Straag Rod: Book 1, Part 1, Chapter XII

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    Äelberon was lucky, only wolves interrupted his ride to Windhelm. Just after crossing the final bridge. They had taken down a goat near the edge of the River Yorgrim. With his leg healed, he was able to steer Allie effectively and they proved easy shots. His precision resulted in undamaged pelts, perfect to trade with, so he took the time to skin them. 

     

    It was the weather, however,  that was his greatest enemy and his body grew cold again while he skinned the wolves, the stew losing its strength, his hands stiffening, making it difficult to use his dagger.  He took a deep breath and shivered, drawing his cloak tighter around his body. He had not known such bitter cold since the second year of the Void Nights, when he was forced into the Jerrals by the Thalmor. He went to the only place they would not follow. The rest of Cyrodiil was far more temperate, and his beloved home was mild all year round, only cold on top of the highest peaks. He was getting used to it again, even liking the freshness of it, but it took such planning just to travel this land.

     

    He cleaned his hands of the wolves’ blood on the icy river, gasping in pain as the frozen water felt like tiny daggers piercing his skin, making them tremble, but he would not enter the city smelling like blood. Not a Stormcloak city. He loaded the pelts onto Allie’s saddle and mounted her, stuffing his hands deep into his cloak. He missed his plated armor, which covered his arms completely. His current steel set did not and the wind irritated his arms at times.  At least it was clear now, but the shadows grew long as the daylight waned. He urged Allie onward, they needed to reach the city before nightfall.

     

    The city of Ysgramor loomed ahead. While his home capital of Alinor was filled with grand towers of crystal and glass, Skyrim’s former capital was an imposing city of stone, grey and austere, practically built into the mountain, only accessible via a long stone bridge over the Yorgrim.  He rode up the snow-covered path to the stables.  Guards patrolled here too. They saw him approach and moved closer. He immediately slowed Allie down to a walk, raised both hands and cautiously approached, using his legs to guide Allie towards the guards.

     

    A Stormcloak took Allie’s reins, but not roughly. “State your business in Windhelm, High Elf.” His tone was professional, but Äelberon still detected a measure of disdain. The Northern Nords seemed to not favor outsiders. They did border Morrowind, and he was aware of the great Dunmeri migrations after the Red Mountain erupted.  He was not Dunmer. No, in the eyes of the Stormcloaks, he was far, far worse.

     

    “I come to Windhelm to trade and rest for the night.” He answered.

     

    The guards exchanged glances and whispered to each other. He grew weary when he heard them utter that word “Thalmor.” The first guard scratched his head. “Dismount, please, we have to search you.”

     

    Äelberon nodded. He was at least allowed the dignity to dismount on his own.

     

     

     

     

    Ulundil dropped his shovel hard when he saw the Altmer approach, his mouth wide open. He rushed quickly into his house by the stables, barely able to contain his excitement, his heart quickening. “Arivanya!” He whispered.

     

    She was cooking by their stone hearth, and it smelled wonderful, but he didn’t care. She needed to see. He didn’t even notice that he was trembling. “What?” She stared at her husband, why was he shaking so? “By the eight, Ulundil, you look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

     

    “Come outside.” He whispered, his voice shaky. “I think I have.”

     

    “It’s cold, are you mad? And I’m cooking!” She smiled, “Your favorite.”

     

    Roasted goat, it was his favorite.

     

    “Just come outside, you have to see...” He grabbed her hand and led her outside, making her drop her basting ladle in the process. “You have to see… Him.”

     

    Damn it, she was going to burn dinner. The goat would dry!

     

    They stepped out of their home, Ulundil gently leading his wife by the hand. Ulundil was not too late, He was still there. Standing in the snow, next to a black charger, bathed in the orange glow of sunset. The Stormcloaks had made him remove his helmet and he stood patiently; unmoving save for his long, silver-white hair, while they searched his saddle. When Arivanya saw Him, she let out a gasp, covering her mouth with her hands, and turned her face away, unable to look. Ulundil squeezed her shoulder. “It’s alright.” He reassured and Arivanya’s green eyes found Him again.

     

    Äelberon had heard the noise and turned slowly, facing the direction of the sound. His eyes met theirs for a moment and then he slowly turned away to stare straight ahead again. An Altmer couple was staring at him from the stables. Younglings by his account, he thought as the Stormcloaks continued to search him. They were both slender, the Mer clothed in a beige tunic and dusky green breeches, his clothes dusted with straw. A stable hand, his golden skin darkened and weathered from years under the sun, his hair a reddish blond. Possessing of a flat nose, and a broad mouth, he was staring intently at Äelberon with pale amber eyes. His wife was clad in a dress similar to Ysolda’s favorite and probably a distant cousin of her husband, for she sported the same shade of hair, bound in two pig tails, though her eyes were green.

     

    “It’s Him,” She whispered, bringing her hands over her shoulders to ward off the cold and to stay her excited trembling. She now knew why Ulundil trembled so. It was Him. To her, He reminded her of one of the Alinor kings of old, or perhaps even an Ayleid warrior, ancient and proud.

     

    “I know.” Ulundil whispered back.

     

    All young Altmer knew of Him. They, especially Ulundil, grew up reading of His tales and legends. Beautiful, illustrated books designed to inspire them, to make them want to serve their People, like He had done all those years ago. Ulundil, curled up in his grandmother’s arms by the warm fire in their cabin in Sunhold, listened to those books being read, touching the illustrations. He never had an actual name, they knew him simply as the Pale Elf, for there were none alive who was ever colored as he was.

     

    His skin was fairer than any Altmer and it was said that he was part Snow Elf, and his eyes, in contrast to his paleness, were the color of fire. From the mixture of races that were the true Southern Altmer of Alinor, he received his grand height and bulk, his square jaw, and hawk’s nose. He was the Slayer of Bet, a demon that terrorized Alinor during the Great Anguish. The Pale Elf was a great knight, a Knight-Paladin of Auri-El, the most holy of divine Orders.  His silver-white hair the symbol of his commitment to his Order. Some even claimed he was Trinimac reborn, so great were his deeds.

     

    He survived Crystal-Like-Law, but then faded from history and became only a vague legend, the subject of speculation and tales that were told to inspire the very young, and Ulundil had been inspired, for His were tales of a time where the Altmer were still ruled by Kings and Queens, where there was a fabled Tower of white stone and a crystal dome. The Thalmor claimed He had died years ago, yet there was no mistake, there He was. Standing at the Windhelm Stables.

     

    The Eagle of Auri-El.

     

    Another name for Him. He had so many names. They watched as the Stormcloaks continued to search Him.

     

    Arivanya was overcome with sadness. One of the greatest warriors her People had ever known, and He was being searched like a common criminal. “I cannot see this.” She whispered wearily, and disappeared into their home.

     

    Ulundil continued to stare.  After a few moments, the Stormcloaks finished searching His saddle. He remained unmoving, dignified.

     

    “Alright, you are free to enter the city, traveler. We apologize for any inconvenience, but Thalmor and Stormcloaks generally don’t mix very well, and you being a High Elf and all, well, we had to check.”

     

    The Grand Mer nodded.  It was such an elegant gesture, thought Ulundil,  “Understood. You were only doing your duty.”  His voice! Thought Ulundil, it was so low and he smiled in satisfaction when he heard a distinct Southern accent. The Pale Elf was pure Dusken.

     

    “That is kind of you,” acknowledged the Stormcloak guard, patting Allie, as if making an apology. He felt bad, the High Elf took the search without protest. Must understand the military and how things work and all.  “Many in this day and age do not understand duty and think us unfair.”  The guard pointed to the stables, “You can leave your steed at the stables. Ulundil will take care of her for you.”

     

    “Thank you.” Äelberon extended his hand to the guard, and they shook hands. Äelberon walked to the stables.

     

    Ulundil could only stare as he approached, his mouth open. He was so big. Xarxes’ arse, he was coming closer!

     

    “Excuse me, where should I lead my steed?” Äelberon asked.  Nothing from the Altmer and it dawned on Äelberon that this youngling recognized him from the children’s books. They still read them, even now? Bless the youngling. The Thalmor could say whatever they wanted, he still slew Bet, and many Altmeri grew up listening to the stories.  He repeated, “My horse, where do I lead my horse?”

