Chapter 1: Part 1, Chapter 1
When the bell sounded from the castle at the end of their lesson, the three of them dropped their trowels at once and hurried through the grounds to the edge of the forest. Hagrid greeted them, looking flushed and excited.
"It's nearly out." He ushered them inside.
The egg was lying on the table. There were deep cracks in it. Something was moving inside; a funny clicking noise was coming from it. They all drew their chairs up to the table and watched with bated breath. All at once there was a scraping noise and the egg split open. The baby dragon flopped onto the table. It wasn't exactly pretty; Harry thought it looked like a crumpled, black umbrella. Its spiny wings were huge compared to its skinny jet body, it had a long snout with wide nostrils, the stubs of horns and bulging, orange eyes. It sneezed. A couple of sparks flew out of its snout.
"Isn't he beautiful?" Hagrid murmured. He reached out a hand to stroke the dragon's head. It snapped at his fingers, showing pointed fangs.
"Bless him, look, he knows his Mummy!" said Hagrid.
"Hagrid," said Hermione, "how fast do Norwegian Ridgebacks grow, exactly?”
Hagrid was about to answer when the colour suddenly drained from his face -- he leapt to his feet and ran to the window.
"What's the matter?”
"Someone was lookin' through the gap in the curtains -- it's a kid -- he's runnin' back up ter the school.”
Harry bolted to the door and looked out. Even at a distance there was no mistaking him.
Malfoy had seen the dragon.”*
* Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone. PDF version. Pp 187-188.
Harry stood at the doorway in fear. Malfoy was sure to tell a teacher about what he had seen. What were they supposed to do? They couldn’t exactly confront the Slytherin and threaten him to keep his mouth shut. They’d be lucky to avoid detention for the rest of their lives. Hell, they’d be lucky if they weren’t expelled for this; and Hagrid. Hagrid would be out of a job for sure, and he loved Hogwarts almost as much as Harry did. Hagrid would be devastated.
The dragon was still hissing on the table. It sounded like an overflowing teapot left to boil too long. Already the skinny body with its wet leathery skin was drying and hardening into jet black scales that glistened in the firelight; and was it Harry’s imagination, or was the dragon bigger already? Hagrid was feeding it from a bucket that sloshed as he moved it. Harry didn’t want to know what was in the bucket. It smelt metallic and like Uncle Vernon’s bottle of amber medicine that he kept for Bad Day’s at the office.
Those were the days Harry hid in the backyard.
“We need to do something,” Hermione exclaimed, as she turned to Harry and Ron. Neither boy was sure if she meant they had to do something about the dragon or about Malfoy.
“Do what, exactly?” Ron demanded, knowing that anything they did would only endanger Hagrid’s job. Keeping pet dragons had been outlawed for a reason. Not the least of which was because the beasts had a tendency to eat their owners. “Malfoy’s Dad is on the School board. He could have us all thrown out and no one would say anything. The Malfoy’s are loaded, Hermione!”
Hermione huffed, “well, we have to do something!” She told them waspishly, and Harry exchanged an exasperated glance with Ron. He was coming up empty and the redhead wasn’t doing much better.
Harry couldn’t help but shrug as both Ron and Hermione turned to him expectantly. He had no idea what to do. Everything, - magic, dragons, flying brooms - it was all becoming a bit much for him. For the first time since entering the magical world, Harry felt his mind grind to a stop and shriek that this was all ‘impossible’. He couldn’t do this!
Harry stared helplessly at the baby dragon and wished, for the first time in a very long time, that he had a Mum or Dad or brother- like lightning, an idea struck him. “Charlie!” Harry breathed in relief as he turned to Ron. Relief swelled in his chest.
Ron let out a strangled laugh, “you’ve gone mental,” the redhead told Harry, looking hurt by Harry’s words. “I’m Ron, remember?”
“What?” Harry stared at him in confusion, “of course you’re Ron. No, I’m saying we give the dragon to Charlie! DIdn’t you say he worked with dragons?”
Ron gaped at him, “Harry,” he told his best friend seriously, “you’re a genius!”
Hermione went to ask the two boys exactly how they were going to get an illegal baby dragon to Charlie Weasley, who Ron had said was living in Romania, when the dragon in question belched a fireball just over her head. Hermione screamed and the three First Years hit the floor, arms covering their heads in shock and fear.
There was no mistaking that the dragon was growing unnaturally fast. Already it’s tail and wings were draped over the edge of Hagrid’s table that could fit all three children comfortable along one side. It’s glowing orange eyes were fixed determinedly upon the trio and its fangs were bared in silent threat.
“Norbert!” Hagrid scolded, finally remembering that he had guests. “Do not harm the children!”
“Hagrid, it’s dangerous!” Hermione shrilled at the giant man, cowering next to Harry with her arms above her head.
“Nonsense,” Hagrid refuted loudly and turned away to refill the bucket he’d been feeding the dragon with. Harry and Ron barely managed to refrain from gagging as more blood and brandy was mixed together using a large spoon. “He’s just a baby.”
Just a baby, Harry thought faintly, staring at the dragon in horror. Already the baby had doubled in length and filled out in size. It would be barely a week before it wouldn’t be able to fit in Hagrid’s hut any longer; and that wasn’t counting the terrible and fierce intelligence that burned in the dragons gaze.
Ron, who knew all about dragons because of his brother Charlie, was staring at the dragon with a mixture of fascination and repulsion. Charlie had told him all about dragons. Most of which was ‘sanitised’ for his young audience; but even then, Ron knew just how dangerous dragons were. There had been a reason for the magical population rounding up the dragon race and slaughtering the beasts until they near to extinction; and it wasn’t because they were used in a million different potions and poisons.
No, dragons were feared in wizarding culture and with good reason; and it had everything to do with how intelligent they were. Dragons were well known as evil, predatory creatures that preferred to eat human flesh than than lesser animals like horses or cows; and they knew exactly how to gain access to their human prey. Strong and fast though dragons were, it was their terrible magic that made them more than dangerous. It was without control. Without rein. A dragon knew nothing but hunger and blood lust and destruction; and they gloried in all three to excess.
This dragon, Ron could tell, was no different. Already it’s nostrils flared and it’s eyes gleamed with untamed hunger. Hagrid was fooling himself; and Ron almost hated himself for agreeing with Malfoy in that the giant Groundskeeper was a danger to himself and others. The dragon let out a rumbling purr and Ron shivered as it drew itself upwards, head curving around in search of the one who fed it blood and brandy.
Hermione clutched at Ron’s shirt, tugging slightly. “What’s wrong with it?” She whispered fearfully, “what’s it doing?”
Ron met Harry’s wide eyed gaze, “it’s hungry,” Ron rasped. “New dragons aren’t born very often. Most eggs are culled before they can hatch.” Ron stopped and winced as the dragon snapped at Hagrid’s hand.
“Why?” Harry asked, wondering why anything would be killed so young.
Ron met his gaze solidly, “because dragon babies need highly magical food to grow properly; and dragons prefer to eat people, Harry. Humans.”
Hagrid snorted from where he was standing next to the table, “codswallop, Ron; seriously misunderstood creatures, dragons. He’s no danger to you.”
“Of course not,” Hermione said faintly, “he can just bite us or send us all up into flame!”
“Remember, remember,” Harry couldn’t help quip, his eyes dancing with ill placed humour.
Hermione turned on him, “Harry! It isn’t funny!” She scolded, obviously afraid.
Ron nodded, swallowing heavily, “dragon breedings been outlawed for centuries. You can’t control it, Hagrid. You work at a school!”
Hagrid dismissed the preteen with a shrug of his massive shoulders, “nothing will happen, Ron.”
“And when Dumbledore finds out?” Ron argued, “Hagrid, it has to go! Send it to Charlie, or if the Ministry finds out…”
Hagrid stared helplessly at Ron, “I can’t give him up. He’s just a baby!”
“A baby?” Harry exclaimed, aghast, “in a week it’ll be bigger than your house! Look at it, Hagrid! It’s already too big to sit on your table!”
Hermione eyed the dragon cautiously, “it does seem to be growing abnormally fast,” she agreed worriedly.
The dragon in question hulked over the tabletop, it’s head now the length of Harry’s forearm and it’s tail barbed with deadly hand-long spikes. It’s wings unfurled and furled repeatedly, almost as though the creature was preparing for flight. The keen orange eyes flared with hunger and rage, and the dragon’s head sloughed to the side, pinning Harry, Ron and Hermione in place. It saw them and it hungered.
“Harry…” Hermione whimpered, and Harry felt a frisson of ice bleed through his veins.
“I see it, Hermione,” Harry said as the trio slowly stood and began to edge their way to the door. Ron’s warnings about dragons being man-eaters playing out through their minds.
The dragon snarled wrathfully, aware that its prey was fleeing, and belched a gout of flame. Harry ducked, shoving his friends to the side, and could have sworn that a hundred voices shouted in unison deep within his mind; but that was impossible. Hagrid let out a mighty, wordless roar and caught the dragon around its neck and shoved the beast backwards, sending it tumbling to the floor.
