UJON, Book Seven

  • 1st Sun’s Dusk (late)

     

    We did it! It was a big blue and silver bastard, stronger than the others we’ve encountered, Rumarin passed out from its breath (it’s probably just as well I didn’t realise until after the fight, or I’d have thought he was dead and panicked…) and at one point it knocked Lydia and Arissa clean off their feet by thumping the ground with its tail. I will need to buy or make some more Icebane potions. But we did it! We found some rather nice little trinkets in its hoard, and on the way back to Riften we visited my birth stone, much to the annoyance of a Conjurer who had apparently decided to avail herself of its blessing. Rumarin managed to behead her – I am getting more and more concerned about those swords, I’m not sure mundane weapons would allow for such a thing. In any case, she had brought herself some provisions and a couple of bottles of Surelie Brothers’ wine – a rather nice vintage, too, so we ended up setting up camp near the stone, and, well, I didn’t drink as much as the others, was too fired up from the Dragon, so they’re all fast asleep.

     

    The sky is beautiful here. I’m really growing fond of the Rift. Riften’s dirty, and I’m not impressed with the people in charge (either officially or otherwise), but I’ve made quite a few friends there, and the canal doesn’t smell as bad as it did when the weather was warmer. Hmm, that didn’t come out quite as positively as I intended it. I don’t know, there’s something about the place that makes me want to help it. Its people. Okay, probably shouldn’t have finished off the wine.

     

    Got a new word, well, already had the word, but I think the… technique thing worked. It’s not one to try around people, though. Krii. Kill. Will have to find somewhere to go by myself. Feels dark. Maybe only for draugr, Dragons, that sort of thing. Would feel wrong using on people. Well, most people.

     

    (bit later)

     

    Rumrn wasn’t asleep. Wantd to Talk. Dunno why now. Wanted to know “who’s Äelberon?” Couldn’t really explain proprly. Pale Elf! Rumarin only knew the older stories. Parents left Alinor befre. Before we had the power to change history. Think Ulundil and Arivanya probably know the Official Story. Think they came quite recently, well, defntley in the last decade or two – their accents hve changed a little, probably not noticeble to anyone other than an Altmer, but much more so than Niranye’s has. Wonder if they believe it.

     

    Apparently I’ve said it (in my sleep!) since Morthal though, that’s bad. Have to see if I can find any way of stopping that. Haven’t written about this I don’t think, can’t be bothered to check. But Ancano – bloody Ancano! – is at the College. Had somehow not run into him before, but when I informed the Archmage about that ball thing, he intercepted me. Thankfully he didn’t have the faintest idea who I was. Anyway – just my luck I’d say it in my sleep and he’d somehow manage to be lurking in the shadows…

     

    Anyway, so, tried to explain Äelberon of Dusk to Rumarin of Skyrim. He thought I’d been dreaming of a lover. Ha! He knew about the Pale Elf. I had to explain some of the lies the Thalmor wove around him, and some of what I’ve pieced together about how and why they did it. And the Symposium. Gods, was it really sixteen years ago?  As I was explaining, it suddenly hit me. Why I felt so sick when I was in Ondolemar’s chamber in Markarth. It wasn’t only the vampire that attacked me in that grotty little cloakroom. I don’t even want to think about that just now, much less talk to Rumarin about it, so I did my best not to show it. I’m not sure if it worked, but if he noticed, he didn’t say so.

     

    Told him about the vampires, about the terrified young nobles, about the guard who wasn’t a guard, about the silver bolt I stabbed one of the creatures with, as much as I could remember. About the light – the heat! - of his magics. Oh, he was incredible, better and brighter than the stories, and truly, I almost feel like I miss him, even after only a few minutes, really, in his company. Would I have risked so much, even after the re-education, trying to puzzle out some inkling of the truth, otherwise? But no, not like a lover. I’m not sure Rumarin believed me, but he seemed happy enough. Of course, I realised a while ago, but I suppose while I’m still a little drunk is as good a time as any to admit it. Elenwen must have found out, mustn’t she? About the research I was doing, such as it was. A snippet here, a fragment there. I obviously wasn’t hiding my tracks as well as I thought – I suppose one gets careless after a while. I wonder if she even expected me to make it as far as Darkwater by myself?

     

     

    2nd Sun’s Dusk

     

    “She’ll be fine, you know.”

     

    “What? Oh, yes. Of course. I’m not worried. Do I look worried? Because, you know, I’m not!”

     

    Lydia nodded, and returned to brushing the horses.

