Straag Rod: Book 1, Part 1, Chapter XIII

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    Ulundil gave sound information, noted Äelberon as Allie trotted away from Kynesgrove towards the volcanic tundra. The small hamlet’s mine yielded plenty of malachite ore and the greatest treasure; in a hidden corner of the mine, a crafting book for glass armor and weapons. He would craft the youngling a fine glass dagger as a gift for his hospitality and for his wife, he would ask Eorlund Grey-Mane if he could use his tools for jewelry, so he could make a comb for Arivanya’s hair. He had not made jewelry in a long time.

     

    Nearly twenty years, since before the last time he saw Anwe, when he had returned, when he finally was able to look upon it. The tomb. He felt the lump in his throat and the sting in his eyes and quickly suppressed the bitter memory. He could not think on that now, it was too much. Over one hundred years later and the grief still, at times, was too much to bear. It tore at his very soul that they were forever apart. That he had not yet avenged them.

     

    It had stopped snowing while he was mining ore and now the sun was bright upon the landscape. It was dryer in this part of Skyrim and sprinkled sparsely with shrubs and lonely pine trees. Ironic considering that the landscape was also dotted with numerous springs of water. These springs yielded little life, however, as their mineral content was far too high and their heat too intense.  The wind carried a slight sulfur odor, and hot steam escaped from fissures in the rocks. To his left along the road, were the foothills of the Velothi Mountains, which formed the border between Skyrim and Morrowind.

     

    He brought Allie to a halt and took a waterskin from his saddle bag, pausing to drink. He then removed a small earthenware cup and poured water for Koor, bending low on his saddle so the dog could reach to drink. That was when something caught his eye.

     

    Äelberon saw her from a distance. She was running very quickly. But not fast enough. He squinted in the glare of the morning sun to get a better glimpse. His brow furrowed when he saw what pursued her. A creature of heat and flame, nimble and deadly. He drew his Orcish bow, his face grim.

     

    They dared cross into this plane!

     

    “Koor!”

     

    The dog immediately changed when he heard the dark, deep tone of his Master. Gone now were the games and the mischief. This was battle and Koor responded immediately, with bristling fur and gnashing teeth. Allie was learning too, her ears going back as she shifted her weight, waiting for her Master’s legs to give her the order. He squeezed and she began the charge with a roar, fearless.

     

    She was running, out of breath, out of time, her dark skin flushed with the Daedra’s heat and her body screaming in pain. Calvus lay dead, his body burned by the Flame Atronach that was now pursuing her. She still had her sword. She made a quick turn and swung, striking the Atronach hard, but it was resisting the banishment enchantment that all Vigilants carry in their weapons. She did some damage, but not enough. There was no more running, the Atronach was readying a fireball and she knew she would die. She then heard the savage roar of a horse and a man’s fierce battle cry and both Daedra and Vigilant turned to face the source of the sounds.

     

    It was a great black charger, clad in armor, galloping at full speed. Next to the horse sprinted a large husky, his teeth bare in a vicious snarl. Upon the horse was a rider, clad in steel and a cloak of bearskin, his powerful arms drawing an Orcish bow while his legs steered the horse. At first she thought Nord, but the height betrayed him. High Elf. He let his arrow fly and it struck the Daedra, making it stagger, but not killing it. He readied another arrow, and called to her while he barreled past on horseback, separating her from the Atronach.

     

    “Heal yourself! Now! I will distract it. Go! Quickly!”  He then passed right by the Daedra, and she could see him grimace when some of the Daedra’s fire fell upon him. He shrugged off the pain and his face darkened with a righteous anger as he addressed the Atronach directly, showing no fear.  “Come for me, Daedra, for I have sent armies of your kind back to Oblivion!” The Elf challenged, rearing his horse, its loud roar echoing in the volcanic tundra.

     

    He readied it for another hard charge, steadying it with the reins in one hand as he held the bow in the other. The Atronach screamed in rage, now recognizing the Daedra Slayer, and launched her fireball, which the Elf quickly evaded on horseback. It then became a deadly game as the Atronach shot fireballs while the Elf, acting as an obvious decoy, weaved the great black charger in and out of the Atronach’s path of fire, kicking up dust and small rocks in their wake. The dog also played the deadly game, herding the Atronach closer and closer to his Master. 

