Visiting the greatest wizard of Skyrim

  • Well, I wanted to take advantage of this month AMOSS to spill out some of the presentation idea I had for my last CB : Le Magicien and didn't make the cut.

    It is my first submission at the TSC and maybe I actually suck at it... feel free to comment, all opinions are welcome.


    The traveler that seek to visit the College of Winterhold is up to a great deal of troubles on its way.

    Not only is the province of Skyrim one of the least welcoming one I had the displeasure to roam in, but its northern region is even bleaker, if such a thing can be fathom.

    The carriage driver that I hired at Whiterun to come here was tense during the whole trip, looking anxiously left and right every once in a while, and more often the further north our way goes. At first I thought it to be exaggerated professionalism and fear of the local wildlife : wolves, saber cats, trolls and other hairy humanoids guards are calling bandits out of some strange taste in irony.

    It is when I mentioned that if arm were to come our way I would be more than happy to use my small magical talents to deal with it that, seeing his look of profound reprobation and mild terror, that in fact the poor man was more afraid of the unnatural aura of the place than that the more down to earth threats that could cross the road.

    It is my understanding that for these people, magic as a whole is some kind of weirdness that better suits elves and other ill minded people. And everything connected to it is either looked with disdain at best or sheer animosity at worst.

    In this ocean of barbarism and stupidity, the College of Winterhold may be the only light of wisdom and knowledge. A Lighthouse that recently had a change in administration that I was asked to investigate by my employer, the Synod of Cyrodiil.

    As a student of the Arcane myself the opportunity to look upon that famed, if a tad bit far away institution was too great to miss. Would I knew better I would have broken a leg.


    Winterhold is as much a town as the gutter of the Imperial City are a proper place of hygiene. It is mostly a heap of ruins with some poor souls here and there to populate it. In contrast the mere entrance of the College blind the rest of the place by its imposing and well kept structure.

    As I arrived, early in the morning, I was surprised to found under the first arch a Altmer woman, pacing left and right each side of the doorstep, clearly freezing on her feet’s despite the mask of obnoxious snobbery she put on.

    «  Halt ! None shall trespass here ! If you are a beggars we don’t give to charity, if you want to sell something we are not interested and if you want to get in, then get lost ! » She start to say in a clipped tone of voice.

    « Hold your horses and level your tongue lady… » I have spend the better part of twenty years getting yelled at by tyrannical teachers that would roast you on the spot for talking back, I was not going to let a little upstart talk to me like that now that I had the administrative power to do the same to my student back in Cyrodil. « … I’m Antonius Lucianus Secondus, Synod appointed inspector and I seek to meet the Ach-mage. »

    « On what ground ? » Came the reply.The mention of the Synod just made her squint.She didn’t seem inclined to let me through even after hearing of my credentials, or maybe because of them.

    « On the ground that I have spend the better part of the last three weeks traveling to get in here, facing rude people of disputable smells, that this country seems to know only one season and it is winter, that I have not eaten something edible since three days and drunk something that is not cut with mud since more than I care to remember… How the hell are you even getting any student in if they have to face such inquisition ? »

    In the wake of my tirade she take a few steps back. « Well, we only let enter those who demonstrate their aptitude beyond simply venting frustration… » her tone was still challenging but I felt she was being more cautious around me. « It is my job as Arch-steward, I am the only one fit to judge who is worth our attention ».

    She made sound her title like something important but to me it looked every bit as a glorified janitor job. Well when authority and rank fails you, you can always count on some good old intimidation.

    « Listen you clearly are wasting my time and I have the distinct feeling that you are going to continue unless I conjure atronachs to wipe the floor with you. But it will be messy and make too much paperwork afterward, so let me in and being someone else problem. » I let some power crackled from my left hand to show I meant business…

    « You wouldn’t dare… » She started defiantly, I slightly increased the flux of sparks going off to make my point. « Fine ! » She exploded in dignified outrage, but step out of the way nonetheless…

    « Try not to pull that trick again on the other members of the College… they are not all as well behaved as myself ! » Was the last I’ve heard of her while I walked away to the College main building. I hoped her colleagues were not all as tiresome.