The dragon, now well over a metre in length, let out a roar that rattled the window panes and made dust drift down from the rafters. Harry stared at the dragon, absolutely certain that he heard words within that roar; but dragons couldn’t speak, could they?
Any further attempt at puzzling that out was flattened when Harry dove under Hagrid’s bed, Hermione and Ron following his shortly thereafter, as another gout of flame lanced above where his head had been moments before. This time, Harry knew he had heard a word.
A word that was repeated: “YOL!” The dragon Shouted right before another gout of flame caught the curtains above the sink alight. Outside, they could see people streaming out and down from the castle. At their head, his robes hiking up over skinny, pale legs, was Headmaster Albus Dumbledore. Malfoy had told someone; and Harry had never been so happy at the thought. Forget expulsion, he was just going to be happy to be alive!
Harry stared at Ron incredulously, “it’s speaking,” he shrilled in terror, “the dragon’s speaking, Ron!”
“What?” Ron asked, utterly confused, “dragon’s can’t talk, Harry!”
“Well this one does!” Harry shouted as the three first years lunged back onto their feet and ran for the door way. Deep within his mind, Harry could feel the beating of drums and the chanting of hundreds of voices, not all of which were human. Yol, Harry knew with utter certainty, meant “fire”. How he knew this, Harry had no idea. It was terrifying
Fire sprayed along the wall and they would have run directly into it had Hagrid not appeared behind them and caught them all in a tight embrace. “I’ve got you, easy, easy now,” the giant man tried to sooth as Hermione screamed and Ron swung wildly behind him. Harry cried out as Ron’s elbow caught him in his face, his cheekbone radiating pain.
“Ow,” Harry moaned, dazed and confused.
Hagrid spun them around, still holding onto them tightly, and all around them, the cottage burned. It was hot. The flames were incandescent and danced vibrantly behind the lanky dragons body. The dragon’s eyes gleamed with feral cunning as it crawled forwards, looking comfortable in the heat in a way that the four humans were not.
“Dovah,” Harry rasped, fear racing through him and he watched as the dragon cocked it’s head to the side and paused. The word echoed something deep inside him. A feeling -no, a memory surfaced. Fire burned him and Harry quailed at the great black beast that hung motionless in the sky.
The world exploded.
Light whited out his vision.
The Dragon’s voice rumbled like a distant storm on the horizon, for it was definitely speaking now. There could be no mistake. It’s mouth opened and closed as it spoke and sharp, white fangs were bared to the bright and hungry flames that licked their way up the walls. Harry felt something deep inside him roar in defiance and he opened his mouth to scream - but no sound came out.
“Dovahkiin’li,” the Dragon snarled at Harry - and Harry had no idea how he knew that the dragon was talking to him. At him. Naming him, because he knew that name. He knew that word. Dovahkiin. Dragonborn. His vision doubled as the dragon breathed fire above their heads and he could have sworn that the beast before him reminded him of another; but that was crazy. This was the first dragon he had seen - wasn’t it?
“Is it speaking?” Hermione asked, fear making her voice high pitched in her disbelief.
Ron shook his head wildly, “no, no, dragon’s can’t talk,” he said in complete denial, clearly unable to deal with an intelligent dragon, “dragons can’t talk!”
“That one is, Ronald!” Hermione shrilled loudly, making Harry’s head spike with pain.
“Zu’l Nahrelmaar*!” The Dragon’s roar battered the windows and shook the very foundations of the cottage.
From outside, they could hear the shouts and screams of teachers and students as they tried to put out the dragon fire with magic. The sky crackled with thunder and lightning but nothing was dousing the magical flames. Hermione and Ron were screaming for help and Hagrid was holding them tightly, his eyes affixed on the dragon with awe.
“Amazin’,” Hagrid breathed above their heads, “Norbert, you can talk!”
Harry was barely able to make out the hubbub outside, his frozen gaze affixed upon the increasingly irate dragon. It had just named itself. How did the dragon know to name itself? How did Harry know that it had just named itself? What was happening to him? What was wrong with him?
The dragon arched up onto its hindquarters and belched fire above its head, shattering through the roof like a hammer shattered through plaster. Hermione screamed and turned her face into Hagrid’s great coat, pressing in tighter to the giants body; while the two boys flung their arms above their head in fear. The dragon snarled wrathfully and beat its wings, half-lifting its body into flight.
Poised above them, mid-flight, the dragon opened its fanged maw and roared - No, it Shouted at them… and as the wind howled and bore down upon them, Harry felt something… rip… tear… split… and then…
There was darkness…
Time stood still.
No, not one light, but two.
No, there was three lights…
A million lights, maybe more, appeared. They danced. In an infinitive array, they danced and whirled and whipped past. Time. Life. It was all meaningless here. Nothing remained but the stars and the light and the magic. A thousand colours swirled, too vast to comprehend.
To the beat of ancient music the stars danced and swayed.
Had he a voice, he would have laughed in sheer joy.
The universe hung before him.
And he was alone…
And Harry knew without seeing that Ron was on his right and that Hermione was on Ron’s right and that Hagrid stood behind them all. Holding them tightly. Protecting them. Staring around in wonder.
He was not alone. He never had been… or… he never would be?
A Shout echoed deep within his soul, where the voices of hundreds of others chanted…
There came a great rush and on that tidal wave, he watched the ages pass…
Men came. Dragons fell. A great collapse. An even greater rise…
He exhaled; and with his exhale, a world drew breath.
He inhaled; and with his inhale, the scent of spring flowers tickled his nose.
The sky was blue.
There were clouds.
It was quiet.
A great, terrible, hungry voice sounded:
Dov. Ah. Kiin!
Chapter 2: Part 1, Chapter 2
Part 1, Chapter 2.
Far to the North a cold wind blew. There was ice on its breath and snow in its lungs and down it swept. Down from the Sea of Ghosts and through the empty streets of Dawnstar Hold, where all with sense in their heads huddled by fires both bright and warm. All around the cold fingers of the wind trailed, rattling through the limbs of trees and sending snow cascading down through White Shore where the White River ran with leaping salmon on their early summer run. Hoarfrost snapped at the heels of deer and the great Sabre-Toothed Lions that hunted the steppes of White-Run Hold. Here too, men, women, and children huddled out of the wind and cold by firesides and listened to Bards and Skald’s tell there ancient tales that no one paid heed to anymore.
Down that freezing wind swept, along the length and breadth of the land. Towards the South in the Northern Jerran Mountains stood a singular tall peak. Glistening with untouched snow and still with the weight of time and prophecy about its skirts, the Throat of the World lay untouched by the icy wind. Against the mountains sides the wind battered and raged, until the trees shook with the storms fury and the great snapping of wood and stone could be heard for miles around.
Far below the Mountain, the small inlet town of Ivarstead sat beside the ice-blue waters of Lake Tear; from which ran the meltwaters of ice and snow down into The Rift’s Treva River where it met Lake Henrich, upon the banks of which sat the failing hold of Riften. Though humanity ignored all the signs, the beasts and creatures of Skyrim’s holds huddled in their dens and their herds and listened to the sounds the wind brought.
An almighty crash of lightning, though no lightning storm was this, sounded for all to hear. In the Vilemyr Inn, Wilhelm met the concerned gaze of Klimmek, the young man who traversed the Seven Thousand Steps up to High Hrothgar to deliver food and news to the Monks high above. Though no words were exchanged, both men knew that they would be searching the area come dawn for any and all souls that might have been waylaid by the storm that dared to shatter the silence around their small town.
For though the signs had been clear all day, there were always those who dared to travel even in Skyrim’s worst weather.
High above the small township of Ivarstead as the lightning crash rocked Skyrim’s land and sky, a beast roared. From the depths of the shimmering portal fell four figures. The first was a man fully grown to nine-feet tall with wild black hair and beetle black eyes that shone with kindness. He was clad in a heavy leather coat that protected him from the worst of the wind and snow, but even then, he shivered in the cold and drew the three younger people to his side.
The second was a boy of no more than eleven summers in age. With bright red hair, sky blue eyes, and a long nose that was heavily freckled, the boy looked akin to the people who were native to this land. He wore a black cloak, woollen trousers and leather shoes that were hardly appropriate for the storm he found himself in. Indeed, the third and fourth were much the same in attire. Though they were very different in looks.
The third, a girl with curly, dark brown hair and nut brown skin, huddled closer to her companions even as she raised her hands and tried to call forth bright blue flames with which to warm them. The fourth, another boy-child, had messy black hair, glasses, and bright green eyes. His was a fearful look that stared around him as though expecting to be attacked at any moment.
Harry still had no clue what had happened to him, though he could well remember the Words that had sent them here and the Words echoed like a tolling bell deep within his brain. It was a deeply unsettling experience.
