War Front, Book One

Finally I turn to getting some of my old fan fictions from Elder Scrolls posted up on the blog here. This introduces a new (but old) character of mine, Azzir the Ordinator.

Though his concept originally comes from the game Morrowind, this version of him is set in Elder Scrolls Online. Though I’m not fond of what ESO did to Tamriel’s lore, I tried to remain faithful to its setting with this piece. The war referenced here is the Three Banners War in which Dunmer and Nords served together against the Altmeri Dominion.

Author’s Note

The shrill whinny rent the pre-dawn air, like a knife cutting through a fresh pat of scuttle.

Aizar lay face-up in his cot, considering the tent walls slowly growing lighter with the approaching day, and the icicles forming along the center pole, courtesy of his breath in the frosty morning. All around him came the soft snores and wheezes from the others housed in the healer’s tent, even the most restless among them having finally found sleep at this hour. All was quiet.

Until that shrill whinny came again, echoing in the hills surrounding the Pact fort.

Azzir sat up, and instantly regretted it as his back twinged, and he bent over waiting for the spasm to pass. The fall from the Alessian Bridge, landing under the full weight of his guar, had jarred and twisted his spine. The healers had managed to straighten him out and save the use of his legs, but warfront medicine was spotty at best, and cold days like this one found all the kinks and torn flesh that the healer’s probing fingers, for all their magic, could not.

And still somewhere the horse continued to scream.

“Damn fool animals,” growled a Dunmer somewhere below Azzir, an ill-defined mass of body and blankets on the floor of the tent. “Why do they keep the bloody things? Keep you up half the night.”

“It has not been long,” said Azzir. He knew; he had been awake.

“Fetch you too,” muttered the Dunmer, and rolled back up.

The morning rally would be coming soon, Azzir knew, and so he gave up on sleep, slipping his feet into their boots and picking up a cane leaned against his cot. Though the inside of the tent was cold, opening up the flap sent a blast of freezing air into his hair and earned him another grouse from the injured Dunmer on the floor. Azzir didn’t answer, bundling his cloak around him and stepping out.

His boots crunched through the re-frozen snow of the day before. Not knowing where he was going, but hoping the walk would take his mind off the pain, Azzir made his way across the trampled courtyard. A light snow, each flake small and flitting as swiftly as a lightning bug, fell from the dark sky. Wind howled in the eaves and around the corners of the fort’s structures. The stables across the way were lit from inside with firelight, and hoping from some warmth at least, Azzir hobbled in that direction.

The horse’s screams were even louder inside the wooden walls than they had been from inside the healer’s tent. The animal was being housed in one of the big box stalls, and a knot of men were huddled around within and without it. They muttered darkly and called out advice to the unlucky sots in the stall itself, the latter tugging hard at ropes looped around the horse’s quivering neck and withers. Without warning the horse would charge for one of the walls, and even the strength of the Nords holding the ropes couldn’t stop it.

“What is going on?” Azzir asked, and more than one of the bystanders frowned back at him. The horse boys of the Northern Gate tended to be a bit stuck-up, Nords from Skyrim’s heartland who thought only other Nords raised in the life of husbandry could make a good horseman. The looks they gave Azzir summed up their thoughts about his presence in the stables.

“Stepped on one of those Dominion fire-snares,” said one of them after a pause, when it became clear Azzir wouldn’t be frightened away. “But ‘e’s the Commander’s favorite stallion, so they’s trying to save ‘im. Waste of manpower, if you ask me.”

Azzir hobbled up to the stall door and looked inside. The dark bay horse was leaning its head low towards the ground in exhaustion, though its eyes still rolled, foamy sweat thick along its chest and sides. It tenderly kept trying to put weight on a swollen and inflamed foreleg. But whenever one of the Nords tried to get closer to help, the horse would buck its head up and let out another roar–the same that Azzir had heard from the healer’s tent.

“It’s frightened,” said Azzir.

“No damn foolin’,” growled one of the Nords, sparing him a glare.

Another attempt to stay the beast led it in another circling charge around the stall, and its weight thudded off the door with enough force to throw Azzir back a few steps, fumbling with his cane. This last whirl did the animal in, as it tripped forward on its knees. The stallion lay twisted on one shoulder, fitfully pawing the bedding with its good foreleg, but it did not get up again.

Azzir thought about his back and the similar twist the healers had found him in that terrible night on the front. He thought about the fear of losing use of his legs. Then he found himself unlatching the stall door before he realized what he was doing. The Nord stable boys inside looked at him incredulously, but none moved to stop him, being just as exhausted as the animal on the floor.

The horse lolled its head at Azzir, one brown eye limned with white glaring at him murderously, but the stallion made no move towards him. Azzir tentatively reached a hand out to the snorting nostrils. The ears pinned back, and the large lips trembled, but it didn’t bite him. Instead the horse pulled its head up and away in resignation when Azzir rubbed the soft skin of its chin.

The Nords waited with baited breath. Carefully, gently, trying not to put his own weight on the horse, Azzir stepped over its back and knelt by its side. It followed him with a turn of its head, keeping him full on in the glare of one eye. Azzir put a hand to its damp neck, the feel of the fur strange to the Dunmer more used to scales and carapaces. The stallion’s breath quickened, and it pumped its good foreleg futilely again.

“Hey,” said Azzir. “You’re only making it worse.” He felt down to one of the ropes about the horse’s neck, and got a good grip on one. Standing up with a wince and a twinge of pain, Azzir put his weight into the rope and gave it a tug. “Come on. Back up you go.”

The horse’s ears went forward in surprise as the rope slid up to rest under its jowls, stretching its neck forward. A pair of the Nords got the hint, and added their own tugs to their ropes. The horse sat back on its haunches as if resisting, then shoved forward as got its hind legs underneath itself. For a second it looked like it would overbalance, but with a stumble and splay of its legs, finally stood there trembling on all fours–or threes.

It still held the injured foreleg off the ground, staring at Azzir with what seemed a pitiful expression. It gave a violent tremble, and Azzir quickly gave his rope a snap. “No, you don’t!” he told it sternly. “If I have to bear through those damned healers poking in my wounds, you can too.”

The horse stared at him. Gingerly, one of the stable boys crept up to it and put a hand on its shoulder. The horse shuddered, threatening to buckle back down to the straw, and the Nords tightened their ropes. One of them gave a man in white robes a nod — a healer — and the man quickly ducked in to refresh the leg’s bandages before the horse could return to plunging.

Azzir stood propped against the wall, wincing as sheets of fire ran up his back from the weight of the horse still on the other end of the rope. In his pain, he barely noticed as the Nords exclaimed when the horse took a stumbling step forward. He couldn’t help but notice as the horse’s large head came closer to his, breath coming in warm waves across his face. It gave him a hard nudge, and Azzir gasped, choking back a cry of pain. The horse stepped back, bobbing its head as if apologizing, and reached daintily forward to nibble at the folds of Azzir’s shirt.

Azzir touched the dense fur on the horse’s forehead, and the horse stilled under his hands, supporting him as much as he was supporting it.

The healer found a sore spot, and the horse jerked its head into the air. Azzir reached up to rub around the bony knob between the horse’s ears, coaxing it back down. “I know,” he told it softly. The horse let out another sigh, longer and more tired than the first. It dropped its head against his chest, leaning into him.

And that was all Azzir remembered about that morning, until the crash of the dawn rally.

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