     

    “Just because the last time she went in somewhere dangerous by herself, she ended up poisoned and spent a week in a Jarl’s bed, that doesn’t mean I’m worried!”

     

    “So, you and the Thane… How are things?”

     

    “Wow, you just come right out with things, don’t you, Lydia?”

     

    “Aye. And I can tell when a man’s – sorry, a Mer, though you’re not so different – when a Mer’s trying not to answer a question. Even one as subtle as you.”

     

    Rumarin sighed. “I’m not sure, to be honest. She’s… well, you know how she is. She keeps her cards close to her chest, then once in a while she drops them all.”

     

    Another nod. She continued brushing, and she didn’t push any more. Rumarin was relieved, he wasn’t used to keeping secrets, let alone someone else’s. The Pale Elf! She’d mentioned him by that name after the poison, of course, but he’d assumed that was just childhood stories surfacing in her dreams. Having grown up in Skyrim, he’d only known the stories, so he hadn’t made the connection with the other name she’d been muttering, Äelberon. Well, he’d taken that for a lover, hadn’t he? Not jealous, exactly – it wasn’t as though Rumarin hadn’t had, well, dalliances, before. Half a dozen Nords of various shapes and sizes, and of course the Orc. He’d been very memorable. But then none of them had been, well... serious. Gods, what was wrong with him? He had no idea what Nerussa wanted, they hadn’t exactly leapt into bed, but he wasn’t sure if that meant she didn’t want to rush things, or she just, well, didn’t want to.

     

    Lydia eyed him. He was starting to get gloomy. It was funny, Altmer were so clever, these two especially, but they couldn’t seem to read each other at all. Well, not when it came to this, anyway. If they were Nords, they’d probably be married by now, or at least officially shacked up. Not like they had family getting in the way, like Jon and Olfina… She bent to scratch Vigilance behind his ears, when she was nearly knocked over by something – someone – invisible, racing out of the nearby cave and straight into her. The spell broken, her Thane looked over her shoulder, grabbed her pack from the ground, and yelled at them to get into the sunlight. Lydia made herself calmly lead the three horses as Rumarin and Vigilance ran after a visibly terrified Nerussa. She tried to block out the angry hisses behind her, striding toward the bright light in the clearing that was only a few steps away. Suddenly, it hit her. She could see red light from the corners of her eyes, but all she was really aware of was the feeling of weakness, like nothing she’d ever felt before. She couldn’t even call out as her legs gave way beneath her.

     

    *****

     

    Saltar smoothed his robes. He tried to think of anything other than the risk he was taking. Damned She-Elf, but he did feel guilty about her predicament. Perhaps if he’d warned her, dropped a few hints, she could have spoken to Elenwen, grovelled, submitted herself once more for Re-education, something that would have kept her from the humiliation of living among these Nord savages. The message had come via Justiciar Ondolemar, another one who didn’t know how to ingratiate himself, it seemed. Spent his days skulking around the Keep in Markarth, which was by all accounts a dreadful place – humans living in the shell of a Merish city, albeit only Deep Elven.

     

    He descended the steps and passed through the doorway into the reception hall. It was pitifully small, but at least the architecture wasn’t as rough as most of the buildings he’d seen in this backwater of a province. There was a certain naïve charm to it, he supposed. A Nord serving girl bobbed her head and then smiled up at him as he passed – not bad looking, for a human, he supposed, and he was heartily tired of the few She-Elves in the Embassy. Well, he hadn’t bedded the First Emissary, of course. He was a little disappointed about that, but at his rank he could hardly make the first move. Perhaps on his return he’d seek the girl out, she seemed to have a proper attitude toward a fine specimen of Merhood such as himself. He pushed open the door, and cursed inwardly at the thinness of his robes. At least silk was warmer than linen, he supposed, preening a little at his recent upgrade. Still, he subtly cast Kindle, warming his bones enough to maintain proper posture, and proceeded to the barracks to see where his escort had got to.

     

    He was tempted to just leave without them, but that would certainly arouse suspicion. Not that the escort were anything other than protection, of course. The Thalmor trusted their Justiciars implicitly, and the Justiciars would never give them a reason not to. Still, they were only rank and file, and should be easy enough to slip away from, for a couple of hours. They would enjoy the Surelie Brothers wine – it was nothing on real Alinor wine, of course, but far better than the local swill. He was due to meet her around sundown, near a ruin named Volskygge. There was a cottage, abandoned, according to the message, where he was confident he could get the guards drunk enough not to care if he went for a short walk.

