Letters to the Dead
12 years ago, give or take...
Mirele swung open the door to her room at the Rosy Lion, her pale ash eyes sweeping wall to wall before she entered. It was a small, quaint space, which was just fine; a single bed with presumably clean linens, a dresser and wash basin with a mirror, and a small table and stool. It was perfect. Too small for surprises.
Closing the door behind her, she locked it. Then she unlocked it and locked it again. And again. After the third, she stepped away from the door, dropping her backpack near the foot of the bed before repeating the same compulsive routine to each of the room’s windows. Only then did she pull the curtains together tight and sit down on the edge of the overstuffed mattress. She gave a tug at her boots; neatly placing them next to her pack before falling back to stare up at the ceiling, letting loose the trapped sigh of a long day. Her vision blurred beneath heavy lids.
The shout woke Mirele with a start. Blind in the dark, she listened for sounds separate from the inn, slipping a knife into her palm. Bouts of laughter and bawdy singing came muffled though the walls. Savory smells of cooked meats and baked bread wafted in through the cracks beneath her door. She sat up, immune to both the fellowship and the promise of a hot meal, finding nothing amiss. There was no one with her. It took but a moment to re-check all of the locks.
“By the Three,” she lightly cursed, slipping the knife away and rising to wash her face in the basin. The splash of cool water further woke her up, but she frowned at the reflection in the mirror.
Her hair, once a silky ivory that had been a point of pride, was finally starting to grow in from the short butchering she’d given it months ago. It was just long enough to poke out in obnoxious, unruly ways. Though she was only 30 years young for a Dunmer, she felt a century older. It shone her eyes, that feral look of not knowing if she’d last though another night, and if she did, what then? The running, the fear. It aged her.
She pushed away from the mirror, disgusted, and paced the room. Unable to return to sleep and unwilling to mingle outside, she dug into her backpack until she found her box of stationary, quill and ink pot. Missing were the wax and House seal.
It was a fine set, one gifted to her in another life.
She sat down at the table with it, rubbing her temples, then her eyes, and finally she began to write.
I write to you all the way from Daggerfall. I am afraid it hardy shares the beauty of home, but it is not a bad place—Actually, it is pretty horrible. You would be miserable here. I tell myself it is just temporary, that one day I will return home. I lie to myself like that. Glenumbra is pretty, in its own way I suppose, but I will need to be moving on again before I can get too used to it.
I know what you would say. It is not the place that the is the problem. You know me too well. I miss you. I miss Treyvos.
Why Daggerfall? Business as usual. It is done now. No one of consequence. Truly, this time. No one anyone will even miss. I know you do not approve, so you can just look at it as a public service. Trust me on that.
Are you with Mother and Father? Tell them I love them. I think of them, of you, often. I will see you all again, likely soon, though I am trying my best to delay. You have to understand that.
You should know, I have taken a new name. One day, I may share it with you.
Drawing out a second page, Mirele continued on in the same flowing penmanship.
You have no idea who I am, but I killed you this morning. You were walking by the river, as you so often do, and perhaps by now, somewhere far downstream someone has found whatever might be left of you. Have you seen what water can do to a body in even a short amount of time?
You probably are wondering why. In the past, I never asked why. I had a job to do and it was as simple as that. The writs were handed to me by those I trusted. The Why never mattered much. The How and the Where and the When; those were the things that mattered.
But you see, I work more own my own these days. There is room for questions. I have yet to decide, quite honestly, if that is a good thing. It does make it harder to sleep at night. Sometimes.
But, not for your death. Yours I would have done for free. I wonder actually, if you do wonder why? It seems to me you must have known you had it coming. I bet you did not think it would be today. Probably not tomorrow either. But someday, surely?
It was your own kin, if you really do not know. It was your son’s idea but it was your daughter that scraped together the gold and the guts to reach out to a person like me. I bet you get it now, right? You know what you did. Oh, you most definitely know what you did.
Well, let us hope someone pleasant finds your body before those cultists do. Not really.
Mirele set the letters aside. There was no fireplace in her room, so she lit one of the thick candles on the table. Starting with the letter to her sister, she held a corner over the flickering flame until it caught. The paper blackened and curled, flames licking their way to her pinched fingers at the edge. She held on until she felt the blister of heat, letting the last bit fall as ash to the table. She did the same with the second letter, feeling immensely better as her written words burned into Oblivion.
She wasn’t much for journaling. This would do.
11 years ago, give or take…
It has been a year and I miss you more than ever. It is supposed to get better with time. What a lie.
I killed an Argonian today. No reason. I felt better after. It was cathartic, in a way.
That was a lie. Nothing ever gets passed you, little sister. Yes, there was a reason. I killed him for you. And for Father, but mostly for you. Call it a gift, an offering. An apology.
I should have been there for you. I should have been there to stop them.
I do have some other news to share. Whatever Treyvos did and said, it seems to have worked. The chatter is quiet. It has been quiet, for a long time. Mirele Alaelvis is dead. Is still dead.