     

    Äelberon’s plan was working well, he was luring the Atronach away from the Redguard.  “That is it Daedra!” He growled, his red-orange eyes blazing, boring into the Flame Atronach, “Come to me! Come to me NOW! You know who I am!”

     

    She quickly cast a healing spell and watched in disbelief as Elf and Daedra faced off. The Elf again drew his bow, readying himself to lead his horse in another charge towards the Daedra. The Atronach slowly backed away from the galloping horse, feeling fear. In response, she readied a fireball and shot. It just missed the Elf by inches, parts of his cloak singed by stray flames. The Elf was undaunted and continued his relentless charge, a thundering battle cry escaping his lips when he fired his bow. The Elf’s arrow again was true and the Atronach staggered. Perhaps now, the Redguard thought? The Elf seemed to read her mind, and called to her, his firm voice issuing a direct command.

     

    “The sword, quickly! Strike it down now!”

     

    Tavia ran up to the Atronach from behind, her sword drawn, as the Elf readied a third arrow and the Atronach launched another fireball. The fireball struck near the horse’s feet and exploded, singeing animal and rider, bringing the horse to an abrupt stop as it screamed in pain and reared with great force, nearly throwing the Elf, resulting in him misfiring. Ignoring his own pain, the Elf regained control and readied another arrow, and for the third time his aim was true, striking the Atronach.

     

    “Now!” He cried and Tavia swung her sword.

     

    And it worked, the Atronach was engulfed in the purple-black flames of Oblvion and disappeared, leaving only a residue of orange powder behind. She breathed hard, and put her hands on her knees while the High Elf controlled his horse and approached, his back tall. She watched him dismount and immediately his left hand glowed with healing magicks to heal his horse. When he finished, he walked towards her, his left hand raised at the elbow, and his hand glowed again, the singe marks on his face quickly disappearing.

     

    Even for a High Elf he was very tall, and not of slender build. His face was proud, much paler in skin tone than their typical golden hue, and it carried the weight of many years with its lines and scars that crossed his firm cheekbones and aquiline nose. He had the beginnings of a silver beard and his lips had the characteristic fullness of his people. But his eyes were his most arresting feature. Sharp and wise, the deep red-orange an unusual shade. His paleness and silver-white hair making them standout further. He was gradually coming down from the rush of battle and his features softened somewhat when he approached, as if he knew that he would be intimidating if he greeted her in his current state.   He raised his right hand and spoke, his tone now calm.

     

    “Blessings of Stendarr be upon you.”

     

    She let out a heavy sigh and raised her right hand in response.  “And also with you.” She managed, still catching her breath.

     

    “Are you injured?” He asked, checking her with his eyes. She was very young, Äelberon garnered, with skin like clay and coarse, black hair, in the page style commonly worn by her people. Her eyes were startlingly blue, a contrast against her coloring. Saadia had similar blue eyes. Some Redguards did.

     

    “No, I was able to heal.” She answered.

     

    “And your partner?” He asked, quickly scanning the area.

     

    She looked at him, so he knew the ways of the Vigilants? He was not clothed as one. “He fell.” She bent her head.

     

    “I am sorry. May he find peace.” The High Elf nodded. “Where were the two of you headed?”

     

    “South to the Beacon.” She replied, straightening her back as she sheathed her sword.

     

    Äelberon paused for a moment, his hand rubbing his chin as the Vigilant began to gather her supplies to continue her journey alone. He then turned to the Vigilant and extended his hand. “I am Äelberon of Dusk. There is room on my horse. I will take you there.”

     

    She took his hand and they exchanged a firm handshake.  “Tavia, I am called Tavia, your offer is too generous. I cannot accept.”  The name was familiar to her, but she couldn’t place it. 

