Dressed in his finest crimson robes, Fennorian stood alone in front of the gathered well-wishers.
Well, this is uncomfortable.
From off to his left, the white-robed priestess of Mara strode up to the altar. “She’s just late,” the woman told him, gracing him with a sympathetic smile. Too nervous to speak. Fennorian could manage no more than a nod. The woman busied herself arranging the flowers just so and flicking what was probably imaginary dust off the gold and white altar cloth.
Fenn picked at his sleeves, then forced himself to clasp his wrists at his back. Fidgeting was never a good look.
Where is she? Had she decided, after all, to jilt him? Had she–
"Ahh, here’s your bride,” said the priestess.
Letting out the breath he hadn’t realised he was holding, Fennorian turned. Niralwen stood in the chapel doorway, a vision of loveliness all in gold with her pale hair curling past the pointed tips of her ears. She wore the sapphire he’d given her, Fenn was pleased to note, and she held a small posy of purple lilac and cornflowers. Her smile was for the people, not for him – though as she reached the altar she blessed him with one that melted his heart. Mischief sparkled in her green eyes. This was why he was marrying her, despite his misgivings.
The priestess cleared her throat and raised her hands toward the stained glass window behind her, which depicted the seated Divine in her traditional green robes. “It was Mara that first gave birth to all of creation and pledged to watch over us as her children.” She pulled them to face one another, and clasped their interlaced hands within hers. “It is from Mara’s love of us that we first learned to love one another. A life lived alone is no life at all, Mara teaches us.”
A tiny, flame-haired Altmer girl stepped up on this cue and threw rose petals from her basket. Most missed Fennorian and Niralwen, and the crowd laughed in delight at her earnest effort to collect them and throw them again and again. At last her mother came forward to lead her away.
“Under Mara's loving gaze,” the priestess continued, “we are here to bear witness to the union of these two souls in eternal companionship. May they journey forth together in this life and the next, in poverty and prosperity, and in joy and hardship. Do you agree to be bound together, in love, from now until death?"
Fennorian could feel sweat slicking his fingers. “I do."
Once Niralwen had repeated the affirmation, the priestess freed their clasped hands and turned them to face the crowd. "Under the authority of Mara, the Divine of Love, I declare this couple is wed. These rings have been blessed with Mara's divine grace. May they protect you both in your new life henceforth."
As the crowd cheered and clapped, Niralwen allowed Fenn to pull her close and kiss her. “Dear husband,” she whispered, “from now, until death.” She squeezed his fingers tight, tipped him a wink and released him, then walked off to speak with a gaggle of cousins.
With a deep sigh, Fennorian watched her go. He wished some of his family had been able to attend, but every one of them had had an excuse. Auridon was too far from Summerset. The seas were too rough at this time of year. They couldn’t take time away from their occupations, lest they fail. Studies could not be interrupted, for any reason.
He shrugged. They didn’t need him, and he didn’t need them. Still, it would have been nice to have more than a single friend there…
“Fenn! Congratulations.” Alvar’s large hand staggered Fennorian. “Unless..?”
“I’m still not sure,” Fennorian told the dark-haired Breton. “Though… I dare say it’s much too late now to change my mind.”
Alvar watched Niralwen sashay over to another group of Elves. “Well… there’s always tonight to look forward to.” He winked and elbowed his friend in the ribs.
“Yes.” Fenn sighed again. “Yes, there’s that.”
“Are we done?” Niralwen pushed at Fenn’s shoulder.
Still breathing hard, Fenn balanced himself on one elbow and pulled a strand of hair from his sweaty brow. “You didn’t…?”
He rolled off her and onto his back. “I’m sorry –”
“It’s nothing.” Her tone made that abundantly clear as she sat up and pulled her nightgown on.
He watched her go, wondering why he felt so empty. Their wedding night, and he felt a failure. It didn’t help when she returned and climbed into bed without another word, facing the wall.
It was a long time until he slept.
Six months later, Fennorian appraised the rare book that the Shornhelm dealer set before him.
“’The Properties of the Fabled Crimson Nirnroot’,” the Dunmer said. “Told you I could find a copy.”
“So you did, my friend.” Fennorian scanned a few pages and let the embossed leather cover drop closed. “Fifty septims, as agreed.” He passed over the gold, waiting while the merchant wrapped the tome in waxed cloth to protect it from the rain.
