Lyanna asked me. I choked back tears, and said, “Yes. What’s left anyway. This was Gornish-Shul. This is where I was raised.”
In one of the posts that made up the wall, three rusted axe blades were embedded into the post, around an inch deep. Their handles had burned off in the blaze that engulfed the stronghold, but the blades remained. “Lyanna, look here.”
“What is it?”
“It’s my axe, and the axes of my brothers. In Orcish culture, when an Orc leaves for battle, an axe is left in a tree or post. When the individual who left it there returns victorious, they remove it. But if they are not victorious, they are not allowed to return home. And if they fall in battle, the axe is left as a memorial.”
“That explains why you left your axe in the tree next to your house.”
“Yes, it’s a cultural thing. It serves as a reminder both to ourselves, and to those we leave behind. I left my axe here when I left to fight the Dominion, I left one at Lakeview when I went to fight the Stormcloaks, I left one at Jorrvaskr when I went to track down Vilkas' murderers, and I left one when we left to come here. And when we get back, I’ll retrieve it.”
“Why did you and your brothers never come back for your axes, Karnag? We won the war, after all.”
“My brothers did not survive the war.”
“I'm so sorry, I didn't know,” Lyanna began to say, but I cut her off before she could continue. “Do not be sorry for them,” I said proudly, “They died honorably in battle. We were assigned to separate units in the beginning but were reunited when we retook the Imperial City. Did I tell you how I became an officer in the Legion?”
“No, you didn't.”
“To make a very long story short, It was my thirteenth winter on the Thirtieth of Frostfall, back in '71. That was the day the war started. It took some time for the news to reach the strongholds, and as tradition dictated, the Chief, my father, sent all of his sons to join the legion. I wasn't even a man yet. So my two older brothers, Gharnol and Lobnar, along with me, were sent to join the Legion. Orcs are greatly desired warriors in the military, and when the Empire goes to war, so do we.
“My older brothers were sent to fight the invaders on the front lines, but since I was just a boy, I was put on a war galley, guarding the entrance to Lake Rumare from the Niben river. We were frequently engaged in naval battles, and it was my job to maintain the weapons, fix the broken timbers, get into places the larger men couldn't, thinks like that. I was on that ship for ages, until Naarifin's armies began their march on the Imperial City. The Aldmeri Navy came in force with them, and although we didn't go down without a fight, our ship sank. I survived and swam to shore, only to be captured by the enemy.
“See the Thalmor view all races of elves other than Altmer as 'lesser beings,' and treat them as vermin. That includes Orcs, like me. So I was placed in a prison camp with a few dozen other prisoners of war, all elves that were more than likely going to be exterminated. But I gained the trust of the guards, I convinced them that I could be valuable to them. I could repair their weapons and armor for them. So they gave me a much longer leash than the other prisoners. I worked defects into every single piece of metal they gave me to fix, and as time went on, they grew so complacent that I was able to use the cover of night to cut the throat of every single one of the guards while they slept. I freed my fellow prisoners, and we made our way through miles of enemy territory to regroup with Imperial forces hiding in the forests of northern Colovia.
“I told my story to the commanders of the Legion camp there, and was made an officer on the spot. I was made a Quaestor and placed in command of two Contuburnia of men. That's sixteen Legionaries, two auxiliaries, and two Decani to carry out my orders. So there we were, camped out in the forest, the Dominion had just overtaken the Imperial City, and we were all thinking that the war was over. And here I am, a boy of fifteen, and now in command of twenty men all older than me. But then through the trees comes a courier, out of breath from the south, told us all that the Emperor himself was on his way, very much alive and well, and that reinforcements from Skyrim and Hammerfell were on the way. So we readied ourselves for battle.
“Riding on a white horse was the man himself, Emperor Titus Mede II. Every man took a knee in the presence of His Eminence, but he said to us, 'Please, stand, brave Legionaries. It is I who should be bowing to you. Your ceaseless bravery has kept our Empire from falling to these invaders. But all hope is not lost. Ready yourselves, because we are preparing our counter-attack. We will retake the Imperial City, and I will be on the field of battle alongside you.' We raised our blades skyward in solidarity and gave a hearty battle cry at hearing the Emperor's inspiring words, knowing that we were not going to let the Dominion win without a fight.
