Thursday, 23 October 2014

The Voyages of Dr Charvik: an unfortunate turn of events

Led astray and abandoned by my companions, I had found myself prisoner in a hateful frozen waste. Freed by the kindly intervention of a passing dragon, I had formed tentative relations with the locals, and discovered the presence of several sites of historical interest. After witnessing the tragic death of a fellow-scholar, I began the journey to a nearby settlement with a message to their jarl, or secretary; but was persuaded to delay my visit by several intriguing ruins along the route.

A large, towered structure caught my whim, and I proceeded towards it apace. I soon found that it was in a sorry state, but much of the overall structure remained intact. I had little specific experience of this architectural style, but my trained eye quickly discerned that the walls reached largely to their original height, except where one section had collapsed outward due to subsidence. There were, moreover, signs of recent activity: a footprint here, a cheval de frise there, and overhead what appeared to be a human body suspending in a cage. Promising stuff, indeed! Whichever historical society might be managing this site, they were clearly dedicated to the restoration project. Their work seemed highly authentic, and I looked forward to meeting them, however rustic they might be. Even an enthusiastic amateur can be a fine conversationalist when there is shared interest.

There was little immediate sign of activity as I entered the compound, but I noticed a figure standing on the ramparts and made my way towards it. Taking a well-earned break from some duty, a man stood staring out across the valley, whistling softly and apparently enjoying the icy breeze against whose fingers I had carefully wrapped myself. From his sparse clothing, I surmised that he had been working at the forge nearby. Seeing him deep in thought, I approached quietly, not wishing to intrude. It was then that a most unfortunate accident occurred.

As I hissed politely to alert the man to my presence, he started violently and span around. I gave a reassuring smile, attempting to lend a touch of apology by extending my claws in a gesture of welcome I had seen elsewhere. At this moment, I believe a sudden gust of wind must have occurred, or else the man was startled to see a visitor without an official appointment. The latter possibility frets slightly at my conscience. Regardless, the tragic result was that the man stumbled backward - threw one hand before his face - his leg struck the crumbling rampart - and he fell with a shriek.

As I leaned aghast over the parapet and gazed at the poor, unmoving corpse, there came hurried footsteps behind me. "What is it?" called a voice. Seeing me, the new arrival stopped in obvious shock and suspicion. He muttered something about gold and death, presumably a reference to some form of blood-money - I had heard such a system operates in the region. Observing the dagger the man had drawn, I attempted to explain what had happened. It was then that the second unfortunate accident occurred.

In the stress of the moment, I found myself stumbling over the rough Human tongue, and turned to gesture. As I described the victim's stumble and fatal fall, I turned sharply and gestured out towards the wall.

I did not realise that, for some reason known only to himself, my interlocutor chose this moment to step towards me. In turning, my tail struck him hard across the knees - he stumbled backward, and tottered on the edge. Spinning back and seeing what had occurred, I flung out a desperate claw towards him, and succeeded in catching his shoulder. In a moment, I would surely have hauled him to safety; yet he shrieked with pain, and thrashed wildly, tearing himself from my grip. By the time I had hurried down the steps, there was nothing even my magic could do for him. Though the ground on the inside was higher, the fall had fractured at least one vertebra in his neck.

Seeing that neither gentleman carried any form of identification - presumably for fear of anachronism - I decided I had best enter the main building, where the superintendents of the project would undoubtedly be at work. It was a most regrettable affair, and I was considerably shaken by both the sudden tragedy, and the streaks of blood that now besmirched my clothing and claws. However, pausing to wash at the nearby trough would have seemed deeply insensitive in the circumstances. I picked up the distinctive mace one of the men had carried, and hastened inside.

As I entered the building, several people turned to stare at me. My bloodstained garb and harassed demeanour can only have added to their bewilderment at seeing an Argonian amongst them. Of course, I was a stranger, but it did not seem like an occasion for polite nothings, and I proceeded directly to the point.

"The man with this mace," I cried, lifting it for them to see. "He is dead now. I killed him." Considering my distress, I still feel this was a praiseworthy first attempt, distilling all important details into a brief and simple message. However, perhaps understandably in retrospect, this did little to reassure my audience; indeed, they backed away and reached for various weapons.

"You are ignorant," I tried to explain. "Weapons are useless. He stood watching at the rampart. I came silent, unseen. Surprised, he died. Another heard his death-cry. He also is dead. My tail struck, he fell, broken."

It occurred to me, as they adopted aggressive postures, that the bloodstains were probably alarming them. How foolish of me! "Here, his blood. I caught him, my claws. He struggled, and died." Pleased with my explanation under trying circumstances, I respectfully let the mace fall, and stared intently at the apparent leader of the three, willing her to discern the truth from my eyes. Remembering belatedly, I made another attempt at the ever-popular smile.

I still cannot fully explain why it was that, rather than hastening to their fallen comrades, these three chose to violently assault me. The temporary madness of grief; some primitive lust for vengeance instilled by their culture; an attack of xenophobia? In the heat of the moment, there was nothing I could do but defend myself against the sudden barrage of blades. Moreover, one of them proved to be a quite capable spellcaster, and bombarded me with ice magic that chilled me almost to the marrow. It was only thanks to my trusty shield that I was able to survive the assault long enough to defeat them. I noted, as the last one slumped mournfully to the floor, that I had quite regained the duelling skills so laboriously instilled in me years before. Indeed, the recent plethora of violence had made a very warrior of me, of all things!

Once I had recovered from my injuries, with the aid of a few medicinal draughts, I arranged the corpses tidily in a corner and explored the rest of the site. It was indeed a remarkably impressive reconstruction of a working frontier fort, though of course, I cannot say how accurate the details might have been. With a few explanatory placards, and perhaps a tea-room, it will make an excellent destination for the discerning visitor.

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