Oh my god look what it is! Okay, look, I’ll level with ya. This first chapter was an absolute bear. It just fought me tooth and nail. So I apologize that it’s so far from my best, but I assure you, this is just, well, as Callie would say, the thorn that’s gotta be yanked out. So it’ll feel better after! Promise!
Or if that’s not good enough Aria’s got her next thing up soon lol
As usual I’ve taken liberties with the layouts of things and the way certain things are handled (such as a stable in the business of selling livestock only having one oddly specific horse for sale, the lack of banks, an inn in a major commerce hub having one usable room when Nowheresville garbage punk towns have like five…). This should probably go without saying because you’d have to do this with pretty much any video game, but I’m just putting this out there.
(don’t hit me)
Rei stood looking into his old friend’s slightly rheumy eyes. There was a new bond between them, one that was easy, one that was strong and new. Each of them had a hand on each other’s cheek and their free arms about each other’s waists as they leaned in for one final, deep kiss. Rei could feel Sabrael’s sadness join his, and he swallowed as he smiled. It wouldn’t be the last time they’d see each other, of course, but they’d all three shared a bed for the week and a half after Rei had returned from Winterhold, resting and waiting on the clothes still being tailored, and the closeness made parting that much harder.
“You really ought to consider joining up,” Tauryon said one last time. “You remember home, you still appreciate our breeding.”
“For the last time, nobody wants a former daedra with all his trappings representing the new Dominion,” Rei laughed. “Not to mention one who was a notorious and wanted murderer back on the big island.”
“Well you’d have me to vouch for you. I wouldn’t even have to give them your real name, if you didn’t want me to. All I know is that we need all the foot soldiers we can get out here, ones who can take command and weather assaults from the natives while pulling up the weeds, shall we say. I daresay I could manage starting you a bit higher up on the pole.”
Rei felt the dismay from his kirin that tended to accompany this discussion when Tauryon brought it up. He stepped back from his friend and pulled Sabrael close, hoping to reassure him.
“I just don’t belong anymore, Tauryon.”
Tauryon smiled wistfully and nodded. “Fair enough, then. I’ll be here in Skyrim for the foreseeable future, anyway, and you’ll always have a place in my home.”
“Yes, thank you!” Sabrael chimed in. “I had such a nice time.”
“I’d say it was quite worth the ordeal, my dear,” Tauryon answered, holding out his arms and inviting Sabrael’s enthusiastic embrace.
“I’ll miss you,” he said. “We both will.”
“Well, we’ve all places to be and things to do. I’m sure Azura didn’t mean to tell your bond here that his call in Skyrim was simply rolling in the sheets with a daedra and an old mer.”
Tauryon bent and kissed Sabrael just as deeply and intimately as he had Rei.
“You take care of him, Rei Ginsei,” he admonished. There had been the slightest trace of distrust in Tauryon’s actions since all of the unpleasantness, and Rei found he couldn’t blame him. That sort of thing didn’t just vanish.
“His happiness is all I live for.”
Sabrael beamed and walked back to put his arms around Rei’s waist.
Tauryon nodded approvingly. “I suppose it’s off to Riften then?”
“Riften?” Rei repeated.
“That’s where Skyrim’s temple to Mara is. If you are in fact planning on making an honest man out of this one?”
“I absolutely am,” he smiled.
“Until next time, my friend,” Tauryon said, holding out his right arm.
Rei grasped it firmly and pulled him close, pressing his forehead against his. “Thank you for everything you’ve done for my kirin.”
“Well. For you,” he chuckled quietly. “I love you both, and I mean that.”
Rei smiled and kissed Tauryon just one last time before gathering Sabrael and their things and heading back to the stables.
“We’ll need to get you a horse,” Rei said as they left the residential district and entered the much noisier marketplace.
“Me? But they’re big!”
“You’re big when you’re in your equine form.”
“I know, but I’m small now,” Sabrael said, managing a laugh. “Baku even still makes me nervous, and you’re holding me.”
“I understand that, my beauty, but as we gather more things, Baku’s going to need to respite. It’s not good for him to have both of us and our belongings on him.”