     

    Ulundil snapped out of his shock.  “I’m so sorry, Knight, uh Priest, Your Eminence, here, uh, you can bring her here. The warmest stall in all of Windhelm. I will give her extra hay and oats and an apple.” Ulundil took a deep breath, an apple? Don’t be such a bumbling fool around this grand Mer!

     

    Äelberon led Allie to the stall, but first pausing to draw a steel long sword and shield from the horse’s saddle.

     

    By the Eight, gawked Ulundil, he even moved differently than everyone else. With such grace and control. Was it true? Did The Pale Elf walk the great Chantry of Auri-El in Alinor and not even blink once? He only needed to walk it once. None had ever done that before or since. Altmer did not move like this anymore. “Is there anything else you need, your Holiness?”

     

    “Well, that is a new name.” And Äelberon suddenly let out a hearty laugh, his eyes cheerful.  “You have called me Knight, Priest, your Eminence, and now your Holiness?” He smiled. “If you start calling me Trinimac, so help me…”  He laughed again, and put his hand on Ulundil’s shoulder and turned the young Elf to him.  “I am only a simple Mer, my good Youngling, not a god. Ha! Far from it, the way I indulge.”  He squeezed Ulundil’s shoulder and spoke again, his smile growing warmer.  “By Auri-El! It is indeed very good to see another Altmer.”  He extended his armored hand to Ulundil, and the young Elf took the Pale Elf’s hand and shook it. He was shaking the hand of the Pale Elf. The Slayer of Bet. Arivanya was never going to believe him. “Youngling, my name is Äelberon of Dusk. Äelberon is fine.”

     

    Ulundil bent his head and spoke softly, ashamed to even ask, “Knight, would you do us the great honor of sharing our evening meal with us?”

     

    Äelberon smiled at the young Elf. He was so earnest and good-natured. And young! Scamp’s Blood, to be that young again! The world at your feet and not yet touched by life’s bitterness.  Long gone were those days for Äelberon. It was a kind invitation, but he needed to search for the library. He would offer the youngling an alternative. “I cannot share this meal with you and your wife, as I have pressing business within the city, but I promise I will break fast with you in the morning, before I leave for Riften.”

     

    “You would?” Ulundil’s eyes lit up.  That the Pale Elf would even consent.

     

    “I would. Auri-El’s peace be with you, youngling.” And the Pale Elf began crossing the bridge to Windhelm. Ulundil stood for a few moments and then remembered himself, running like a wild Mer into his home, calling for his wife. They had so much to do!

     

     

    The guards nodded their heads as Äelberon approached the city gates. There was a measure of respect now. Guards communicated quickly amongst themselves. But he overheard two guards whisper as he opened the great gates of the stone city of Ysgramor.

     

    “Is that him?” Asked one.

     

    “Yes, the Jarl said he would be pale and tall.” Whispered another as he leaned towards his comrade.

     

    “Wonder what the Jarl wants with him?”

     

    “I don’t know, only that he is allowed into the city.”

     

    Ulfric lived.  Äelberon hesitated a bit, pondering the news and then went inside. Large braziers dominated the stone courtyard and directly ahead was an inn. Behind the inn, looming large was the Valunstrad, the Avenue of Valor, home to some of the oldest Nord structures in Tamriel, including the Palace of Kings. But it was an altercation in the courtyard that drew his attention. Two Nords were harassing a Dunmer woman with ashen skin, red eyes, and dark hair, dressed in greenish farmer’s clothing. Obviously gentlefolk. He watched carefully to ensure that she was not harmed.  A large Nord in a brown tunic spoke first, with a bushy light brown mustache, forming a partial beard. He was obviously very drunk. Äelberon groaned, the stupid things done from too much drink.  

     

    "You come here where you're not wanted, you eat our food, you pollute our city with your stink and you refuse to help the Stormcloaks." The Nord complained, his tone aggressive.

     

    "But we haven't taken a side because it's not our fight." The Dunmer protested.

     

    Äelberon did not quite agree. A side would need to be picked. If you are living in Skyrim, you are involved in the conflict, be you Nord or not. He continued to observe the conversation. Another Nord spoke, clad in nothing but a roughspun tunic. A beggar it seemed, though Äelberon noticed the occasional wheeze when he breathed. Probably an injury, as he was otherwise hale. His face had the look of one who had perhaps seen battle in better days.

     

    "Hey, maybe the reason these gray-skins don't help in the war is because they're Imperial spies!"

     

    Äelberon almost laughed. That was preposterous. They were both drunk. Äelberon did not like the direction of their conversation. "Imperial spies? You can't be serious!" Cried the Dunmer, but Äelberon could see her begin to pale. 

     

    The first Nord spoke again, his tone becoming more menacing with a hint of something else. "Maybe we'll pay you a visit tonight, little spy. We got ways of finding out what you really are."

     

    That did it, and Äelberon frowned, he did not approve of what was said. He knew full well how Men perceived Elvish women, and it was clear now that the Nord was being lewd. “You will do no such thing, Sir.” He spoke, his voice low and commanding. His words immediately got their attention.

     

    The Dunmer stared, an Altmer, but unlike any she had seen before. He had no fear of these Nords, but by his dress, he was no Thalmor.

     

    The Nord turned to Äelberon, his breath reeking of alcohol. "You.” The Nord pushed his finger to Äelberon’s armored chest, “You a Dark Elf lover? Get out of our city, you filthy piece of trash." 

     

    The Dunmer looked at the High Elf, who betrayed no obvious emotion, only a steady gaze from his fiery red-orange eyes. Was he a noble? From one of the great houses of the Isles? He put a hand upon his silver-stubbled chin and thought for a moment as he rubbed it. He spoke again.

     

    “I do not like your tone, Sir.” Äelberon said, still calm. It was time to teach this Nord a lesson in manners.

     

    "Don't like it?” Retorted the Nord. “Too bad. This is our city. Ours! Don't think I can take you?” Äelberon smiled slightly. That was what he was waiting for.  “One hundred septims says I can punch you back where you came from." Challenged the Nord.

     

    “The Summerset Isles are very far away, Nord.” Äelberon replied, barely suppressing a smile, “If you can indeed punch me that far, verily you have the hands of Ysgramor himself.” He gave the drunk Nord a once over. “However, I find that highly unlikely. I would be surprised if you could even punch straight, so drunk you are with mead.”

     

    The Nord furrowed his brow and scowled. This Elf DARED insult him? Wait until his brother found out about this, but it wouldn’t be necessary. He’d wipe the floor with this high and mighty Elf. He watched as the Elf laid his weapons against the large brazier that dominated the front of the city. He did note the Elf’s bulk, but dismissed it. Elves can’t fight. A small crowd had gathered by then, talking amongst themselves. Äelberon nodded to the Nord.

     

    “I accept your challenge for the honor of this Dunmer lady you have insulted. For no gentlewoman deserves to be treated in such a manner.” 

     

    The Nord glowered and the Dunmer looked worried. The High Elf was going to brawl Rolff Stone-Fist.

     

    "All right. Fists only. And none of that magic stuff, either.” Stated Rolff.

     

    “It would be dishonorable and against my Order to fight unfairly. Rest assured, friend Nord, you will only get my fists.” The Elf smiled slightly, “’Twill be enough, I assure you.” He then paused, “Ah, let me then remove my gauntlets, so that is indeed the case. I had forgotten.” Rolff stared at the Altmer as he removed his gauntlets and placed them next to his weapons. “Aye,” The Elf nodded, “Now the fight is truly fair. Skill against skill.”

     

    “Let's go!" The Nord put up his hands and Äelberon followed suit. He had not brawled since Whiterun. Against Uthgerd the Unbroken, a Nord warrior at the Bannered Mare. She insisted and he could not deny her request for he knew that she was a warrior. And then there was Mikael. He was supposed to brawl him. Again, for the honor of a gentlewoman, only it never got that far, the boy wet himself.

     

    Uthgerd, he smiled remembering her. At least she took it like a man and they became fast friends afterwards, joining their crowd at the Bannered Mare. Jon Battle Born, Ysolda, War Bear and Adrianne, Sinmir, and now Uthgerd. They were a rowdy bunch, exchanging stories as Saadia and Olfina Grey-Mane served food and drink to the Nords. Sometimes, they were joined by members of the Companions and even Hulda stopped on occasion to sit near their table to listen to the tales they told.