“Where are we?” Hermione chattered through her violent shivering.
Ron shrugged and pressed in deeper to Hagrid’s side, “somewhere cold,” he muttered, unable to control the shaking of his body. “Very cold.”
“A mou- moun- mountain,” Harry stammered through chattering teeth, his eyes tracking over ice and rock and snow. It seemed endless in the shadows that clung to the trees above them. “It’s cold.”
Ron nodded in agreement, “I’m freezing!”
“M- m- me t- too,” Hermione stuttered, jabbing her wand sharply, her muttered incantation breaking beneath the chattering of her teeth. Despite that, her will was strong but no magic stirred around them and no warmth burst into the stillness. “It- it’s not working!” Hermione’s despair was palpable.
Hagrid listened to the children worry and chatter as he stared around himself in bewilderment, unable to work out just where they were. It was like nothing the Scotsman knew or had ever seen before. Hagrid had heard tell of places with razor-peaked mountains that were forever capped with snow. Place unlike his beloved Highlands, with their rolling hills and ancient mountains. This place was dark, not just because it was night; but capital ‘D’, Dark. Dark wizard, kind of Dark.
Hagrid shivered as he looked out over the glittering expanse of snow. The trees here were monoliths, black and jagged against a sky filled with ever-changing, multicoloured fire. Aurora Borealis, he thought the sky-fire was called; the Northern Lights. On clear nights you could see it in Scotland, but Hogwart’s wasn’t that far north and it had been several decades since Hagrid had seen the phenomena. Not since his Da’s death when he was thirteen.
Far below their spot on the mountainside, Hagrid could see the flickering glow of firelight in windows. A town. A township meant warmth, food, and a space to rest their heads. Hagrid pushed himself to his feet, his boots sinking heavily into the powdery snow with a harsh crunch. Wary black eyes considered his surrounds and he flared his nostrils, hoping to catch the scent of the creature that made the hairs on the nape of his neck raise in wariness.
Hagrid was too large for most creatures to harm him, but he knew that with three children in his charge, that he would be hampered in his fight or flight. Already the lips of the little ones were turning blue and their shivering had stopped. Hagrid knew what that meant.
“Harry, Hermione, come here,” Hagrid ordered gruffly, and he watched the two children stagger upright and over to him. Hagrid shucked his enormous coat, thankful that he’d been wearing it in the hut, despite the ridiculous heat that the dragon’s egg needed to hatch. Hagrid draped the coat around the three First Year students, ignoring the way Hermione’s nose wrinkled at the faint earthy smell that rose from the leather. That coat had been overlaid with fire-proofing charms and heat-relieving charms by Professor Dumbledore himself. Hagrid’s coat had withstood near enough everything and was barely scuffed or marked from it’s encounter with dragon-fire.
More importantly, it would keep the little one’s warm.
“Come on,” Hagrid said, gesturing with a large hand for the children to follow him. “I can see lights from a village down below. We should make it by day-break.” Ron and Hermione hurried after the giant man, with Harry yelping in surprise as he was dragged along.
“Hagrid,” Hermione piped up after a few minutes struggling down the mountainside. “Where exactly are we?”
Hagrid paused long enough to meet her eyes, “I don’t know, Hermione, I don’t recognise the area.”
“I reckon we’re far north,” Ron grunted as he and Harry all but picked Hermione up between them as they struggled after the much taller and stronger Groundskeeper. “You don’t get the Northern Light’s in England.”
Harry looked upwards, marvelling at the fantastic display that shimmered and flickered overhead. “It’s like the sky’s on fire,” he said, a moment of fancy overtaking him.
Ron grinned, “Charlie used to think that dragon’s caused it,” he confided in his best friend, “said that there were two dragons who made the world and became Merlin and Morgana.”
“Oh, honestly,” Hermione scoffed, “wizards are ridiculous. The Aurora Borealis is made because of molecules in the air reacting with the low air pressure in the high altitude.”
Ron rolled his eyes, “Charlie was eight when he believed that, Hermione.”
Harry sighed in exasperation as his two friends began to bicker, their voices ringing out into the clear mountain air like bells. They were being loud; not just with the bickering of Ron and Hermione, but all four were crashing through the undergrowth and struggling through the snow without care for the noise they were making. The snow ground and crunched under foot. The wind cracked the tree branches overhead even as little hands snapped and cracked twigs underfoot.
It was because of this noise, that Hagrid failed to realise that they were being stalked until he was bowled over by a large, clawed creature. With an enormous shrug of his shoulders, Hagrid dislodged the creature and sent it sprawling in the snow. “Run!” He shouted at the children; who, wide eyed and frightened, dropped his great coat and bolted.
Cloaks streaming behind them, Harry, Ron and Hermione flung themselves down the mountainside at break neck speed, hardly paying attention to what was going around them or where they were putting their feet. It was by some miracle, that none of them tripped and snapped their neck. Behind them, the roars of the beast and shouts of Hagrid spurred them on.
Down they ran, ducking overhanging branches, jumping as best they could over logs and rocks, and rounding anything else that got in their way. They tripped, slipped, and mostly fell their way down the steep slope, but anything was better than falling foul of some creatures’ hungry fangs. Closer and closer the towns glimmering lights appeared through the shimmering snow and jagged leaves of the pine trees.
Ron, with his longer legs, broke ahead and staggered as his feet slipped and slid over frozen cobblestones. “A road!” The redheaded boy cried in relief, “We’re almost there!”
Harry slowed to a job, his hair a wet, wild mess upon his head. “Hagrid?!” He called out, “Hagrid, where are you?!”
The roars and shouts had grown fainter in their flight and it was only as they realised that they were immeasurably safer, that they had left Hagrid behind. Hermione looked about to burst into tears, the heat from their flight having warmed the trio enough that they steamed, more than shivered, in the cold.
“What do we do?” Hermione whispered, her arms wrapping around her belly in fear.
Harry glared at her, “we need to find Hagrid!”
“Are you mad?” Ron demanded, “that beast was huge!”
“So?” Harry snapped, “he’s our friend!”
The sound of snarling and crashing snapped Ron and Harry out of their argument, and both boys stared around them nervously. “What’s happening?” Hermione whimpered, shivering a little as ice crept down her spine, turning her legs to water.
There was a brief moment of silence and then the night exploded as Hagrid, bleeding but very much alive, broke free of the tree line a hundred yards down the road from them. Harry felt his soul gain wings in sheer delight and joy at the sight of the Groundskeeper and a smile broke out on his face.
“Hagrid!” He shouted, “we’re over here!”
Hagrid charged towards them, “RUN!” He roared; and not a moment too soon as the dragon that had sent them to this place flung itself onto the road behind Hagrid, it’s orange eyes glowing devilishly. The dragons roar seemed doubled as it bounded more than flew behind Hagrid.
Ron howled in horror and grabbed Hermione’s hand, pulling her along with him as he fled. “Come on, Harry!”
Harry felt a surge of pure adrenaline hit his veins, his blood crackled with fearful electricity and surged in time with his pounding heart as he bolted. Harry could have sworn that his feet grew wings as he sprinted along that pitted, crumbling road. Every so often a sharp stone rose up out of the snow and each one bore a number alongside a stylised ‘I’.
Before too long, however, Harry, Ron and Hermione felt their strength begin to flag. They were children, no matter how strong and fleet they were, they were still no where near full grown and their stamina left a lot to be desired. Still they ran, their sides aching and their breaths panting harshly in their throats.
Behind them, they could almost feel the weight of the dragon’s fangs in their shoulders and their backs; and every imagining had them pressing harder and harder against the metaphorical wall of exhaustion they were hammering against. Hagrid ran alongside them, chivvying them along and encouraging them as best he was able; despite his obvious injuries.
The minutes blurred together in a smear of greys, whites, and blacks. Above their heads the sun rose and behind them all sound ceased. Dragons were not made for running and the dragon behind them was too young to yet fly. Thankfully.
And still they ran, feet all but dragging with exhaustion as they staggered and stumbled along the road. Just ahead rose the town, brightly lit and welcoming to their tired eyes. Hermione was all but sobbing with relief as they fumbled to a graceless stop beside a tall structure with a sign hanging from it’s roof. Light spilled across the ground as people tumbled out into the early morning, their voices raising in fear and surprise at the people that had just staggered into their midst.
Harry was not too exhausted to note that they wore metal armour and carried swords and axes. He just knew that they were no where near home. Then, as one tall man with dark brown hair began to shout questions to his uncomprehending ears, Harry swayed and buckled, falling to the ground in a dead faint. Joining his friends in oblivion.
Harry snapped to wakefulness at the crack of a tree branch in an open hearth-fire. He was tucked into a what looked like a leather sleeping bag, except there was fur on the inside that tickled his arms and legs as he rolled around onto his side. Directly in front of him was a blazing fire surrounded by old stones cracked from constant heat and discoloured from ash and soot from years of use. Above the fire was something that looked like a dog, except it was all dripping, scorched skin and spitted to a metal pole that rasped as it was turned by a small girl who looked about six years old. The girl was wearing a brown dress with a once-white apron tied around her middle and her long dark hair was tied back by a brown strip of cloth at her temples, like she was wearing a headband.
