Note: Click the following links for previous installments of Childhoods:
Baron Axel lay in a twisted pile in front of her. Frida had the presence of mind not to scream. I’ve killed him! I’ve killed a Baron! I had no choice, but I’ve killed a Baron! Would anyone believe she was only defending herself? Who would protect her? She knew she had to leave. Even if the Abbess tried to defend her, Frida didn’t want to bring trouble to the Abbey. Further, she didn’t want Babyface to even try to help her, not when things were looking up for him. She dropped the axe, and quickly went back into the kitchen. She found her hunting outfit hanging on its peg and put it on, leaving her torn dress on the kitchen floor. She grabbed her bow, arrows, hunting knife, and shoulder bag, and took a last look around. I won’t cry now, she thought. I can do that later.
She was almost out the door when she saw Babyface come in from the chapter room. “What’s wrong? Why are you dressed for hunting? Where are you going?”
Frida could contain herself no longer. “I must leave!” she cried. “Something terrible has happened. Please don’t ask me anything else. For your sake and mine!”
“The Baron?” Babyface began, but her look told him not to continue. “If you must leave, at least let me get you something to eat!” He frantically searched the pantry and the cupboards, coming up with half a dozen rolls and a few apples. These he dropped into Frida’s shoulder bag. He took her hands in his. “I won’t ask. I’ll learn soon enough in any case.” His eyes brimmed with tears. “Please be safe, my sister. I will call on the Divines daily to look after you.”
“Count to one hundred when I leave,” choked Frida. “I should be out of sight by then. After that, call the Abbess. Do as you see right.” She buried her face in his shoulder and sobbed. “Remember. You are my brother. Now and always, truly and forever, you are a part of me and I am a part of you!”
Then she was gone.
Though she chose not to tell Babyface which way she was running, she headed north. She ran at a full sprint until she was over the pasture and into the woods. She kept a fast pace all that day, not slowing until she approached the river. She continued west until she found a ford, which, she noted, was not far from where her home village used to be.
Days seemed to run together after that: carefully husbanding her food supply, hunting when she could, avoiding people as much as possible. She didn’t know if anyone was following her, or what kind of head start she had, so she was afraid to stop anywhere too long. She didn’t sleep much. She built cooking fires only a few times, when she was confident they wouldn’t be too visible. After the river, she found herself moving uphill, and the temperature began falling abruptly as autumn arrived early in that region. She was shivering, exhausted and hungrier than she ever remembered when she met Sigi and her husband. And now she was sure Sigi and her husband were about to share her fate.
Armand listened to the young woman sitting before him without interrupting. At every pause or hesitation, he would nod or raise his eyebrows as if to say, “Yes, go on, please.” Finally, when it seemed that the young woman could say nothing more, he said simply, “So, you killed Baron Axel?”
The young woman looked down at the floor. “I did kill him,” she said quietly. Then she looked up again, her face defiant. “What could I have done? He wished to violate me! If I should die for this, then let it be so!” Then, more quietly: “But please leave my friends be. They are not part of this.”
Armand sighed, then smiled sadly at the young woman. “Do not worry. I have no intention of harming your friends. Lord Hakkon dispatched me to find out what happened to you, and I’ve done that. I believe your story, as it matches what my witnesses told me.”
“Witnesses?” said the young woman. “I was sure no-one saw us.”
“Perhaps you met Baron Axel’s two bully boys? They saw, from a distance, and required very little persuasion to be truthful.” He leaned forward. “Lord Hakkon has stated that if I found you, and if your testimony matched that of the bully boys, he would declare you innocent of any wrongdoing. I will inform Lord Hakkon, and he will keep his word.”
“So I may return home?”
“Unfortunately, I would not advise it, at least for now. Nobody mourns Baron Axel; men such as he have no friends. But they do have allies. There are those who profited by Axel’s existence, and may wish to avenge him. No-one will look for you here, but it would be dangerous for you to return home, maybe for some years.”
“So I am condemned to remain here, then?” The young woman was crestfallen.
“Condemned?” Sigi looked somewhat indignant. “Condemned? You know you are välkommen. Of course you will remain with us. Astrid, Frida, whatever your name is, you are part of us now.”
The young woman blushed. “I was born Astrid. I grew up as Frida. Either way, I am grateful to you.”
At that point, Armand announced that he was satisfied, and would leave the next morning. “I will tell Lord Hakkon that justice has been served.” He then retired to the guestroom. Sigi split a bottle of wine with Astrid, who slept better that night than she had in weeks.
The next morning was cool and clear, and Astrid made an early start on the day’s hunt. She waved at Armand as he rode past her on his way out of the village, politely declining a lift. Near the gate, she was stopped by the young boy who helped her drag the deer carcass into the village days previously. “Aren’t you going to stay and watch?” He was excited.
“Watch what?” Astrid replied.
“The general’s coming. General Tullius is coming here! And you know who he’s got with him? Ulfric Stormcloak! He’s bringing him! Right here to Helgen! I can’t wait!”
