UJON, Book Seventeen, A Difficult Conversation Begins


    21st Sun’s Dusk


    “Ah, your… Thane! You’re back!” Lydia’s Ma was apparently taking advantage of the sunny day, hanging acres of blinding white laundry – bedlinens, shirts, and… undergarments – out on the line to dry. She wrung the excess water out of the last piece, pegged it up, and hurried over to the gate, opening it, and beaming perhaps a little too hard.


    “Please, I wish you’d call me Nerussa! Bad enough I can’t convince Lydia, but she at least technically works for me… Is everything all right? Where’s Äelberon?” She had been worrying the whole journey about how to talk to him about Nocturnal, but now she was just worried.


    “Oh, he’s… fine, he’s just been working harder’n he should, I think he feels like he’s imposing, so he’s been insisting on helping around the farm, and there’s not that much to do at this time of year, so he’s been coming up with Ideas. Lots and lots of Ideas. And then he went hunting, and…” She hesitated. “Well, as I say, he’s fine, just a little worn out. And bruised.”


    By this time they were inside the farmhouse, and Nerussa was relieved to see Äelberon sitting at the kitchen table, carefully shelling beans from a mountain of pods, and putting them on trays to finish drying in the warm air near the fireplace. He didn’t look up, at first, too focussed on the job at hand, and she wasn’t sure which was more surprising, the sight of the great Knight of the Crystal Tower, sleeves rolled up, hair carefully but simply braided, whistling, up to his elbows in, well, kitchen work, or Rumarin putting his pack by the door, rolling up his sleeves, and joining in. Were… Were Äelberon’s feet bare? No, that was definitely the more surprising picture. Wait, apparently Rumarin knew the tune as well… She gave up trying to decide. It was all very odd, but nice. She sighed.


    Äelberon finally noticed that he was no longer alone at the table. He turned toward her, a piece of straw sticking out of his mouth, and a large bruise over one eye. He looked almost… bashful, and as he stood, palms raised, he began to speak.


    “Now, Nordling, do not be too cross with me, I know I was supposed to rest, but I was feeling so much better, and I wanted to repay these good people in whatever…” he trailed off, a look of sharp concern replacing the almost playfully sheepish expression of a moment ago, as he took in her own bleak features.


    “What is the matter, Youngling?”


    “Can we… go somewhere? I must tell you something. I am afraid of how you shall react, but you have the right to know, to… deal with the matter as you see fit.” She found herself slipping into his own, formal speech pattern, and she was so exhausted it was hard not to fall down the rabbit hole of mentally deconstructing the linguistic variances in the common tongue. She had been unable to sleep last night, and they had ridden from Irkngthand so she hadn’t even had the few hours’ dozing the cart might have lulled her into…


    Damn, she was getting lost in her own mind again, she could see Äelberon was talking, but she couldn’t make out the words. Counting. That was the thing. Para, vera, nata… Damn, what came next? Para, vera, nata, ehca, ethi, no, nosci… Para, vera, nata, ehca, nosci, ethi, banto, yendo, quento… The room started to make sense again, she stared at Äelberon’s mouth, willing the words to behave…


    “…Rumarin, you have seen her this way before, am I correct? Please, my good woman, do not trouble yourself overmuch, it is an… ailment of some of my people, she will be well again in a short while if we… ah, there you are, Nordling. Ready to go and find a quiet corner for that discussion, yes? It cannot be as bad as all that. Come, I was nearly ready for some tea in any case…”


    He somehow managed to guide her without physical contact, through a doorway she had not previously known was there, and down a short flight of stairs into what appeared to be some kind of cellar. The walls were lined with stoneware jars, glazed in muted shades of green, blue and yellow, and she found herself gazing blankly at them.


    “Waiting to be filled with the results of my efforts above,” he said softly, his voice soothing in its depth. “Sit, the floor is surprisingly comfortable. I shall fetch tea and something to eat. You may rest as long as you need, and then we shall talk. I trust I have caused no offence with my use of the term ‘ailment’…”


    She shook her head, no, she wasn’t offended, although as she returned to herself she found herself curious as to where he had encountered someone like her before. Certainly this was not something any Altmer would admit to, they were an eccentric people at times, but she had known from a young age that she must do her best to disguise her difficulty, to remain Normal until she could be alone and scream, or go blank, or however it manifested this time. Her parents had worried that she was possessed at first, but the priest they took her to had alleviated those worries, at least.


    She sank to the floor, as carefully as she could, and felt for her bracelet. She took it off and spun it with her fingers, the motion helping her as it always did, the light dim enough not to flash painfully off the stone, but bright enough to make it glitter.