Pushing himself upright, Harry realised that the sleeping bag he was lying in was spread out on uneven stone floors that had been covered by what looked like it was straw and the scent of hay was thick in the air, mixing with bubbling fat and smoke from the fire. Exhaustion crashed over him as Harry slumped cross-legged on his bedding, his shoulders curving inwards and his bones aching. Above his head ash-grey smoke drifted upwards to spiral out of a central column that was more a hole in the roof than a specifically designed chimney. On either side of the fire were bales of hay that had been draped by furs and woollen blankets interspersed with the occasional trestle-stool that appeared to have been made by logs split in half and sanded smooth enough to sit on.
“So,” a deep voice spoke, “you’re awake then, boy; good, good,” and a man swung himself down onto a neighbouring bale and met Harry’s eyes seriously. He was tall and broad with hands that were scarred and pocked from hard work. He wore a thick dark green shirt that looked almost like a jacket except that it seemed to be woven from scraps of fabric, no buttons down the front, and had a little fastening at the base of his throat. The man’s trousers were made of the same fabric as his shirt and were of a darker brown colour but weren’t like any pants that Harry had ever seen before. These had been tucked into tall, sturdy, leather boots that were scuffed and worn around the toes and heel.
Harry dragged his gaze up and met eyes that were sky blue and kind, crinkling around the edges in good humour as he smiled at the curious boy at his feet. “Where am I?”
“Ivarstead,” the man answered easily enough, “and what is your name, young one?”
Harry frowned, “where’s Ivarstead? I’ve never heard of it before.”
The man leaned forwards and rested his forearms on his knees, looking pensive as he stared at Harry. Harry ducked his gaze, avoiding that penetratingly thoughtful stare, and scratched his side. “It’s to the North-West of Riften, the southern most hold of Skyrim.”
Harry was unable to help the dumbfounded stare he gave the man in front of him. “What’s Skyrim?”
The man laughed boisterously, reminding Harry of Ron when they were avoiding all their schoolwork and playing chess and telling jokes. “Skyrim, boy, surely you know of it?” The man shook his head and strands of wheat-gold hair fell into his face only to be dragged back once more by a broad hand. “It’s the Northern most kingdom to Cyrodiil, of the Empire of Tamriel.”
Harry felt a familiar sort of shame, one he’d felt months ago when Hagrid had demanded how he didn’t know his parents were wizards, and curled inwards. “Sorry,” Harry muttered, hanging his head, “no.”
The man’s blond brows rose in surprise, “did you not mean to come this far North, lad? Were you and your companions making for Bruma and take a wrong turn during those dreadful storms some months back? Surely not, even the most inexperienced traveller would know that it takes far less than the four months of travel it takes to get from Bruma to Riften…” The man trailed off, clearly not expecting an answer but confused by Harry’s answers all the same.
“I’m sorry, sir,” Harry couldn’t help his plaintive tone of voice, “I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
“Sir?” The man echoed, “are you from Breton? A son of their High Court? You’re in Skyrim now, boy; there are no sir’s here. Just good honest men who work hard and do their duty to Jarl and Empire.” Harry’s mouth hung open in confusion as the man rocked to his feet. “Get some rest, boy, your companions are still unconscious and daybreak is some hours off yet. Until we find out where you need to go, you can stay and recuperate here at Vilemyr.”
Harry ignored the staring of the curious girl who was turning the animal on the spit, her dark eyes downcast but were curious all the same as she waited for the man to leave. Harry climbed back into the weird sleeping bag and pulled the top layer up around his ears. Despite his best efforts and the glare of the fire, his eyes sank closed and tiredness stole the last of his consciousness from him. It was all a very strange dream, was his last thought, strange and scary, but still a dream nonetheless. When he woke, he knew he’d be back at Hogwarts in his four-poster bed with potions to look forwards to in the afternoon.
Wilhelm settled on a rough wooden trestle beside Klimmek, they had been friends since they were boys and now as young men, they were the unofficial leaders of their small town-stead. Ivarstead had been settled by Wilhelm’s great-grandfather, Alfhild and the small band of ex-mercenaries he’d led during the Oblivion Crisis, some two hundred years ago. Now Ivarstead could hardly be called bustling, but it was a definite stop on the road towards High Hrothgar, the monastery at the summit of the Throat of the World. Klimmek’s father, like his father before him and Klimmek himself did now, had been a traveling trader, who would regularly take supplies and news up to the monks. In the twilight years of his life and at the very beginning of Klimmek’s, they had settled in Ivarstead to find stability and peace in the face of the worsening roads and political turmoil that the Imperial’s brewed far to the south in their White City.
Now the two young men were faced with the first test of their combined leadership since Vidar, Wilhelm’s father, had passed away last winter. Klimmek, a youth of a bare twenty summers, jostled his knee up and down in a rare show of nervousness as he stared at the black haired boy beside the fire. The other children, the red-haired Nord boy and the Redguard female, had been adversely affected by the cold; while the enormous man, had been hacked and slashed to an inch of his life by bandits - they hoped. Anything worse than bandits and Wilhelm might have to request aid from the Jarl in Riften, which would invite Imperial scrutiny into their town, which neither man desired in the slightest.
Wilhelm sighed and leaned backwards, resting his back against the wall behind him, “the boy knows nothing of use,” he said finally, turning to meet Klimmek’s grey gaze. “He didn’t even know he was in Skyrim, let alone where Ivarstead is.”
Klimmek’s brows drew together in amusement, “in the boy’s defence, the town is barely three hundred years old. No doubt he’s seen places fifty times that in age, if they’ve been travelling through Cyrodiil as you suspect.”
“Aye,” Wilhelm agreed, “wouldn’t that be something, to see an old Aelid tomb?”
Klimmek huffed a breath of laughter, “and here I thought you’d thrown your old dreams of travelling south out of your head when your father died?”
“I should have,” Wilhelm stated staring straight ahead over the sleeping boys head and into the long fire behind him. His forearms were braced against his knees as Wilhelm breathed deep and slow, feeling the age and strength of the building around him. This might not have been his dream as a boy, but Wilhelm was true to his heritage and line. Vilemyr Inn was his home, his father’s home, his fathers’ father’s home.
“Not always easy to do so, though,” Klimmek noted compassionately, sliding sideways to press his and Wilhelm’s shoulders together. “What do we do?”
“Do?” Wilhelm’s eyes crinkled in humour, “we re-thatch rooves, re-thresh the floor, and in general prepare for winter. There’s a chill nip in the air,” Wilhelm announced as he rose to his feet, “it’ll be bad for the crops.”
The two men stopped long enough to stare once more at the dark haired Breton child that slumbered by the fire, his face was peaceful at rest, that haunted look in green eyes hidden by closed lids and the innocence that sleep brought. Still, curiosity bit at their bellies and made them hunger for answers they would have to wait to have fulfilled. For now, there were crops to be harvested and maintenance to be done. Winter was coming and already snows were beginning to settle in, it would be a harsh season this year, Klimmek could feel it. Summer was brief even this far south and made for short time to prepare.
As the last of the dawn broke over the Jerral mountains, painting them orange and gold, Wilhelm watched with grim eyes as Klimmek and Narfi tracked through the far meadow towards the southern end of the town, looking for the cows that had gone missing during the night. There was blood and fur beneath the rocky overhang that the animals would use as a shelter when the weather worsened and Wilhelm suspected that wolves were at fault for the loss of the cows. The rest of the herd was huddled against the fence closest to the town and Wilhelm could count several that had cuts and missing fur on their hides. Reyna, Narfi’s sister and crack shot with a bow and arrow, was standing at Wilhelm’s side, her keen eyes keeping a weather eye out for the return of the suspected wolves.
“This is the last thing we need with winter so close,” Reyna commented to Wilhelm as they waited for the return of Klimmek and Narfi.
Wilhelm grunted in agreement, frustration rising like acid in his belly at the thought of a missing two head of cattle. It might not sound like much, but wolves hunted almost nightly and it would not take them long to decimate the herd. “Get Jofthor to take the herd to the Northern paddock, we’ll set up a watch on them and see if we can’t track down the beasts that killed the missing cows,” Wilhelm ordered, his clenched fist tightening on the wrapped leather haft of his sword.
Reyna inclined her head sharply, “good idea,” she told Wilhelm and darted through the gate to jog down the muddy road towards Fell Star Farm, where Jofthor could be heard arguing with his wife, Boti at the to of his lungs.
As Reyna disappeared around a bend in the road, Klimmek and Narfi returned looking grim and worried. The morning was brisk but clear, the sun shining weakly down on fields of green and gold as the months turned from Heartfire into Frostfall. Despite the golden glory of the late Fall morning, it was quiet, too quiet in Wilhelm’s opinion; for no birds sang in the trees and but for the lonesome ‘skree’ of a hawk high overhead, the only sound was the wind.