     

    Äelberon crossed his arms over his chest. Ah! Vigilants could sometimes be a stubborn lot. Refusing aid. He understood, part of the Order’s philosophy was to persevere if the situation was difficult, but there was a point when it made them a bit stubborn and unwilling to consider different options. That was why he never joined, though he was offered high positions within the Order several times. Part of it was that he was already a Knight-Paladin of Auri-El, and that Order, though far more austere than the Vigilants in many ways, allowed him the flexibility to deal with the menace of Daedra and the undead as he saw fit.  He worked with the Vigilants many times in Cyrodiil. The Vigilants and the Silver Hand. All had a common goal, though his relationship with the Silver Hand was short-lived. He despised torture, for it was against his Order and they used it.

     

    He regarded the Vigilant. She was young and inexperienced. No, he would not leave her alone in the wilderness, even if he had to pick her up and throw her on his horse himself, he was taking her to the Beacon. Hopefully he would not have to resort to that. He rubbed his chin again, he had to choose his words carefully. He had to make it seem like he was not trying to help her.

     

    “I was heading to Riften,” He started, “to the Temple of Mara to consult with the priestess there, but I am new to Skyrim and I have fought under the banner of the Vigilants for many years in Cyrodiil, though I am not part of their Order. To see the great Beacon would be an honor for me and it would be certainly worth the detour. Look…”

     

    Äelberon removed his helmet, revealing a head of silver-white hair, slightly damp from the prior battle, and the severe topknot of a priestly order. He beckoned the Vigilant closer to him and parted his hair, revealing the back of his muscled neck and he stooped low so that she could see. Tavia peered, tattooed upon the nape his neck was a small symbol, a golden sun with rays. He covered his neck again, straightened to his full height, and continued, holding his helmet in his left hand.  “See, I am a Priest, of Auri-El, yes, but I also revere the entire Altmeri Pantheon, and Stendarr is a God of honor among the warriors of my people. I wish to take His blessing at His great shrine in Skyrim.  Perhaps, if it is not too much trouble, you can guide me there?”

     

    She thought for a moment, kicking a stone with her foot. He had saved her life, to help him make this spiritual journey was something she could do to repay the debt.  “I will guide you to the Beacon.” She replied.

     

    It worked, Äelberon smiled and took the Vigilant’s hand again, shaking it.  “This is appreciated, thank you.” He then gestured to the black charger.  “We will travel far faster this way. Hmm, but first, where did your comrade fall?”

     

    She pointed a short distance away, to the side of the road that bordered the mountains.

     

    “Show me.” He beckoned, and the two walked.

     

    Tavia turned away when she saw the corpse. It was too much for her young eyes. Burned beyond recognition, for he had pushed her out of the way and absorbed the full blast of the Atronach’s fireball. Calvus saved her life.

     

    Äelberon knelt at the body and sighed, his hand resting on his thigh. Perhaps an Imperial? He could not tell for sure. The smell of burned flesh was heavy in the air and he called to Tavia.  “In the saddle bag on the horse’s left, some cloth, twine, and hide.  Fetch these, please, and bring them to me.”

     

    She went immediately back to Allie. The Vigilant’s sword was at his side, near the burned stump that was his hand.  She returned and knelt beside Äelberon, handing him the items.

     

    “Good, thank you. Now, let us wrap him in this gently.”

     

    “Why?” She asked, her head tilted to one side.

     

    Äelberon looked at her; she was indeed very young and did not understand.  “Because he comes with us. I will not leave him here for the beasts to tear him apart. He died defending Mundus. He will buried at the Beacon. Now help me wrap him.”  They wrapped the Vigilant’s body and then gently carried him to Allie.

     

    “Will the horse be able to bear all three of us?”

     

    “Yes, she is a strong animal.”  They loaded the body towards the back of the horse, and secured him with the twine. He then placed the Vigilant’s sword atop his body and secured it as well.  “Are you ready to leave? Have you all your equipment?” Äelberon asked as he gave the twine a firm tug to test its strength.

     

    “Yes,” She replied.

     

    “Good. Mount the saddle towards the front. I have one more thing to do.”  She mounted and inched as close to the horn as comfort allowed. This was a large Elf, he would need some space. She watched as he removed a small satchel from his saddle bag and then walked a short distance to where the Atronach had fallen, his husky following him. He stooped and began to harvest a fine orange-red powder from the road, placing it inside the satchel. He closed the satchel tightly and stored it in a smaller saddle bag.