    A while later, she couldn’t tell how long, she heard Äelberon’s footsteps on the stairs, far lighter than one would expect for such a large Mer. She gratefully accepted a cup of tea, pale but fragrant, with what looked like lavender buds and red mountain flower petals floating on the top. They sipped in silence for a few minutes, Nerussa aware that Äelberon was observing her, grateful that he did not insist on talking yet. He sat on the floor opposite her, and passed her a chunk of bread smeared with the soft local cheese, “from Lydia.” She found herself smiling a little.


    “I think I’ve sold my soul.” Oghma’s tits, she hadn’t meant to blurt it out like that. She clapped her hand over her mouth.


    Äelberon did not react at first, his eyes perhaps sharpened a little, but did not lose the look of concern. After some moments, he spoke.


    “You are not the first in your family, Nordling, to feel Nocturnal’s pull.”




    “I thought you familiar when we first met, but in the circumstances I was a little distracted, and I did not place the resemblance until my return to Bruma. The Champion... She was a relation, yes? An aunt, perhaps?”


    “Yes – my grandmother’s younger sister! But…”


    “The resemblance was not, if certain local rumours were accurate, merely skin-deep. You work with the Guild in Riften, do you not? Well, the Guild members in Bruma were just as proud of their last Gray Fox as the other residents were of their Savior, immortalised in stone by the city gate.”


    “I had heard there was a statue. It’s why I never visited when I was in Cyrodiil. Well, that and the cold… And now look at me. But… the Gray Fox? Delvin mentioned that name, a bust I found in Riftweald Manor.”


    “An Imperial male, hmm? Yes, officially the last Gray Fox was just such. There were rumours about his true identity, but of course nothing was ever confirmed. But the Guild members lay claim to one after him, a young She-Elf, as at home in a suit of Mithril mail as in simple common breeches and shirt. She ended a curse, so they say, which had plagued the Guild for generations. They even claim she once stole an Elder Scroll from the Imperial Library!”


    “And… you think that was Auntie Estoril?” Nerussa blinked at the new idea.


    “An old friend of mine knew her, and she seems to find the idea more than plausible. Very unlike her sister, of course.”


    “But… were the Cyrodiil Guild Nightingales as well? I thought they were more recent!”


    He regarded her seriously for a moment. She felt as though perhaps she had missed something, but she wasn’t sure what.


    “No, their connection with the Night Mistress was less… friendly for some time, perhaps you have read the book Purloined Shadows? Rather a good story, is it not? Well, the master thief in that story was the original guildmaster in Cyrodiil, so they say. Verily, he gained much with that stolen cowl, but lost much as well – his very name! His place in history… As the Guild members in Bruma tell it, your Aunt aided the previous Gray Fox in a series of thefts that almost rivalled that of the Cowl of Nocturnal, and using the Elder Scroll she stole, the curse was ended. Seemingly, Nocturnal was sufficiently impressed by your Aunt’s endeavours that she was able to retain the Cowl, which doubtless proved useful navigating the Planes of Oblivion…”


    Nerussa stared at her hands for a while. “So… I’m not the only black sheep in the family, then?”


    He smiled. “No, youngling, it would seem not. Although how much your Senna knew, I could not tell. Sometimes I felt that that She-Elf could see into a person’s very mind.”


    Slowly it dawned on Nerussa what she had missed before.


    “You… Are you saying you knew my Grandmother?”


    “Oh, yes, Nordling. She had been, as I believe you mentioned, working in Morrowind in the late Third Era. When the Tribunal collapsed, her situation became quite perilous, and her friend, Archmagister Rynandor the Bold, decided it was in her best interest to return to the Isles, and I went with him to escort her home. Forgive me, I should say she decided this, she was,” that merry glint was in his eye again, “most insistent on that point.”


    Another mystery suddenly fell into place.


    “You’re her priest friend! With the nice arse!” She clapped her hand over her mouth, eyes wide – however friendly they might be with one another, this was unbelievably inappropriate language to use in front of a Priest of Auri-El. She couldn’t believe it when, instead of anger, he burst out laughing – great peals of laughter, and as before, she could not help but join in.


    Suddenly she remembered what she had found the previous night. She felt in the pocket on the side of her pack, and pulled out the tightly-wound ball. Feeling strangely shy, she held it out toward Äelberon. “Is this yours? I must have picked it up in the Embassy, although I could swear I hadn’t.”


    She was still too tired to decipher the expression on his face, too many feelings seemed wrapped up in it. But he nodded, and quietly took the ball. He didn’t say anything for a little while, until suddenly a question tumbled out of her mouth.


    “Did you really come to help that Vigilant you mentioned? Or is it to do with the Volkihar?” What? What on Nirn was a Volkihar?


    “A priest of Auri-El does not lie, child.” She was a little taken aback by his tone.