“I guess not. What if the other horse could hold our belongings and Baku could carry just you and me?”
“Sometimes we could do that, I think,” Rei ceded, “but I have to be honest, squeezing into the saddle with you tends to hurt after a while. Don’t worry, darling, I’ll be sure to get you a proper animal and I’ll teach you everything I know.”
Sabrael looked over at him trepidatiously.
“I know trust is probably hard to come by, but I won’t let anything happen to you.”
“I trust you, Rei, but it’s scary, is all.”
Once they were beyond the gates and a ways down the hill, Rei guided Sabrael off the road and around the corner of a wall. He put what he was carrying down and helped Sabrael do the same. His kirin was wearing one of his new outfits, a deep purple sleeveless frock with lace that came to just above his knees. Rei had seen plenty of entertainment featuring men dressed as women for one reason or another, and he was certainly acquainted with the type of man who went to great lengths to look feminine while hawking their “wares”, and he’d even run into a few who simply wished to live as women, but Sabrael wasn’t any of these. He didn’t try to look like a woman; he simply liked the dress, and Rei was loathe to say no to anything his kirin desired. Regardless, with his soft features and unusual hair, he was, simply, pretty, and Rei felt a sudden gratefulness settle over him.
Rei turned him and gently held Sabrael’s head. “You never have to be afraid with me anymore, Sabrael,” he whispered.
“You’ve been so brave lately, staying by my side, going after Clavicus without any hesitation. I think I was more scared than you were.”
Sabrael smiled and looked down as he blushed.
“Riding a horse is nothing! And who can say they’ve ever had a teacher who was a prize-winning rider in his youth with four centuries of practice to his name?”
“Well, I guess I could,” Sabrael smiled bashfully.
Rei smiled back and pressed his lips to his kirin’s. He moved a hand over a soft cheek and through Sabrael’s hair.
“You feel so happy,” Sabrael said. “I feel like I need to…to jump, or run, or shout, or something or I might explode.”
“I’ve a lot to be happy for.”
“I love you, Rei.”
“And I love you, my kirin.”
After one last kiss, they picked their belongings back up and resumed the short trek to the farm. He didn’t know whether they had any stock for sale, but there were a number of animals in a paddock that didn’t seem to belong to anyone else. It wasn’t a pressing matter, though; if he had to walk Baku, he wasn’t bothered.
“Been a few days,” the owner Geimund greeted him as they stepped into the yard of Katla’s Farm.
“I apologize,” Rei answered. “Business, and all.”
“I don’t wanna know about it. As long as you have the gold, that’s all I care about.”
“Right, right,” he said, fishing the purse he’d set aside from one of his bags. “For the last two days, with gratuity for the whole two weeks.”
“Oh,” Geimund answered, his demeanor changing as if a switch had been flipped. “Much obliged.”
Rei bowed his head slightly. “I wonder if you have any animals for sale?”
“Aye. They’re in this paddock, here.”
“They have no similar sire or dam?” he asked, noting the differences in colors and breeds.
“Nope. Those two there? Those were rescues we bought from a traveler who’d been mistreatin’ ’em. Shoulda seen ’em when they got here. Hundred pounds, soakin’ wet.”
Rei looked at the two thoroughbreds, both of their coats a liver chestnut so dark they were almost black, and felt his lip curl. They were damaged for life, and as much as he would have liked to have one (or both, even), they were still obviously worn out for their age, and he wouldn’t be able to give them the life they needed.
“Rest of ’em came from various places. Mostly kept from people who refused payment or couldn’t afford the boarding costs and didn’t bother to try.”
“By all means,” Geimund answered, waving a hand.
Rei climbed nimbly over the fence and hopped into the paddock, lifting Sabrael over after him. One thing he realized he was going to have to get used to was the fact that he was no longer as strong as he was with Vile’s vestige. It was amazing, he thought, how he’d never given any of it a second thought.
He walked among the animals, barely aware that Sabrael had gone his own way. He’d found a quarter horse gelding that looked to be in good shape, with a remarkable dun bay coat. His teeth were healthy, his temperament was fine, and he let Rei pat him and feel him, even examine his hooves. If there were a better starter horse, he hadn’t found it.
