In my father's house
I was born in the spring, the 28th of Rain's Hand in the year 4E 195. My brother came minutes just before. Our mother would tell us it was a rainy day, and that everything but the water falling from the sky was still. She told us that not even the market stalls were open, and not one visitor had walked through the gates of Solitude. There was nothing spectacular about that day, and it had belonged solely to us. It was just a consolation of course, since there was nothing special about a name day, not for a twin, especially the girl who happened to be born second. We both found comfort however, as all children would.
Father told us it was the second happiest day of his life. He told us that Hroar and I were his favourite pieces of the world. Father said that when I was born, I did not wail, nor did I fret. I was a pinkfaced wrinkly babe, but I was beautiful and well, and he could not have hoped for more. I was a calm child, loving the sound of Father's lute. Hroar, however was another story. Redfaced and beautiful, he was the loudest child Father, Mother and Lydia had ever heard. Father would always pat Hroar's blond hair and say, "The lungs of a singer, and the brains of an ogre." Mother would chastise him and then he and Hroar would play chase.
Father was always a lovely man who loved my brother and me dearly, but the day that he loved most was the day he wed Mother. How I used to love to hear of this day. Father would tell it differently than Mother and I very much loved his version more. He spoke of Mother's beauty and the crown made of Blue Mountain flowers. He spoke of her red hair and pale lips. He told us of the vows and the words they made promise. Mother however, told it differently in a manner far less enticing for a girl of four. Her eyes would shine and the corners of her lips would twitch upwards. "It was a wedding like any other," she told me, continuing with whatever she was doing. "The wedding is never quite as important as the marriage itself."
When I was very young, I asked Lydia why she was not married. "I have other duties," she said, brushing my wavy locks. "You, for example. I must aid the Thane Elaira in raising you."
"But mommy has daddy, and she does good at raising me," I protested, turning to look at Lydia in the mirror.
"My life is to serve you, Loralei; you and your family. A Housecarl protects," she said, resting the silver hairbrush down on the night stand. "Now dear, no more questions. Would you like a story before bedtime?" I nodded and smiled up at her, bright eyed but feeling tired. "Alright, get under your covers." I did as told and Lydia pulled my soft sheets up to my chin. "What story would you like to hear?"
"Will you sing like Mother does?" I demanded, snuggling deeper into my feather pillow. Stroking my back she began to sing, "Oh there once was a hero named Ragnar the Red… "
Soon enough I was asleep.
I loved Lydia with all my heart and I believe I always will. Lydia was a beautiful woman, with dark hair and grey eyes, but she was more than that. Lydia was more than my Housecarl too; she was my guardian, my true guardian angel. She protected me more than even Kynareth herself, she raised me from babe to woman, and there is not a soul I love more. Not even my dear fathers.
I have fond memories of all of them, though perhaps not enough.
Onmund, my blood father, was a great man. He wielded magic like the sky carried the stars. His face was scarred but unbroken and his green eyes were joyful. All my fathers taught me many lessons, lessons I shan't ever let leave my mind, but perhaps it was my first father that taught me the most. He taught me my first words, my first steps. He taught me the meaning of 'father', of 'brother' and of 'mother'. He taught me how to ride a horse, and how to read. My father taught me what I needed to survive. It was the gift that every father was required to give.
He was also more than that. He was not a father I felt forced to love, but I did love him. I loved his scarred hands and the tales he would tell me before bed.
But while I had always been more drawn to father however, and him to me, Hroar found preference in Mother. He would go to her with bad dreams of wetted beds. He would listen to her tales and fall asleep to her songs. He would pick her blue mountain flowers during his fishing trips with father. Hroar loved our Mother; he idolized her. He thought her brave, smart, cunning and funny. He saw no wrong in the woman who came to wrong us all.
Autumn came all too soon in the year 4E 201, with leaves littering the streets of Solitude and the villagers everywhere preparing for the upcoming winter. Night was falling and I had torn my dress playing tag with Hroar. I opened the door to the Proudspire Manor basement to be greeted by Hroar's skeever, called Critter. I heard mother and father upstairs and as I made my way their voices became clearer. Mother said, avoiding all attempts of interruption, "As Thane, it's my duty… Potema … the children…" When it was Father's turn he made no effort to calm his voice.
"Elaira, I do not care of your title, as your husband, it is my duty to protect our family!" I continued quietly up the steps, and when I reached the top neither Mother nor Father noticed me lurking.
"I do not need your protection, Onmund! In fact, my skills best any of yours by far!"
"I will not let you go in there –" Father began before seeing me. "Loralei, sweet what are you doing here? You were told to go play outside," Father said, his green eyes calming.
