Frost in Morrowind

Edward Frost's time in Morrowind has come to an end; but his struggles are recorded here for any to read. A year in the making, and spanning one hundred and fifty chapters… Violence, suspicion, loss, betrayal, revenge, power with a price, a fight for survival, ages-old mysteries... all thrust in the way of Edward Frost, a man simply trying to rebuild his life.

Chapter 1 can be found here.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Chapter 49: Having something they want

Once I was dressed, I rushed outside and jumped from the top of the battlements down to the yard, hoping to meet soldiers before they entered the castle grounds. You may remember that I mentioned the battlements were around three storeys tall, so now would probably be a good time to mention that I had recently bought a fine belt in Balmora, and had had Folms imbue it with a light 'Slowfall' enchantment. This basically meant that I could fall from virtually any height, and not hurt myself in the slightest. It was fantastically useful... not least because the soul of another Golden Saint had been used in its creation, meaning that the enchantment was always in effect.

I had given the belt the humorous (or not - depending on who you asked) name of the 'Infallible': I had been glad to discover that it did not reduce my fall to a slow, ponderous descent; it merely softened the landing to the point where I never hurt myself.

So it was that I beat Falorn to the portcullis gate nearest the long bridge; fortunately in time to meet the Imperial Legion soldiers before they passed through. If my suspicions were correct, I most certainly did not want them inside the grounds. There were twenty of them marching along the bridge, dressed in full Legion armour, and carrying a pair of Legion standards in the middle of the formation. As they came to an impressively synchronised halt in front of me, I recognised the officer leading them: it was Apelles Matius, the man I had reported the Dark Brotherhood attacks to.

He, of course, did not recognise me: my face had undergone its mysterious transformation in the time since we had last met.

"Hail, Breton!" Apelles called out, taking a few steps closer, away from his troops. "What business have you in such a remote place at an hour early as this?" His hand rested comfortably on the hilt of his sword. It was not an aggressive stance, but it did seem to indicate that he wished for his authority to be taken seriously.

I eyed the large company of burly, armoured men nervously. I had certainly filled out since stepping off the prison ship at Seyda Neen as a skinny bag of bones, but I still had nowhere near the size and physique of the trained soldiers before me. Even with my newfound, apparently supernatural strength (I knew no other way to describe it), I doubted I'd be a match for three or four Legion troopers at the same time, let alone twenty. Add to that the fact that I had not had time to strap my armour on, and I was feeling quite vulnerable. Why had I felt secure enough last night, of all nights, to sleep without my armour on? Perhaps not receiving a visit from an assassin for weeks upon weeks had caused me to lower my guard...

In any case, I was sizing the soldiers up because I suspected they had come to lay claim to Wolfen Castle as their own. The large, bright standards they carried further persuaded me in that belief, as did several of the faces I saw in the files of Legion troops; I recognised them as belonging to the men I had spoken with about the castle the previous day. They looked uncomfortable, and refused to meet my gaze.

I needed to confirm my suspicions, so:

"Forgive me if this sounds somewhat rude," I said, resting my hand atop my own blade's hilt, "but I was actually about to ask what you gentlemen were about, visiting at such an early hour."

Apelles' face was marred by a deep frown.

"We are here, Breton, to establish an outpost in this abandoned castle; in the name of the Legion and the Emperor. I trust that meets your approval?" The Imperial remarked with a light sneer. He was much less personable than during our last meeting.

I took a deep breath.

"I -" I began, then paused to clear my throat, "I'm afraid that I'll have to disappoint you there." Matius' eyes flew wide, and his face flushed a deep red. He looked as if he was about to fly into a rage, so I pressed on before he could say anything: "The castle is already occupied."

"What?" Matius' voice was dangerously low. Behind him, I could see the soldiers lean forward, almost imperceptibly, trying to catch what was being said. "If you think... 'squatter's rights' mean anything at all, then..."

My fears had definitely been confirmed, and things were not going well. Fortunately, Falorn came running up at that moment, carrying the late Master Wolfen's journal. I thanked the Bosmer quietly, but Matius was still talking. He appeared to be trying to remain calm and rational:

"My information stated that the castle stood empty. We sent men in to investigate, mere days ago."

I glanced at Falorn. He shrugged, and whispered to me:

"Anyone could have come and gone in the night, I suppose; or when I was in my hut - as I told you, I hadn't been in the keep for some time."

I addressed Apelles Matius:

"I'm sorry you and your men had to come all this way to hear this, but I took possession - legal possession - of Wolfen Castle yesterday." Sensing that I was in imminent physical danger, I took the journal from Falorn and tossed it across to the Imperial officer. "Read the final entry. That journal acts as the previous owner's last will and testament. It was witnessed by Falorn here, as was my fulfilment of the terms outlined in the previous Master's final wishes."

If there is one thing Imperials respect above all else, it is law and order. After all, their laws and government are what built their Empire - even on the backs of the subjugated races. It was my hope that Apelles Matius, as a loyal Imperial soldier, would accept the late Master's will as legal and binding. Apelles caught the journal in one hand, snatching it out of the air. As he read, I continued:

"It wasn't easy, either. If it hasn't been taken apart by slaughterfish yet, you might be able to walk around the shore there and see the remains of the beast that was the keep's last 'squatter'."