“Always a pleasure, Fennorian.”
Fenn shook the man’s hand and turned to go. “Send word to Orsinium, please, if you find any of the other texts.”
He hurried through the downpour across the market square toward the inn. Niralwen would be waiting for him, but he didn’t want to face her just yet as she would of course harangue him for ‘wasting gold’, before launching on a diatribe about their accommodation and this miserable region. The city and inn were drab; the food tasteless; the staff were rude; the sun rarely shone and it was always so depressing. As for the books, he surely didn’t need more. Didn’t he have enough for his research already?
He snorted. One could never have enough books.
Instead of heading up the stairs, Fennorian took a bench near the fire to dry off. If she found him there she would scold, of course, but not in public. He wondered again why he’d bothered to drag her along. It would have been much simpler to have left her in Auridon with her family. Except, of course, for the fact that she was his responsibility, now, not theirs.
Engrossed in his book, he barely noticed the Orcish innkeeper, Lugnikh, bringing him a mug of mead. When it had grown too dark to read, he stood up and made his way up the stairs.
The door to their room was ajar. Lamplight streamed through the gap. From within he could hear murmuring and a sound he recognised all too well.
Fennorian flung open the door, which rebounded off the dresser that sat behind it.
Niralwen’s expression of mock horror as she turned to face the door was tempered by the insolence in her eyes. The bearded Nord beneath her seemed oblivious to the intrusion.
“What, Fennorian? Bjoeren here is more of a man than you’ll ever be.” She pushed the Nord flat as he tried to rise.
There was nothing more to be said. Fennorian pulled the door shut and returned to the fire.
Numbness blanked every thought. He’d suspected she’d been having affairs during their travels across the continent, but she’d never been blatant about it. Now, though… what had changed?
She has never loved me. The realisation wasn’t upsetting at all, but he wondered what the path forward was. Should he leave her behind now that he was done in Shornhelm? Arrange her passage back to her family in Skywatch? Drag her with him to Wrothgar?
That she would continue to cuckold him was a given, now.
He didn’t touch the food set before him; only pushed the plate aside. Conversations flowed around him, a meaningless buzz, as the words on the page blurred into the scene he’d confronted upstairs. The Orc brought him ale instead of mead; Fennorian drained it in one go and signalled for more. Deep in his cups, later, he did not notice as Bjoeren slipped past and out into the night.
At last, tired beyond measure, he folded his arms around his book and fell asleep with his cheek resting on its leather cover.
The voice that intruded into his muddled dreams was familiar, but he ignored it.
Shaken violently awake, he stared with bleary eyes at his wife. “Niralwen… what…?”
“Fenn.” She slid her arm across his shoulders and rested her head on his chest. “I’m sorry, Fenn. Really. I… I get so lonely – you’re always out –”
“Shhhh.” He put a finger to her lips; her voice was worsening his headache. “Let’s not… sssspeak of that now.” A belch escaped him, and she giggled.
“Oh, Fenn.” That mocking tone was back. “Always the gentleman, aren’t you?”
“Hush,” he told her, and staggered off to the privy, noting that the sky had finally cleared. The dawn sun made him squint as he wove his way around the back of the building. He had to lean on the wall to remain upright, but almost lost his balance trying to retie his points.
Niralwen met him at the door. “I was getting worried you’d fallen headfirst into the latrine. Here.” She held out a bottle. “Hair of the dog, for breakfast?”
Fenn nodded and accepted the bottle. Mead, he could make out, once the word stopped crawling across the label. He peered into the sticky ale mug that still sat on his table next to his book, then shrugged and poured. “You want some?”
“No, thank you, dear husband.”
Blinking at her, Fenn wondered if what he’d seen in her eyes was guile. Did the mead taste… odd? All thought vanished a moment later when she pressed his hand to her chest. She waited until he’d finished the mug’s contents, then she whispered, “Come upstairs, darling. Come upstairs and please me.”
He could only nod as her insistent tug forced him upright, and he stumbled after her with his book clutched tight.
After midday his hangover had lessened. He had a quick wash and shave, then carried their packs downstairs to settle up with the innkeeper.
“Good day for travelling,” Lugnikh said as he accepted the small pouch of septims. “Where are you off to, then?”
“Fell’s Run, then we’ll go on to Northsalt and take a ship to Jehanna in Wrothgar,” Fennorian told him.
