The Hunting Grounds (Cymbeline’s Story, ch. 2) + Minor Update
May 7, 2018
Hey everyone! My husband and I embarked on a DIY project in entirely the wrong way. We had a grand idea of a big ol’ desk that would accommodate all of our monitors and junk. It’s pretty great. We also had the idea to paint it in whiteboard enamel. Right??? Buuuuut… Man I told him a million times we need to paint the desktop before we stick it up on the wall, but no. So I’m going to have some downtime for a while since my old desk is now at Goodwill and this sand/primer/paint schtick is gonna take about three days since the enamel is magic or something. So.
All that said, I’m gonna be a bit behind the imaginary schedule in my head. Erelim is delayed a while so that I can figure out some design issues, issues which can’t be addressed without a computer so that’s a double-whammy, but I know you all understand and I assure you, it will be fab! It’s gonna pain me ’cause I’m on a roll with it. But junk happens. And then you get to scribble on your desk with whiteboard markers. :V
So meanwhile, I thought I’d throw up Cymbeline’s next chapter. Aria will be next. I’d have liked to have had it the other way around, but Aria’s stuck and this bit of Cymbeline’s been written since 2014 lol
Anyway, enjoy learning about Cymbeline’s daedric gift and her feelings for Gaithan!
There had been much to-do made of Cymbeline’s departure. She went for one last hunt with the others, descending slightly farther down the mountain than usual. Faelan, a hunter slightly older than she, shot a bull elk. His arrow had pinned the beast straight through the heart, and that combined with the appearance of the animal in the first place was considered a good omen for the future leader’s journey. Another party member slew a young elk, and both beasts would serve as the main course during the feast given to bless the unprecedented event.
This was a celebration the likes of which she had never seen. Juniper spirits flowed like a river from the stills, honey bread had been baked in abundance, and of course the venison roasts and endless racks of smoked fish. There was dancing, sparring exhibitions, and drunken speeches that seemed to go on forever while only saying a few things. It only served to make Cymbeline feel prematurely homesick, and she was glad that she had an excuse to leave early: Akatosh had only told her to venture southeast with no indication of distance. There were still preparations to make, and it seemed sensible to leave before it got too late in the day. Staying up all night to enjoy the festivities wasn’t terribly conducive to an early morning.
She slipped back into the chieftain’s quarters and retired to her room, her torch casting wavering shadows as she bent to kindle a fire in the crude grate. The process was much slower than usual. The fledgling flames seemed suddenly endless and would only grow as she fed them more wood. Screams from her vision filled her head, and she saw clear as day the form of that dragon, black as pitch and curling from the flames on wings of smoke. His head was a mass of impenetrable scales and horns, and as he turned to look at her she felt red eyes like embers burning into her heart.
zu’u saraan hin zofaas zahrahmiik
The words hung in her mind as Masser hung full in the sky tonight: familiar, yet far away. Though she couldn’t put their meaning into her own tongue, Cymbeline felt their meaning and saw it in her mind’s eye. They meant to cause her fear, and her heart contracted, but at the same time a fascination overcame her as she realized the words’ familiarity was the same thing she had felt when she had seen Akatosh.
“You should put some kindling on that fire if you don’t want to sleep in the cold tonight.”
Cymbeline gasped in shock at the intruding voice of her father and almost fell backwards onto the deerskin rug behind her. She looked at the fire again, surprised to see that it no longer was an inferno but was instead an anemic flicker that had used up almost all of its tinder. Quickly she fed the flame and replied, “I must have been caught up in my thoughts, Papa. I apologize.”
“No reason to apologize, little one. I know that look well, though I’ve never seen it so clearly on your face.”
“The vision quest must have knocked something loose,” she said, forcing a laugh.
Math chuckled quietly. “Perhaps. Anything you care to share?”
“It was the dragon again. The black one that burned you and everyone.”
The chieftain nodded and sat with his legs crossed on the rug.