    I arrived in the cloister that serve the three main towers of the College, the atmosphere of serenity that swept all over the place started to cool my anger after the meeting with the troublesome gatekeeper. In the middle of the open area, I spotted a young man in the clothes of a novice, practicing apparently a spell of magelight between the bushes of snowberries.

    Again and again he casted the spell, repeating over and over the spell words and reproducing the right hand pattern to the desired effect. I knew better to brutally interrupt someone during such exercises, even the most simple casting can degenerate in unsavory proportion if one is disturbed at a critical point. Instead I moved at a quite pace to get in his peripheral field of vision and waited until he notice me by himself. It took less time that I initially dreaded.

    « Good morning .. ? » He saluted meekly « I don’t recall having seen you here yet. Can I help you in something ? »

    He was a fairly young nord from its looks, most likely a student in training. « I’m looking for the Arch-mage. The Synod send me here to congratulate him, among other things… » This one looked more open to discussion at least.

    « Oh .. ! Well you better talk with a teacher then. I will try to find you one »

    He was about to depart to the imposing door in the back when stopped him with my inquiry : « Maybe you could point me in the direction of some place where I can wait in the meantime. One warmer than here and maybe with something to eat ? I just arrived this morning and must confess I’m famished… »

    « Yes of course… go to the Hall of Countenance, back on your left. You will find someone there sure, and there is food all around, no-one will really care if you take some I think... » And off he was gone.

    Seeing nothing better to do, I entered inside the tower he indicated to me. It was pleasantly warmer inside, some kind of magical well was illuminating a room circular in shape, doted with alcove filled with furniture.

    « What the horkers dragged in ? » Came a voice in one of them. Sat in a chair, half chewing a slice of bread was a tall and slender High Elf woman.

    « You too are going to insult me right away ? Is it some kind of custom in here for you people ? » A smile draw itself on her face at my words.

    « I assume you had to deal with Nirya, she is especially obnoxious since the Arch-mage tricked her with this whole Arch-steward job. Poor girl was so eager to have my job… and now she is freezing outside every morning, be careful at what you wish they say… I’m Faralada, the College teacher of Destruction school, nice to meet you. »

    Trying to get back my composure after my outburst, I brushed myself a little to look presentable and tried to lead the conversation in another direction.

    « Antonius Lucianus Secundus, likewise glad to make your acquaintance. I’m but a fellow scholar visiting this fair province. » Looking around I spoted a chair « May I ? I must confess my bad temper, but in my excitement to come here I jumped a few meal ; it kind of make me edgier than usual. »

    « You came a long way for a sweetroll and a couple apples. I fear that is the best we can offer in term of delicacy here, but be my guest ».

    Conversation started after I took a few bites and calmed my hunger. I avoided fully revealing my reasons for being here, no need to sour her good humor with it and miss some chunks of intelligence she may spill out.

    « I heard of a recent change of direction, a new Arch-mage was appointed in some unusual circumstances say the grapevine. » One eyebrow rose up.

    « Words travel fast to Cyrodil I see. Well poor Aren got out in a poor way I must admit, but his replacment is quite up to the task don’t worry. »

    « Do tell… » I pressed her « He must be quite the wizard to have earn such position amongst a number of skillful mage as yourselves. He was a teacher like you maybe ? »

    She smiled again  « On the contrary he was a student, but quite a diligent one. Our task here as tutor of the apprentice allow us less liberty and time than you think when it come to hunt for promotions. » Her gaze drifted for a moment to somewhere else.

    « A student ? » I inquired « Is that not… a little damaging to the College repute ? »

    « Oh but he has done some deeds to prove otherwise. He is a man of action you know, not like some of my more… sensible colleagues. And he can quite stand up to those that still badmouth us after that. »

    « I didn’t meant no insult » I excused myself politely « I didn’t come here to be stuck in a mage duel. »

    « Better you not try with him then. He is quite the master at destruction magic. Fire and Ice are faithfully at his power, but lightning is truly his specialty, his chain lightning spell has a staggering property I seldom witness. »

    « You are picturing a frightening sight, I don’t know if I want to meet him anymore » I jested.