“Sabrael?” he called.
“Rei, Rei, come here! Oh, you have to see this one!”
Rei made his way to where his kirin stood, stroking the graceful, arching neck of an exotic Bergaman mare. He’d rarely seen the like outside Hammerfell, but she looked healthy, and she sported an odd, normally undesirable sort of sabino coat and an irregular blonde and brown mane and tail. Undesirable or not, she was quite beautiful. Rei didn’t feel the need to give her a closer look, though.
“She’s lovely, Sabrael, but I don’t know that she’d be a good fit for us.”
“There’s a few reasons, but the biggest one is that I don’t think I can afford her. She’s gorgeous and she comes from a long way away, and Bergamans aren’t cheap at the best of times.”
“I guess I didn’t think about how much horses cost.”
“Well it normally wouldn’t be a problem, but, for obvious reasons, I haven’t really discussed the fact that I haven’t had paying work since we met, and between clothing, and feeding two people and extended boarding for Baku, I’m having to make my coin stretch a bit if I don’t want to start making promissory notes for everything. The bank in Cyrodiil’s going to think I’ve lost my mind with how many notes I’ve written lately.”
“Oh, Rei, I’m sorry,” Sabrael said, clutching his hands in front of his chest.
“Don’t be sorry, beauty; it’s my fault. This might be the first time I’ve ever had to properly manage my finances. Come here, I’ll show you a gelding I think would be perfect.”
Rei took Sabrael’s hand and led him over to the young quarter horse that was munching the hay that was scattered around the paddock.
“I know he’s not on the same level as the other, appearance-wise, but-“
“But he’s pretty too!” Sabrael said.
Rei felt the excitement, however dampened it was.
“He’s got a good temperament from what I’ve seen myself, and he’s been altered, so he’ll be more predictable and better for a new rider like you.”
Sabrael approached him, aware enough from his own personal experience to keep to the side so the horse could see him. He reached a hand up and touched the dusty tan cheek. Rei smiled as the animal leaned into Sabrael’s hand. The horse moved his head and nudged Sabrael’s neck with his nose, causing Sabrael to giggle.
“Find one that’ll do?” Geimund called as he walked into the paddock.
“I don’t know,” Rei answered. “Sabrael?”
“Yes! He’s better than the other one.”
“He looks good enough from what I’ve seen,” Rei said to Geimund as Sabrael began gathering hay from the ground. “Anything I should know?”
“Been raised with young’uns his old owner said. Gentlest thing you could ever meet, rides well, takes direction just fine.”
Sabrael’s excitement as the gelding ate the hay he offered bubbled up, and Rei had to try not to laugh giddily.
“Had some issues with thrush when we got ‘im, took ‘im a while to recover from that, but you’d never know it to see ‘im walk.”
“What’s his name?” Sabrael asked.
“Proper name’s Reder’s Summer Wind, but y’know, we just call him Windy.”
“Reder’s Summer Wind,” Sabrael repeated, entranced.
“Give ‘im a ride, see how you like ‘im?”
“Please,” Rei answered.
It was a bit of an ordeal to get settled once Windy had been saddled. Since puberty had reared its head, Rei, like many Altmer in general, had been limited to larger breeds for reasons of comfort and aesthetics. Quarter horses were not usually in that category, and there was quite a bit of effort involved in adjusting the stirrups and getting his balance right.
“You’re lookin’ to get that horse for…erm…him, right?” Geimund asked. Rei rankled at his hesitation.
“Yes, it would be for him. My fiancee.”
“Easy!” Geimund said, throwing up his hands. Intimidation and the promise of money went a long way. “You just don’t see that every day, is all.”
“Indeed. I’m riding him now because Sabrael is a novice. If it’s acceptable, I’d like to take Windy down to Dragonbridge and back.”
“S’long as you come back.”
“The horse is nice, but it’s not nice enough to leave my love and my possessions behind.”
Geimund smirked and stepped aside so that Rei could guide Windy out of the paddock.
Just as the stable owner had promised, Windy rode like a champion. Every bit of input was heeded, putting him through his paces was easy, and he didn’t feel the urge to pick his own pace. Even when they were nearing home, Windy obediently continued his easy trot.