“Wrothgar!” The Orc’s eyes widened. “Looking for more books in my homeland, or ruins?”
“Either-or,” Fenn smiled.
“The life of a scholar is fascinating.” Lugnikh slapped a friendly hand on Fenn’s shoulder and moved to hold the door open for them. “I hope you’ll stay here if you ever return to Shornhelm?”
“Not likely,” Niralwen snorted, before Fenn hushed her. She had no tact, sometimes.
He raised his hand in farewell to the Orc and, shouldering both packs, set off for the stables.
“What is this place?” Niralwen’s face bore her usual sneer as she looked at the grey-brown, half-timbered village they were riding into. “It’s even worse than Shornhelm. I didn’t think that was possible.”
Fennorian hunched over his horse’s neck as another cramp pinched his insides. “It’s Hoarfrost Downs,” he said, wondering how loud she’d yell if he halted the animal. His headache was back. At the rate they were going they wouldn’t reach Fell’s Run until well after dark, but his stomach had been protesting more and more the further they went. A trot was out of the question.
“This is just awful,” Niralwen said. “I’m glad we’re not sleeping here tonight.”
Not far north of the village, a sly, watery feeling began to creep up the back of Fenn’s throat, accompanied by a paralysing weakness. He clutched at his horse’s mane, but failed to keep his grip and toppled off onto the grass by the side of the road. As the animal took fright and bolted, he forced himself to his knees just in time to vomit. It was dark red.
Restless hooves stepped toward where he huddled on the ground, arms wrapped tight over his abdomen. The daylight stabbed at his eyeballs and he couldn’t crane his neck back enough, but he heard the saddle creak as Niralwen leaned over.
“Dear husband.” Her voice was devoid of emotion. “I forgot to mention that I may have… poisoned your mead. You’re far too trusting, my dear. But don’t worry… Bjoeren will see to my needs while you die here. ‘From now until death’, eh?”
Fenn vomited again, barely hearing her turn the horse back southward. With squinted eyes he watched her ride away. Near the bluff that protected Hoarfrost Down’s back, he saw several dark shapes emerge from a cave to chase her horse. Amid the howls and barking echoed around the craggy hills he heard her screaming. Then… nothing.
Everything went dark.
An unknowable amount of time later, the crunch of horse’s hooves in gravel roused him from his misery. There was a thump nearby as the rider dismounted.
“Oh, dear,” a deep voice said.
Fenn heard the rustle of cloth, and the grass near his head depressed as the newcomer knelt. His hands were chafed, and icy fingers pressed beneath his jaw.
“Poison,” the man said. “Let’s get you up.” He lifted Fenn, ignoring his weak protests, and placed him across the horse’s back. Fenn promptly vomited again, and the horse stamped its disapproval.
The pain of the weight on his cramped belly was too much, and he blacked out.
When he came to, he found himself prone on the grass and covered with a blanket.
His benefactor, an Altmer, sporting a thin beard and long, brown hair, rose from his perch on a nearby rock. He was clad in the quilted robes of a nobleman. “There you are,” he said, “though I fear you don’t have long. I couldn’t let you die alone by the side of the road.”
“Thank… you,” Fenn managed. “My wife…”
“I’m sorry.” The man knelt and his light hand touched Fennorian’s shoulder. “She was ripped apart by wolves.”
“She… poisoned me.”
“Oh.” The Altmer’s tone changed. “Well. Dear me, you poor man. I found your pack. I hope you’ll forgive the intrusion but I see you’re a scholar.” He indicated Fenn’s book, which sat open on the
“I don’t… don’t want to… to die.” Agony ripped through Fenn as he retched.
“My apologies. I’m not a healer,” the Altmer said as he wiped Fenn’s mouth with a cloth. “I’m afraid all I can offer is to sit with you until…”
Fenn could manage no more than a slight nod. He knew he was dying.
He cracked his eyes open again. “Un… less…?”
“It’s a shame. Good researchers and scholars are hard to find.”
The nobleman bent over him, and for the first time Fennorian noted that his eyes were reddish.
“There is one thing I can do for you, but only if you’re willing.” The man took a breath. “What I propose would be the worst pain of your… life. But, this must be by your consent.”
“You’re… a vampire?” The last word was no more than an exhalation; Fenn’s remaining strength was waning.
“I am, indeed.”
A vampire. Then what is he doing, caring for me?
