Adventurer Interview #2
(Eh… is this title too boring?)
Name: Halam at-Qasr
Location: The Rift
Description: A male Redguard
As transcribed by Lylwulf the Brave
(I don’t think this works as a pen name, either.)
(Sounds rather masculine.)
Disclaimer: I do not own The Elder Scrolls, nor any of the related characters. The Elder Scrolls is created and owned by Bethesda Game Studios and Zenimax Media. This story is intended for entertainment purposes only. I am not making any profit from this story. All rights of The Elder Scrolls belong to Zenimax Media, as well as its parents and subsidies. (17 U.S. Code § 107 – Fair use)
To say that my encounter with Halam at-Qasr was unexpected would be, well, a complete understatement. One does not expect to be accosted by a horde of pungent undead wearing very little clothing, either, but suffice to say that I was very glad to make his acquaintance when he suddenly appeared at my side to slay the horrifying creatures.
Several heart-pounding moments later, we stood together on the road, he with his rot-streaked sword and I… well, likely on the verge of shock, to be honest. Such things generally did not happen to me during my travels.
But the Redguard man smiled kindly at me, took my arm, and said, “Come along now, miss. Let’s get you somewhere a little safer where you can catch your breath.”
And that’s how I found myself in his camp a short while later, a sparse but neat little site not far from the nearby river. It was there that we finally exchanged names, me sitting on a stump while he poured out a mug of some of the strongest coffee I’ve ever tasted. It slid over my tongue, thick and bitter and exactly what I needed at that moment.
I must have grimaced at the flavor, for he chuckled and shook his head. “There’s some that liken my coffee to the taste of an old boot, but there’s no denying that few things will clear a muddled head quicker.”
“I don’t doubt that,” I muttered, forcing myself to swallow the rest down in a big gulp. Already I could feel the divine brew chasing away the mental clouds of my ordeal, leaving me with memories of the putrid creatures and the brief battle helmed by my newfound companion. “What were those things?”
“Draugr,” he simply replied, as though the term explained everything. Seeing the confusion in my face, Halam continued. “They’re a type of undead, though some say that there’s still a flicker of life somewhere in those dried-out husks. Nord, mostly. Usually you don’t see them outside of the barrows, but something seems to have riled this group up. I’ve been hired by one of the nearby towns to clear them out before someone else gets killed.”
I took a longer look at him then, my gaze unfettered by the bonds of fear and combat. The Redguard warrior stood in such stark contrast to me, tall and thickly corded with muscle, his dark skin weathered by age and the elements and bearing not a few scars. His long, twisted hair lay pulled back in a thick bundle, the black strands shot through with strands of silver, though not a hint of stubble decorated his strong, square jaw. Out of all of his features, however, it was Halam’s eyes that struck me the most: dark and intense yet kind, heavy with the sort of wisdom that I couldn’t hope to see for several more decades.
This man seemed old enough to be my father, yet he fought with a skill and grace enviable by many a young man.
“I was very lucky that you found me, then,” I replied, remembering the draugr’s rusting blades, glowing eyes, and desiccated, talon-like fingernails. I clutched my mug a little tighter at the thought. “They’d have torn me apart rather quickly, I think.”
His fathomless eyes examined me for a moment, settling briefly on the staff at my back before returning to my face. “Far be it from me to judge, miss, but the roads are usually not kind to those traveling alone. Especially those without a blade to safeguard themselves.”
“I know a few protective spells,” I replied defensively, though my words sounded hollow even to my own ears. “I’m a priestess of Kynareth; I trust my goddess to protect me.”
“And I don’t doubt that she does, but I also believe that the Divines look fondly on those who help themselves.”
“True, but then she sent you to save me, didn’t she?”
My sharp words gave him pause. The husky Redguard stared down at me for a moment, lips twitching, before he smacked his thigh and let out a hearty laugh that seemed to rumble from deep within his barrel-like chest. “So you do have a tongue on you, girl!” Good-naturedly shaking his head, he knelt down next to a worn pack on the ground and began rooting around inside. “You’ll have to forgive me, but your spirit does so remind me of my Tiela. I didn’t mean to patronize you, Miss Melianne, only to warn you of the danger. Too often, my travels take me past the corpses of travelers who ran afoul of one danger or another, danger that could easily have been avoided with a little more caution.”