Narfi, a man of nearly middle age with faintly greying temples, narrowed his sky eyes in frustration equal to Wilhelm’s own, “weren’t any wolves or bears that ah’ve seen before,” he grumbled ill-temperedly, spitting to the side and narrowly missing Klimmek who stood at his side.
Wilhelm’s lips thinned in amusement at Klimmek’s disgust, but otherwise made no move to react to Narfi’s behaviour. Narfi was the oldest of their generation and as ill-tempered as his father before him. How Reyna turned out so sweet and kind (albeit terrifyingly competent with a bow), neither Klimmek nor Wilhelm knew. “Then what killed the cows? Which,” Wilhelm interjected briefly as an aside, “we’re moving to the top paddock and setting a guard on them for the next few nights until we know what did this."
Klimmek heaved a heavy sigh but nodded his head in agreement anyway, “I’m not sure they’re dead,” he admitted as he cast a narrow eyed glance over his shoulder. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say a giant had wandered too far south and herded them away.”
“Giants don’t come this far south,” Wilhelm objected as they waited for Reyna to return, “it’s too warm!”
Klimmek rolled his eyes and gritted his teeth, “I know, Wilhelm, but you have to admit that all the signs point to abduction rather than wolves or bears hunting! There are no bodies, here. Wolves kill, they don’t wound and then herd the cows off to spare the sight from queasy human eyes.”
“Quiet your tongue, boy,” Narfi growled, knowing that his tendency to vomit when things got bloody was an aberration amongst the nords of Skyrim.
The trio of men fell into silence once more, leaning against the rough, damp wood of the paddock fences, keeping an eye on the herd that grazed nearby. Laughter drew their gazes to the muddy stretch of road that curved along to Fell Star Farm and to Ivarstead a bit beyond that. Reyna and Boti tramped side by side down the road, Jofthor bringing up the rear with a grumpy expression on his face.
Boti was several months pregnant and Jofthor, always protective of his wife who he had married for love rather than practicality, was even more subject to her shrill protestations than usual. Although, nord women were beyond independent at the best of times and Boti was more so than most, so Wilhelm could understand why she might chafe at her husbands attempts at preventing her from getting out of bed and straining herself, let alone lifting anything more than a spoon or a piece of bread. Freya, the wise woman and midwife, had said nothing about issues with the pregnancy either, which suggested that Jofthor’s problems were all of his own making.
“Hail, Jofthor, hail, Boti,” Klimmek shouted out, waving a hand high in their air, knowing how much Jofthor, rather like Narfi, hated unnecessary shows of enthusiasm or emotion.
Sure enough, Jofthor’s face turned even more surly as he glared at Klimmek’s bright grin. “Klimmek, Wilhelm, Narfi,” he grunted in bare greeting, nodding at them each in turn.
“We’re moving the herd to the North paddock and posting a watch tonight,” Wilhelm stated without fuss, clapping Jofthor on his shoulder and inclining his head at Narfi. “With Talos’ favour, we will catch whatever did this!”
Reyna and Klimmek hauled the gate as wide as it would go and whistled the cows through, flicking them when they tried to stray from the herd. Boti clicked a lead to the bulls nose ring and with her walking at the front, the rest of the herd followed her lead. Wilhelm, Narfi and Jofthor brought up the rear and clicked their tongues in encouragement when an animal began to fall behind. It took very little time to herd the cows into the top paddock and run along the fence line, checking for weaknesses. Narfi cut at the sod on the ground with a spade and hoe, grumbling about wet and rain as he helped Jofthor knock together a quick lean-to shelter. Klimmek and Reyna spent a frustrating hour or two rolling bales of hay from the bottom paddock into the top and wrestling the bales into place along the railing of the fence closest to town. Boti and Wilhelm had gathered sticks and thresh to thatch the lean-to once Jofthor and Narfi were finished before returning to the inn where the men and Reyna would return for lunch once they were done.
Vilemyr was rich with the smell of roasting meat and vegetable stew when Klimmek returned with Reyna, Jofthor, and Narfi. The young dark haired boy that Klimmek had rescued was hunched over on a bale of hay and nursing a bowl of stew. Wilhelm was sitting beside him, clearly trying to get more information from the boy, although he didn’t look to be having much luck. One by one, they all slipped four septim’s each into the communal pot on the high bench that ran the length of the back ball and stood before the rows of shelving that housed several barrels of mead and wine and ale.
Grunting in pleasure at being able to sit down, Klimmek settled himself beside Wilhelm and winked at the boy just past his friend. “Wilhelm’s not been interrogating you, has he, boy?”
The boy smiled uncertainly, “only a little?”
“You’re interrogating children now, Wilhelm?” Reyna’s voice cut across them sharply, but her grin was more kind than judgemental and her bright blue eyes gleamed with good humour. “Don’t mind Wilhelm, lad, he means well but he’s dreadfully nosy.”
Wilhelm’s ears tinted red as he drew himself up with mock-injured pride. “I’m feeling very maligned right now,” he complained, standing upright to serve his friends/customers their lunchtime meal. He drew a long curved knife and had Leyla, an orphan girl who’d been the daughter of the last maid of Vilemyr inn and, who was for all intents and purposes, Wilhelm’s adopted daughter, hold the spit still so he could carve generous chunks of meat from the deer that had been roasting for several hours now.
Jofthor and Narfi arrived at the fireside carrying mugs of mead for everyone there, Boti slipping the two children mugs of milk that had been collected at dawn from the cows that morning. From the side room they could hear groaning as the other adventurers began to awaken once more. Exchanging stunned glances, Boti and Klimmek darted into the room, the young dark haired boy hard on their heels.
Bundled up in bedrolls were two children and an absolute giant of a man with wild black hair and all of them, including the child behind them, wore strangely woven clothing. The enormous man was standing protectively in front of the two children that looked confused about their surroundings, rubbing sleep from their eyes, their hair ruffled and messy. The man looked a little more alert but Klimmek could see how he listed to the side, not yet recovered from his ordeal in the snow and rain.
Klimmek held his hands up to show he was unarmed and stared at the giant man steadily, “easy, easy,” he said in the same tone of voice he used to soothe spooked horses, “you’re safe, no one means you any harm, you’re in Ivarstead, at the Vilemyr inn.”
The man relaxed slightly, “where’s Harry?” He demanded, still looking suspicious but apparently willing to co-operate so long as he received answers.
The young dark haired boy stuck his head around the lintel of the doorway and waved his hand at the man and two children in greeting. “I’m here, Hagrid, I’m okay.”
The man, Hagrid, relaxed further at the sight of the young boy and breathed easier. “You okay, Harry?” Hagrid’s expression turned fierce as his eyes narrowed, “they’ve not harmed ye have they?”
“No,” Harry replied, shaking his head violently, “they fed me and everything.”
Hagrid’s expression morphed into a wide smile at that, “that’s good, I’m glad to hear it.”
Klimmek rested a hand on Harry’s shoulder and stepped backwards, bumping into Boti as he did so, “sorry,” he apologised to her before turning back to Hagrid, “come, sit by the fire, I’m sure you have questions.”
Hagrid nodded his agreement and helped the other two children upright, steadying them as they wobbled on their feet, clearly still tired despite the rest they’d had over the past two days. As the group returned to the fire, Jofthor and Narfi shuffled sideways, leaving space along one side for the strangers to seat themselves. Wilhelm had scooped the vegetable soup into bowls for the and was carving up a loaf of dark bread to go with the stew as Hagrid, Harry and the two other children seated themselves.
“Here,” Wilhelm said softly, gesturing for the three new arrivals to eat their fill, Harry picking up is discarded bowl with more enthusiasm than before. “Eat.”
“Many thanks, friend,” Hagrid sighed as he took a slice of bread and dunked it into his soup. Moments passed as the strangers ate their fill and the two boys elbowed each other and grinned in delight at the others presence. Harry was much more animated than he had been before and Wilhelm was hard pressed not to smile at the sight.
“So,” Narfi began in a harsh voice once the three strangers began to slow down, “where did you lot come from?”
Wilhelm barely bit back a groan, “Narfi,” he hissed beneath his breath.
Klimmek’s lip curled in disgust and he shook his head, “enough,” he growled, “there is wheat to harvest, take Reyna and Jofthor and leave. We’ll join you once we’re finished here.”
“You’re no Jarl, Klimmek,” Narfi growled his discontent, “you don’t get to tell me what to do;” but between Klimmek and Wilhelm’s glares, Narfi set his plate aside and stumped outside in obvious bitterness.