So you share my secret, but you will never tell. What of Treyvos? Can I trust him still? I love him. I loved him. He will never tell. What should I do? Not that. Never that. Please. Not that.
It is maddening, these thoughts. Tell me he will not tell, and I will believe you.
Nidria stood up, poking her smoldering campfire with a stick, watching mesmerized as the tiny sparks danced and twinkled within the white plume of smoke. She dropped the letter, pushing it into the fire with her stick, waiting until there was nothing left before she sank back down in her bedroll.
She slept well that night.
10 years ago, give or take…
You must wonder about me. Some of the things I have written of in the past year have been, well, I have not been myself. It has been two years now. Is it easier? No. I still miss you. I always will. Mother and Father, too. Yes, even Mother.
I have met others. A new family, far away from Morrowind. They found me in the gutter, literally and figuratively. It shames me to even think about. I promise you this. It will never happen again.
The whiskey, the skooma. Never again. I feel cleansed now. Purified. This new family has helped me remember my purpose. I will never forget again. And, though I miss you terribly, I no longer despair.
I spend a lot of time now in mediation and reflection. Sometimes even prayer. Laugh all you want, but it has helped. It has taken me this long to realize, to truly understand and accept that it was never my fault. You and Father, I can still be sorry, but it was not my fault.
There will come a day when I will be held accountable for the things I have done. I know this. I am ready for it. I just wanted to say, you do not need to worry about me anymore.
The letter blackened and curled against the flames of the fireplace. Watching, Nidria waited until there was nothing left before she doused the fire, locked the room and disappeared into the night.
9 years ago. A memory.
And there he was, like clockwork, coming around the corner on his late evening stroll home from his shop. He never took a different route. He was never late and never early. It was just like the rest of his life; orderly, efficient, predictable. Boring.
He passed the park bench, not slowing one bit to observe the two young lovers that sat there, whispering and sneaking kisses beneath the twinkling stars.
Boring, Nidria thought once more, watching and counting, amazed at how little changed night to night. Maybe that was why his wife wanted him dead. Maybe it was his fortune. Maybe it was because he cared more about that than he about did her.
She knew she had until thirty-five before he would reach the corner. From there, he would go left and in twenty-two more steps, he would be at the bridge. He would never reach to the bridge, but even if he did, that was fine, too. It was darker on this side, with far fewer lights. She could still manage, but letting him actually cross the bridge could not be permitted. It too close to the town's center. There would be people on that side. There was always at least one guard. For this job, having a guard near would be beneficial. But, too near? Not so much.
This was going to be quick and easy. Tomorrow. It had to be tomorrow. Most everything about this contract had been left to her professional discretion, all but two small details. One, it had to be tomorrow night. Two, it needed to look like a mugging.
That had been the extent of her instructions, with no further details, but she'd been given the contract over a week ago. She had time on her hand to observe, to listen, to learn a bit more about the surrounding circumstances. Sometimes, she got a little curious. Never once had that been a benefit. It was a flaw, that insatiable curiosity about what motivates one to hire a person like her. One day, she knew it would get her killed. It was just better to know as little as possible in this line of work. That is, if you want to sleep well.
She knew it was their anniversary tonight. Not just any anniversary, but a mile-marker. This would be their tenth. How sweet. Nidria would bet her last bag of gold that the timing of this kill had very little to do with enjoying one last sentimental night to remember, and everything to do with a particular clause in a prenuptial.
She wasn't judging.
He stopped. He never stops. Why did he stop?
Nidria watched from where she sat. Something had spooked him. She could see it on his face. He never once looked at her. He was looking into the woods that lined the path. She glanced over at the lovers across the path. They were laughing and holding onto each other as they rose and walked the opposite way, probably off to find some secluded spot.
She saw her target bolt, disappearing around the corner. Standing, she casually followed the path in the same direction. She wasn't dressed for work. What kind of professional would walk around publically in a hooded mask and black leathers? No, she looked about like anyone else that would be out for a nice summer evening stroll, from her soft deer-skin boots to the fitted cloth tunic and much loved trousers she knew she should probably throw out in the name of fashion, but couldn't bear to. But, she always had her knives, one of which she palmed as she neared the cluster of woods that had so captured her target's attention.
She didn't see anything, peering into thick crop of trees. It was what she felt that made the hairs on the back of her neck raise. She was being watched. She could feel it with every fiber in her body, but it was more unsettling than just that. There was a presence. There was something vile there. Something she had no interest in investigating.
She backed away, hurrying up the path towards the bridge.
It followed. No, it stalked.
She could feel it. Then she heard it. She ran.
Seventeen steps, she could make it.
Six! Seven! Eigh--
It hit her from behind, a mass of muscle and dark fur; a violent take-down that punched the air from her lungs and killed the scream in her throat. Pain exploded across her face, where her nose was driven into the ground. Broken, she had no doubt. With the full weight of the beast penning her, she spit blood and dirt, looking to her right. Her knife lay there, just within reach.
She reached. Then she screamed.
