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Stratos Caelus ([personal profile] auspex_caelo) wrote2016-04-30 11:17 pm

Lost (April Writing Prompt for [community profile] nexus_crossings)

“This trail is certainly not on the map.” There was a scratching of charcoal on parchment behind him. Neither of which was a comforting sound on a damp and chilly Haafingar morning - least of all when you were halfway up an uneven hill path.

“I’m not certain this is a trail, Celann.” Stratos had the lead, trying to find a way up the rocky slope to the hills where their camp lay. ’Skirt the bandits, gather a cohort and come back for them’ was a fine idea in theory, but Stratos had swiftly been reminded why nobody liked trying clever detours in unfamiliar terrain. At least they hadn’t brought the horses, but he was regretting the lack of Celann’s nimble squire.

The clairvoyance spell in his hand was proving a poor substitute. He understood what it was telling him: there was clearly a route up. Whether a gang of armored soldiers could get up safely was another matter. He’d left the others at the base of the hill to cover their ascent.

“Well, I’m not so sure we’re lost,” Celann countered cheerfully. The chevalier was enjoying this far more than he ought to. When Stratos glanced back he was poised atop a damp boulder like a Bosmer half his size, shielding his eyes with a golden gauntlet as he peered out across the foggy landscape.

“We have no idea where we are in relation to where we’re trying to go,” Stratos said dryly, bending his head to the trail. He had to mind his feet if he was spellcasting and slogging his way over damp stones at the same time. At least his boots weren’t sinking into the ground up here; he might scrape some of that marsh mud off on the rocks. Small comforts. “I would say that’s a fair definition of ‘lost’. And get down from there, this is no place to take a fall. You’re wearing glass, not dragonbone.”

“And that is why I don’t fall as hard. Well- one reason.” Celann’s boots crunched on the stone as he followed. When he caught up to Stratos’s shoulder he asked, “Suppose we’re merely mistaken about our destination?”

“That still sounds rather lost to me.”

“Ah, but not if we’re going the way the gods wish us to.”

“Well, I believe there’s a cave ahead,” Stratos murmured, lowering his voice pointedly as he caught sight of a dark gap in the rocks above them. That could only spell trouble. “Be ready.”

They drew swords as they reached the mouth, and Stratos used a spell to shift his vision, seeking the warm glow of life-light in the narrow gloom ahead.

Nothing stirred at their entrance, however. When they edged inside they found only the outline of a pedestal in the gloom; the sheen of metal and the curve of sculpted stone. The hint of a winged helm told Stratos what he’d find, even before he knelt to light the candles.

It couldn’t have always been here. Something like this, so carefully sculpted, polished. The brass gilding that gleamed with reflected fire as a dozen tiny flames flared to life below. This wasn’t meant for some hillside crevice: it must have been taken from a wayshrine, a town or village temple, even. It was Talos as the Nords always sculpted him: the warrior, mailed and cloaked. His head was bowed, hands wrapped around the hilt of a greatsword, impaling the head of the great serpent beneath his feet. The shrine itself, the simple stone hilt-shape, rested on a small pedestal in front of the statue. Coins and flowers lay scattered around it. Some of the latter were still fresh.

How fortunate in that moment that no Thalmor attendant stood watching over his shoulder. He could not have described the mix of feelings that beat through him at that moment; would need days afterward to sort through them. Relief, awe, pleasure… over all that a moment of shock, then fear, and the resentful edge of anger.

“Your blade,” Celann reminded him. The knight had already put his sword away. He placed a hand on Stratos’s shoulder. “You see? What did I tell you?”

He sheathed his sword, pulled back his hood, faintly awkward in his remembered manners. Just for the sake of something to say he observed, “This doesn’t belong here.”

“Doesn’t it?”

Stratos sighed, but took the point. In any case, this was no place to debate the purpose of something that needed no approval from him. He felt in his satchel to find a pair of healing potions. He set them at the foot of the shrine, lifting his fingers to brush over the Divine’s symbol before he withdrew. Perhaps they’d reach someone who needed them. Quite likely they’d aid some Stormcloak fleeing justice, but that thought was pushed aside. Those things didn’t matter here. They shouldn’t.

After a minute - perhaps several - he had to force himself back to the present. He was the tribune. He had duties - his soldiers - waiting for his orders. Waiting for him to decide what should be done.

“You marked the map?” he asked.

Celann sighed. “Oh. Yes, I did.”

Stratos held his hand out to his side without a word, and incinerated the roll of parchment placed in it. He cupped his hands to catch the ashes, and - on a thought - scattered them before the shrine. My offering to you.

He didn’t know if they were meant to find it, but some things were safer lost.