“Was he good, Rei?” Sabrael asked, lightly clapping his hands excitedly.
“He was very good. I think he’d do well with you.”
“Are we gonna get him?”
“If you want him,” Rei said. “I know he’s not your first choice, and this isn’t the only-“
“No, I do!” Sabrael squeaked. “He’s perfect, and I know he likes me! The other one didn’t, really, I don’t think.”
“No, she didn’t really seem to notice me.”
Rei smiled and returned his kirin’s tight embrace. The haggling wasn’t a real problem; Rei figured profit wasn’t much of an issue if a horse was left behind as payment for a few nights’ stay. It made him feel a little worse for dissuading Sabrael from the Bergaman, although with Baku being intact it would have been unrealistic and a bother to keep a young mare around, and that was at least a comfort.
They split the load of their belongings between the two animals, and, at least for the moment, Rei helped Sabrael up in front of him astride Baku.
“Much obliged,” Rei said to the owner.
“You’re an odd one,” Geimund said, “but I like the way you do business. Hope to see you again.”
Rei nodded and kicked Baku into motion, pleased to see Windy was content to follow the lead attached to his new companion’s bridle.
“When do I get to ride him?” Sabrael asked as they took the road to Dragonbridge. Rei chuckled at the impatient excitement.
“When we have a decent place for you to practice. I could lead him while you’re on him, but I’d rather not take any risks with my kirin.”
Sabrael nestled against him. “I guess I can’t argue too much.”
Rei leaned down and gently bit the tip of Sabrael’s ear, sharing the cool shiver that consumed him. His free arm wrapped around his kirin’s middle and held him tightly.
“I didn’t say anything before,” Sabrael said, “because I think Tauryon might be a little jealous of us, but it’s so very nice feeling you without that vestige.”
” ‘Jealous’ might be a bit strong. I think we’ve both learned that when he falls, he does it hard. Honestly in this case I don’t blame him.”
“You can feel the vestige’s absence, though?”
“Well, I dunno if it’s the actual thing,” he said thoughtfully, “but you’re so much calmer. You’re, well, serene. Really serene.”
Rei chuckled once.
“Before there was always this…this buzz. I’ve seen people on skooma before. It felt the way they looked.”
“I do feel free again. More like myself.”
He felt a twinge of uneasiness from his kirin.
“Don’t worry, my love, please,” he said. “I didn’t mean it in that way.”
“I know, but you mentioned paying work, and I mean obviously it’s necessary, but I know you mean you’ll need to start killing again. For money.”
“Sabrael, I’m a sellsword. That’s basically all I know. But I won’t take assassinations, alright? Any killing will be for the general safety of wherever we happen to be, whether it’s animals or marauders, and I promise I will try my very hardest not to let my bloodlust consume me. I know I said that before, but, as someone with his mind entirely his own, I mean it.”
“I know you do, Rei,” Sabrael said, the warmth of reassurance flowing through him. “I can feel it.”
As they came up on Dragonsbridge, Rei bit his kirin’s ear again, and the shiver was accompanied by a fierce arousal.
“Oh, beauty,” Rei smiled. “Do we need to find a place to stop already?”
Sabrael giggled. “I was thinking, maybe, we could camp for a while?”
“I’d like to, but it depends on how far we get and what conditions are like. It does sound much better than an inn, though. I like civilization, but I don’t suppose I ever realized there could be such a thing as ‘too much’.”
“Well, you’ve spent so much time alone… Two weeks in a place like Solitude I guess could get kind of grating.”
Rei nodded, realizing his map was folded up behind him with the blankets, such that he couldn’t retrieve it.
“Pardon me, Miss?” he called to a woman carrying milk to one of the houses.
She turned and looked sideways at the creature calling to her. Rei saw her fingers flex as she tightened her hold on the yoke.
“I only need a moment of your time,” he assured her. “Directions.”
“Can’t say I’ve ever had to give directions to Oblivion before…”
Rei feigned laughter and tried to hide his fangs. “We mean you no harm, Miss. I only need to know the best road to take if we’re to make it to Riften.”