Teeth sank into her shoulder, ripping and tearing through muscle and tendon, snapping bones. Claws racked across her back. She was still screaming, but everything began to fade. It wasn't dark. Everything was bright, blinding. She heard another bone break, but she couldn't feel it now. She couldn't feel.
Voices. Shouting. It all sounded very far away.
The silence of the Void was louder. Closer. She belonged there, in the Nothingness. It was comfort. It was home. It was so cold. She was so cold. Why am I so cold?
"Miss? Miss! You're going to be just fine..just...just...hang on..."
"Someone help! Gods, find the healer! Quickly! NOW!"
Nidria tried to open her eyes, but couldn't. She was being rolled over and lifted. She was being taken somewhere. The Void was slipping away.
No...no..I want to go back...
"Did you see it?"
"No, the guards scared it off. Werewolf! In these parts! That was almost me."
"I need to get home to my wife. It isn't safe with a monster like that around."
"The guards will hunt it down, you'll see."
"Think she will make it? I've never seen so much blood."
"She will if they get the bloody healer here soon. Where the hells -is- he? This is my fault. I should have warned people. Shouted, or something. Anything."
"Thank the Eight it wasn't you! You DID save people! If you hadn't of run straight to the guards, this could have been a lot worse. You know, should they....should they heal her? I mean...it's a disease right? Did you get her blood on you?"
"Don't be stupid. Healer will make this right. It was trying to eat her. She wasn't drinking its blood."
"I think you're thinking of vampires...."
"I don't know -what- to think. We can't just let her die. Here, lay her down here. I'll get blankets."
She was being pulled back. It was like watching herself circle a drain, but in reverse. The pain came back with her. It burned. Everywhere. She was on fire.
"Look, she's coming around."
"She's trying to speak. What's that miss? Eh, save your strength. Just rest now."
Nidria sucked in a deep, ragged breath, choking on a mouth full of blood and grit. More out of sheer will than any real strength, her good arm snapped out and grabbed him. She partially sat up, but mostly was pulling the surprised man down to her, her pale gray eyes locked on his warm browns.
The man smiled, untangling her fingers from his tunic and eased her gently down. "No. That's not something I will do. You're going to get through this. The healer will know what to do. You are going to live, I'll make damn sure of it."
Nidria stared up at him. She knew him. Astan Mastve.
It was his anniversary tonight.
2 Years Ago
Between the two of us, I wonder who was more surprised? Contracts have not been going well for me. It is hard, this beast inside, it is hard to control. I get sloppy. I make mistakes. What to do with this rage inside, this insatiable hunger? I was trained to be professional, disciplined. Patience and perfection in all things.
How do I adapt?
That has been the question and the problem. It took a year for me to grasp that somethings cannot be done alone. It took many more months for me to accept that as Truth, that there are times we must give ourselves over. We have to trust. We have to be vulnerable. We have to allow ourselves to be completely broken down and rebuilt from the inside out. That took even more time, none of it easy or pleasant. It took years.
I am not who I was when I left Morrowind. If I was, you would likely be alive, at least for a little while longer. I would have made mistakes. I would have been sloppy. The beast would have erupted and given you a scare, but worse, a warning; a distraction in my own loss of control. You could have gotten away. You would have. Probably.
I just wanted you to know that your death was different. Important. I do not pretend to know the why of it. I have no idea who spoke the prayer or why they must have hated you so. The short of it is that I was given the Sacrament. The long of it is that I was able to complete it, in control, without shifting, and with no mistakes. You are a turning point. Your death had meaning, if to no one else, then at least to me.
Things will be different now. Better. I can move on.
Perhaps not perfect, but I am whole. I can live with that.
I greatly appreciate your posts and enjoy reading them. Keep up the good work!
12th Day of First Seed
Is this what it means to heal? To forget? There are days I hate myself for it. I struggle to remember the details of your face, the sound of your voice, your laugh. Then there are the times I remember too well, and I want to forget. I remember the smell that day more than anything. I remember how you smelled more than I remember your face. I get angry about that.
I should be able to remember you…you laughing. You singing. The time you finally conjured your first fireball, and nearly burned down the study. Us, sneaking sweets from the pantry and eating them up on the roof. Us, sneaking out at night to sit on the roof, counting stars and dreaming about the lives we never got to pursue, but it never mattered because, really, we were already living better lives than we had a right to.
I remember these things, but what I remember most is how I found you. Bloated, rotting. Discarded. I avenged you, all those years ago, but I have found little rest. I hope, dear sister, that you have.
Nidria folded the letter before the ink could dry, letting it sit on her desk while she gazed out the window. The moons were rising full this eve, and there was one urge she didn’t have it in her to fight this night. With a sigh, she took the letter to the burning fireplace in her room and dropped it, waiting for the parchment to fully burn away before she doused the flames.
For good measure, she re-checked the locks on the windows and drew the curtains shut. She left, taking a slow stroll down a path and eventually into the woods. She’d left her weapons behind. She wouldn’t be needing them.