     

    “What is that for?” She asked, unable to contain her curiosity.

     

    Äelberon gave her his helmet to hold as he mounted the horse, just behind her. He uttered a low grunt as he adjusted his fit in the saddle. They both fit, barely, but the hard part of the saddle was now jutting mercilessly into his thighs. It would be an uncomfortable ride. He took back his helmet and put it on again.  “Hand me the reins, please.”

     

    She handed him the reins.  “Well?” She pressed.

     

    “Patience, child...”  She could feel him smile behind her neck.  “Reach into the saddle bag towards the front there. There is food, help yourself and then hand me an apple. You will have to be my hands for this journey as I am now too far to reach.”  She handed him the apple and could hear him take a large bite.

     

    Äelberon was starved, but then he paused before taking another bite when he felt the Redguard tense up against him. She was uncomfortable and frightened. To her, he was a stranger, male, and he knew the trials women faced when they traveled alone. His voice was calm as he reassured her.  “I am a Priest, Tavia, and sworn to protect the innocent. On my honor, no harm will come to you.” He smiled, “Besides, I am rather old. My years for such pursuits are long past me now.”  She relaxed and he continued.  “Now, why did I harvest the fire salts?”

     

    Finally! Was this an Elvish thing?

     

    He took another large bite of the apple.  “Not a marksman or a smith, eh?” He asked as he slowly urged Allie forward.  The horse snorted, but took the extra load well and moved forward, gently, as to not disturb the body.

     

    “No,” Was her reply.

     

    “Well, I do both. You have your sword that banishes these foul creatures from our plane. I do not yet possess these weapons as I arrived in Skyrim with naught but a roughspun tunic on my back and my wits about me. However, with salts of various types, I can fletch arrows that will deal elemental damage. For example, if I had arrows fletched with frost salts, that Flame Atronach would have been destroyed in one shot. So now you see why I harvested the fire salts?”

     

    “Yes.”

     

    “Tavia, you will talk more than this, yes? It is quite a long journey to the Beacon and I have already exhausted most topics with my dog, and my horse does not agree with me on anything.”

     

    She laughed aloud and Äelberon chuckled, as the two continued along the road, heading south.

     

     

     

    They traveled into the late afternoon. The volcanic tundra giving way to the dense pine forests and steep ravines of Southern Eastmarch, and then to the Autumnal forests of the Rift. They ran into little trouble along the way, mostly wolves, which he took care of with his bow, dismounting, handing her the reins. And one bear, which forced them both to dismount and work together to bring down, but otherwise, quiet. Some of the pelts now covered the slain Vigilant’s body, providing it some extra protection from the elements. It had also been a pleasant journey; for she had proven quite talkative once she relaxed and asked him all sorts of questions. Some he found a little embarrassing, so Äelberon decided to do what all Altmeri do when embarrassed, divert the subject matter towards something more harmless, usually the weather or the foliage. He chuckled to himself.

     

    “Is it always colored, thusly? Not knowing the green of Spring or the barrenness of Winter?” He asked, surveying the shimmering golden leaves against the white bark, and the orange-gold grasses.  It was stunning, the leaves casting dappled shadows upon the road, blue butterflies and bees on their daily quest for nectar. Birds on their daily quest for insects... A mild winter. 

     

    Tavia was leaning back against his chest by now. It was too hard to keep her back straight in the tight confines of the saddle and his large armored torso made a good enough chair. She turned up to look at him and watched him as he gazed at the trees, his chin just skimming the top of her head. He smelled of leather, fur, and metal; with faint traces of frost mirriam and canis root.  “I have never seen it any other way.” She replied.

     

    He gazed down incredulously and met her blue eyes, his brows furrowing in disbelief. She liked his eyes; they were very expressive, the bushy, silver slanted brows making them stand out all the more.  “Impossible… surely there are seasons.” He said, shaking his head and then scanning the trees again.