     

    The barracks door opened just as he approached, and he was pleased to see that there was a new She-Elf at the Embassy after all. He hoped the Mer behind her was a sound sleeper, because he rather felt there might be another benefit to the wine he was planning to give them both that evening, if he timed his return well.

     

    *****

     

    It felt… strange. Almost dream-like. Lydia knew she should be getting to her feet, running from the thing behind her, or at least trying to spook the horses into dragging her away. Something. She felt cold and hot, pain and… not-pain? Words weren’t really working just now. She was vaguely aware of her Thane moving up ahead, charging a spell. She could hear the flames – how could she hear flames? She didn’t think she usually could. She couldn’t remember. She knew It was approaching, still draining her, but she could feel It pause, feel It start to… fear, just a little. Mostly It still felt strong, excited. Her Thane’s flames grew closer, and Lydia shrank away, not wanting to block Her, not wanting to be hit by the awful heat.

     

    She felt the horses’ reins slip from her grasp as the animals began to run. Oh, well. Maybe it was time to sleep. Suddenly, she felt hands under her arms, pulling her to her feet, a voice urgently telling her to get up, get moving. Fine, why not? She didn’t want to rush, but she supposed she could go with whoever this was. She caught sight, vaguely, of her Thane, but She didn’t look like herself. She looked… bigger, brighter? Lydia didn’t know. She was being pulled along, stumbling, why was walking so hard? Why was she being expected to run?? Behind her, she felt It falter. It wasn’t really in danger, but It seemed unsure somehow. She was in the light now, the horrible light, and she heard… Rumarin, that was his name. Heard him charging his bound swords, the silver were on the horse, she thought vaguely, and as he ran forward again she turned and saw him summoning them, bright flashes of purple as he ran toward the Creature. Her Thane was blasting it with flames from one hand and a shock spell from the other. Her head feeling a little clearer now, Its attention solely on the two Mer, she remembered Nerussa – her Thane, damn it – telling her that shock drained magicka, and that was why they were looking out for a shock-enchanted bow for Lydia, because Dragon Shouts were magic. She still felt strangely detached, like she was watching a troupe of…

     

    “Rumarin! Stay back!

     

    He stopped dead. Damn, should have summoned the bow, did he have enough magicka to switch? He watched her, dispelled his swords and attempted to charge the bow. Nearly, hopefully he’d manage it in a second or two. The vampire was weakening, but it wasn’t enough. What was Nerussa doing? The creature was only a few yards from her now, and she was… dispelling her Destruction magics? She stood very still for a moment, her posture almost giving the impression of prayer. A faint glow suffused her, becoming white – was she using High Born? He’d heard of it, of course, mentioned in some of the stories his parents never shared with the Nords. It was… astonishing. Even the vampire seemed intrigued, in spite of itself. She took advantage of that, bracing herself and… he hadn’t heard that Shout before. Kree? He could see why she’d told him to stop, the vampire suddenly looked pained, and it was covered in a sickly, pulsing purple light. Without thinking, he tried again to summon his bow, and this time it worked. Nerussa began shooting firebolts – she rarely used those, too costly and her aim wasn’t reliable enough to risk wasting, but with High Born and at close quarters that was less of a concern. He aimed his bow at the creature’s face, caught it in the eye, aimed again, shot it in the neck as Nerussa rained fire on it until… Gods, it was dead. They had killed a vampire.

     

    He ran to her, took her in his arms, laughing, jubilant, until he looked down at her face. She had had her back to him the whole time, or he had been running to get Lydia to the sunlight, so he hadn’t realised, hadn’t seen the tears streaming down her face, the fear in her eyes. She was muttering something under her breath, rhythmically.

     

    “…ethi…banto…yendo…quento…”

     

    For a moment he was back at his mother’s knee, learning how to count, not in the common tongue, but like her own mother had, or was it her grandmother? A long time ago, he remembered that, before the Empire took over? No, that was six hundred years or more. Her great-grandmother, then? Nerussa was still counting, but she wasn’t pulling away from the sudden embrace, that was unusual. He held her tighter, the pressure seemed to be helping to calm her. He wanted to move away from the dead undead thing, away from the cave mouth, into the fading sunlight, but he wasn’t sure she could be moved yet. She had said something about meeting a “contact” this evening, she wouldn’t want to miss that, and he knew moving her too soon would make it harder for her to recover. Silently, he counted along with her.