Barely looking up from the book, Matius pointed at the pair of soldiers at the front of the double column, and then waved a hand in the direction I had indicated. The pair jogged around the side of the castle wall, their boots clattering on the rough stones. There was a moment of uncomfortable silence, in which Matius continued to read, his face growing a deeper shade of red, and his eyebrows knitting together. Shortly, the two soldiers reappeared and made their way back to the columns, their faces quite green and pasty-looking.

"It's true, sir," one of the soldiers said, when Apelles looked up at him, "and it's huge... I've never seen anything like it." The trooper leaned to the side to see around his superior, and called out to me: "You killed that thing?"

Silencing the trooper with a look, Apelles snapped the journal shut and turned to me.

"So, that would be this 'Guardian', then. What about the 'seal' - the token he mentions?"

I knew then that I had him; that he would respect the wishes laid out in the dead man's journal. Legion officers all regard themselves as 'lawful' and 'honour-bound': it's how they reach their privileged rank. The Wolfen ring was still on the chain around my neck, laying against the bare skin under my shirt. I pulled it out and held it up for Matius to see. By the way he studied it, and then glanced down at the device on the front of the journal, I could tell that he was convinced that it was all genuine. Convinced, but still angry. He closed his eyes for a few seconds, heaving a great sigh.

"FINE. Just... Fine." Apelles tossed the book down at my feet, then ran a hand through his hair. "That's all in order, but - look, there's little point in pretending that I'm happy about this. I've been charged with keeping order in the area around Ebonheart. A castle like this, in such a strategic location, so near to Ebonheart, makes my superiors uncomfortable. So, Master...?"

He paused, raising his eyebrows at me.

"Frost." I replied. "Edward Frost."

"So, Master Frost, you can expect to receive a visit from an official very soon. They will, no doubt, wish to confirm that your... interests in this area do not conflict with your duties as a citizen of the Empire." In other words, I thought to myself, they want to know that I'm not plotting against them from my new fortress. Matius broke across my thoughts with one last statement: "And Master Frost? You can expect to see me again."

With that, the officer turned and waved his troops back the way they had come. As one, they span around and marched away, along the long bridge. Apelles passed through the middle of the double column to take the lead again.

Once they were some distance away, Falorn and I heaved a great sigh of relief, almost simultaneously.

"I don't know about you, Master Frost," The Bosmer said softly, "but I could do with a stiff drink after that."

I laughed softly despite myself, and rubbed my eyes.

"Yes, it certainly wasn't the best thing to wake up to." I sighed again. It had been a tense meeting, and it deftly illustrated something to me. "There is something we need here more than a stiff drink, though..." I paused before saying what was on my mind. Considering what had just happened, it might have sounded mildly... treasonous. As I have mentioned, however, I was not one to abide by laws for their own sake, and it was something that needed to be said:

"We need guards to protect the castle." I cast Falorn a glance to gauge his reaction. "This place is no more secure than a run-down, thatched wooden shack if anyone can drift in and out anytime we're not looking." I was thinking of expansionist-minded Imperial bureaucrats and Legion officers, as well as common thieves - but those were thoughts I kept to myself.

The Bosmer didn't seem taken aback at all - rather he was giving it some serious thought:

"You need a proper castle staff." He said flatly. "Guards alone are no good if they have no food, no clean place to sleep, no smith to maintain their arms and armour..." I felt my shoulders slump as he spoke. I had been naive, I suppose, to think that having my own castle could be anything other than very expensive - but still... financially, I thought, this is going to hurt.

Falorn, thankfully, was coming to the point - a helpful one, as it turned out:

"The late Master used to hire staff through the 'Lord's Men' company, in Vivec. I sometimes went to see their representative myself, actually: over in the Foreign Quarter plaza. They're very good, and specifically aimed towards providing staff for manor houses and the like. Very quick, too: I think they have quarters in the city somewhere. If you see them today, you might be able to have staff begin arriving tomorrow."

It all sounded good, if a little unreal to me. I was struggling with the concept of having my own staff. Would I be able to afford such a thing? Still, if done right, Wolfen Castle could be the safest place anywhere for me to store my belongings, and lay my head at night. I hadn't completely forgotten those assassins. I made up my mind: I would look into the groundskeeper's suggestion. First though, how could I ensure the castle's safety in my absence?

"Falorn," I began, craning my neck to look up at the lookout tower, "do you know how to set a signal fire?"

The Bosmer grinned.

"Do you want smoke or light?"

"Smoke. As much as you can get it to make, as quickly as you can get it to start smoking up once lit. I need you to set a signal fire on top of the lookout tower, and sit with it today while I'm in Vivec. I'll go no further, so I should be able to see it. Light the fire should there be any trouble, and I'll teleport back here right away."

"Certainly, Master Frost. It will be good to have the place up and running again."

Master. It would take some time to get used to that. I shook my head slowly, thinking of the extraordinary things that had happened to me since coming to Vvardenfell. My luck was nothing if not extreme - for better or for worse.


Post a Comment

<< Home