Reyna paused just long enough to tell Wilhelm that she would send Freya to them so that they could have the old woman’s opinion and guidance. Wilhelm watched as Boti bustled from the inn, following her husband and the rest of the labourers outside. The snap of the fire filled the silence as no one spoke, the tension mounting between them all until the four children, Leyla included, were squirming in their seats looking more and more uncomfortable. By the time Freya arrived, dressed in a dull white dress and tattered blue shawl that was not nearly as messy as her wild brown curls, Klimmek and Wilhelm were studiously staring into the fire and pretending that no one else existed, Hagrid was quietly talking to his three children and Leyla had actually run to do the washing up of plates and bowls in the kitchen, a chore Wilhelm usually had to order her to do.
“What do we have here?” Freya demanded, her voice crackling with age and too much time spent over a cauldron making remedies for rockjoint and fever. “Travellers,” she murmured as she made her way closer to the fire, keen dark eyes scanning the four strangers with keen interest. “Strange.”
“Sorry,” the girl began, not sounding sorry in the slightest, “but what’s strange?”
Freya’s eyes narrowed in suspicion, “what’s strange is that all four of you are not of this land,” she proclaimed. Which, given that the giant man, Hagrid, looked like any other Nord, if not a few feet larger in height and breadth, was very strange indeed.
Wilhelm was unable to prevent the curse he muttered under his breath, “Talos take you woman, speak not in riddles!”
Freya settled herself by the fire and clapped her hands together, “Leyla, get this old woman some mead; and mead for your father, Klimmek, and this strange man too!”
Leyla, who had been hunched down in the doorway to the kitchen watching the proceedings with curiosity, jumped nearly a foot in the air in surprise. “Yes, Mistress Freya!” She yipped in shock, jumping up to do as she was bade with alacrity.
“What are your names,” Freya demanded of the newcomers as she accepted the mead from Leyla like it was her due; and certainly, given her status in this town, Wilhelm wouldn’t dare to charge her the four septims it cost everyone else.
Hagrid introduced himself, before pointing at Harry and telling Freya his name and then the names of the other two children, “Ron” for the redheaded boy, and “Hermione” for the curly haired girl. “What do you mean we are not of this land?”
Freya’s lips curled in amusement, it had been some time since there had been newcomers such as these in Ivarstead. The events of the past few decade had seen an upswell of non-human refugees, but none were like these four. A giant of a man who spoke with an accent that was almost Nordic, and three children clearly not his own.
“You are in a land called Skyrim,” Freya told him with cunning eyes that observed every twitch and flinch by the man before her. The children were just as telling, their faces creased in confusion as she spoke of Nirn and Tamriel. “Home of the Nord’s, the Emperor, and of Talos, the man-God.”
“I don’t know of any Skyrim,” Hagrid said, looking at the wizened woman before him, “we were in Scotland, is that near here?”
Freya leaned forwards and drew from the pack at her feet a map of Skyrim that her father’s father had drawn on commission for the Jarl of Riften before he had been deposed by the people of the Rift for his cruelty. A map that had never been collected by the Jarl that had since been instated and so had been left to adorn the walls of Freya’s home, eventually passing into her hands when she had inherited all that her father had owned. Freya unrolled the heavy manuscript, the vellum crackling faintly beneath her hands as she revealed the intricately detailed map that showed the eight holds and the seats of power of the seven Jarls and the High King that ruled all of Skyrim.
“This,” she told the four strangers, “is Skyrim,” and her finger traced up from Riften to Windhelm and then along to Solitude. “Eight holds,” she explained, “The Rift, which is where we are,” Freya then moved her finger up to the top of the map, “ this is Haafingaar, the north most point of Skyrim’s territory and where the High King rules.” Freya then dragged her finger to the right of the map, “Eastmarch, the once seat of the High King,” she told the four strangers with an odd note to her voice, her finger pausing just long enough for Hermione to tilt her head to the side and open her mouth as if to ask a question; but Freya continued before she could.
“Then we have Falkreath hold, the resting place of Heroes,” Freya flicked a slight grin at Wilhelm, who had been known in his youth for spouting off about how he would one day travel all of Skyrim and see all the wonders it had to offer. “Hjaalmarch and the Pale,” Freya quickly detailed before tapping the centre of the map. “This is Whiterun, the centre of Skyrim and the commerce capital of this land and then you have Winterhold, where the college of Mages resides; and the Reach, far to the west and home to the Forsworn.”
“None of this is familiar to me,” Hagrid admitted witlessly, staring down at the finely drawn map with an expression on his face that spoke of hopelessness.
Wilhelm leant forwards, “perhaps you know Cyrodiil better?” He asked, “I believe I have a map around here of all of Tamriel somewhere.”
“You and your books,” Klimmek muttered into his mug of mead, grey eyes glittering with humour. Turning to the young redhead, he advised, “books are all well and good, boy, but there is no teacher better than experience, you mark my words.”
The look of utter horror on Hermione’s face had Ron keeping his mouth shut and avoiding Klimmek’s eyes. Harry however, was unable to prevent the bright grin that split his face and Wilhelm met his old friends gaze with mutual amusement at the sight. Times could be dull and children certainly made for a better future.
Wilhelm resettled on his seat and leant close to Hagrid, presenting a book flipped on its side and opened to a page with a wide, crudely drawn map of the whole of Tamriel. It was not of the same quality of the former, but Hagrid could easily see that he recognised little of anything inscribed upon it. The vellum of the book was thinner, more worn and some of the words had been smeared from age and handling. The scent of must didn't detract from the all too familiar feeling of dismay that welled in Hagrid's breast.
Standing at Hagrids side, the three children stared down at the book held in the half-giants hands and felt their hearts sink into their bellies. Either this was a prank, which considering where they had awoken before fleeing for their lives while being chased by a dragon - or something big had happened and they had ended up in a strange, new world. Harry and Hermione, after their time in the muggle school system, were more familiar with the sight of England and even the greater world - few wizards cared for business outside their borders - but even Ron knew what the UK looked like and this map looked nothing like the land they had come from.
“We’re not anywhere near home, are we?” Ron whispered, the first of the four strangers to voice his fears.
Hagrid, who was busy trying to reconcile everything he knew with what he was being shown was unable to speak; but his silence was taken as agreement and Hermione, clever, intelligent Hermione, burst into tears.
“I want my Mum and Dad!” She hiccoughed into Hagrids shoulder as he pulled her into a tight hug.
“We’ll get home, Hermione,” Hagrid assured her helplessly, his eyes stuck to the massive map of Skyrim, not entirely knowing if he was telling a helpless child a lie or false hope.
Harry and Ron stood stoically silent but their eyes glistened with tears as they watched Hermione break down in front of them. “Hagrid, how do we get home?” Ron asked, his voice uncertain in his worry.
“I don’t know, Ron,” Hagrid admitted, “I jus’ don’t know; but I do know that Freya said something about a college of mages, so we can go there and ask them for help. If magic did this to us, then magic can fix it too.”
Freya spoke up, breaking her silent observation, “the children are too young for such a journey. The way to Winterhold is long and treacherous through fields of ice and snow where ice wraiths stalk the unlucky traveller,” she warned.
“Aye,” Klimmek agreed, his voice low with severity, “stay, grow, learn to survive in this land - Skyrim is a harsh mistress,” Klimmek told Hagrid carefully, “I know you wish to go home, but you do not know the way and without the ability to forage off the land, you will likely starve within a week.”
Wilhelm huffed his agreement, “indeed.”
Hagrid stared at the exhausted children at his side and acknowledged that perhaps these people spoke sense. Harry, Ron and Hermione were eleven. He could not ask them to walk the length and breadth of an entire country on the whim that perhaps this college of mages might know the answer they sought. In a year or two, then they might travel north. By then he might have enough money to buy a guard and a guide.
“I want to go home,” Hermione whispered in defeat.
Hagrid sighed tiredly, “I know, but I’m responsible for you three and we’re hurt still and weak. I cannot risk your lives. It wouldn’t be right.”
Harry watched as Ron walked away back to the side room where they had woken up. It would be hours before they saw the redheaded boy again, his eyes red-rimmed from crying with a face set into mulishness. Harry, on the other hand, was left bereft and adrift. He had no family he desperately wanted to go back too, but Hogwarts was his home and he missed the castle and his classes. Staring into the flickering flames of the fire, Harry wondered if he’d ever see it again.
The late summer months turned into autumn as the chill air that nipped and bit at crops turned downright vicious with sleet and frost. The once green fields turned down as they became logged with water, drowning the grass and covering the pastures with ankle deep water from the heavy autumn rains. For weeks it felt like the sky had done nothing but weep water, swelling the river to the west of the village to bursting and making Klimmek chafe at the delay to return to High Hrothgar with the new seasons supplies.
The chores and duties that accumulated in a small, independent village that had limited access to technology and no kiln to fire tiles for rooves were beyond anything that Harry, Ron, or Hermione were expecting. While Narfi and Jofthor harvested crop after crop of wheat in the northern and eastern fields with Hagrid’s aid; Wilhelm and Klimmek organised for the three houses in Ivarstead and the Vilemyr Inn to be re-thatched with bales straw that had been collected from the wheat harvest.