     

    He went towards the Nord readying a strong right hook. He dodged a weakly delivered upper cut. He sighed, he would not be surprised if the Nord punched himself he was so drunk. He let the Nord take a few more swings at it. He wanted to be encouraging, and then Äelberon’s right fist hit its mark.

     

    Hard.

     

    The Nord flew across the stone floor, landing with a low groan. One punch was all took. When Äelberon taught a lesson, it was usually quick and to the point. He hoped the Nord had learned. The Nord lay on the floor and Äelberon extended his hand to help him up. “What have you learned today, friend Nord?” Äelberon asked.

     

    “Not to dishonor women, be they Elf or Men.” Rolff Stone-Fist gasped, the wind still knocked out of him. By Ysmir! If he was called Stone-Fist, what was this High Elf called? He hit like a damn bear.

     

    “Very good.” Replied Äelberon and he helped the Nord up and received 200 septims for a bet won. He would donate this to the poor.

     

    The Nords left, their mood sour, leaving the Dunmer behind. “Thank you,” She said, though Suvaris knew that Rolff and Angrenor would be in the Grey quarter late at night to harass the Dunmer no matter what this warrior just did. The gesture was kind, however, and she was pleased to see that there were those who still stood for honor.

     

    “Do not fret, I do not hate the Dunmer.” His gaze was kind, “What can you tell me of this city? I have never been here.” He asked as he retrieved his weapons.

     

    “There are three main sections.” Suvaris began. “The Stone quarter’s got most of the shops and stalls for trading. Also the inn and the Temple to Talos.”

     

    Äelberon raised his eyebrows as he put on his gauntlets again, his hands feeling the cold somewhat. “They openly worship Talos here?”

     

    “Yes,” She replied.

     

    Äelberon smiled, Ulfric was certainly stubborn. He liked the man, despite his flaws. He had proven himself a very capable warrior when they escaped Elenwen together. When he felt better equipped, he would seek him out and have words. The skirmishes around Whiterun were getting worse and he personally wished the war over, regardless of the Companion’s neutrality policy. But now it was the library and rest. “The other sections?” Äelberon pressed.

     

    “You have the Avenue of Valor, and over there to the other side,” she pointed east, and her tone grew bitter, “The Snow quarter, though now the Nords call it the Grey quarter. It is a slum, dirty and filthy, and they do not allow us to leave it.”

     

    “I see.” So the Dunmer in Windhelm were now getting a taste of their own medicine. He had not seen any Khajiit or Argonians. He doubted they would even be let inside, not for the violence by the Nords, but because the Dunmer were a prideful people, like any other Elf. Khajiit and Argonians had been kept as slaves in Morrowind and the Dunmer frequently did violence to them. The cycle never ends. So utterly pointless.  “Is there a place to stay for the night?” He asked.

     

    “Candlehearth Inn.” She replied.

     

    “Thank you.” He nodded politely and turned towards the Stone Quarter, though it was only to pass through. He had a feeling the library would be somewhere in the Avenue of Valor… the Valunstrad.

     

     

    It had just turned dark, and no one seemed to notice the Altmer and the husky as they left the Stone Quarter, going up the steps and past the graveyard, its headstones covered with a layer of snow and ice. He entered the walkway that marked the Valunstrad, with its moss-lined fence, gates, and tall columns topped with lit braziers. He actually liked the architecture. The combination of wood and stone was appealing to him. Very different than the quaintness of Whiterun or the simple wooden cabins of Riverwood.

     

    Äelberon shivered, the night air had turned frosty and he was feeling it. If he didn’t find something soon, he would need to give up the search for the night and take a room at the inn. He continued down the walkway, scanning the houses that lined it, searching for an opening, a depression in one of the walls; anything that would betray a door way or opening. Even a misplaced tile? It could be underground. He stooped to the floor and removed a gauntlet, squeezing his hand to circulate the blood. He slowly traced the tiles of the walkway, feeling with his sensitive fingers for any sort of depression or notch. Nothing. Damn it. He stood up and replaced his gauntlet, the fox fur lining easing his freezing hand.

     

    He was at the last house to the left. No lights came from it. Abandoned?  He walked carefully to a window and tried to remove the frost that covered it to peer inside, but it was stubborn, caked in, like it had not been scraped in quite some time. He peered in, squinting, but he saw nothing. Koor went ahead, and began to howl to himself softly. Äelberon turned to him, the dog had found something.

     

    And there it was. At the very end of the walkway. Almost hidden amid the grandeur of the Valunstrad, a discolored portion of fence. His eyes narrowed as he approached. As if the fence had been hastily repaired. He arrived at the fence and knocked; first at the original fence. Solid, for stone was behind it. He then knocked over the repaired portion. The sound was markedly different.

     

    Hollow.

     

    It was open on the other side. But how to open it? Wait… He scanned above. It was designed to rotate from its center if he applied… pressure. He placed both hands on the left side and gave a gentle shove. It gave. Ever so slightly. He turned suddenly. Was anyone watching? His heart pounded with excitement, but he was no sneak. A quick scan of the area revealed no one, except one guard, but his back was turned. If he was quick and quiet enough. He held his breath and pressed the fence again and it gave more, opening. He did it just enough to let him and Koor silently slip inside. He turned and closed it again, letting out a heavy exhale.

     

    It was a tiny room and someone lived there. There was a small cot on one end, above it was a makeshift shelf with a strong box. In the center of the tiny room was a small cooking fire. He picked up piece of bread from the tiny table next to the cooking fire and smelled. Fresh… he put the bread down and slowly drew his weapon, but then sheathed it, thinking better on it. If someone was there, it was for the library. He would not do violence to a fellow scholar or adventurer. He did not want treasures, only to read its contents and then be on his way. To his left was a ladder that led into a tunnel deep into the ground. He slowly stepped on to the ladder and began to climb down, holding his breath as his feet fell silently upon the ladder’s rungs.

     

    The ladder led him to a small chasm and he heard the sound of a pick axe. Someone was digging. He approached slowly and he could see him, his eyes widening. It was the drunk from Cyrodiil… “You?” Äelberon exclaimed.

     

    The man immediately whirled to face him, his eyes crazed with greed as he put down his pick axe and picked up a Dwarven axe that lay nearby. It was the Elf… he remembered, his face slowly contorting with a frenzied rage. No one would have this library. A tavern in Bruma. He had been drinking heavily, and he maybe said too much to this Elf that now stood before him. It had been three years! Three years and the Elf had found the library too. No, it was his treasure, his treasure… “I won’t share with you!” snarled the Nord, letting out a terrible cry as he began to violently swing his axe. 

     

    Äelberon raised his hands in an attempt to reason with the frenzied man. “Listen, I do not want any treasure, I just want to read the books. Please.” He dodged a blow from the axe. “I do not want to hurt you!” Koor was barking loudly from above, ready to jump down. “Koor, stand down,” Commanded Äelberon as he looked at the man, “Look, we can talk. Put down your axe.”

     

    “You want the treasure! I know you do! Now die!” And the Nord swung the axe again, grazing Äelberon’s left arm.  He winced at the pain, and then quickly dodged another swing. The man then grabbed a torch from the wall sconce.

     

    Äelberon of Dusk, the Mer who read and memorized the entire contents of the Great Library of Crystal-Like-Law then held his breath, his heart filling with dread. Very little frightened him, but the destruction of such a treasure?

     

    “Another step and I’ll burn your precious books!” The beggar screamed, almost tossing the torch towards an opening. “I’ll do it, I swear! It’ll all burn! ”

     

    Äelberon stopped, his hands in the air, he was breathing hard, his voice low. “Do not throw that torch... Please.”

     

    “Drop your weapon.”

     

    Äelberon hesitated.

     

    “Do it or by Talos! I will burn all the books down! Gold does not burn and I could care less about musty old books!”

     

    Äelberon unsheathed his weapon and let it fall to the ground.  

     

    “Now, turn around,” Commanded the Nord. “No one can know you were here.”  Äelberon slowly turned around, his hands still raised. “Now, kneel,” Continued the Nord.