The Altmer put a hand to his heart. “Count Verandis of House Ravenwatch,” he said. “My house is a small group of vampires that only take the blood of the willing. If you join us, you must live by my tenets.”
Fenn had a dozen questions, but nothing left with which to voice them.
“If you want the eternal gift, you must decide now,” the Count said, “else it will be too late.”
There was no choice to make.
“I consent,” Fennorian whispered, eyes wide.
Verandis’s smile was punctuated by his elongated canines, and Fenn tried to scream as the Count gathered him up and pierced his carotid.
He could feel the life being sucked out of him. His heels drummed a frantic tattoo on the ground as he tried to free himself from the monster, but he could do nothing. Searing pain raced down every nerve, every limb, until he could bear it no more, then it grew exponentially. His head, his organs, his heart – all were bursting open. Laid bare of his humanity, Fenn’s torment chased him down into blessed darkness.
“Drink,” the voice crooned.
It cut through the hell Fenn now occupied, insistent.
Sensation returned as he felt something cold against his lips. Cruel fingers forced open his mouth and smothered him against that surface, and he tasted something coppery on his tongue.
“Drink of my blood,” the voice urged. “You must, now. Else this is all for naught.”
Fennorian had barely enough strength to swallow, but that small quantity was enough. He took more in, and swallowed, once, twice.
Gods, what am I doing? He broke away and retched as the Count’s blood eked the remaining warmth from his flesh.
He found his voice again, and screamed as the first convulsion hit.
Fennorian came back to his senses at dawn, aware he was naked and laying in some of his own filth. His head rested in the Count’s lap. The fire that crackled nearby seemed a cruel joke, since Fenn could no longer feel its warmth.
“Well,” Verandis said, and ran a hand over Fenn’s hair. “That was unpleasant. Please, don’t be embarrassed that you are naked – as the change comes, the digestive system dispels its contents.”
He helped Fenn roll out of the depression and sit up, then passed him a bundle of rags and a bowl of water with steam rising from it. “I am sorry,” he added, as he handed over Fenn’s vomit-soiled clothing. “I was on my way back to my castle, so I had nothing spare with me. You are fortunate, I think, that I happened along.”
“I’m not so sure of that.” Every muscle and joint ached as Fenn looked up at his benefactor. “Perhaps I should have chosen to die. I am Fennorian, by the way.”
Busy scuffing dirt over the rags and the fire, the Count arched an elegant eyebrow at Fenn’s words. “The worst is over, Fennorian, I assure you. Is there anything you wish to ask me?”
Fennorian wasn’t sure where to begin, until he remembered what the Count had told him before he’d consented. “You said you… and I assume your household as well, only take the blood of the willing. People… mortals would do that for you? Why?”
“We keep the peace between mortals and our… brethren,” Verandis told him. “Rogue vampires and feral bloodfiends are our purview. I apologise for perhaps… seeming to force you to accept the eternal gift, but I have need of one with your skills. If you can forgive me the impertinence, I would like to invite you to join my House.” He smiled at Fenn. “We have an extensive library at Ravenwatch, and the means to obtain anything you might consider important to your studies. Two of which would be healing and alchemy.”
It took Fennorian but a moment to consider this as he pulled on his tunic and buckled his belt over the top. “I accept. But… what of the vampire’s need for blood? How… how do I learn to control it?” He could already feel the burning need to sink his teeth into something, anything living. Preferably human, or mer. Had Niralwen been nearby, alive, he knew he would have drained her empty, then ripped her apart afterward. He closed his eyes for a moment and breathed in deep to calm himself, then pulled off his wedding ring and flung it away.
“Ahh.” Verandis nodded, knowingly. He pulled an ornate red and gold flask from his pocket, and offered it to Fenn. “Drink this. The mixture contains various herbs, dusk nectar, and a few drops of my blood. It will sate your hunger.” He stepped over to where his black horse cropped the grass, and tied Fenn’s pack behind the saddle. Then he mounted up and offered Fenn his hand.
“Welcome to House Ravenwatch, Fennorian.”
x-TallyCat-x // PS4 EU DC - For the Covenant! // Max level CP since idk when. // ESO Platinum trophy - 16th May 2017
Proud member of the Aetherium Alliance.
Melbourne Australia - the land of Potato Internet.
WTB ESO OCEANIC SERVER
Looking for PS4 EU Oceanic players