“He said something to me in words I don’t know,” she said. As she joined him in sitting, she thought a bit and corrected herself: “No, that’s not right. I knew their meaning without knowing them. Can that happen?”
Math appeared to mull over the idea. “I suppose it’s possible. Our spirits run deep, and many never discover those depths. Your great-grandmother could recall previous lives; perhaps you have inherited a similar trait?”
Cymbeline was never certain about past lives, but the general consensus was Edwina was uncannily wise, and that if she said something was so, that was the way it was. Whatever the case, she couldn’t think of an answer and kept her peace.
“It pains me to see you leave this place,” Math said finally, breaking the lengthening silence. “Would that I could tell you to stay as I could when you were small.”
“I don’t want to go. I’m terrified.”
The chieftain took a long breath and lowered his eyes thoughtfully. A hank of silver hair fell into his face. “Auri-El’s ways are a mystery to us, but He would not lead you astray. Be kind to those you meet, Cymbeline. Do not raise your axe in anger. Exercise temperance as our Lord bid you, and I am certain your path will lead you to truth and keep you safe.”
“Thank you, Papa,” she said. She recalled, then, what he had said in the holy chambers. Though he wouldn’t pry for her visions, she couldn’t help her curiosity. She asked, “What did you mean when you said that you hoped what you had seen when I was born was wrong?”
“I am reluctant to share details for fear of influencing your quest, but suffice it to say that much of what you said rang true to the things I saw those years ago. A change is happening, my daughter. I fear our way of life will soon be threatened, and I fear that it will be on your shoulders to protect it. Auri-El’s words are perhaps deeper than you realize. To send you into Skyrim, perhaps even Cyrodiil, where war rages, can only mean preparation. You will need to fight, Cymbeline, or else you will perish without fulfilling your destiny. Auri-El has never before set a Grey Hawk to such a task.
“We fight only when we must, but even so I can count on one hand the number of aggressive intruders I have seen in my lifetime. What other purpose, then, if not to teach you to fight, if not to teach you aggression? The Aedra do not set such tasks for no reason. If He means you to fight, if this is His means of teaching you temperance, He must know of its pending usefulness.”
Cymbeline’s heart sank so hard she thought she felt it hit in the pit of her stomach. “Is that what you think? That Ak-… Auri-El is preparing me to be a warlord?”
A smile suddenly split Math’s face as a laugh shook his chest. “Such a strong word! Auri-El has led us for many generations in our way of life. I do not think He would suddenly require us to shift so heavily. But I do think perhaps we will no longer enjoy the isolation we once did. And if that is the case, our people will need a leader who will not shy away from the sword.”
Cymbeline looked down at her hands feeling like the fish she’d eaten at the feast had regained life and was flopping around inside her.
“Papa?” she asked.
“Have you ever, you know…” she swallowed before forcing herself to continue: “Have you ever…ever killed someone? A person?”
Math pursed his lips and cleared his throat. His hands rested on his ankles and suddenly he seemed very interested in the near-invisible hairs on his wrists. “I never have, no. But my brother did.”
He nodded once.
Uncle Fionn hadn’t been a very prominent figure in Cymbeline’s life. What little she knew of him painted a picture of a withdrawn and unhappy individual. In spite of being the chieftain’s younger brother, he was not very active in the tribe. He had no official job or title, and she knew that behind closed doors other tribe members spoke of him in tones normally reserved for the chronically ill. One day, shortly before her tenth birthday, she had awakened to find her father sobbing in her parents’ bedroom.
“My brother was one of the finest rangers I’m sure our tribe has ever seen,” Math said. “His skill with the bow has never been matched, as far as I know. He was undisciplined and too eager to act, however. On hunting trips he would shoot a doe during the rearing season without looking for whelps, leading to one or two more deaths which benefited no one, to say nothing of us. Needless to say this behavior soured Hircine’s temperament. For several seasons our hunting grounds were all but barren, and Fionn wouldn’t learn.”
“Why didn’t the leader keep him from hunting?” Cymbeline asked.