     

    “Well, if there are seasons, the trees don’t show it.”  She crossed her arms over her chest and continued to look up. They had been talking about something else before he suddenly started talking trees. "How old are you?”

     

    Ah, so it was back to her questions now. He smiled and kept his eyes steady on the road. She had asked him many things as they traveled; about his life, his hair, his Order, even whether he had taken a wife. No Altmer would have dared ask him such things, but Redguards and Men, in general, were far less formal, and he answered as well as he could, though he did not address the wife. He knew she would return to that subject eventually. Discussing the trees was his way of avoiding it. The diversion did not work for long. There was no malice behind Tavia’s questions, she was simply curious and lacked the age to show some restraint.  He smiled again, and his eyes narrowed a bit with mischief, she was as Koor was, good sport for teasing. Such a child.

     

    “Guess…” He started, his laugh lines crinkling.

     

    “Fifty?” She replied.

     

    Äelberon let out a hearty laugh. Tavia liked his laugh, it was free and his eyes laughed too. “Wrong!” He grinned.

     

    “Lower or higher?” She asked.

     

    “Higher, definitely higher.” He replied, still facing the road.

     

    “Sixty?”  Another laugh from the Elf. She looked up and stared at the Elf hard, her blue eyes narrowing, scrutinizing the face of the Mer she now traveled with. Sure, the face had some lines, but she knew how Elders looked; their cheeks were infirm, their skin soft and downy, they had jowls, their eyes were sunken and dull. This Elf had none of those features, only some discoloration around the eyes, but that was from lack of sleep, not age. He was a hardened warrior, but not an Elder. She thought hard, if a man were truly hale, how old could he be and still look it?  “No more than seventy.” She guessed again.

     

    Äelberon could not stop laughing at this point, his eyes watering as he slapped a hand upon his thigh.  “At the rate you keep guessing, child, we will reach the Beacon before you guess it correctly.”

     

    Tavia threw up her arms in exasperation and turned to face him. Tired of guessing.  “Well how old are you?” She asked, her tone slightly annoyed, as she crossed her arms over her chest.

     

    The Altmer looked down to face her, his red-orange eyes thoughtful when he spoke his next words.  “I have seen the passing of two hundred and forty-three winters, little one.”

     

    Her eyes went wide. It was clear she had never known anyone nearly that age in her life. “But you don’t look old?” She replied, studying his face more carefully.

     

    Actually, by the standards of his people, he did look older than a Mer normally looked at his age. Well, not older, but rather more worn. Aye, “worn” was the word, for his life had not been an easy one and he never bothered to heal his scars.  “My people age slowly. Some, if they know magic, can live through eras.”

     

    “Eras?” she repeated.

     

    “Aye, eras. Life is no longer measured in years, or even decades, but in centuries. I am on my third century.”

     

    “And a wife?”

     

    Äelberon nodded to himself, there it was. She was a sharp one, she had not forgotten. “I have never taken one.” Was his reply, his voice growing distant.

     

    “Is it forbidden? Your order of Oriall—“

     

    “Auri-El.” He corrected.

     

    “Auri-El...” She repeated slowly, mimicking his pronunciation.  He flipped his ‘r’s in a most curious way.  “It doesn’t allow it?” She turned up to him again. “I know priests of Mara are often married.”

     

    “No, on the contrary, marriage is expected.  Altmer do everything slowly, Tavia. Slow to mature, slow to have a family, slow to age, slow to die. The life is long, and we often delay, thinking we have such time. We are made to marry lest we forget our duty.”  His voice then grew bitter and Tavia could feel his jaw set behind her, “so more Altmer can be made for the glory of Alinor.”

     

    “Made to marry? I don’t understand.”

     

    “Marriage is arranged, between the Elders of the noble houses. We have no say. We are only assigned a match.”

     

    “That isn’t right.” She retorted.

     

    “It has served my people well for many, many years, it is not your place to question it.”  But his voice was still bitter. She was correct, it was not right and it caused much sorrow.

     

    “But you’re not married.”  She was smart.  “Did they assign you a bride?”

     

    “Yes, they did.”

     

    “You’re married!” Tavia exclaimed.