     

    Äelberon knelt and felt the man approach. He was close behind him, ready to swing the axe. He could feel his breath against the back of his head. And suddenly Äelberon fell face first to the ground…

    He used his hands to brace the fall, grabbing his sword, as the axe missed him by mere inches. With a fluid motion of his legs, he righted himself and grabbed the Nord by the shoulder, his blade in his other hand, forcing the Nord to drop his axe. His eyes blazing as he stared down the Nord, his face dark with anger. “I did not want to kill you, but I am as His scribe and will protect knowledge.”

     

    The Nord cringed when he saw the Elf’s face, but he slowly began to draw a dagger from his belt. The treasure was his…

     

    “You do not know what the true treasure of this place is. Your heart only craves gold, but that is not treasure, it is only metal. You will never threaten knowledge again!” Äelberon hissed as he ran the Nord through with his sword, making him drop the dagger that had been poised to pierce Äelberon’s side.  The Nord fell dead at his feet, and Äelberon quickly grabbed the torch and put it out, sighing in relief, feeling suddenly a bit weak in the knees. He knelt for a moment, breathing heavily. The Nord would have burnt down everything. Poetry, plays, histories… all that beauty? All that knowledge? For a few septims? It had made him angry, and he rarely angered. But he had seen the destruction of such things before. He closed his eyes. 

     

    “Koor,” He called weakly. The dog climbed down the ladder and ran to his Master, whining. “I am alright, boy.” He soothed as he rubbed the dogs ears. “Just in shock. I only need a moment.”

     

    It took a few moments for him to center himself again. He did not usually lose control of his emotions like that and when he did, it left him drained. He had not even noticed the dagger. To the very end, the Nord was going to kill him. Äelberon was not even armed.  For gold. He slowly stood and began to walk down the path where the Nord had been digging and he could smell it. The familiar smell of leather, paper, and ink mixed with wood.

     

    He drew in a sharp breath, his mouth falling open. A large chamber, square, with a tall ceiling, at least the height of five Altmer and one more wide. All covered with a rich wood paneling, and each wall was lined with great shelves. Filled with books. Thousands of them. Scamp's Blood! He was going to be up all night…

     

     

    23rd of Evening Star, 4E 201

     

    Äelberon woke with a start, still seated at the librarian’s heavy wooden desk, with its many shelves and nooks, amidst stacks of dusty tomes, his face pressed hard against an open book. For a moment he did not quite remember where he was. He groaned softly, his neck was extremely stiff and his left hand was asleep as it dangled from the desk without support.

     

    How long had he been sleeping?

     

    He stared at the candles, still very groggy, his vision blurred from sleep.  They had not burned far since he changed them last. So not long, perhaps an hour or so? He was guessing it was morning already. He yawned slowly, and squeezed his eyes shut tight and then opened them again to clear his vision, his eyes focusing sleepily on the candles’ flickering flames. With effort, he lifted his head from the desk, the book sticking to his face before it fell upon the desk, and he could see the writing had been smudged. He felt his cheek with his finger and sure enough there was a bit of ink. He grinned. It was not the first time he had fallen asleep upon a book.

     

    Morning? MORNING!

     

    He sat up straight as a board, wide awake. The couple at the stables! Damn it!  They must be waiting for him. He stood up roughly, scraping back the chair with a hard sound in the process and quickly donned his cloak. Äelberon rushed from the library, a heavy-lidded Koor dragging behind, howling softly to himself in protest.  He almost fell climbing up the ladder and he had to help Koor up, no easy going, for the dog was sleepy and uncooperative. He pushed open the repaired fence carefully, letting himself out into the Valunstrad.

     

    The hard, icy blast of wind caught him by complete surprise and he gasped. It was cold at night and the pale morning sun brought no relief on this gusty day. He gathered his cloak tighter about his shoulders and walked briskly towards the gates of Windhelm, keeping his head down, though his eyes still watered in the wind.

     

    He was getting the occasional stares from the citizens of Windhelm. Did he look that bad? He walked to the stone quarter and paused briefly at the smithy. It was empty and the water of the cooling trough was still. He gazed down at his reflection. He was indeed a sight. Unwashed. His left arm was still blood-stained. His hair disheveled under his helmet, eyes tired and watering, stubble heavier, and his right cheek had ink on it. He tried to wipe the ink off with the back of his gauntlet, but to no avail. He would have some explaining to do. He was not very “His Holiness” this morning, more like “His Sloppiness.”

     

     

    Ulundil waited, leaning against the wall of the stables, beaming as he enjoyed the icy morning air seeping into his lungs. He was probably the only Altmer who actually liked the cold. He smiled. Ah, there He was, walking quickly towards the stables, His gait brisk and strong. The husky close behind his fair Master. Ulundil inhaled, savoring the sweet smells coming from the house. From Arivanya’s cooking pot and oven.  Arivanya had outdone herself this time. She had been up very early cooking. Baking rolls and treats. She even took the time to gather snowberries and make a sweet juice, for they both knew He did not corrupt His body with alcohol. It was the best breakfast she had prepared in months and He would share it with them.

     

    The Pale Elf walked up the steps to the stable and extended His hand to Ulundil. “I am sorry if I am late.” He spoke, His voice slightly breathless.  He looked terrible, yet at the same time exhilarated. His eyes, despite their fatigue, were keen and bright.

     

    “You aren’t late, my wife was just finishing up. But you did not sleep? What’s that on your face? And your arm?” Ulundil questioned, pointing at Äelberon’s bleeding left arm.

     

    “Ulundil, slow down a bit. It is a long story and one I will gladly tell when I come inside, but…” He hesitated, staring at his hands and his arm and then bringing them down in exasperation. “I cannot be in your wife’s presence in this state. It would be disrespectful.  Is there a place where I can wash?”

     

    “Of course, your Eminence.  In the back, there is a basin with water. It is cold, but it is clean. Come, I’ll show you.” Ulundil led Äelberon to the back of the stables where there was indeed a large tub of water.

     

    “Thank you,” Äelberon nodded at Ulundil and he knelt and began to remove his pack. “And Ulundil, please. Just Äelberon.”

     

    The young Elf nodded.  “I will leave you to your washing. We’ll be inside if you need anything, your Emi--uh… Äelberon.” Ulundil smiled and left Äelberon alone.

     

    Äelberon began by removing his gauntlets, setting them gently to the side of the tub. He then removed his helmet. He would not wear that in their house. His pauldrons came next. He then began to unlace his cuirass from the faulds and cuisse that separated the top half of his armor from the bottom half. He shivered violently when he finally removed his linen tunic; his flesh suddenly exposed to the icy air. He could not help but gasp hard. He left on his boots, his greaves, the leather cuisse, and the faulds. No sense exposing that sensitive part of his body to the chilly air. He laughed, t’would be the death of him! He found Tilma’s soap in his pack and unwrapped it from its linen. She had a few varieties and he liked the one scented with Frost Miriam. It was a light, clean scent that did not overwhelm. He chuckled to himself, that he bathed as regularly as he did puzzled his Shield-Siblings to no end.  

     

    He knelt near the tub and drew water with both hands. He laughed again as the icy drops slid down his bare flesh and he could not control his shivering.  He would freeze, but by Auri-El he would be clean for this meal. It was obvious from the smells that Ulundil’s wife had taken time to prepare a feast for him. He would not arrive at her home filthy. His stomach rumbled as he continued to wash his face and body, using the soap and rinsing with more icy water, seeing pale red drops fall upon the snow. Pale red?

     

    Ah, the wound.

     

    He could not let her see that either. It was extremely difficult to focus his magic in the bitter cold, and it took several attempts, but with some effort, he healed the cut.  The children’s stories also noted his glow. He chuckled, ‘twas just the healing aura, but he would cast it so they could see. That took a few more tries, but he got that spell to work as well and Äelberon was now cast in a golden aura that highlighted his features. Ah, he wished he had his old armor and weapons, to give these good Mer the full effect.  Do not think on that now, Old Mer, they will understand. He removed from his pack a clean linen, and a clean tunic, drying his body with the linen before putting on the fresh tunic. He then slowly, with stiff fingers, began to relace his cuirass and pauldrons, leaving the gauntlets for last.