    « Don’t let this groupie fool you my friend » Said a man at the other side of the room. He rose from his seat, a glass of wine if a hand and walked in our direction « Phinis Gestor, master conjurer. » He gave as an introduction.

    « Do you mean your current headmaster is not up to the task ? » I probed, trying to see what else I could get from this.

    « I wouldn’t dare say ! But Faralda here is only painting a portrait according to her own interest. If you only listen to her anybody that is not spitting thunder and fire is a useless buffoon unfit of the name of wizard. »

    « Colorful coming from someone that is better at talking to atronach than actual people… » The retort was laced with venom.

    Gestor continued his lecture without noticing « The Arch-mage is a much more subtle and comprehensive man… you have to admire how he can tame even the most dreadful dremora on the spot, he even have dress one as is butler so I’ve hear. »

    I couldn’t stop a snigger to escape my lips « A dremora butler ? Why not a dancing demon ! No something isn’t right there. »

    « Well that would make sense, who better to hold on all those precious artifact he’s been collecting since he got here » Proudly stated Faralda  « Anyway that is always good for show and help the College reputation »

    At that moment the door outside opened wide, a little man, the complexion of a Dunmer stepped in.

    « Here you are ! Onmund told me we had a visitor of the Synod that wanted to meet the Arch-mage. Must be you I guess. » All faces turned in my direction. The ones of my previous host lighted with a new flame of curiosity, or was it suspicion ?

    With a broad smile and a stomach full I got out of my chair. « I’m sorry to partake with your company but I think I’m expected. » Then I followed in the footsteps of the new mage to the upper level.

    « Don’t get cocky » Started the elf when we were out of earshot. « We only go to the Hall of Attainment so you stop bothering us until someone know what to do of you. »

    « At last someone with some sense in the right place… until now I though you were all a bunch of naive optimist. » The man striked me as agitated, not a unusual case amongst wizard when you know the things some of us do…

    « Don’t think I can’t see through you ! I’m a master of Illusion myself you see. » He snapped his fingers and smiled clearly expecting something to happen. Nothing came.

    « I see… »

    « No you see nothing ! Or you should see nothing technically, unless it is the sound… damn I still can’t master that silence the Arch-mage made when he turn himself invisible. That is true Illusion. »

    I tried my best not to laugh. Every institution has its fair share of loonies, he was the one here I though.


    After a brief but unpleasant trip outside. The weird elf let me alone in another tower, designed in the same way as the precedent. Mage are not great architect, their imagination don’t run that wild.

    The place looked desert at first, but huddled in a untidy corner sat a Bosmer, a permanent leering smile was plastered on his face. « So they looked you up here with me hey ? ».

    « It doesn’t look like a prison to me… » The man was at odd in here, all in his garb was suggesting a practitioner of the arcane, but something in his demeanor was betraying a much shady trade.

    « It is for the bold and the adventurous believe me ! Those that are ready to pay for it. » He winked.

    « Well, I believe knowledge is priceless, but you can sometimes name a tag on information… » Playing his game I found a not too dusty bench in front of him. « Let say I’m new in here and I’d like to educate myself about the various… specificity of the place, would a friend help me in that ?»

    « Enthir of Valenwood is the friend of everyone that like to share their good will… » « Among other things » I finished for him. « I’m Antonius, glad to meet you Enthir. » We shook hands. The golden ring I had in the palm of my hand had disappeared when I put it back in my robes.

    « Likewise. So tell me, what is your in business here ? » He started businesslike.

    « I came to see if what was told was true. That the new Arch-mage was made of the same cloak as the former, if he had project, if he was doing fine… » I said in a benevolent tone.