"Daddy, my dress is broken," I said, looking from Mother, whose eyebrows were furrowed, to Father, who wore only curiosity.
"Lydia!" Mother called, walking towards me. "Are you alright, love? Where's your brother?"
"I'm okay, Mother. Hroar still plays," I told her as she knelt down, holding my shoulders tightly.
"Is something the matter, my thane?" Lydia asked, wearing my mother's previous concern. Kissing my cheek, my mother stood and turned and turned to Lydia.
"Get her bathed and changed, I'm going to go get Hroar." Mother strode across the room to the tall doors of our Manor. "Onmund, we'll talk tonight," she said before walking out the door. Lydia took my hand and led me to the bathing chambers.
The next morning it was Lydia who woke us. Mother and Father were absent as Hroar, Lydia, and I broke our fast on the small table on the landing of the stairs. Lydia was always the most admirable cook, and Hroar and I said no words as we devoured our delicious meal. Breakfast cakes and food too fancy to pronounce filled me up to the point of pure bliss. When we were finished, Hroar finally posed the question. "Where are Mother and Father, Housecarl?"
"They are preparing for travel, Hroar. They should be back later to say goodbye. Now, before you go play, you need to do your chores." I nodded and excused myself as Hroar let out a sigh.
I was probably the only child in the world who enjoyed chores. It was always peaceful to me, and everything was always better when it was neat and tidy. I enjoyed the soft wisps as the straw brooms danced around on the stone floors. I enjoyed tending my horse at the stables not far from the cities and I loved seeing my chamber free of clutter and of dust. The only chore that I disliked was tending to the dirtied plates.
"I hate this," Hroar proclaimed, "all the other kids always get to play!"
"Well, Hroar, they don't have Lydia, I'm sure they do a lot more," I told him, scooping up my pile. "And Daddy and Lydia always bring us treats when we do it well,"
"I can't wait till Mother and Papa go on this trip," Hroar proclaimed excitedly, "they always get us the nicest stuff."
"Yeah, that flute Mother brought home last time was nice."
"Oh please, Loralei, my wooden sword is so much better! I'm a knight! You're just a little girl." I huffed and frowned.
"I could be a bard, you know!" Hroar only laughed and I had to fight back tears. He was so stupid. "And Father knows I'm so much smarter than you!"
"Does not!" he proclaimed, putting his hands on his hips.
"Does too!" I protested, crossing my arms, and lifting my chin.
"Yes he does! He said it himself, you can go ask him!"
"You're just a dumb goody goody little girl who thinks she can play the flute even though she's not even better than a horker!"
"You're the horker brain!"
"Yeah, well you're a SpiderBrat!"
"Oh really? At least I don't smell worse than my own pet skeever!"
Our argument was only interrupted by the sound of the door opening. In near synchronization we dropped our brooms. I ran into my Father's arms, as did Hroar with Mother's. His arms were tight around me and the fabric of his robes was familiar, the scent of the Solitude air. After hugging, our parents knelt down to reach our eye level. My father put his hands on the sides of my face, his large hands tugging gently at my large ears. "You've always had my ears," he whispered to me. I grabbed his ears gently, receiving a giggle from the man. We both slowly let go as Mother began to speak.
"Alright children," Mother began, her brilliant green eyes sparkling with something I couldn't understand. "Your Papa and I are going to be gone for a few days, okay?" I could hardly concentrate on her words. I always thought Mother was the most beautiful like this, her long, dark, curls falling over her shoulders, red war paint around her eyes. She was clad in tight armor, all of her weapons set in place. Her dark sword which was so mesmerizingly black, was covered in a black sheathe which was somehow even darker. Her shrouded armor, I knew was so worn, but barely a scratch made it through. I was mesmerized by my mother, who I thought was so beautiful, so strong. I'd seen her wield her bow before and I knew that no man or woman nor creature could ever defeat her.
I remember thinking that I was nothing like her. Even at the age of six I thought I could never be as amazing as Mother. I wished that the gifts she passed on to me would surpass the hard line of our jaws and the stunning green of our eyes. Perhaps we were more similar than I thought, but in that moment, Mother was someone I knew I could not live up to.
"Hroar, my brave boy," she began. Mother kissed him on the cheek before whispering in his ear. She took my hands next. "Loralei, my girl." She planted a chaste kiss on my forehead and leaned in to whisper, "I love you, Loralei. And understand that when I am gone, for long, for short or forever, that you will always be loved, okay? And that you are the woman of the house until I return, but be good to Lydia. She loves you, and cares for you. I love you, Loralei." I smiled. It was what she said each time. And every time, Mother and Father always came back, safe.