The four children - Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Leyla - were expected to follow the threshers that harvested the wheat with log, sickle shaped scythes, that were sickle shaped and razor sharp and far too heavy for any of the prepubescent children to lift, and collect the wheat stalks left behind the fast moving threshers into great big baskets that were then taken into the barn adjacent to Klimmek’s house. Wilhelm, Reyna, and Klimmek then would go through with quick and clever fingers pulling the wheat seeds off the stalks and sort them into sacks while the left over straw was stacked into bundles beneath the eaves and out of the way of rats, mice, and rain ready to be used for thatch and to thresh the floors inside the Inn later on.
Although it took longer for Hagrid to learn the swing in comparison to Narfi and Jofthor who had years of practice, the half-giant was by far the strongest man in the village and easily made up for his slower rate by being able to thresh twice as long. Freya and Boti would step in and stop work around midday in order to organise meals for the hard workers, plying the men with meat and mead and the children with fresh milk, bread and cheese from the cows that were slowly recovering from their ordeal.
Once the wheat harvest had been completed, Jofthor was quick to get Hermione and Leyla to help him dig up the cabbages and potatoes that were growing like weeds in the small paddocks that surrounded Fell Star farm. It was hard, muddy work and Hermione and Leyla both developed callouses from handling the heavy shovels that Jofthor directed them to use with quick, sharp words.
Meanwhile Wilhelm and Klimmek organised the young boys into bundling the straw into yelms for thatching; Narfi and Reyna spent time in the surrounding pine forest chopping down trees for wood to build a series of lean-to’s for the cows to shelter in when the snows started. Already the days were bitter with snow-scent and frost glittered like diamonds across the fields of a morning. The once soupy fields were becoming frozen the more the month of Frostfall progressed and Klimmek felt the pressure to scale the seven thousand steps to the monastery with his little cart of supplies.
Finally, after two days of clear weather, the dark haired man turned his eyes skywards and with his hardy horse at his side, began his long, treacherous trek up the mountainside. Wilhelm watched him go from the bridge that crossed the Ivar river that had given the town its name - though the river had been named for the man that had set up the camp on its riverbank, Ivar Raven-Feeder.
As Klimmek made his way to High Hrothgar, the village continued in its near-to-frantic preparations. Hagrid spent much of his time milling the wheat into flour, having helped Narfi carve a gristmill from the stone quarry near his house. The basic structure of two stone plates that ground the wheat betwixt them into a coarse flour was pushed in concentric circles using a long haft of oak that had been found amongst the lumber collected during the summer and had been seasoned hard and sturdy enough to utilise.
Wilhelm had the children, who had finished bundling the yelms of straw, stacking the yelms alongside the walls of the buildings as Wilhelm, Narfi, and Reyna covered the old layer of thatch with the new, affixing the yelms with twisted hawthorn spars that stapled the thatch down and prevented the new roof from being lifted during the violent winter storms.
As the first snows began to fall, Wilhelm and Narfi aided Jofthor in relining his basement with snow bricks to keep the food stuffs of Fell Star farm cold and preserved. While, Hagrid, who had fashioned himself a rough bow out of hawthorn, disappeared into the woods with Reyna, the villages huntress, and together they brought down a score of rabbits and several young bucks that were then brought back to Ivarstead for curing.
With the houses thatched, the harvest gathered, and the wood for winter piled in the barn in neat stacks, Boti, Freya, Hermione, and Leyla descended upon the kitchens en mass, salting and curing meat and fish and pickling vegetables for the long winter ahead. Ron and Harry had the enviable job of running errands that mostly amounted to fetching pail upon pail of water from the river that flowed swiftly passed the village.
As the days became darker longer than there was light, so Klimmek returned from his journey up the seven thousand steps, his body several kilos thinner than it had been when he left and his nose and toes dangerously close to being frostbitten; and with Klimmek came the final breath of Frostfall, which heralded a minor festival in celebration of the end of the harvest season.
“Settle down, settle down,” Freya’s voice attempted to cut across the chatter even as Klimmek and Wilhelm caught up on what had happened in the intervening weeks since they had last seen each other while Narfi and Jofthor discussed baby names and whether the older man was ready to be a father.
Hagrid was jolly and well into his cups as he let out a piercing whistle, silencing the chattering adults and leaving Freya a silent room into which she could speak. Beside the half-giant, Boti held Leyla on her lap and braced Hermione against her side as the two weary girls hazily listened into the conversations around them, comfortably full and happy.
“Quiet,” Freya said firmly, pinning the jostling boys with a steely eyed glare, “it is the end of the harvest season and Frostfall; the beginning of Sun’s Dusk and the long dark months ahead. These months belong to the Daedra and to the dead, we honour those who have come before us, making this town safe and sound with their very bones and blood, and we honour the children who follow us, may they never know strife as we have.”
“Here, here,” rumbled a half-dozen voices as the adults agreed, their eyes picking out the little bodies of the four children that were flopped across the floor or laps and Wilhelm was unable to prevent a smile at the sight of his daughter on Boti’s lap, already half asleep and drowsing.
Klimmek shifted his weight on the hay bale he was perched on, turning his thin face to meet Freya’s grey gaze. “Tell us of Talos, Freya,” Klimmek prompted, noting that Harry and Ron were far from sleepy and looked ready to create mischief rather than rest. “Tell us of the man who became a god.”
Freya, who had also seen that Harry and Ron were unlikely to rest any time soon, consented with a wry smile. “Talos,” she began, “the great Dragon of the North, God of Man and War,” and Freya watched as yet another generation of men stare up at her and become ensnared within the stories of legend.
“Talos was not always a god,” Freya told the gathering of adults and children, her voice warm with mead and good humour. “He was known by the Imperials as Tiber Septim, the first Emperor of Tamriel; but we Nords know him as Talos Stormcrown, the last of the truly great Dragonborn.”
Hermione stirred, “Tamriel is the world, isn’t it?” She asked, cutting across Harry’s question that he was unable to voice immediately.
Surprised that the young girl was awake enough to ask question, Freya smiled and shook her head. “Nay, Nirn is this mortal plane we live on, brought forth from Aetherius by the Aedra and Daedra,” Feya told the children before she leant down and swept a patch a straw from the ground and began to trace a sigil into the dirt. “Talos, who was a true Nord born and bred, was the first to unify all of Tamriel into the Empire we know today. Upon his death, Talos ascended to Akatosh’s side as the god he was always meant to be.”
Harry had been watching Freya trace a symbol into the dirt, not quite sure why this idea of a man turned god was so compelling to hear about. Freya had drawn a long line was traced downward and from the lower third the design fanned out until it looked almost like a long, thin leaf blade with a long stem. Then Freya overlapped what looked to be a block or a square over the top of the leaf stem.
Wilhelm snorted at the drawing, “if you had not spoken just now, Freya, I would have no clue what you just drew,” he rumbled. Reaching up and slipping thick fingers beneath his jerkin, Wilhelm tugged free a necklace on a thin, leather cord. “This is an amulet of Talos, girl,” he told Hermione, holding it out.
Like Freya’s symbol, the necklace had a long leaf-like object hooked to the leather strap of the necklace, however Hermione could see that the leaf was more akin to a short-hafted spear with a blade that was slim and long. The haft of the spear had been shoved through the head of what Hermione could now see was a dual-axe head, not a block of some kind. From the base of the spear haft twisted two wooden spirals that kept the amulet central and untangled on the leather strap.
Harry reached out to run a finger along the edge of the spear-shaped pendant and felt a shiver of energy run through him. “It’s enchanted,” the dark haired boy whispered almost inaudibly.
Klimmek, who had been watching indulgently, caught Harry’s whispered words and jolted in his seat. Narrowing his eyes, he watched as Harry seemed to lose himself in a trance, running his finger over the amulets edges and lines, tracing the tiny etchings that decorated its surface.
“How did Talos become a god, Freya?” Ron asked, his blue eyes bright in the glow of the firelight.
Freya settled back in her chair a little and smiled at the redhead boy, watching as Hermione handed the Talos amulet over to Harry and turned her attention over to the older woman.
“Talos was born in Atmora, the ancient land of Kings and birthplace of man far to the north and across the sea,” Freya began, warming to the children enthusiasm for her tale. “As a boy, he and his family found themselves here in Skyrim, where Talos grew up, travelling from Hold to Hold and learning the ways of war from the Jarl’s who took him into their tutelage. In time, the young Talos travelled further than Skyrim’s borders and found himself in the Colovian Estates. Through word and deed, Talos was soon made general under King Cuhlecain, who recognised him to be the finest warrior the Colovian Estates had ever seen.”
