UJON, Book Eighteen, Part One - of Swords and Fishes


    22nd Sun's Dusk

    The next thing she remembered was waking in the morning. Rumarin was already dressed, and…


    Swords? But we have the day off!”


    He looked over his shoulder, and smiled at her. “Yes, but I’ve been…” he pouted almost imperceptibly, “advised that perhaps it would be wise to become less dependent on the bound weapons. First step is to become better acquainted to moving with these things dangling around my hips.”


    Still half asleep, it took her a moment, then it became clear. “Äelberon?”


    The very same. After you conked out down here, he regaled us with some rather hair raising stories of the Crystal Tower, and other… dealings he’s had with, well, things from where my blades come from. The family went to bed, and we stayed upstairs to turn the beans over, you know. All of a sudden, I found myself asking about bound weapons, and, well. It was all rather off-putting, shall we say.”


    I see. He does have… rather a way with words. So, does this mean you’ll be carrying a bow as well?”


    Yes,” he frowned, “and… arrows. Apparently, with real, physical arrows, you only get… what did he call it… a finite supply, and you can only fit around a dozen in your quiver!”


    Nerussa play-acted shock, eyes wide, mouth open in an O shape, hand covering it. “Well, you could always try again to learn some Destruction magics, you know.”


    Ugh, no, the only thing worse than carrying things,” he shuddered, “is studying things.”





    After taking a few minutes to wash with the basin of warm water that Rumarin had brought downstairs, and allow her head to clear – it always took a little while when she woke after one of those episodes – she climbed the stairs to the kitchen, where she could smell breakfast was on its way. She heard Lydia telling Rumarin about some festival held in the village the day before – it seemed Äelberon had unwittingly gained a number of admirers among the young women of the village. Reaching the top of the steps, she caught sight of a faint blush colouring the older Mer’s scarred cheeks. He was looking very determinedly at a book – Purloined Shadows, had he mentioned that the night before? - and clearly trying to give the impression he was unaware of their conversation. She thought she caught a flicker of sadness in his eyes, though, and wondered at that.


    Still, he was certainly looking more robust than when she had left Rorikstead, and she could see why Nord women would appreciate him more than most of her own kind – he was tall, and strong, and while his looks were grotesque by Altmeri standards, with his eyes closed or shaded by a hood, he could pass for an unusually handsome Nord in his early fifties or so, and even his scars would lend an appeal – the Nords valued a battle-worn face. As both Altmer and Priest, he doubtless smelled better than any Nord, as well.


    Don’t pay her no mind, Brother Äelberon,” Lydia’s Ma had clearly put some effort into learning the correct pronunciation of his name. “She’s just jealous because none of them pay her as much attention! P’rhaps if she learned some of your nice manners, and took such good care of her hair...”


    Lydia rolled her eyes at her mother, and stood up. “If it’s alright, Thane, I was going to take Rumarin out for a little sparring practice, he does well with the silver blades against draugr, but if he’s planning to switch permanently...”


    Nerussa nodded. She needed to speak to Äelberon further, in any case. Just as she was about to speak, he closed his book, and looked over at her. “Runa here has asked us to take a walk up the hill to check on Lund. He would normally have been down to the farm to collect his overwinter provisions by now, but neither he nor his wife have been seen in some weeks, giving rise to some concerns… And I think some fresh air would do us both the world of good, I see you are already wearing your boots!”





    Are you very disappointed in me?”


    The pause before he spoke was hard to bear, so she focused on the feel of the stones under her feet. The boots were comfortable, and she liked the way the thin soles let her distinguish between the cobbles of Whiterun, the flagstones and wooden walkways of Riften, and the other areas – sometimes when her mind was racing, it was good to have that to remind her where she was. Today, though, on the path up to Lund’s cottage, she was enjoying the boots a little less – the path was covered with small, irregular stones, and they were digging into her feet as she walked.


    Äelberon cleared his throat. “Everyone has made some decisions they regret, and everyone has made some decisions they are unsure of, or that others might judge them for. Even I have made some grave, grave mistakes in my time.”