    « You are quite a good samaritan to have come from so far to ask about the good being of someone you don’t know. »

    « I’m also a little bit curious. Tell me, how is he ? I heard your colleagues praise his gifts as a wizard, but you and me, we know that don’t always make the best men. »

    « The world is not only ruled by the best men, and sometimes the worst are even better at it. But from my perspective, he is quite easy to live with. He know who he can herd in the right direction, and the ones he better not bother with for everyone greater good. »

    « Strike me as the intelligent kind then, maybe even the reasonable one… » Which would suit me better.

    « Have to ! There is so many faction here in Skyrim : Jarls, Imperials, Stromcloaks, Guilds of thieves and assassins… you have to find reasonable agreements with them if you want ot keep the place in one piece. And for the moment he look like he strike all the good ones. »

    « You up here ! » Came a purring voice from the ground floor. « J’zargo has been told to bring you to the Arcaneum. J’zargo want you to hurry, he has better thing to do… »

    Wishing good bye to my one time friend, I followed my new host. The furry ball of fur was waiting at the door step leading outside. The Kajiit eyes were bright with pent up animosity.


    Stepping outside again I mused aloud « You are giving me a full tour. »

    « If if was J’zargo choice It would be a tour out, but the Arch-mage is one for shows of good will. Hopefully J’zargo has not such feelings for petty politics. » Each words were thrown like daggers, very sharp ones with frostbite venom on each. « Here at the College we learn, we don’t play cape and daggers for morsel of recognition. »

    « The Arch-mage must be quite the researcher then to be at the head of such a learned coterie… »

    The cat took the bait « Not as much as J’zargo that is, but it is not his fault, who can be as talented as he ? But he must do his share of work, even if most of the time it is outside the College… for safety he say, but J’zargo think it is because he is humbled by J’zargo prowess.»

    How can something that look like a giant petting doll can be so full of himself was beyond me …

    Once we come across the open cloister again and through the big door of the main building, he made me wait a few minutes in the hall entrance. In the main room, the sound of a lesson going on was filtering through a big iron gate. A parched voice was letting a stream of advise going :

    « … and don’t forget to train ward casting repeatedly, unless you want me to practice some of my best healing spells on you the next time you ‘accidentally‘ catch a fireball. If Tolfdir waste his time teaching them at a first lesson it is for a reason. You won’t be laughing that much of the Restoration school the next time I tell you ! Take example to the Arch-mage, that was a diligent student ! Sturdiest ward I ever seen, can put it on endlessly and has a physical quality to it, almost look like a real shield, can even throw people around if he want to… »

    The cat came back. « He is waiting, get in ».


       The Arcaneum was smelling of old papers, millennia old dust and pepper. The reassuring smell of a library. Sat at a desk, a imposing figure looked are me from above a wall of scrolls and books lay out in front of him. My surprise was hard to suppress. That was a bloody orc ! The Arch-mage was a bloody orc ?

    « What do you want » Grumbled a voice from the massive hulk.

    « I wanted to meet you » I started meekly before regaining my composure. « I came from Cyrodil, to meet you, gave my compliments for what you have done… »

    « That’s not much » Short and undeveloped answers were a hint of a pretty small and obtuse mind.

    « Your humility do you great honor. But the Synod, that you may know I represent, know when to praise exceptional achievement. » He throw a bovine look at me, likely waiting for more.

    « We think that you will prove to be a great asset in here, a valuable one indeed. Winterhold is maybe a small college but your position is quite unique in the province even if it don’t have as much leverage as it should have. » He frowned.

    « I don’t mean no disrespect of course ! But I have met the locals and they don’t take what you do here seriously. A shame that there is not enough people like you and I here that can appreciate all a institution like yours could do to the common men and women. » Silence followed for a few seconds, time to let it sink in his trick skull.

    « But that could change you know… For the moment the College reach don’t go beyond its doors, but look at it that way : most of the mage at the Jarls court have been instructed here, am I correct ».