“He tried. Fionn took to hunting on his own in secret. Hircine expected us to keep him in check, and we failed.
“This was before you were born, you understand. Back then Fionn was a guardian, as you will be. As our hunt continued to suffer, word was sent back one morning that a man had been spotted skulking around our land. This doesn’t happen often, but we know well enough that when someone stumbles upon our home and behaves this way, attempting to hide and without hailing us, it’s likely because they’re looking to bring their gang of scofflaws back later to oust us from our home. Indeed, what better location to hide from the law?”
Cymbeline snorted quietly.
“But a single person behaving oddly is no immediate threat, and so he was left to go about his business. As expected, a few nights later, while Fionn was on watch, we heard the captain blow his horn in alarm. There were not many of the marauders. A few well-placed arrows likely would have scared them off, and if not, we had the numbers to overwhelm them.
“Fionn, though, excited to see something so unusual, nocked his arrows with hardly a thought given to who was whom. By the end, the marauders were dead, two by his arrows. That alone would have been enough. He probably would have still felt the gravity as any tribesman would, but it was the three other guardians with arrows in their backs that ruined him for good.”
“Even I do not know for certain, but most agree that this was Hircine’s doing. He knew that we would not execute one of our own as would befit his whims, but for all our personal beliefs, his punishment will always see its end. We could not control Fionn, and so he took matters into his own hands.
“Fionn went into seclusion as all Grey Hawk must upon taking a person’s life, and he did not emerge from the chamber for five days. I never knew what happened during that time, but Fionn was never the same. He hardly spoke, he never took meals with the tribe. Even as his niece, you barely knew him. I truly believe he was consumed by his folly, such that eventually he could no longer live with his conscience. He shattered our most sacred tenet, and for that he paid with his life.”
“But I thought Hircine had already exacted revenge?”
“A Daedric Prince’s revenge is a funny thing. I believe he wanted Fionn to suffer. As soon as those three guardians were shot down, wildlife began returning to our hunting grounds, and once Fionn drank that poison, we’ve been flush with game.”
Cymbeline’s hand went to her horns. She felt drained suddenly.
“Speak your mind, Cymbeline.”
“If this, this ‘gift’ from Hircine is supposed to herald bounty, do you think…”
“You’re asking if I think you were some form of vector or premonition regarding the loss of my brother,” he finished for her.
“I won’t lie, though I felt excitement seeing you bore his favor considering all that had happened before, I wondered if perhaps there wasn’t a hidden meaning. I do not and never did resent you for it, however. I can only ask that you trust me.”
“I do,” she said truthfully. Indeed, he had never been anything but loving to her. Especially when Fionn passed he had held onto her more tightly than he ever had before. Knowing now, however, that it had been suicide quite possibly connected to her patron deity sent chills up her spine.
“I do not worry about your judgment, Cymbeline,” he said. “One final thing I will say, however, since the topic has been broached: be wary of Hircine. We revere him as the lord of our hunt, but his is not the way of Auri-El or Kyne.”
Footsteps in the corridor outside interrupted their conversation. The stride was too long to belong to Cerridwyn, but nobody else was permitted in this part of the caverns. Still, Cymbeline wasn’t terribly surprised to see a tall man with prematurely graying auburn hair appear in the doorway – a man who was apparently more surprised to see them, or, at the very least, Math.
“You oughtn’t be here, Gaithan,” her father said. There was only the slightest edge to his voice.
“Nor should a man have to say goodbye to his beloved the moment they’re to be joined.”
Cymbeline jumped slightly at the word “beloved”. Gaithan rarely made mention of their betrothal, at all, and though lately she had begun sharing tender, lingering glances with the High Priest, the word, given voice, carried a weight she wasn’t prepared for.
It seemed Math, whose ruddy face had paled in the firelight, experienced a similar feeling, if not for entirely the same reasons. “You speak as though she won’t return. Have you seen something? Just now?”
“No, my chieftain, but I fear for the future as we all do, and I love your daughter more than anything.”