    She looked at him, rather taken aback. His tone was serious, and she wondered what he could possibly be talking about. “Yes, Nordling, once, when I was a young Mer, I made a terrible error of judgement. I was new to Alinor, beginning my period of instruction. I did not understand the area as well as I thought. I was young, and thought I knew everything, as the young so often do. I took it upon myself to visit the coast just outside the city, and when I saw the water, I succumbed to the urge to go for a swim.” He looked across at her, the barest suggestion of a twinkle now forming in his eye.


    But… the sea by Alinor is filled with..!”


    Yes, Nordling! The most vicious piranhas on Nirn. I was fortunate, and escaped with merely a few dozen bites on my backside. It seems your Senna was not the only one to approve of that part of me!”


    Nerussa’s hands flew to cover her mouth, but it was no use, the laughter burst out of her and she almost bent double with the force of it. When she had recovered, they continued up the path.


    What was your reasoning?” He sounded curious more than anything.


    I… was angry. Mercer Frey tried to kill me – as far as he knew, he succeeded. And he betrayed the Guild. He murdered a friend, and put the blame on another. He stole from them… I… recognise the irony in that, but the Guild have been good to me, Brynjolf and Delvin in particular. They believed in me, not because of this dragon business, or anything like that. They… they thought I was good at something. And so I was angry, and I wanted to make Mercer pay. And… I… felt something when Nocturnal spoke. I can’t quite explain what. But it felt like something I needed to do.”


    Did she give you anything?”


    Some armour. A blessing, Karliah said, although I am not sure about that.”


    I see. By my understanding, Nordling, Nocturnal does not require worship or devotion in the same way as some other Daedra. She expects respect from her followers, but it is more of a… transaction, as far as is known. In life, she bestows certain abilities, in death she expects payment in the form of service in her realm of Oblivion. It may be that, as Dovahkiin, your soul is not so easily traded – it was bestowed by Auri-El Himself, or Akatosh in the Nord belief, and on death it might be assumed to return to Him. It may alternatively be the case that it is… something of a prize for any Daedra who manages to claim it. I suppose the first question to consider is, do you wish to serve Nocturnal in perpetuity after your death? The details of the arrangement are, forgive me, obscure, but it is likely to be a lonely eternity. No friends, no family, no Rumarin...”


    She wished she’d put her hood on, she could feel the blush rising. “I haven’t really given much thought to what comes after. I am no fan of loneliness, I have… I was often lonely until I came to Skyrim. I have rarely felt that way since. I don’t greatly relish the thought of it, no. And yet, as you said last night. I feel… drawn to her? I do not know. I have the Skeleton Key. Karliah wishes me to meet her. Near Falkreath. Morndas night. I think I am to return it to Nocturnal.”


    She glanced sidelong at Äelberon. He was watching her carefully, and she took a breath.


    My sentences? They do get short, don’t they. Perhaps we could stand here for a moment, I will… gather my thoughts.”


    He nodded, and they paused their climb, turning to look over the village and the view beyond it. In the distance, she heard a bird, not a songbird, perhaps a crow. She felt the stones under her feet, tasted the traces of the bread and honey she had eaten for breakfast, and smelled… something sour. She couldn’t quite place it, coming from the direction they had been walking… She counted her breaths.


    How did you know? Last night… You have met others like me?”


    Oh, Youngling, I have met many like you. Mainly among our people, but in Cyrod and further afield, as well. In the Isles, before I was… when I lived there, it was difficult, but not impossible for people like you to blend in. Difference was punished, of course, but less severely than, I suspect, in your childhood. But a number of parents brought their children to me, and I did what I could. Not to ‘heal’ them, they were not sick. Just to help them learn to cope with their senses, and to understand how they were expected to behave. In Bruma, there were several families with members with the same patterns, they tended to find quiet, methodical jobs, and it was just how they were. With less pressure to fit in, they were less worn down, and better able to cope with their challenges, which in turn meant they were able to use their strengths more readily. Now, perhaps we should continue and check on Lund, and we can return to our earlier discussion afterwards?”


    Nerussa agreed, and they walked on.




    The blade Lydia had lent him felt strange, heavy and bulky in his hand. He felt a little off-balance, being used to fighting with two swords, but for now the second was in its sheath, on the ground behind them. The hilt was wrapped in hide strips that dug into his hand as he gripped it. He hoped he had enough to buy something a little nicer in Whiterun, Eorlund was the better smith, but Adrianne was rather more generous with discounts, particularly to the new Thane and her party. He had the silver swords, of course, but those were quite easily damaged, and he preferred to save them for undead.