“Tch, would be Riften, wouldn’t it?” she scoffed. “Cross the bridge out of town, take a left at the first road and keep to it. Imagine you can figure the rest, yourself.”
“Our thanks, Miss. “
The woman sniffed and continued on her way.
“I wonder,” Sabrael mused as they reached the bridge. “Do you think they dislike me or you more?”
“What kind of question is that?” Rei laughed.
“The fun kind. What do you think?”
“I can only imagine it’s me. You’re small, always quiet, and have a sweet demeanor. I’m tall, by default my expression isn’t very pleasant, and I look like the daedric version of an Altmer, which I’m sure does wonders here in Skyrim…”
“Well, you are an Altmer. Again.”
“I’m not sure what I am. Tauryon might have been insisting on it, but I’m no Altmer. I don’t belong with my kin.”
“You’re my fiancee,” Sabrael offered.
“That’s true,” he smiled, kissing his kirin’s temple. “And soon you’ll be my husband.”
Sabrael squealed excitedly as his muscles tensed and he leaned hard against Rei Ginsei.
After stopping once to dig out the map and to bundle up against the cold, they finally came upon Whiterun City as the moons were rising in earnest. Rei had never been so grateful to have his hopes “dashed”; the last thing he wanted to do was set up camp.
They’d taken a shortcut around the foot of a snowy mountain where a vicious headwind blew into them, slowing their pace and making the path miserable. Rei, still not used to the actual tactile emotion of proper coldness, was exhausted physically from shivering, and mentally from the intense discomfort. Meanwhile, Windy had done well wrapped in one of Baku’s blankets, Baku himself had come through without batting an eye, and Sabrael, though needing extra warmth, seemed somehow refreshed.
“We’re almost to an inn,” Sabrael assured him as he sagged against the stable’s signpost.
He felt a soft hand on his cheek, and he smiled slightly, covering it with his own. It had been so long since he had felt so drained. The adrenaline and worry of his fate had kept him going during Vile’s trial, and he’d been able to rest immediately afterward with the added perk of release. This was the exhaustion that came from hours of monotonous discomfort, and he felt like he could never move. He wondered how much the missing vestige contributed, or if it was just another case of finding a new emotion he needed to adjust to. It was one of those things he’d never bothered to think about, the way the mundane could be unbearable if it had been forgotten.
With some effort, he pushed himself forward off the post and picked up their belongings to haul what seemed an endless distance to the Bannered Mare Inn.
“Do you think I’ll be able to ride Windy tomorrow?” Sabrael asked.
“I don’t see why not. He weathered the cold very well for such a small, lean animal.”
“He’s kind of like me, isn’t he?”
“I imagine all horses are to some extent,” Rei mused.
“Wait a minute,” one of the gate guards said, stepping into their path. “I remember you. There’s two of you, now?”
Rei wasn’t feeling very charming, but he did what he could as Sabrael predictably clutched his waist and sent his timidity coursing through his mind. “I would hope you also remember that I caused no trouble, sir. This is Sabrael. He’s my bond.”
“Your ‘bond’, hm?” the other guard scoffed. “Is that what they’re calling it these days?”
Rei cut his eyes over, resting the tip of his tongue behind his incisors pensively. He thought better of the insult that emerged at the ready, bringing with it the memory of that one night in Falkreath and, with it, a hateful and pleasurable shudder. Sabrael flinched behind him as a small ball of fear joined his nerves.
“You see how shy he is,” he said instead to the first guard. “If I caused no trouble, he could make trouble disappear altogether.”
The guard contemplated the assertion and casually spit out onto the grassy patch away from them. “I’ll be letting Commander Caius know you’re back and have another one with you. We can’t have things like you overrunning the city.”
“I assure you, two of us is all there will ever be.”
He nodded and tilted his head toward the gate.
Rei bowed slightly and picked up the heavier bags he’d laid down. He thought for a moment before asking, “I don’t suppose you’d know what the work situation is like?”
“Mercenary types of things? Have to go up to Dragonsreach, talk to the steward Proventus Avenicci. Might be something posted outside the inn, but we’ve had a decent number of killing types come through.”
Rei nodded and thanked him before heading to the gate.