Ron’s eyes gleamed at that pronouncement, and he and Harry shared a delighted grin at the thought of being the greatest warrior anyone had ever seen. Freya made history sound way more interesting than Professor Binns ever did. Hermione frowned as she listened, thinking everything over hard to entirely sure how she felt about this Talos Stormcrown character. Her parents were big believers in diplomacy and compassion, that everyone around her seemed to be favouring the tale of a man who had apparently conquered most of this land through violent means.
“King Cuhlecain, however, was beset by strife upon his borders for the warriors of Skyrim and High Rock were besieging the Colovian Estates. General Talos marched out with all of Colovian’s might, the King at his side, and Shouted the Nords and Redguards into submission single handedly.”
Hermione jolted, “shouted?” She asked, “do you mean he talked to their leaders?”
Klimmek rumbled his rebuttal, “nay, young one, Freya means that Talos was Dragonborn. A man who could speak the tongue of dragons.”
“Talos could speak like a dragon could?” Harry demanded in shock, remembering how they had come to this place and the dragon that they had sworn could speak.
“Aye, lad,” Wilhelm agreed in amusement, “the Greybeards of High Hrothgar are known for their Way of the Voice. They harness the Thu’um in the way the dragons do and speak to the heavens.”
Ron shook his head in confusion, “that sounds barmy.”
Wilhelm chuckled deeply, his grey eyes gleaming with humour. “does it now?”
“What happened next?” Harry asked Freya quietly into the silence that followed.
Freya smiled at the lad and tapped a finger on her knee. “Where was I?”
“Talos had just defeated an army!” Ron jumped in excitedly, willing to let go his disbelief in favour of hearing more about Talos.
“Ah yes,” Freya hummed, “Talos marched out to Sancre Tor with all of Colovian’s might and Shouted down the whole of Skyrim and High Rock’s armies. The Nords knew of course, that Talos being able to Shout meant that he was Dragonborn.” Freya pitched her voice above any further queries that Harry might have had about the Dragonborn, continuing her tale: “As one, the Nords knelt to the Dragonborn Talos, heir to the Empires of Men; and with their aid, Cuhlecain and Talos marched upon the King of Cyrodiil, eventually bringing all the races of men, elves and beast to heel underneath one banner.”
“Talos did that?” Ron asked in stunned amazement, once more interrupting Freya’s story to the old woman’s aggravation.
Narfi and Jofthor, who had been silent up to this point, snorted at the young boys burgeoning hero worship. “He did more than that, laddie,” Jofthor said gruffly, “Talos not only united all of Cyrodiil, but he did so in just over a year and with little bloodshed.”
“Tis hard to fight against a man who could speak but a single word and pick up like you were but chaff on the wind,” Narfi added humorously, looking down on the four wide eyed children and remembering his own first time of hearing about Talos. Truly, there had been no greater man.
“Wow,” Harry breathed, meeting Ron’s eyes in amazement.
“None could stand before Talos’ storms,” Freya quickly cut in, stymying any further questions, “for as Narfi said, who could stop a man from speaking? As they marched east, so did Talos’ strength and power grow. As Eastern Cyrodiil began to fall, so a High Rock night blade snuck into Cuhlecain’s palace-”
“A night blade’s an assassin!” Hermione gasp, having been sucked into the story.
Harry and Ron sat upright and glared at Freya as she continued her tale as though the interruption never happened, “and assassinated the Emperor Cuhlecain and slit Talos’ throat.”
“No!” Ron and Harry cried out in unison, making Leyla, who had been all but asleep on Boti’s lap, jolt awake.
“Be quiet,” Hermione hissed at the two boys, irritated with their hysteria. “Freya said he becomes a god, stop worrying so much. Talos is probably fine!” The adults in the room, Hagrid included for all that he was as drawn in by Freya’s story as the children, couldn’t help but grin at Hermione’s scolding pragmatism.
Freya controlled her mirth as she hastily continued, realising that she was about to have a riot on her hands as the two boys turned to Hermione with red ears and scowling expressions. “Hermione is right, lads, Talos survives!”
“Good,” Ron muttered mutinously, settling back into the straw covered grown and relaxing a little. “I hope that assassin died!”
“He likely did, Ron,” Reyna told him, breaking her silence for the first time, “now hush and listen.”
“Talos survived,” Freya continued, soothing the riled emotions as best she could, “but with his throat so damaged, he could no longer Shout, instead leading his armies with a whisper.”
Hermione let out a soft noise of sympathy and pressed herself deeper into Hagrid side.
Freya hummed as she took a quick sip of mead and continued once again. “Despite his handicap, Talos conquered the human kingdoms. Even High Rock, a place that had withstood more than its fair share of bloody battles before and was no easy task to bring to heel.
“From High Rock, General Talos turned his eye to Hammerfell and sent the Commander of the New West Navy, Amiel Richton, to Stros M’Kai, the capital city and seat of power in that land. It was a long, gruelling battle and it took Commander Richton’s friend, Dram to bring Stros M’Kai to it’s knees. With the death of Prince A’Tor, the last of the Crown Resistance faltered and in reward for his service, Commander Richton was appointed by Talos himself as provisional governor of the city.”
“What’s a provishnal guvner?” Ron stumbled over the unfamiliar words hesitantly.
Boti’s smile was kind as she replied, cutting across Hermione’s less sensitive rejoinder: “a provisional governor is someone who rules in another’s stead. In this case, it is Amiel Richton in stead of Talos, who was emperor and far too busy to be ruling Hammerfell on top of all the other territories he had accumulated.”
“Why did he conquer all of Tamriel,” Harry asked, “it sounds like a lot of trouble.”
Jofthor’s deep, rumbling chuckle had the dark haired boy turning away from Boti towards her husband. “Why does any man do anything, lad?” Jofthor commented dryly, “for money, prestige and power.”
Ron wrinkled his nose, “sounds a bit boring, to be honest,” he met Harry’s eyes seriously, “I’d rather just be a famous wizard, like Merlin, not an emperor.”
Harry, who experienced fame in his brief time at Hogwarts, screwed up his face at that. “No thanks,” he decided, “I don’t want either. I just want to be Harry.”
Freya’s amusement was only increased by Hermione’s exasperated exclamation of “boys!” and the young girls crossed arm posture that said louder than words that she disapproved of the two youth’s in front of her.
“From Hammerfell, Talos moved on to Morrowind, home of the dark elves. The dark elves have never been much for war, having turned their political machinations into a game between the Great Houses that rule their island,” Freya quickly intersected and stopping the rumblings of dissent between the three children, Layla having fallen fast asleep in Boti’s arms. “In return for the Numidium, Zurin Arctus signed a treaty with Talos that would give Morrowind greater autonomy and self rule. With the acquisition of the Numidium, Talos was able to conquer the Summerset Isles, home of the High Elves in the year 896 of the Second Era.”
“But what about Morrowind?” Hermione asked, “Talos just, what, left them to be free?”
Freya smiled at that, “Talos brought safety and security to all of Tamriel. Vivec might not have ceded control to Talos, but the treaty bound our two nations so closely that trade and commerce betwixt Tamriel and Morrowind was far easier to maintain. In time, Morrowind joined the empire in full, but that was after Talos’ time.”
Silence washed over the gathering once more, bringing with it fatigue and lassitude. Hagrid watched as Boti and Jofthor gathered their things up, readying themselves for the short trek back to their farmstead. Wilhelm had disappeared into Layla’s room, tucking his daughter into bed while Klimmek washed the last of the cups and plates from the evenings repast.
In the straw at the foot of the fire, Harry and Ron drowsed, their eyes hypnotised by the flames and it took Reyna nudging and chivvying them along to get the two sleepy boys into their room off the main hall and into their sleeping rolls. Not long after they had succumbed to morpheus, Hagrid tucked Hermione into her bedroll beside them, already asleep with dark circles beneath her eyes, speaking of her tiredness.
Returning to the main hall, Hagrid settled beside Klimmek and Wilhelm, bidding Narfi and Reyna farewell as the two guided Freya out to the house that she and Klimmek shared. “There are many differences between our worlds,” Hagrid finally said, his tone more relaxed than it had been in weeks.
Wilhelm met the half-giants beetle black gaze curiously, “aye?”
“Aye,” Hagrid heaved a heavy sigh, “I worry for the little ones,” he admitted as he turned his face into the fire’s glow and watched the flicker of the flames in their grate.
“And the ones you left behind?” Klimmek asked, fishing idly for information.
“And the ones we left behind,” Hagrid agreed, “poor Professor Dumbledore will be beside himself with worry.”
“You’ll find a way home, Hagrid,” Wilhelm assured him, “The Jarl’s mage might know a way back to where you came from.”
Hagrid met Wilhelm’s gaze with a calm he did not feel and nodded his assent. “Thank yeh, Wilhelm, Klimmek,” Hagrid rumbled as he set his mug down, “’tis good to have friends like yeh both.”
The two old friends watched Hagrid walk into the room that held the three children. It had been a long few weeks for them all and as Klimmek looked out the dusty window of the Vilemyr Inn, he could see the first of many snow flurries blowing down the street. Winter was here.
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