I can, thought the young woman, and headed through the gate. Less than an hour later, she heard the roar, but couldn’t quite place the sound. It was much louder than a bear or a saber cat, and it seemed to come from the village. How very peculiar. It was only when she saw the column of smoke that she began to comprehend what was happening. She scrambled up the hillside, sprinted up the road toward the village, but heat, flame, and smoke stayed her approach. Sigi! Sigi! She wanted to scream, but her voice abandoned her. Astrid felt her legs give way, and she collapsed in the dust.
MANY YEARS LATER
An elderly man dressed in scholarly robes knocked on the door of a modest but well-kept townhouse not far from the Blue Palace in Solitude. A young maid admitted him, carefully examining his calling card. “Oh yes,” she said. “The Learned Berndt. My mistress has been expecting you. I will alert her immediately. Please make yourself at home in the sitting-room.” Berndt found himself a cushioned chair, then removed a thick notebook and a charcoal pencil from his bag. His mission was part of a much larger research effort: to construct the most thorough accounting ever attempted of the Dragonborn’s life and adventures. In particular, he was to speak to as many of the Dragonborn’s friends and companions as could be located, and Lady Astrid Atwater, the Grand Dame of Solitude, the Mother of Orphans, was the last of these.
With her titles and reputation, Berndt expected a more theatrical entrance, but the grey-haired woman the maid led into the sitting-room struck him as modest, almost common, save for her erect, dignified bearing and her direct gaze. “Thank you so much for coming, Scholar,” she said as he rose and bowed before her. “I’ve waited many years to see the story told correctly, and I hope I can do my part in seeing your project through.”
The maid brought ale for both of them, and Berndt began with his prepared questions, hoping that they could move on to more impromptu topics as the visit progressed. As Berndt took notes, they spoke of many, many things:
On meeting the Dragonborn: We met in Riverwood, not long after the dragon burned Helgen. I was still in shock, of course, but the Dragonborn wanted help retrieving some important item from a barrow north of the village. Such charisma! I could hardly refuse. From that point forward, I was part of the Dragonborn’s retinue. An early part, you might say.
On the rest of the Dragonborn’s party: There were never more than four or five of us with the Dragonborn at any one time. Of that number, only three of us stayed until the end. The first was a housecarl from Whiterun. A tough, stubborn woman she was, but very loyal. Honestly, I was a little afraid of her! The second was a beautiful woman from Solstheim. What I remember about her was the endless chatter! I suppose we all got along well enough, but in any group, there’s bound to be a little tension. With the Dragonborn’s charisma, we were always jostling each other for attention, but I think it was the Solstheim woman who received the most. I was jealous and wanted to hate her for it, but I couldn’t. She was just too damned pleasant!
On the thing that amazed her the most: It’s difficult to name any one thing. The dragons coming back? I was a simple girl from the south. I hadn’t known dragons were ever there in the first place! Magic? I’d heard of it, but had never seen it done, not even at the Abbey where I grew up. It was a power that terrified me, and I tried to avoid it, but at some point I received a pair of bracers that helped me shoot straighter. Or maybe I just believed they would, and shot straighter because of it! But maybe the thing that struck me more than any other was how regular, ordinary people could bear such burdens on behalf of humanity. The Dragonborn never asked to be the Dragonborn. None of the rest of us had any idea what fate was in store for us. We had every chance to run away, but we didn’t. So that, maybe – ordinary people, extraordinary feats.
They spoke for a long time. After a while, both needed to stretch their legs, so they walked out to the courtyard. Lady Astrid described how, after their adventure ended, she found herself with a title and a fortune. After some thought, she decided to use her money to take over the orphanage in Riften. She opened two more children’s homes after that. “The war had left so many little ones by themselves. It broke my heart! Even with my homes, I couldn’t save them all. But I did what I could. We have many benefactors now to keep our homes running. I’m glad about that, because I’m getting too old to look after them personally!”
“But there are lots of people who have you to thank,” said Berndt. “I’ve met a number of them personally.” Lady Astrid smiled. “Now, there is one question I wish to ask, but I’m not sure if I have a right to.” He paused, trying to find the words.
“Oh, that question!” laughed Lady Astrid. “No, I never married. I never seemed to have the time. It is written, Lady Mara wants us all to love each other. Maybe loving the orphans the way a mother loves her children is the love she had in mind for me.”
“Or maybe, loving them like brothers and sisters,” said Berndt.
Lady Astrid looked puzzled. “Perhaps,” she said.
“That they may be part of each other,” he continued. Lady Astrid stared, opened her mouth to speak, but remained silent. “Now and always, truly and forever, you are a part of me and I am a part of you ”
Lady Astrid’s eyes opened wide. “Babyface?” she gasped.
“Frida! It is you! It is you!” They buried themselves in each other’s arms, tears of joy soaking their garments. They didn’t need to speak for a long, long time.
A note about the illustrations: The illustrations themselves are screenshots taken while playing The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. They were edited using Picasa, which, apparently, Google no longer supports. The following user mods were used to create the young woman:
- The body model used is Tania Project- Playable Race for ECE and RM, by Alan81512
- The young woman’s hair style is from ApachiiSkyHair by Apachii
- The young woman was created and stylized using RaceMenu by Expired
- Poses were accomplished using Pretty Motion Collection by Dualsun
- Note: Per the Unofficial Elder Scrolls Pages, Armand is the name of a Redguard character that appears in Skyrim, though I can’t recall where.