    He scratched the side of his head before answering « Some. »

    « Well that is proof of the excellency of your institution, a seal of quality even… maybe one that should be made mandatory you know, to be sure no imposter or raving madmen are too close to the power. I could picture already the Elder Council favoring such edict, if advised in this way. Think of it, a College mage in each court, giving true counsel regarding the way of magic and not clouded by some superstition. Individuals as close as can be to the decisions in the making, able to inflect and report on them. Such situation could be quite rewarding for the College as a whole and its headmaster in particular… and of course any third party that may have helped to get him in such position. »

    A long pause installed itself in the room. What I was offering him was more than we ever did to his predecessor, and more open too. But the subtlety and subterfuge where still there lay down behind every words.I was confident he won’t catch them all…

    « That is a interesting speech you gave… » He started « But should you not better discuss it with the Arch-mage instead of a simple Librarian ? »

    … I was so taken aback and startled that I fought to find my words for a full minute…

    « You… are not… the… Arch-mage ??? »

    « No, I’m the Librarian. You really are dull for a Imperial are you ? » My blood started to boil a little.

    « Then where the heck is he !? I’ve been led here and there since this morning and didn’t yet catch a glimpse of him ! Are you people hiding him or something ? »

    « No, but they prefer not to bother me until they are sure it is important… » A voice as soft as silk came from somewhere behind.

    I turned and my heels looking for the source of it.There, sat on a armchair in a pose a kind to a nobleman was the Arch-mage of the College of Winterhold. His garb was proof enough of his status, a robe of ancient fabric, trimmed with fur. At his side was put upright some staff of eldritch design, potent with power. He was casually browsing through a book with a leather parched cover. The overall picture was worth a painting.

    « Urag, you can leave us. You are not going to finish to file all of this before long so better you go eat something while we discuss with our most friendly visitor » The smile he put at the end was the most wicked I ever seen.

    The orc made way to the doors in the back, but stopped a moment before leaving…

    « If he touch anything… cut his hand »

    « Don’t worry my dear, I will keep a eye on him » The orc shrugged and mumbled before leaving « I’m a two hundred pounds of muscle with magic to burn a man to crisp at his fingertips. I’m not a dear ».

    I turned to face at last the man I was looking for. He was a Dunmer of tall and lithe figure, with a handsome face marred with a blue mystic tattoo. Every bit of him looked as if it had been designed to display a knowledgeable aura and authority.

    « You are good » I started « I am better » He replied in honeycoated words. I was hating him more and more by the seconds.

    « I meant every word I said to your Librarian, should you agree for such action you will… » But I was cut before I could finished.

    « Found myself in more problems than I can solve. You made yourselves very clear in your later presentation what a nest of spies you were looking to turn this College into, and even if I sometimes think the idea to be appealing, it is too much trouble for too little a gain. »

    « I never used the word… » Once again the rest of the sentence was abruptly cut.

    « … but you meant everything of it. Don’t misunderstand me it is a great Idea, from the perspective of political animals of your sort, but it would be a bad bargain for us, seeker of unaltered knowledge. Plus having to yield first hand any information to you would greatly depreciate the value of said information to other interested parties. I’m sure a practical mind like you would understand the business flaw in it… »

    Dumbfounded I stayed frozen on the spot for a few seconds.He got up from his chair and started to make way to the desk behind me.

    « Still you are free to remain here as long as you want, once I have informed my esteemed colleagues of your presence and business. All practitioners of the Arcane are welcome in this place, the greater and the lesser alike. With some luck you may even learn another thing or two regarding spellcraft before going back to Cyrodil ». The last sentence ringed like a insult.