“Let him stay, Papa,” Cymbeline asked.
Math was rattled, but Cymbeline had a feeling it wasn’t simply out of fear of something Gaithan had presumably seen or not seen. The knot in his throat bobbed as he swallowed, and he stood. “You have every right to speak to my daughter in the great hall or within the torchlight of the grounds. By tradition I cannot allow you to stay here.”
Gaithan nodded, and though she didn’t need it, Cymbeline waited for her father’s own nod of approval before rising and following the priest out of the highborn chambers. He led her outside the caverns and into the cold night air. Her skin erupted into gooseflesh at the change in temperature and she shivered sharply as her body adjusted. Gaithan, who was blessed with what her mother called “hot blood”, removed the sabrecat pelt from his shoulders and draped it over hers before continuing the short trek. Cymbeline breathed deep his scent and savored the warmth that enveloped her small frame.
The sky was clear this night, and Masser was full and bright. Orange spots of light from torches carried by those of the guard unlucky enough to bear night watch duties during the festivities and from the braziers marking the bounds of the Grey Hawk territory accented the velvet sky. Gaithan led her to the crop fields, specifically to a shadowy corner of a pumpkin patch whose vines were long and whose flowers, just waiting to fall off in yield to the fruit, were terrestrial stars reflecting the light from their celestial counterparts.
With every step away from the protective firelight, Cymbeline’s heart beat more and more quickly. When Gaithan stopped suddenly, she almost ran into him, but he pivoted on his heel and grabbed her shoulders. Before her shocked gasp could escape, his lips were pressed eagerly to hers. Her racing heart was now joined by thousands of butterflies beating the inside of her stomach with their wings. Almost in a panic, she worked her hands between them and pushed Gaithan away.
She knew him well enough that she didn’t need much more than moonlight to see his gentle eyes and the lines on either side of his thin, kind mouth, all worked into an expression of worry mixed with something she couldn’t quite pin down. She placed a hand on his cheek, feeling for the first time those same features she had for so long admired. This was what her father was worried about, and she found she didn’t much care. Pushing a stray lock of hair from Gaithan’s face, she raised up onto her toes once more and allowed herself to be pulled into a proper kiss.
His breath was heavy with spirits; his skin was smooth beneath her fingers. His hands, resting on the skin of her waist, sent warmth radiating to all parts of her body, and his palms, like smoldering styli, traced blazing lines over her exposed stomach and breasts. Without thinking, her left leg lifted and rested against his right hip, and one strong hand moved down and slipped under her loincloth to support her buttocks. Fingertips barely grazed her nether lips, sending electricity through her core to mingle with the heat of her lover’s hands.
But still something bothered her, and she pulled back only slightly to ask: “Gaithan, are you really afraid I won’t come back?”
A hissing sound as he breathed deeply through his nose was accompanied by the feeling of him adjusting his hold on her for stability. Against her hips she felt a stiffness beneath his loincloth. Cymbeline angled her hips forward, letting the pressure soothe the growing ache and savoring the quiet gasp from Gaithan’s lips.
“I didn’t dare tell your father, and I oughtn’t tell you for fear of influencing your journey, but-”
“So you did see something?”
“The future lately has been veiled to me – to all of us, including your father. Even so, I have caught glimpses and I feel more than I see. You will return, Cymbeline, of that I am certain, but still I feel I may not see you again.”
“I don’t understand.”
Gaithan sighed with frustration. “Nor do I.”
“You worry,” she said. “That’s all. What good does it do to dwell on futures we cannot see?”
In the moonlight Cymbeline could see the fear in his eyes. “Kyne has granted me a beautiful mate. Why shouldn’t I worry?”
“Because you said, yourself, I will return, and soon after we will be wed.”
She wanted to say that she loved him, but the words wouldn’t come. They felt somehow empty in spite of the growing ache that seemed to say otherwise. Gaithan only responded with another kiss, and she eagerly acquiesced, letting herself be lowered onto the damp earth where she let herself become pliant in his arms.