“First into the fight were the Legions from Hammerfell, under General Decianus. They came in from the west, surprising the Dominion forces garrisoning the city. Next were General Jonna's soldiers from Skyrim, advancing on the city from Cheydinhal. With the Dominion lines scattered and in disarray, our group with His Eminence leading the charge, broke down the gates to the city. We fought for two days to retake the city. Jonna's Legion held the Red Ring road, while Decianus' Legion reinforced us after we were inside.
“What I didn't know is that my brothers, Gharnol and Lobnar, were in Decianus' rear guard. Gharnol became separated from his unit during a rout, and was surrounded by the enemy. Rather than be taken prisoner, he chose to make a stand. He killed nearly a dozen Dominion soldiers before he was finally felled. Lobnar was part of the shield wall that secured our rear as we fought our way to the White-Gold tower. They held strong, but by sheer misfortune, an archer's arrow found a hole the size of a man's fist in the wall, and it pierced Lobnar's neck. He bled out before he could be tended to, and he joined his brother in Malacath's stronghold of valor, eternal in death in the Ashpit.
“As you know, of course, we were ultimately victorious in reclaiming the city from the Dominion. I was there when Naarifin was hanged from the top of the White-Gold tower. It was a glorious sight to see, even if the city was practically in ruins. But seeing the body of that bastard swing as his soldiers surrendered in the streets was, well, there really is no way to describe the feeling I felt. The White-Gold Concordat was signed not much longer after that, putting an official end to the war.
“When I learned of the deaths of my brothers, not to mention how disgraced the Empire was with the terms of the peace treaty, the pride I felt at the reclamation of the Imperial City was soon gone. It was a victory, yes, but at such a heavy cost. I could not bear to return home. That victory felt more like defeat to me. So, since our culture dictates to return victorious or not at all, I never returned home. Of course, not that it mattered. Look around, the Dominion burned it. I didn't have a home to return to. So I left Cyrodiil entirely and made a fresh start in Skyrim. You know the rest, of course.”
“That's a lot to take in all at once, Karnag. I had no idea you had seen so much bloodshed.”
“When I left this place, I was a fresh-faced boy. But war changes you. I've seen things that keep me awake at night, thirty years later. I don't want to talk about this anymore, if you don't mind.” She nodded silently, and we walked further into the ruins of the stronghold.

The smell of burning was still fresh in the air, so many years later. It stung my eyes, as every step we took kicked up more soot into the air. The buildings were just as I remembered them, albeit collapsed and burned. Dominating the ruin is what remains of the longhouse. It is where my father and all of his wives slept. And the favored of his children, of course. But not me. Father never believed I would ever be anything more than a whelp. I was the weakest, the most timid. He blamed it on my mother, never wanting to recognize his own faults. Nothing was ever his fault.
The surrounding huts were still somewhat intact. The Dominion hadn’t bothered to loot the place when they burned it. The forge was still where I remembered it, its fire long dead. My mother’s alchemy shack, never used after she was killed, still stood. The small pen for the goats and the chickens was cinders, but you could still see where the fence posts once stood. “It’s...eerie. It’s so quiet,” Lyanna remarked. “It used to be a lively place. We had many people living here. And lots of livestock. It was...home.” I couldn’t help it anymore and let out a sniffle, and a single tear fell down my face. “I used to sleep here.”
“In the stable?”
“Yeah. I slept with the animals.”
“Because my father despised me. I was never allowed to sleep in the longhouse.”
“Why did he never accept you, Karnag?”
“Because you were just like your mother!” a raspy voice bellowed behind us. We both whipped around, and my crossbow was in my hands in a second. But I didn’t bother to shoulder it.