     

    His hair.  It was a mess, but at least the bitter cold kept it from dampening in his helmet and cuirass. He removed from his pack a simple wooden comb. He had made it very soon after he woke up, whittling it out of a small block of wood with his skinning dagger, while his Shield-Siblings told stories around the fire of the great Mead Hall. It had been his first evening meal with them, on the 10th.  Beef stew he remembered fondly. A Middas. If his bathing puzzled them, the attention he gave to his hair puzzled them all the more. They had a hard time fathoming that its condition was tied to his Holy Order. They had never had a priest in their ranks. He stopped short, shaking his head. If he kept going, he would play that entire day’s events in his mind and that would cost time.

     

    Thinking on his hair, he would take the time to rebind it, he thought as he began to undo the leather lacing.  When his hair was unbound, he carefully placed the leather lacing in his pack and began to comb it, removing the tangles with patience. The breeze made things a bit more challenging as he set the comb upon his thigh and retrieved the lacing, for his hair moved slightly with the wind. A little wind never stopped him, though, and he gathered part of his hair and began the binding process, wrapping the leather lacing tightly, until the top-knot took shape. He worked quickly, for over two hundred years with the same daily ritual made him very efficient. He smiled when he caught himself subconsciously reciting his tenets. With the excitement of the library, he had not unbound his hair the night before. It was his soul’s way of telling him to complete the task. He had much to be thankful for today, he thought as he finished. The library was discovered and he was, for the first time in a very long time, welcomed into an Altmeri home. To see smiles from his People again.

     

    It did not matter that they worked the stables, he would show them the proper respect. When he finished, he packed his belongings and donned his cloak, adjusting his hair slightly so that some of it fell over his shoulders, a contrast against the darkness of the bearskin, so they could see the length. Two hundred and forty-three years of growth, the symbol of the passage of time. He was not a vain Elf, but he knew what his culture demanded of him. He put the bow, shield, and pack away with Allie. No weapons. He gave her a warm pat on the neck. She looked well-rested, ready for Riften. He smiled and gently held his helm in his left arm. Äelberon then left the stalls, walked up the steps to Ulundil’s home, and knocked on the door. She answered, as was custom.

     

    “Priest,” she said, her head bent in reverence, her hand gesturing to a table, where a feast was indeed set.  Her heart pounded in her chest, she hoped He would be pleased.  “Welcome to our home.” 

     

    He nodded and slowly followed her inside. She made a move to close the door, but Äelberon did not let her, shutting the heavy doors himself. She led him to his seat, the head of the table. He knew Ulundil had given up his seat for his guest, and Äelberon nodded to him in respect as he took his seat. He was to direct conversation. Ulundil was to his right, and his wife was to his left.

     

    “Your name, gentlewoman?” He asked, as he took the earthenware pitcher next to him and filled her empty tankard, as was the custom of his people. It was snowberry juice.  He was moved beyond measure. He did not deserve such respect.

     

    “Arivanya, noble Priest.” She replied, her head still bent.

     

    “Please, Arivanya, look at me.”

     

    She looked up and met his eyes. He was stunning. Not handsome, actually rather ugly by Altmeri standards, the scars dreadful to look at, but he was still stunning. In the sense that he was such a grand Mer, so imposing. There was no warrior in all of Summerset like him, and they had thought him dead. 

     

    Bah! He was so intimidating to look upon sometimes. His face too hard for such gentlefolk, too ugly to look at. Very ugly. It frightened them, he was sure, the scars. He did his best to soften his features before continuing.  “Call me Äelberon. I am uncomfortable with titles, and am really a very simple Mer. I am from Dusk, the son of a blacksmith and a fishermer. There is no nobility in my line. Circumstances and hard work made me what I am, but I am no better than you. I like my honeynut treats and my smokes as much as any other good Southerner does.”

     

    Ulundil grinned at his wife with the Priest’s last remark. See, if the Priest could enjoy a smoke, he could too, take that, love! 

     

    “You have prepared a beautiful table, Arivanya. I had sorely missed a fine Altmeri meal and you… you, the two of you” His voice broke a bit with emotion and his eyes misted over, “…have given me a taste of home. Something I have not had in many, many years.”  He then took their hands in his, cleared his throat, and bent his silver-white head as they followed suit.  “Let us pray…” He began, as was custom.

     

     

    Äelberon decided not to travel to Riften today. He had ample supplies and it could wait for the morrow.  Arivanya had even given him a basket full of the delicious rolls and sweet treats she had made, and two bottles of snowberry juice. He was content, they were lovely Mer. Not just for the food, but for the company. Since he left the Isles, he had not spent much time in the company of his own people, and almost never under such pleasant circumstances.  His usual encounters were with the Thalmor Justiciars and they all wanted him dead.  Koor was not far behind, whining, begging for one of rolls. They reached the middle of the bridge and Äelberon stopped and eyed the dog from the corner of his eye.

     

    “Koor?” He asked, his eyebrow cocked.

     

    The dog barked and howled softly as he circled and shifted.

     

    “Are you begging?” Äelberon asked.  He chuckled when he heard the low howl. It sounded like a drawn out “No.” There were days when he actually thought the dog made speech. He knelt and rubbed the dog’s ears.  “Not yet, boy, but when we get back to the library, I promise.”

     

    He roughly patted Koor’s head and then continued to cross the bridge. They had some unfinished business at the library and the heavy meal had made him very sluggish. He had not eaten like that in decades. That, with his fatigue, would make a poor traveling combination. He knew his body well, and it was complaining today.  He needed to rest or he would make a mistake, and mistakes in Skyrim were deadly. Perhaps later in the afternoon, if he grew restless in the confines of the library, he would take Allie for a ride and explore a bit. Besides, he could feel the snow in the air and the skies had turned grey while he was eating with Ulundil and Arivanya.

     

    He entered the city and made his way through the Stone Quarter to the Valunstrad. Again, he had to eye the guards carefully to time his entrance to the library.

     

    He descended the steps pausing for a while at the corpse of the drunk. He turned grim and knelt beside him, closing the drunk’s eyes. He had not wanted to kill him. He would bury him today, the challenge would be getting him out of the city.

     

    He continued down the path into the library.  He had another body to deal with as well. The librarian, Balranus Medices. He had found his body hanging near his desk, or rather his bones, with a journal. It was a tragic story, there was indeed an earthquake, and it sealed him inside the library. They could not reach him in time and he took his own life. When he moved the bones, his spectre appeared and had been roaming the library.

     

    And there he was now, standing at one of the shelves, rearranging spectral books. He did not harm Äelberon, nor did he speak much, except to list the order of various books, as if he was cataloging them.  Balranus needed his soul to be released and for that, Äelberon needed fire. But the first priority would be to get the drunk out of the city; however, the doors of the library were indeed sealed, so the only exit that he knew of was the repaired fence. That was not an option. There had to be another way. Koor’s bark suddenly brought him back from his musings.

     

    Ah, he had indeed promised.

     

    He set the basket down upon the desk and removed a sweet roll from it. He turned to the dog, who was now clearly begging, his tongue lolling from his mouth, twitching with excitement, talking nonstop; and he held up the sweet roll.  “Ah, my Koor, the very dog that fights sabre cats and trolls with the ferocity of a thousand wolves, is begging for a sweet roll. Do you realize how undignified this is?”  He grinned at the dog. He was met with a loud, low howl that trailed off.  “You do, don’t you? And yet… you care not. But…” His eyes twinkled with mischief, “I demand payment.”

     

    He knelt so that he was eye level with the dog, holding the sweet roll in his hand. The dog talked softly and licked his Master’s cheek. “That is a good boy,” and he placed the sweet roll in front of the dog and patted his head roughly.  Koor held the precious sweet roll between his great paws as he lay down, the hind half the last part to settle to the ground, and began to lick it, savoring it.

     

    With the dog now in his own little plane of Aetherius, Äelberon did as he did when he searched for the library, he began to scour the room for any sort of notch or depression, anything that indicated a doorway. He was positive the drunk did not enter and exit the library during the day using the fence.

     

    He looked everywhere, even feeling the floors for a loose panel of wood. He tested the various cabinets and wardrobes; nothing, until he came to the final wardrobe, just next to Medices’ desk. He opened it and it revealed a small room with a small bed, a chest, and a shelf. But something had caught his eye. A hide that covered the floor did not lie smoothly. It was covering something. He knelt down and moved the hide, revealing a trap door. He removed a gauntlet and inspected the wood. This was freshly made and it did not match the construction of the original library. He left the gauntlet on the floor, while he pulled the trap door’s knob and it opened with a creak of wood and metal, revealing a ladder, descending into darkness. He heard running water.