    I turned sharply to face him. « If sweet words don’t reach your ears, maybe threats will. You are new to this and maybe you don’t understand the matter of the situation. Think about your little College, so far in the north, of what it could happen if suddenly apprentice and scholars stopped to came here, disheartened by some stronger authority ? And let’s not mention the possibility of your colleage research unable to cross the border of the province because of some sad customs policies that may suddenly be taken by the Elder council, on someone else advise. »

    Sharp laughter rippled along the bookshelves. « You think it is menacing ? Darling… I have bargained with daedras, haggled with the mad god himself, sold my soul to so many demons that they are up to a fine brawl when they will all came to collect it… And these are just the otherworldly matters I have to deal with. You do know we have something of a war happening here ? One with axes and broadswords that split your skull in half. We even have dragons now I heard. And lets not talk about the usual inconvenience that plague Skyrim even the rest of the time. No my dear you will have to find something better to threaten me or any member of this College. Even your political maneuvers would have little effect… so far up north as you say I could turn you into shoes and no one would be any the wiser before the start of the next Era ! » He laughed again at his jest.

    I was feeling outraged by his mockery, never had someone been so disrespectful to me, that a buffoon like him was so directly rebuking our proposal was unheard ! And the fact that such insult was made by this farce of a wizard with his flair of drama straight out of some vulgar play… »

    « Be careful, you are starting to think aloud mister… and I don’t like what I hear form your mind »

    His gaze was cold now, draining all warmth around me. I had heard a lot of things about him since the morning, but which ones to believe in ? Was he the destructive mage that can blast with thunder his foes or the prudent conjurer that stay away from the fight ? Was he a cautious healer behind a impenetrable shield or a flamboyant illusionist disappearing when the show was over ? Was he a smart diplomat or a rash adventurer ? Was he a dumb crook or was I not intelligent enough to see his wisdom ?

    And out of all of these possibilities… Which one was the worst for my immediate future and well being ?

    So lost in my thinking I failed loose sight of him for a moment, when I fixed again the space in front of me, he was gone. I felt something probe me in the back, it mimediatly made me jolt to the other side of the room. When I turedn it was to witness the awfull sight of a wraith gazing at my soul.He spoked again, just a few pace from me, cloaked in a spectral aurathat chilled me to the boe. In one hand he was waving his staff, a bizarre mesh of faces buzzing with contained power, with the other he was toying with the terrifying sharp eldritch dagger at his belt.

    « Stay out of the game while you are still ahead mate… » His voice had taken some new tones, hollow and deep, resonating in a sort of echo « Door is this way and if you run faster enough you will be back in your cuddly place in about a month. There you go tell your cronies what you saw and that we are not to be trifled with… now get off ! » a spark of power run from the staff to the nearest piece of furniture which vanished in the ehter.


    Step by step, without ever breaking eye contact or turning my back on him until I reached the exit of the Arcaneum, and then descending the stairs two by two I fled. In less time than I would gladly confess I was out of the vicinity of the College and run straight into only the tavern in town. I asked the barkeeper to find some coach to Whiterun and a bottle of his strongest mead.

    Sat at a table was a Dunmer of fairly indistinct look. Seeing my dress he commented « You’ve been to the college today right ? Place is full of crazies isn’t it !»

    « Yes » I gulped my drink to ease my nerves « And the worst must me their Arch-mage, couldn’t make out his business »

    « So you met my cousin then : Jojo Seloth that’s his name… quite a number I admit. »

    « Was he always like that ? I mean no disrespect but it looked like his proficiency in the Arcane has quite damaged his temper… »

    « Proficient ? You are kidding ? Jo must be the worst wizard I ever met ! Can’t cast a spell properly that man and could poison still water if you gave him a pestle and mortar. »

    I looked the man with intensity, not sure if I heard him correctly « You mean it is all but a show ? Just some smoke and mirror tricks ? »

    He gave me a look, sly sly « I can tell you since you look like a educated man, but it is just for looks. That is the only thing those nords get anyway… »

    « Then why no one has tried to get rid of him, I am sure that even the lesser apprentice there would be a more legitimate Arch-mage than him » My blood was boiling again under the effect of alcohol.

    « Well think about it… If a man can retrieve a legendary staff from some deadly barrow, stop a maddening Thalmor form leveling the surroundings, carry on quest of eldrich knowledge, in short doing all the tasks that but the more powerful wizards can do without being a mage at all… then such a man must really be the most powerfull wizard of Skyrim. »

    The End