An old, grey, withered Orc stood before us, leaning on a walking staff. “Your mother made you weak. I should have thrown her out of the stronghold and saved us all the trouble of burying her later.” I couldn’t comprehend what I was seeing or hearing. It was my father. A relic, by Orcish standards, he was crooked with age. “You haven’t changed at all, have you, Karnag?”
“I’ve changed more than you’ll ever know, father.” Lyanna looked stunned. “This, this is your father?”
“Narbul the Ironskin. Or, at least what’s left of him.”
“You hold your tongue, boy. You never respected me as a whelp, but you’d better respect me as your elder.”
“I’m not a boy, father. I’m as old as you were when we last met.”
“And you should have stayed gone. Look at my stronghold! Burned by the damned Dominion. Didn’t see you coming to help!”
“I was fighting to save the Empire, father, along with your favorite sons, and neither of them came to help either, so don't blame me! Besides, why would I want to come back to someplace I was never respected?”
“And yet here you are!”
“Because I thought you were dead! I wouldn’t be here if I thought your chest still drew breath.”
“And yet here you stand, crossbow in hand. Come to challenge me to rightful leadership of the stronghold? Couldn’t fight me when I was prime, now come to beat up an old Orc?”
“You have no idea the battles I’ve fought, the men I’ve slain, the blood I’ve spilt, all to prove you wrong. And I have to wonder, why did you leave my axe in the palisade?”
“Because, Karnag, at first I truly hoped you’d return. Maybe battle would straighten you out. Then my stronghold was burned. And you weren’t here to help. Our kin, all dead because you couldn’t help them! So I left it there to remind me of how much of a disappointment you really are.” I couldn’t contain the anger building up within me anymore. I drew my blade, and shouted, “You were wrong, father! Do you know what they call me? They call me Karnag Dragon-Slayer! I killed Alduin the World-Eater! I killed Ulfric Stormcloak the traitor, and I’m going to kill the Aldmeri Queen as soon as I get my hands on her!”
“If you’re such a killer, prove it. Kill me. Strike me down like you always wanted to!” The old man dropped his cane and drew a short sword. “I’m still a better warrior than you, and I’ll prove it!” He lunged at me, and I parried. “Father, stop this madness!”
“Fight me, Karnag! It is the way of our people!” He lunged at me again and I dodged his thrusts. He took a broad swing at me and I caught his blade with mine, knocking him backwards. “That’s it, feel the anger consume you!” He rushed me again, and almost without effort, I took a deep breath and spoke the dovahzul word, “Fus,” and the old man was knocked back and fell on the ground. I stood over him, my sword at his throat. “That’s right, Karnag. Do it. Strike me down and claim your destiny!” The tip of my blade hovered, inches above his neck. “No,” I said sternly. “I won’t give you the satisfaction.” I sheathed my sword, and picked his up from the ground, and embedded its blade deep into the charred soil next to where he lay.
I looked over to Lyanna, who had a look of utter shock on her face. “Let’s go. We’re done here,” I grumbled. I looked back at my father, coughing and wheezing on the ground of what used to be my home. “If you want to change, and make things right between us, my home is at Lakeview Estate in Falkreath. You will be welcomed there. If not, you can rot here in the ashes of your home with your dead kin. It makes no difference to me. You were dead to me a long time ago.” As we made our way to the gate, I could hear him say, between coughs, “Don’t you leave again, boy! You’re just like your mother! You’ll never be a true warrior!” I ignored his remarks, just like I had all those years ago, when I left. But this time, as I crossed through the gate, I pulled mine and my brothers axe heads out of the wall. Our battles were over, but this place was not somewhere that deserved to remember our passing. “I think it’s noble, you sparing him after all he did to you,” Lyanna said as I wrapped the rusted axe heads in cloth and placed them in my saddle bags. “There wasn't anything noble about it. Refusing a warrior an honorable death in battle is the worst insult an Orc can be given. A dishonorable death means an afterlife without Malacath, doomed to eternal suffering, wandering the dust and smoke of the Ashpit. By sparing my father's life,” I said as I mounted my horse, “I stole his chance at honor.”
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