     

    Äelberon felt breath on the back of his neck. He turned to Koor, who was peering nosily over his shoulder, sweet roll crumbs clinging to his muzzle. “Could not resist, eh?” Koor snorted.  “Well I am going to need a torch for this, so you are going to have to bear with me for a few moments before I satisfy our curiosity.”

     

    He had one in his pack, which was leaning on one of the legs of the desk. He quickly got up and headed to the desk, and grabbed the torch, which was strapped to the bottom of the pack. He smelled it, aye, the oil was still fresh. He rummaged through the pack for a bit and found the flint to light it. He walked back into the room and again turned to begin his descent. Koor was facing him, head bent to one side.

     

    “Are you ready, boy? More ladders.”

     

    Koor barked and Äelberon patted his head. He began his descent down the ladder, his feet again silent upon the rungs.

     

    He could hear the water very clearly as he descended, an underground stream feeding the Yorgrim? He felt stone beneath his feet and his hands, and when reaching in the darkness, felt the coldness of more stone, jagged, but not sharp. He was in a stone cave now. Äelberon struck the flint against the stone and aimed the sparks towards his torch, which blazed immediately. His eyes adjusted to the warm orange light. Indeed, a stone cave. This was here before, no possible way the drunk could have carved this. He had been there though, the torch revealed a rickety wooden bridge and a ladder that betrayed his past presence. The ladder followed a small waterfall down. The spray from the waterfall hit his cloak as he descended down this second ladder. Koor did not descend and watched his Master climb down into the darkness, talking to himself as his eyes followed the light of his Master’s torch.

     

    “You are done with ladders today, eh?” Another bark.  Äelberon smiled to himself. The dog had a mind of his own.

     

    He could smell the freshness of the wood. The ladder had been made very recently, and the drunk had not been down it yet, as the rungs were still clean. What was he searching for? He felt hard stone at his feet and the cold stream danced about his ankles, seeping through his armor and chilling his feet. He moved the torch slowly to view the chamber and there he saw it. A large chest and a skeleton. He set the torch down on a patch of dry ground, and knelt at the chest, the icy water now covering his knees and thighs, making him shiver.

     

    Äelberon removed a small shiv and some lock picks from his belt, and slowly began to pick the ancient lock. His Elven ears attuned to the slightest sounds.  With a rusty creak and hard gust of dust, which made Äelberon sneeze several times, it gave and the chest flung open. He grabbed the torch and peered inside.

     

    If the drunk had been looking for money, he would have been sorely disappointed, for the chest yielded no gold or jewels, but a staff and a book. The staff was a grand weapon, dark colored, with bands of ivory and its head was in the shape of a Man or Mer, he could not tell in the dim light, who bore ram’s horns.  His heart pounded hard in his chest, his excitement building. Something was familiar about this staff. He set it down carefully and took the book, holding the torch so he could read the tome, his eyes squinting in the weak light.

     

    The Staff of Hasedoki...

     

    He almost dropped the book when he read the name. By the Gods! Hasedoki! A mage of great reknown, Dunmer, but this staff was thought lost to the world, when Dagoth Ur blew...

     

    He knew his history, this was a grand staff from Morrowind. 

     

    It could not be...

     

    Only one way to know for sure. He set the book down gently and slowly stood up, wielding the staff and pointed it to use its power. A flash of light and he was greeted by the spectral form of Hasedoki himself, his spells charged. So it was true! He had indeed captured his essence into the staff? Spectral mage and warrior exchanged glances. Äelberon unwielded the staff and the mage relaxed his stance, his spells no longer charged. Äelberon then drew his sword, and sure enough Hasedoki assumed the stance of a battle mage, both hands now charged with spells.  The spectre did not appear for long, perhaps a minute, before he disappeared, to be channeled again when the staff was wielded. Äelberon knelt again, and put the staff back into the chest for now, his heart continuing to pound hard with excitement.

     

    Did a refugee hide it here?  He examined the skeleton more closely, holding his torch to the bones. He traced the lines of the skull with his fingers. Dunmeri… Ah, the poor soul, he had died to protect it. He knelt and was sorry, he did not know.  It would need to be safeguarded for now until he could find an appropriate final place for it. It belonged in a museum or… a college? What was the equivalent of the Mage’s guild in Skyrim?

     

    “Winterhold,” He spoke aloud.  When he had more time to devote to study, he would journey to the College and deliver the staff. For now, it would be safest with him as he did not care to abuse its power and the warriors of Jorrvaskr would know nothing of the weapon. He could not leave it here. He picked up staff and book and carefully, carefully made his way up the ladder.

     

    He ignored the bridge for now, the priority was to keep the staff safe, so he made his way back to the main room of the library and mounted the staff onto a weapon rack. He then walked to the desk and set the tome gently upon it, his long fingers moving over the worn leather binding. Now it was time for the bridge. What other secrets did this library hold?

     

    He descended the ladder again and this time he followed the bridge. It buckled a bit under his weight. If he wanted to continue using it, it would need reinforcing. Koor attempted to follow this time, but Äelberon bade him stay. He would not risk injury to the dog.

     

    Crossing the bridge revealed a pool fed by the mountain run off and the water continued to run off towards a tunnel. He knelt by the water’s edge and dipped his hand in the water, expecting it to be chilly. No, very warm to the touch… as a bath. The ground must be heated below for the water that came from the run off was indeed frigid. The floor of the pool was very uneven, some parts were his height deep, others only fell to his ankles.  He walked across the shallow part and entered the tunnel. The drunk had been here, he could see fresh mud tracks along the path. He quickened his pace and sure enough, there was another ladder, this time caked with mud and ice, the rungs worn from use. He climbed the ladder, sword ready.

     

    With effort he opened a second trap door and peered outside, blinded by a sudden snow squall. He was just outside the city. This was how the drunk entered and exited the library. He must have discovered this, passageway and then built the trap door and ladder. He closed the trap door and made his way back to the library. He now had a way to get the Nord out of the city and give him a proper burial.

     

    It took him well into the afternoon to carry the Nord across the library, down the ladders, and through the path leading to the second trap door. Having a shovel and the Nord’s Dwarven axe with him did not make things any easier. He gave the trap door leading out a good, hard shove, for snow had accumulated since he was there last. It was still squalling outside. He did not have much time.

     

    He bore the body up a ways, toward the wall of the city and began to dig through the snow. His shovel then hit the hard ground. Frozen. Damn it. He thought for a moment and had an idea. He charged his left hand with sun fire and aimed it at the ground. The icy ground responded to the spell and melted, allowing him to resume his digging until a proper grave was dug.

     

    It was part of his duty in the Tower, funerary rites, preparing the dead, so he did his best with the poor soul before him. Äelberon had clothed the Nord in a spare linen tunic and laid him upon the grave gently. He rested the axe over his chest and then upon his chest he placed a coin purse. Äelberon had filled it with several hundred septims and a few precious stones; the “treasure” that was lying around the library.

     

    All of it.

     

    Äelberon did not need it. The pieces of gold and little stones were not the great treasures of the Library of Windhelm. The Nord did not understand this in his life, hopefully he would understand this as he entered Sovngarde. Äelberon wondered what the Nord would have done with the Staff of Hasedoki?  Sold it to whomever had the coin, with little regard to what their intentions were? Äelberon sighed. He stooped and kissed the Nord’s forehead as was the custom of the Nord people before he began to fill the grave.

     

    It was said that the ancient goddess Kyne did this as she led warriors to Sovngarde.

     

    A kiss at the End.

     

    With a sudden heavy heart, he made his way back to the library. The Nord was not the only one to be laid to rest. The poor librarian needed peace as well…

     

     

    He reread Balranus’ journal, setting it down upon the desk when he finished, and he rubbed his stubbled chin. He had wanted to be burned, but where? He turned to the Balranus’ spectre, who was continuing to catalogue spectral books. His bones were where Äelberon had left them, right below where Balranus had hung himself.

     

    “I promise, I will help you.” He spoke.