"Have fun, Mama!" Hroar said with a dimply smile. Mother returned it and stood up to let Papa say his temporary goodbyes. His was quicker, which was fine because I knew he would have left us goodbye notes in our room.
"Hroar… Loralei, my darling children. I love you, and I promise the next time we meet, I shall spoil you rotten." Papa gave us kisses through a fit of giggles and then they were on their way.
I remember the 1st of Sun's Dusk 4E 201 exactly, from the moment I woke. I had been dreaming of something beautiful, but it was something I could not understand until many years later. I was at the peak of a mountain, the wind blowing hard, but leaving me unaffected. Blue petals flew all around me and I spread my black, scaled wings. The feeling was incomprehensible and exhilarating. I could see nothing and everything all around me and it was as if time itself did not exist. The world had stopped to let the wind blow, to let me fly. I opened my mouth and I sang. I sang loudly, but my voice was lost in the wind. I could not hear the sounds of my vibrations, but I knew the world below me did. My entire existence had led up to that point, at this peak of the mountain. And though my wings were spread from my perch and I was ready, the world was not, and though I tried to fly, the wind would not let me. The wind began to circle around me harder and harder, the blue petals on the wind grew in number and eventually I had to let it all suffocate me.
I had woken up wet with sweat and tears. I screamed and shook and eventually both Hroar and Lydia were rocking me to sleep. Hroar sung softly in my ear, "Oh, there once was a hero named Ragnar the Red…"
Eventually I had fallen back into a dreamless sleep until I was woken once more, this time by Lydia's gentle hand on my shoulder.
"Loralei, get up." I did as told, and went to help Lydia wake up Hroar who put up a good fight. She dressed us in black and held our hands as she led us through the city. There was a chill in the air that morning, and the only sounds I could hear were the creaking of store signs and sellers at their market stalls. Only few people were up and about, some store owners fiddling with their shop locks, and some mothers going out to get breakfast foods.
The trees were damp, and I realised that it had probably rained the night before. All throughout the town of Solitude, there was a strange dreariness. Perhaps it was the morning air or the lack of energy, but I did not know.
Lydia led us through the cobblestone roads, all the way to the Hall of the Dead. There was a big, black box in the middle of the small cemetery, and before it stood eight people. They stood around the big box, touching their amulets of the divines. The one who held the Amulet of Zenithar was a man with dark brown hair and a strong jaw. Stendarr was in the hands of the woman with pointed ears; the only elf there. I did not pay attention to the others, finding myself being drawn instead to the Nord that stood in the middle. She had red hair like my mother, and big ears like my father. Her cheeks were rosy and warm, even in the morning cold. I looked down to her pale, delicate hands to see she held the Amulet of Akatosh.
It took me a moment to realise that there was a woman kneeling by the big box, her armoured figure hunched over. It was mother. "Mama?" I called. She looked back at me, her war paint smeared and her eyes dark and tired. Her hair seemed dirty and it seemed as though all the youth and beauty had left her once-pretty face. Hroar ran towards her, his arms wrapping around her. Mother hugged him back, but it seemed like an empty embrace.
Slowly, I walked towards my brother and Mother. "Where is father?" I asked absently as I peered into the big box. Inside laid a man in Mage robes in a bed of blue flower petals. As I stared at my father's face, I could hear the Priestess with red hair say "May his soul rest in Sovngarde for the rest of eternity."
In the beginning I did not ever fully understand. I had asked Hroar what had happened and all he could tell me was, "Father is in Sovngarde, with Ysgramor."
Lydia tried to explain it to me as well, with words I still could not comprehend. "Your father is gone now, in a better place, and when it is your turn, you will see him again, in Sovngarde."
I asked my mother as well, but she refused to see me all together. She refused to see anyone. She stayed in her chambers and only went out to empty her chamber pot and bathe. Lydia brought mother her meals, morning, noon and evening, but Mother barely touched it. Hroar and I would eat all our meals with only Lydia and Critter.
Once, only a few days after the Hall of the Dead, I woke up in the middle of the night, from a nightmare I can no longer recall. I got myself out of bed and made my way to knock on Mother's closed door. However, before I could knock on the cold hard wood, I heard a whimper. It was soft, but the harder I listened I could hear her muffled wails. Slowly and quietly I slid down and sat; my back leaning against the door. I could still hear mother's cries, so I did what I knew always dried my tears.
It started out as a whisper just loud enough so I knew Mother could hear. "Oh, there once was a hero named Ragnar the Red…"
It was the first time the song that could free my sorrows, had ever wet my cheeks.