    “I didn’t mean… I only meant, was that the real reason?” She found herself struggling to recall precisely what she was even asking. The name was… familiar, yet so strange. She thought she had seen it in a book she had picked up in some bandit lair or another – they did seem to like their tales of terror. And that one about the Argonian Maid… But no, that wasn’t it. She shook her head, made herself pay attention to Äelberon’s words.


    “Brother Tyranus requested my help. I came. I… did what I could to help him.” His face clouded further, but it seemed he was not yet ready to elaborate on what had happened in Markarth. “But no, it was not the only reason, if that is what you meant to ask.”


    He stood, much more nimble than the last time she had seen him, but still wincing a little with the movement. “Your message after the Symposium was a great help, in more ways than you could know. I suspect you did not make the connection yourself between your Grand Justiciar and the name you gave me?” She shook her head, no. He smiled, though there was little humour in it.


    “I have spent a long, long time looking for Vingalmo. I confess, I was sorely tempted to head straight for Skyrim, the fire of vengeance burning in my heart, and so on, and so forth.” He waved a hand, apparently wishing to give the impression that he was being dramatic for humorous effect, although from what little she had managed to uncover in her research, she felt he was likely understating things. She knew the Grand Justiciar had signed the order for the Purge of Dusk, Äelberon’s home. That would surely be reason enough for his vendetta, and yet she sensed there were worse horrors to be revealed.


    “However, I was… persuaded that perhaps I should be a little more circumspect, and so I bided my time. I did what research I could from Bruma. Asked the locals if they had any ‘good stories’ of the vampire clans of Skyrim, bartered with members of the local Mages Guild to copy out relevant passages from certain books in the Library at the Imperial City... In truth, I was obsessed. Before the Symposium as well, but even more so afterwards, having that name. I wonder… are there libraries in the other cities? I did not have a chance to look around Markarth. In sixteen years, I must confess I learned frustratingly little, it seems the Clan Volkihar have been alluded to occasionally, but never with much detail as to where to find them, beyond some fanciful descriptions of dwelling under the ice floes in the very north of the province, which as far as I can tell are either allegorical, or greatly exaggerated. It may well be that the north is the place to look, however…”


    As he spoke, memories of the Symposium fluttered around the edges of her mind, just outside her grasp – herself casting fiery arrows? That couldn’t be right; she had only recently learned that spell! At last, one floated within reach, close enough to remember, vivid as though it were yesterday.


    The Grand Justiciar waved his hand slowly in dismissal. “Kindness, Justiciar, has nothing to do with it. This was a difficult event to plan and carry out. The repercussions of which will be felt in Alinor for quite some time. The subject of vampires is one I hold close to my own heart and there has been a plethora of new information in the one hundred years since our last Symposium. I even compiled some of the notes myself.”


    Yes, the information on the new Skyrim clan, Volkihar, is it?” Ondolemar recalled with what she saw as rather feigned enthusiasm. “Brilliant research. Your time in Skyrim, Grand Justiciar, has been invaluable. Especially around such difficult circumstances. Those Nords…”


    The Golden Lord of Caemal laughed and it was echoed by the rest of the lobby, except herself. Why she felt hurt just then, she didn’t know, but she quickly covered herself when she caught Ondolemar’s stare and laughed herself, adjusting her slipping hood again. As soon as she was in the cloakroom, she was going to tear the damn thing off. She wondered how the Old Guard tolerated his helmet. It looked bloody uncomfortable to her.


    And one more. Herself, speaking with Queen Calianwe of Cloudrest! Urging her to make sure Äelberon had understood the message. “Just in case tell him again, Volkihar. Tell him Volkihar. That they are… in Skyrim.”


    Her head was starting to hurt again. She wanted to ask more questions, ask why this “Clan Volkihar” was so important, what it had to do with the former Grand Justiciar, but she was struggling to focus. Äelberon had gone quiet again, and she felt his eyes on her, had that feeling he was considering how to proceed.


    He spoke quietly, now. Barely above a whisper. “You do not need to know all the details, Nordling, not yet. But to answer the question I am sure is at the forefront of your mind, Vingalmo, formerly Grand Justiciar Vingalmo – I believe he retired in recent years? – is a member of Clan Volkihar. That is the simple truth of it, the connection. I will explain more tomorrow, and perhaps we shall discuss the other matter further as well, but for now, you should get some rest.”

     Table of Contents


1 Comment
  • Gnewna
    Gnewna   ·  December 31, 2018
    Wotcha, folks - long time, no update, eh? This needs a little tidying up - proper title, and oh dear, I am super behind with the table of contents, possibly some other stuff. But I wanted to get SOMETHING up before the year ran out of year, last entry was...  more