I am quite used to being patronized for my lifestyle choices, but thanks to my recent ordeal and the honest concern written across Halam’s face, I could tell that he spoke the truth. “It’s alright,” I acknowledged, staring down into the empty mug still clutched in my hands. “I appreciate your worry. Honestly, I really should learn more defensive magic, but I always seem to find excuses not to. I guess I just haven’t found the right teacher yet.”
But as always, my never-ending curiosity distracted me from the conversation at hand and back to his earlier words. “Who is Tiela?”
He did not answer right away, first taking the time to settle cross-legged next to the campfire with a flask and rag in addition to his filthy sword. “Ah, Tiela. My beloved cactus blossom: soft, fragrant, and pleasing to the eye despite being surrounded by thorns. She always scolded me when I called her that, but we did love to tease each other.” Halam’s face lit up with obvious pleasure at the recollection as he began cleaning his weapon. “I teased her for her alchemy-stained fingers and for always having her nose in a book, while she was quick to remind me that she’d rather eat charcoal than anything I might try to cook in the kitchen. And if I even glanced in the direction of the laundry, she’d gleefully remind me of the time I managed to turn my favorite white shirt a garish shade of pink.” Halam smiled, lines crinkling at the corners of his eyes. “Tiela was my wife.”
‘Was’. Oh, Meli, what social obstacle course are you about to throw yourself into now?
“Mmhm. She’s been gone about fifteen years now.” If Halam was at all upset by my insensitive question, not a hint of it showed while he slid a rag soaked in some caustic-smelling liquid over the blade.
“I’m so sorry.” Dammit, Meli! Control your mouth! But I couldn’t help it. I wanted to know. “How did she die?”
My rescuer sighed, a long, low sound that spoke of sadness and frustration and other things that I could not hope to identify, but he did not shy away from my inconsiderate query. “Do you know,” he eventually began, his hand moving with meticulous strokes, “that my people are forbidden from striking the dead? It is a cursed, dishonorable act in our society, to harm the remains of one of our sacred ancestors. To break such a taboo… well, there are few things more repugnant to us.”
I thought back to the brief battle on the road, when Halam struck down the draugr who attacked me without a second thought. I said nothing.
“For that very reason my people take precautions to keep the dead from rising, but there are always exceptions. Wars, attacks on the road, deaths in remote areas… there will always be unconsecrated corpses somewhere, just as there will always be necromancers eager to get their hands on them to use for their foul magics.
“I was away from my village, working as a guard for a trade caravan, when a band of undead attacked. A young man, maddened by grief at the recent loss of his sister, had dabbled in that dark magic and accidentally raised five or six corpses that he had no idea how to control. They descended on the village and tore into women and children unchecked as our warriors stood there like helpless babes, unwilling to raise a blade in their defense.”
The Redguard’s voice grew soft, almost reverent. “Only one dared to stand against them. My Tiela, belly barely rounded with our second child, took up her staff and distracted the creatures with what little magic she knew so that others could escape. Ah, my cactus blossom had always been an agile woman, and I believe with all of my heart that she never once struck the undead with either her staff or her magic out of respect for our traditions, but she could only do so much before they overwhelmed her.
“I found her half-buried in the sand when I returned, her body unattended by those we called neighbors out of fear that she may have hit one of the honored dead during their struggle and made herself unclean. My lovely Tiela, almost unrecognizable after being mauled and left in the desert sun for two days, despite having saved so many. Our child, unborn and abandoned.” His last words dripped with bitterness, each one spat from his mouth like a curse, until finally he went silent.
I watched emotions war on his face, anger and grief like I had never known twisting his features but for a few moments before he beat them back. I watched his countenance smooth, peace flowing over him like a cleansing waterfall, and realized in that moment just how strong Halam really was.
“So I took it upon myself to do what my people could not. I returned to our village and slew the abominations and their creator so that my people could go back to their homes. In doing so, I made myself like the Ash’abah, the unclean people, and accepted exile for my crimes– no longer a brother, son, father, or friend. Then I wrapped my beloved Tiela according to our customs and buried her, praying to Tu’whacca that he might welcome her and the babe into the Far Shores, before leaving the sands of the Alik’r far behind me.”
I can’t pretend to know a lot about Redguard culture, but exile in any form sounded absolutely horrible to me. I swallowed, unsure where to look, until finally I blurted out, “Why? Why would you willingly accept such a fate?”
A faint smile returned to his face as he glanced at me, his newly cleaned sword balanced across his lap. “My beloved wife gave everything to protect those who could not protect themselves. My honor is but a small price to pay to continue to do so in her name. If I can prevent someone else from suffering as I have suffered, why wouldn’t I?”