When the song was over the door slowly opened, and I felt my mother's arms wrap around me. She picked up my small body and kicked the door shut. She carried me to the bed, and as I drifted back into sleep, I heard her whisper, "I'm so sorry."
I woke up to an empty bed the morning next.
Two months mother was gone and there was no word from her. During the first few days, it all seemed normal enough. Mother had left for many days at a time before, for work, as Lydia would tell us. Hroar told me to pretend Father was with Mother, adventuring like they told tales of. So, I convinced myself that this was the truth. We continued our breakfasts and dinners and lunches. We continued to play and do our own chores. We continued on, waiting patiently for mother to come home. However, when one week turned into two, Hroar and I began to worry. Together we wrote her a letter which read:
We miss you. Com home.
Luv, Hroar end Loralei
Hroar glued on a blue mountain flower with candle wax, like Father had taught us, and together we handed it to Lydia to send to our mother.
Four weeks flew by and we received no word from her.
I found peace in the Temple of the Divines. Complete peace. Some days I would wake up early and walk over with our neighbour Vittoria Vicci. She was a beautiful woman, and she told me that she was the Emperor's cousin, and that she was engaged to a beautiful man. She liked to talk a lot, especially about her upcoming wedding, but when the sermons started, she became silent, as did I.
The temple was a magnificent place with a ceiling so high not even a giant could touch it. The walls were dark and menacing. The stain glass windows and the men and women in priest robes were brilliant. The high priest of the divines was called Rorlund. He wore orange robes like the other priests, and his hair was red and shoulder length, only he had a large bald spot at the top of his head. He bore a well-kept goatee and his voice boomed throughout the Temple.
"As high priest of the Nine Divines, I bid you welcome," he would begin. "Everyone is welcome in the sanctity of this Temple. Wander no more, for you are among friends here, and safe. Whether you be of grey skin or of North blood, this temple and this sermon and the words of the divines were all written and built for you.
"Today, is the 31st of Evening Star, a glorious day all across Tamriel. The Old Life Festival takes place this night, and the New takes place tomorrow…" And so he went on, and I listened, and burned his words into my brain. As he spoke I remembered the New and Old Life festival of last year. Hroar and I had celebrated with all the other children and families during the evening. There were long tables set up along the roads of Solitude, filled with mountains of Sweetrolls and other treats. Bards from the Bard's college played music all throughout the streets. Everyone was dancing and everyone was happy. I even danced with the High King himself. I wondered if he and Father could still dance in Sovngarde. I wondered if it was even possible to count the years in Sovngarde.
We all celebrated ferociously and when the New Year begun, Lydia took Hroar and I home, as Mother and Father as well as the rest of the town moved the celebrations into the town's inn. "You don't want to go in there," Lydia would tell Hroar who was upset that he did not get to celebrate with the rest of the adults. "Free ale makes fools of respectable adults."
"Mother and father would never act foolish," I protested, hopping into bed.
"I could tell you some stories, child," she told me before kissing my forehead.
"Please do," said Hroar as they left my room to go to his. Lydia laughed.
"Maybe when you're older," she told him before closing the door behind them.
This year was not so much fun. The celebrations were not as grand as the years before and Lydia refused to let us celebrate at the Winking Skeever, because of 'drunkards' whatever that meant. Hroar asked but I did not pay care to the response.
"Hroar?" I asked my brother. It was past our bedtime, and we were in our Mother's bed where we'd taken to sleeping. "When are Mommy and Daddy coming back?"
I could not see him, but I felt him shift under the sheets to turn to me.
"They're just taking longer so they can find us perfect presents," he told me. I smiled and hugged him. In each other's arms, we fell asleep.
"Hroar wake up!" I shook him. He groaned and rolled over, face down into the pillow. "Hroar! It's the New Life day!" Hroar groaned once more and rolled again, this time face up. His brows were furrowed, and his face was shiny. I placed my hands on his cheeks. They were warm and wet. I moved one hand to his forehead. It almost hurt to keep her hands there. Critter, who had been sleeping, hopped up onto the bed and licked Hroar's face. I frowned. What was wrong with Hroar?
I got off the bed and padded my way to Lydia's room. I knocked three times before she answered, still in her night robe. Her hair was a little messy and she stifled a yawn before asking, "What's wrong Loralei?"
"Hroar won't get up," I told her. She frowned before pushing past me to Mother's room.
Mother came home before he died. I waited outside his room with Lydia, and listened through the door, though I could only hear their mumbling. When Mother came out there was a blue mountain flower in her hand. I tried looking her in the eyes but she would not meet mine. She said only four words to us.
"We're going to Riften."