“Didn’t think you lot could fight,” the second guard laughed.
” ‘Our lot’ can do whatever we choose, sir,” Rei answered in clipped tones. Sabrael’s fear surged, and he felt his overcoat clutched harder.
“I suppose maybe you can. You look like the one that tosses it.”
“Knock it off, Aegir,” the other guard barked. “We have enough to do without you provoking people.”
Rei sneered in Aegir’s direction – Aegir, who made a show of putting his hand on his sword where it hung, sheathed, from his belt – and entered the city proper, feeling more drained and sick than ever. His hands were shaking, but he knew it wasn’t Sabrael’s fault.
“I thought you were gonna hit him!” Sabrael gasped.
“Assaulting a civilian is bad,” he said quietly. “Assaulting a city guard is stupid. Although, I have to admit, it was mostly because I promised you.”
“I’m so proud of you, Rei! I know you’re still mad, but you did a good thing!”
Rei laughed in spite of himself. “I don’t know about that. But thank you.”
The streets of Whiterun after dark weren’t like the streets of Sunhold. There were a decent number of people taking moonlight strolls, but the merchant stalls in the plaza were empty and locked up tightly. One belonged to a jeweler, an old woman who normally occupied one of them. Rei was hoping to have made it sooner, but the stall would still be there come morning.
Hulda was the owner of the Bannered Mare, the sort of proprietor who didn’t particularly like to leave employees unsupervised. She slept, he knew from his limited experience, but it couldn’t have been very much. She was also fairly pleasant and possessed of a proper amount of pragmatism. He didn’t know if her treatment of him was entirely genuine, but she knew he had money, and she wasn’t going to make a fuss if he was willing to give her that money.
“Thought you were just passing through,” she said when he approached the bar where she was pouring a drink for what appeared to just be a local barfly.
“Skyrim’s got its claws into me, I’m afraid,” he said, digging out his coin purse.
“Bigger claws than yours, I’m sure.”
“No doubt. I need a room. Any room, so long as it has a bed for two.”
“Oh I see,” she said, leaning across the bar. “He’s hiding.”
“He’s a shy one. Sabrael, this is Hulda. She’s okay.”
The nerves eased a bit, and Rei pulled Sabrael close.
“Would you like a bath?” she asked.
“Ugh,” Rei sighed. Everything seemed like an unreasonable amount of work all of a sudden. “Sabrael?”
“I’d like one, but I don’t guess you do?”
“I’m too tired tonight, beauty, I’d just as soon take one tomorrow morning. You are more than welcome to take one tonight, though.”
There was a moment’s pause during which Rei was pleased to sense genuine interest in doing something in public alone, but in the end: “No, I’ll take one tomorrow, too.”
“Well then, here’s your key. The room upstairs. It’s our only one with a double. Came here at the right time, and everything. Seems I’ve been turning people away left and right lately.”
After getting settled and having a hot meal on the curious little balcony that opened off their room and overlooked the tavern, Rei and Sabrael shed their clothes and crawled onto the thin mattress under the covers. It was a bit of a step down from Tauryon’s feather beds, but nonetheless Rei moaned audibly as his muscles relaxed, and his eyes closed almost instantly.
“Think we should just cuddle?” Sabrael asked. There was a jocularity to it that made Rei grin.
“Come here,” he answered, turning onto his side and lifting his outside arm.
Like a magnet, Sabrael’s back was against him, and he curled around his kirin. Sabrael was happy and relaxed. More importantly, he’d said he was proud. Rei could feel it, but it was hearing the words that gave it proper gravity. He could’ve taken that guard. Could’ve taken both of them maybe (maybe…) and run. It didn’t matter if he left his belongings, and it didn’t matter that he wasn’t alone. He didn’t, though. He didn’t even really antagonize him. It took effort to move along, and he made it. He made the effort, and he succeeded.
He squeezed Sabrael and felt his forearm grasped just as tightly.
“I’m so happy,” his kirin sighed.
“Me too, beauty. I don’t know what Azura meant about Skyrim having need of me, but I know that as long as I have you – as long as I can keep making you happy and proud of me – I can handle it as if it were nothing.”