     

    The spectre ignored him and kept on with his books. There were limited fire sources in the library. There were wall sconces, which he had to light when he got there, and there was the cooking pot in the small room just when he entered from the repaired fence. Obviously not there. The last was a brazier, but it was long unable to produce fire from its cold coals, and he did not have the oil to spare to rekindle it.  It was near the collapsed entrance of the library. He stared at it for a few moments, scratching his head. Then he got an idea. It worked for the ice, and it worked for bodies. It was what he used to send his Altmer brother and sisters to Aetherius.

     

    He got up and walked toward the brazier and noticed a change in the spectre. He had stopped cataloguing books and was now watching Äelberon with interest.  Would the Divine flame of sun fire rekindle an old brazier? Especially to put the dead to rest? He charged his left hand and cast the spell. It immediately ignited the brazier. With the brazier lit, he gently picked up Balranus’ bones and laid them upon it. He then charged sun fire again, while saying a prayer for the soul of the dead man. He cast the spell and the bones vaporized into dust, as the divine light in the brazier went out. He heard a voice and turned.

     

    “Thank you...” Said Balranus.

     

    "I commend your soul to Aetherius, as is my duty as His Priest. Go in peace."  Äelberon nodded as the librarian slowly faded into nothing, his soul finally at rest.

     

    He walked back and sat quietly at the desk for a few moments; satisfied and reflective, Koor lying at his feet.  Äelberon was not sure what to do about this library. The journal had mentioned Ulfric in passing, but he was but a babe at the time and would not remember. It was the Civil War that gnawed at him the most. He knew full well what war did to both Men and Mer. They forget the beauty they create and only seek to destroy with blind eyes. All either for money, territory, or simply out of spite.  He ran his fingers over the smooth leather bindings of the tomes on the desk, and his face darkened. If this library was found during a siege or battle, it would be burned down and everything lost.

     

    “No!” He thundered, pounding his fist hard onto the desk.

     

    He could not let that happen. For now, he would not reveal the library to anyone, and he would work in his spare time to collect any missing volumes and make repairs. When the war was over, and Skyrim was at peace, then… then he would reveal the discovery.  

     

    Äelberon felt the fatigue creep to his bones, he imagined it was nearly evening by now. He stood from the desk, took his pack, and made his way to the small room near the entrance. He pushed the door ever so slightly and the waning orange light let him know that it was just past sunset. He sealed it again and turned to the small cooking pot.  After starting a fire, he knelt, grabbing a waterskin and proceeded to fill the pot with water to bring to boil. He then carefully removed a small satchel from his pack, and from it, he took a small pouch of ground canis root. Tonight would again be spent amongst the books, and such nights begged for strong tea, he thought with a wry grin. He set the pouch on the small table and placed the satchel back in his pack.

     

    Staring at the pot would not make it boil, especially in this weather, and he wanted to rest his body. Barring his hasty frozen bath at Ulundil’s stable, he had been in his armor since he left the Hall of the Vigilant. He wanted to be rested for Riften. He pulled from his pack fresh linen, the soap, his monk’s robes, and a pair of soft leather shoes and he went back into the library. He knew where he was headed. Warm and inviting, as a bath.

     

    He descended the ladder in Balranus’ former quarters, and carefully crossed the rickety bridge, Koor close behind. He let the dog pass this time, for he had a better feel for its safety.  He stopped when he reached the pool. He considered himself a clean Mer, and to not take advantage of a hot pool in the middle of frigid Skyrim would have been foolish. He removed his armor and placed it near the entrance, along with his linen tunic. He then unbound his hair, reciting his tenets as he did so, the leather lacing laid upon his brown monk’s robes. The armor and the tunic would be washed and dried later. He shivered again when his skin came into contact with the cool air, and holding the soap, he crossed his hands over his shoulders as he began to step gingerly into the water.

     

    All that build up for nothing, you Old She-Elf!

     

    The water was far warmer than he expected. This was going to be a luxury indeed and Koor looked up as his Master gasped when the warm water seeped into his tired bones. “Do not make faces at your Master. You would be wise to get in here too, dog.”

     

    Koor retorted with a loud snort and a low growl as he put his head on his paws and watched.

     

    “Fine, be filthy.” Was his Master’s reply as he bathed.  When he finished bathing, he allowed himself the luxury of a good swim. Just enjoying being in the water again, like he used to do when he was home. The Beaches of Dusk. Äelberon then waited, partially submerged, enjoying the water’s warmth, his eyes full of mischief. He waited for Koor’s eyes to close. The dog was nodding, nodding, and then his eyes closed. 

     

    Äelberon then quickly moved his hand over the water’s surface and the dog bolted as a jet of warm water hit him square on the face, and he laughed hard at the dog's howls of protest. There was always good sport in teasing Koor. He had often teased Fal that way too. Ah… Fal, he sighed.  He was a good tro--.  

     

    He didn’t expect the dog to leap into the water with such enthusiasm. “Wait, wait,” Äelberon cried, laughing, grabbing the dog. He began to undo the dog’s armor, while Koor squirmed and paddled. “You need this off, boy.” He laughed as he pried the buckle loose.  “There you are,” and he let the dog go as he tossed the armor next to his own.  Were his robes wet? He quickly scanned a corner near the entrance. No… they were still dry.

     

    Äelberon submerged completely and dove to the bottom of the pool, leaving Koor paddling at the surface in circles. His eyes blinked a few times as he adjusted to the dim light of the water, his silver-white hair suspended. He had missed swimming so. He continued to the bottom of the pool and realized he had guessed incorrectly on its depth. It was about twice his height in depth. He hovered over the bottom, and felt the stone with his palm carefully.  Warm, almost hot to the touch.  Like an oven brick. Must be molten underneath this stone. They were very close to the volcanic flats, hot springs like this would be common. He continued his underwater exploration for a few moments, his breath held. Some spots were significantly colder though, especially where the run-off from the Yorgrim hit the pool and he felt the current. He swam slowly to the surface, and finally let fresh air fill his lungs again. Though he was loathe to leave the warmth of the water, he pulled himself from the pool and quickly dried himself, his teeth chattering. The water in the pot would be boiling about now.

     

    When dry, he donned his robes and boots and his bearskin, and then made his way back to the small room with the cooking pot. The water was indeed boiling, and he removed the pot from the rack, and placed the pouch of ground canis root into the steaming water. As he let the tea steep, he dried his hair and combed it over the cooking fire. He was not going to last long, for the water had already relaxed him a great deal and the strong tea would be the death blow tonight, he smiled, pouring the steeped tea into a tankard.

     

    It was not a bad way to die.  He took a slow sip, savoring the brew, his eyes half-closed.  He would have to harvest some canis root for Keeper Carcette while he was at the Rift. She had been most generous.  He felt a muzzle poking at his back.

     

    “Done playing, eh?” He whispered as he sipped his tea.  Koor nuzzled his Master, seeking the flame to dry off his fur, and Äelberon shifted his position to allow the dog to lay by the fire.  “Yes, Koor, you are wise, this is the smarter place to sleep tonight.”

     

    The dog had excellent instincts. While the bed was far more comfortable in the librarian’s quarters, there was no heat source nearby. They needed the heat. He rested with Koor for a few moments, sipping his hot tea and stroking the dog’s fur, letting his mind lazily plan his future.  Riften would be his destination tomorrow and he would seek the advice of Dinya Balu. He would leave early tomorrow morning.

     

    Planning finished, he thought with a chuckle. 

     

    He finished his tea and set the tankard down, his eyes heavy with sleep as he sat watching the flames dance and crackle, lost in mindless thought. As soon as he had stepped into that pool, he knew there would be no reading tonight, just resting. He had already separated the most important tomes on the desk. Those, he would take with him back to Jorrvaskr. Schematics on Elven and Dwemer smithing techniques. Those had been the great prizes of the Windhelm Library other than Hasedoki’s Staff.  Tucked away, in one of the bookshelves.  If he found moonstone, he could finally craft Elvish weapons. He would also show Eorlund and Adrianne the tomes when he returned. No doubt they would be of interest to them. There were other books, books that were dear to him that he would bring too...

     

    He felt himself nodding off.

     

    He should go clean his armor now, but he was too far gone for that sort of job. In the morning. In the morning. He chuckled to himself. Lazy. Off to bed with you now, Old Mer, and he wearily rose from the chair and lay down on the cot, his cloak covering his body, his dog taking his place at his Master’s feet and the two kept each other warm as sleep quickly overtook them.