    As usual, Lydia insisted on talking while they trained. She claimed it was to make sure he wasn’t holding his breath or something like that, but he suspected it was more that she knew he found it hard to keep any sort of conversational guard up at the same time as a combat one.


    So, this Äelberon. He some kind of hero?”


    You could say that. He’s sort of… the hero. Or, well, he was. I’m a little confused on some of the details. You know I grew up in a group of troubadours, yes?”


    She snorted “yeah, you may have mentioned it...”


    Touché… In both senses.” He absent-mindedly waved his hand over the spot where she’d just hit him, and registered a slight look of surprise on Lydia’s face. He looked down and saw his hand was glowing faintly. Well. That was new. The skin hadn’t been broken, he was pretty sure he wouldn’t have been able to heal that, but the soreness from the jab seemed less than a moment ago. “Let’s… not think about that for now, shall we? Probably just a fluke. Anyway. Where was I? Oh, yes…”


    He explained what he could remember – the epic tale of the Pale Elf, as they used to perform it to crowds of drunk Nords, his adolescent self caked in white greasepaint and a tundra cotton wig playing Äelberon as a boy, one of the Nords in the group taking over for the bulk of the action, his father reciting the verse as his mother played the lute – the Nords always used to look strangely at her as she sat to play, holding the instrument quite differently to what they were used to, but that look would fade in an instant when she began in earnest.


    The poem told of the Pale Elf’s youth in Dusk – this was a change from the official version of the tale, which had portrayed him as noble by birth – his recruitment as a Knight of the Crystal Tower. The events of the Oblivion Crisis were central to the story – the Pale Elf, now a Knight-Paladin of Auri-El, slaying the great and terrible Bet, the Beast of Coldharbour, atop a mountain of fallen Daedra at the height of the Oblivion Crisis, defending the great Tower of Crystal-like-Law against more Daedra – this time the creatures of Mehrunes Dagon, using their own terrible machinery against them… The fall of the Tower, held at bay long enough that the Oblivion Crisis was ended by Martin Septim in the Temple of the One in Cyrodiil – this was again rewritten by his parents, the official version of course followed the Thalmor’s version of events which did not acknowledge Septim’s mantling of Akatosh or any non-Altmer involvement in the saving of Tamriel. His betrayal by Rynandor, the Seer-Mage’s disgrace and exile, and the events leading to his fall in a doomed attempt to save Dusk from a plague of vampires.


    Of course, that part, even his parents hadn’t known was untrue. Nerussa had explained some of what she knew – what she had been taught in her training as a Thalmor agent, that Äelberon had become a monster, slaughtered his family and the rest of Dusk, and been “exiled”, which apparently meant “taken away and murdered”, except he had survived the attempt, and instead spent over a century as a high priority fugitive. What she had recently remembered of their previous encounter at the Vampire Symposium in the city of Alinor, that she had allowed to be removed from her memory by “re-educators”. What she had begun to piece together during secretive visits to official archives, before being reassigned to Skyrim, and what she had learned from both the Dossier she found in Elenwen’s belongings, and of course from actually speaking to Äelberon since finding him, including some mention of a capture during the Great War – and given the state Nerussa had found him in at the Embassy, it wasn’t hard to imagine what that meant. He summarised as best he could while sparring, watching Lydia’s face cycle through more emotions than he thought he’d ever seen on her face.


    By the gods! That’s… I think that’s the worst thing I’ve ever heard about the Thalmor. And you saw the state my cousin was in...”


    Table of Contents




2 Comments   |   The Long-Chapper likes this.
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  January 4, 2019
    Great to see you posting again, Gnewna. The choice of who you're called to is always difficult. I think you wrote old Albee well. There is clear disappointment, but at the same time, he's not judging her. And Rumarin is always funny. Ugh, studying. :D
    • Gnewna
      The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      Great to see you posting again, Gnewna. The choice of who you're called to is always difficult. I think you wrote old Albee well. There is clear disappointment, but at the same time, he's not judging her. And Rumarin is always funny. Ugh, studying. :D
        ·  January 4, 2019
      Thank you! He's challenging, but rewarding to write, sort of thing!