     

    *****

     

    She was late. That was unusual. The air was chilly, and he wished he’d brought the bottle of Surelie Brothers, or the new recruit, to keep him warm. He was close to giving up, planning the scathing message he would send back to Ondolemar, when he heard footsteps approaching. At first he thought she was alone, a hood mostly covering her face, but those grey eyes reflecting the flame of his torch. Then, he looked up the steps behind her and saw, standing at the top of them, a young Mer, arms folded, glaring watchfully down at him. He heard a horse somewhere up above, as well, and as he listened, he thought he heard a faint clink of armour. Sounded more like Elven than the heavy steel most of the peasants in this province wore. So, she’d found herself a pair of Elvish guards, had she? They greeted each other.

     

    “The hood’s staying up, I take it?”

     

    “Of course. As I’m sure you’ve guessed, I finally took Lemar’s advice and visited a face sculptor. Wouldn’t want them reviewing your memories, would I?”

     

    “I’m hurt that you think I’d be so careless as to give them reason to, young lady. And don’t think I didn’t catch that, whatever has our fine Justiciar colleague done to deserve such disrespect?” His tone was teasing, but betrayed at least a small measure of concern.

     

    “It’s not important. Look, Saltar, thank you for meeting with me. I trust it wasn’t too much trouble? I need… Oh, this whole thing is ridiculous!”

     

    “Of course, it was nothing, a gentle evening stroll. But I’ll admit, I’m curious. There have been… rumours. Nothing concrete, and naturally the First Emissary has made it clear that they’re utter nonsense, but… Well, there are records. Naturally the ‘jarls’ have to report any honours awarded, new titles, that sort of thing, to their betters…”

     

    “Oghma’s tits, I knew I should have refused that.”

     

    “On the contrary, I think consolidating your position in Nord society, such as it is, will stand you in good stead should you ever, well, require protection. The First Emissary might easily arrange for the arrest of an… insurrectionist nobody, I’m sure you’re aware of the various missing Nords…” Nerussa was glad of the hood covering her face, as she struggled to keep it emotionless when she heard her housecarl swearing quietly up above. Saltar, apparently too interested in his own voice to have noticed, continued.

     

    “But of course, as is obvious from the fact that even in Markarth, under Justiciar Ondolemar’s very well-bred nose, Talos worship continues, there are those who are more difficult to… extract. I’ve also heard tell of an Altmer member of Riften’s Thieves’ Guild who is on excellent terms with their Jarl. Of course, that would be quite out of character for you, but if you happened to meet her, you might wish to encourage her to capitalise on those connections, hmm? But I’m taking over, as usual, please, dear girl – what did you wish to discuss?”

     

    She smiled a little. She had once been offended that he had never tried to seduce her – she assumed it was because of her Nord ancestor – but a year or two after she began working for the Thalmor, he had come to her with a request for some private translation work. He had found some old family documents, in Altmeris, mainly, and wanted to know if they might help him secure a claim to a disputed piece of land. Unlike most of her superiors who exploited her fascination with the work, he had insisted on paying her well, and when she finished, he invited her to his home to celebrate his good fortune. She had, to this day she couldn’t quite say whether pleasantly or not, assumed this would be the site of the seduction, but instead, they spent several hours talking, drinking surprisingly excellent wine, with him becoming more and more verbose as the night wore on. It seemed he had his own historical fascination, with the Ayleids, and within a few months, they had taken a trip together to Cyrodiil to explore some ruins – she had privately thrilled at the thought that her great aunt might have visited those same places. There had never been any impropriety, although of course rumours abounded, and Saltar was happy enough to allow them to continue if she was. He had been disapproving, but in an avuncular way, of Ondolemar.

     

    “I need, well, a favour. It’s… complicated, but essentially, I need to get into the Embassy. I’ve got a contact who seems to think the best way to do this is to attend one of Elenwen’s functions, but obviously, well, I’d like to avoid that.”

     

    “And you can’t let your contact know the details of why not, I take it? Goodness me, I do hope you’re keeping your journal still, I’ll want to read it some day.”

     

    She laughed. “So, all I need is to slip quietly in to the Embassy – probably just the administrative offices. I just need to look for some… old paperwork of mine.”

     

    “Oh, is that all? To be honest, you’d have a better chance at one of those parties, you know how distracted Elenwen gets. And you certainly know how the guards and staff who aren’t invited like to take the evening easy… Hmm. Did you ever get the hang of Invisibility?”

     

    She chuckled, charged the spell, and vanished. “It’s certainly come in handy lately, yes.” She blinked back into view as she began to speak, of course.

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