     

     

    24th of Evening Star, 4E 201

     

    They helped him pack his saddle as a light snow fell over the Windhelm stables, the flakes like delicate crystals in the predawn morning. The flames of the braziers casting the stables and snow with a warm glow. The steam coming from their mouths in gentle puffs as they worked. Two guards stood silently watching the three High Elves. They had known the stablehand and his wife for a few years and never had they behaved this way. They smelled the smells coming from their humble home for a full day and Arivanya, the She-Elf, emerged from the door with a sack of rolls and cheeses for the traveler.

     

    The stable hand, Ulundil, was no less busy, for he had spent the prior day grooming that black charger carefully, reshodding her shoes, and cleaning saddle. The Guards watching were always taught that the High Elves were a selfish, cruel people, but there they were, almost lovingly sending this traveler off. Sure, he was a fellow Elf, but there were other High Elves in Windhelm that they did not treat the same way. It was a touching scene and the guards didn’t quite know what to make of it while they observed, but they remembered the sendoffs their families had given them before they became Stormcloaks. What the Elves were doing for this pale traveler was very similar.

     

    Ulundil spoke while he helped Äelberon load the saddle onto Allie’s strong back. The horse snorted, she was rested and eager for the road. Koor was also restless, shifting constantly, muttering to himself.

     

    “You will return?” Ulundil asked.

     

    “Of course, friend.” Äelberon smiled, as he slid his long sword onto its slot in the saddle.

     

    “Good,” Ulundil patted Äelberon’s shoulder. “Where are you headed?”

     

    “Riften.”

     

    “Take the road southeast, but on the way, stop at Kynesgrove. If I remember, there is a mine there. Malachite. Not sure if that interests you, but seeing as you use a forge, I thought I’d mention it.”

     

    “Malachite is for glass weaponry, and yes, I would find that extremely useful. Thank you.”

     

    “Äelberon?” Ulundil turned to him, as they both stood facing Allie’s saddle.

     

    “Yes, Ulundil?”

     

    “Be careful in Riften. It’s where the Thieves Guild hangs their hat.”

     

    The Old Elf smiled, “I will be careful, Ulundil.”

     

    “Äelberon?”

     

    “Yes, my friend.”

     

    “There’s a giant camp in the vol—“

     

    Äelberon turned to the youngling and asked, his eyes kind. “What is it that you really want to ask me, Ulundil?”

     

    The young Elf hung his head low, “I’m sorry.”

     

    “Do not be sorry, I understand. Now ask. You have been bursting to ask me something since we met.”

     

    And Ulundil asked, the question pouring from his mouth rapidly like water bursts from a dam.  “Uh, What was Crystal-Like-Law, I mean, well what was it like?” His eyes curious, hoping for an answer, but he was also sorry he had asked.  It was too dark a question.  Most Altmer no longer spoke of the Tower openly, for it was too deep a pain for their people. But he so wanted to know and there were so few left who remembered.

     

    Äelberon drew in his breath and thought for a moment while he slowly stroked Allie’s neck. He then let out a great sigh. The young Elf could see Äelberon’s eyes darken and mist just a bit at the flood of memories; his face suddenly distant and sad. Had he overstepped and asked something too painful? He was about to stop Äelberon and apologize, when the Old Mer spoke.

     

    “My words will fail me, youngling, for my simple words lack the grace to describe Her with justice.” He turned to Ulundil, “but I will do my best.”  He cleared his throat and his eyes intensified as he remembered.   “She stood tall, our Great Lady of the North.  The clouds forming a mantle about Her head and shoulders. Her walls were white as snow and glistened in the sun’s rays. She was adorned with winding stairs and fair balconies, decorated with the gardens of purest Springtime. She had thousands of rooms; deep forges that molded the finest of Altmeri weapons, lavish studies for the great mages that dwelled within Her walls, barracks for Her guards, museums, and a grand, grand library with the volumes and artifacts of 6000 years of existence. Upon Her head was a great crown. Each jewel of that crown was an ancient tomb for our Aldmeri ancestors, and on the top of the crown was a glittering crystal dome.  That crystal dome, a thing of unsurpassing beauty, cast the colors of the sky upon the tombs and filtered light down all the way to the Tower base with the faint, faint glimmer of Aetherius that we who dwell Mundus are blessed with each day when we see the sun and the stars. Filtered it down so that we may be reminded of its joy, that we may know a little of the divine in our mundane…” His voice trailed off. “Ah, Ulundil, my words do indeed fail me.” He whispered bitterly, suddenly shaking his head.  “I have no gift for speech. Not to describe such things... I cannot continue...”

     

    “Oh! But you do! You do! I have never heard words like yours before! So beautiful…” Ulundil’s eyes filled with wonder.

     

    “Yes She was beautiful, beyond words, but Ulundil, understand this. Buildings fall. Ancestors are buried and are lost to us. Artifacts are destroyed and,” He smiled a sudden, small knowing smile, “…some that were thought lost are found again. We can love and appreciate the beautiful things we create and by Auri-El I do, more so as I am His priest and have sworn an oath to protect and preserve this knowledge. But… things, Ulundil, are finite.”  He looked up and watched the snowflakes fall.  “We are finite. What makes us Altmeri is ultimately not our things; not our buildings, not our libraries, not our great cities of glass and crystal…”  He put a hand on Ulundil’s chest.  “What makes us Altmeri is this.” He pressed on Ulundil’s chest. “Our hearts.”  Then he touched Ulundil’s forehead, “And this… our minds and our souls, not our things.” He continued, “Nothing can destroy that. Not hordes of Daedra, not war, not internal bickering… nothing.”

     

    Ulundil saw the older Mer’s jaw set hard and his brow furrow darkly at the final “Nothing.” Ulundil then nodded, it was all he could do. After a few moments, Äelberon broke the silence, his voice now resolute.

     

    “Come, my child, I need to be off and the air is chilly.”

     

    He quickly mounted the black charger, as Ulundil stepped away from the great beast, patting its strong neck one last time. Arivanya had been standing at the doorway the entire time, listening to his words, a fur cloak about her shoulders. She gazed at the Pale Elf, and he met her gaze as he raised his right hand in the air slowly to her in a gesture of farewell.  "Auri-El's many blessings, friends."

     

    He then turned his eyes to the road, his profile strong, and the tendrils of his silver-white hair that escaped the confines of his helmet moved with the wind; the snowflakes beginning to dust his cloak. He was tall upon his saddle and with a squeeze of his strong legs, the charger began to trot slowly away from Windhelm, the dog close behind, his head low.

     

    This chapter features the mod "The library of Windhelm" by Nahkin

    I also take some liberties with the function of sun fire.  

    Straag Rod Book 1 ToC

    Chapter XI    Chapter XIII

Comments

16 Comments   |   SpottedFawn and 1 other like this.
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  April 12, 2016
    Thanks, Idesto. 
  • Idesto a'Shinbira
    Idesto a'Shinbira   ·  April 12, 2016
    I love the way you write with different characters' as they perceive Aelberon, thus showing your readers differing aspects of his character from their viewpoints; for instance the adoration of Ulundil and the respect of the guard. You also highlight his r...  more
  • Tolveor
    Tolveor   ·  March 24, 2016
    I just love this story. Now i want a batcave of my own beneath windhelm to!
  • Ebonslayer
    Ebonslayer   ·  October 26, 2015
    So I'm almost right
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  October 26, 2015
    Thank you AHamann. I appreciate it. 
  • Habana
    Habana   ·  October 26, 2015
    When I get time later today I'll read through the rest of the story, I was just curious so I had to read this one
  • Habana
    Habana   ·  October 26, 2015
    This flows really well Lissette, and I got to admit I really enjoyed the relationship between Aelberon and Ulundil, I feel like Aelberon is going to be a fantastic main protagonist to follow along.
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  October 26, 2015
    @Ebonslayer - He actually has a form of Hyperthymesia, which he calls an "affliction of the memory". It's a condition where there is very detailed autobiographical recall. So, no, he doesn't have a photographic memory, but if you give him a date, he will ...  more
  • Ebonslayer
    Ebonslayer   ·  October 26, 2015
    Does he have a photographic memory to remember the contents of all those books?
  • Rhoth
    Rhoth   ·  October 14, 2015
    Almost forgot to like this one.