     

    “No, child. I am not. I refused the match.” The Altmer replied softly and she caught him watching a shower of golden leaves fall upon the road, catching the light of the waning sun. She then heard him sigh.

     

    “Why did you refuse? Was she not beautiful?” Tavia pressed.

     

    Ah, Äelberon thought. How would he even begin to describe her? Anwe… the dearest sister of his Order.  “She was… is, for she still lives as far as I know, the great grandniece of the Archmagister I guarded at the Tower I spoke of. She was considered one of the loveliest in all the Isles, if not the loveliest, in both body and soul. Her hair was like spun gold, very long, for like me, she belonged to the Order of Auri-El. She is a Priestess of high rank in our Order and a formidable mage. Her skin was of similar hue to her hair, smooth and without blemish. Her eyes were also golden, like pale, clear honey.  Slender of limb, full of grace and far above my lowly station in life, the daughter of an ancient Altmeri house. A true princess among my people.”  He paused for a moment.  “Calianwe of the Golden Hair, Caliane Laurenayne, Calianwe the Pure. Grand Lady of House Adorin, Daughter of House Stormwatch.  Those were her names, for her bloodlines were so uncorrupted that they thought her the direct descendant of the ancient Aldmer. She could trace her line to the very tombs themselves…”  His voice trailed off at his last words, subconsciously making a fist with his left hand. There was a time when he could feel the metal of a ring against his gauntlet. Her signet ring.

     

    “But, I don’t understand.” Argued Tavia, “She sounds like something out of a beautiful dream. Even I’d marry her!”

     

    Äelberon again laughed at Tavia’s words. Aye, she was such a child, bound still by the physical and who was he to blame her? He could still see her face even though nothing came of it anymore. Not anymore. Dead inside. No, not Anwe's face, another face...

     

    Ebonnayne, ene ry molage... 

     

    He cleared his thoughts of the image and continued. “There is much more to marriage, child, than physical attraction. There must also be love. And they must know each other, know each other when they are both at their best and at their worst. So you see, so much more than physical.”  He then smirked, remembering the looks his father would give his mother as she cooked over the hearth fire, the looks that frequently led to both of them being very cheerful in the morning.  “Though the physical  must be there also. At least I have always thought thus.” He chuckled.  “I blame my own parents for such a sentimental, romantic notion. I grew up knowing that they loved each other deeply. I did not know until much later in my youth that their marriage was one of the few happy ones among my people.  They were lucky in their arrangement. So, while Calianwe and I loved each other as brother and sister of a shared Order, loved each other as friends, I did not love her, nor did she love me, not in that way. No, she gave the looks that my father used to give to my mother to another.”  His head bent a little, as his eyes continued to follow the road.  “I loved her enough that I could not bear to be the cause of her unhappiness. Altmer marry for life and she loved him so deeply, our match would have condemned her to misery. So I refused the marriage, and every year I lived in the Isles since, I paid a heavy fine for my defiance.”

     

    “Was your family disappointed?”

     

    “No, they understood why I did what I did. And later that year, she was assigned to the Mer she truly loved.” He smiled, “They were very happy and they never forgot what I did for them. When last I saw her, she was with child. Her fourth. Unheard of among my people for a She-Elf her age, for she is around my age and can have still more.”  Äelberon suddenly laughed, appreciating the irony, “Ha! If the Thalmor wanted more for their armies, they should just let our people pick their own mates. Happy Altmer seem to make more babies.”

     

    Tavia mused, that was definitely not how things were done among her people. No wonder High Elves seemed to suffer all the time.  “Did you ever want to marry?”  She asked.

     

    He was relieved that he did not have to answer her now, for he noticed that the road split. A dirt path led away from a large, stone fort with wooden bridges, while the road continued towards it. He stopped the horse some distance from it. Their shadows long in the light of sunset.  “Fetch the map, Tavia.”

     

    By now, she knew exactly where it was. He exchanged the reins for the map and studied it. “Fort Greenwall.” He read and then looked up, scanning the fort carefully.  He saw no Stormcloak banners and frowned.  Damn it, bandits again, heavily armed too. He would be fine, but he did not wish to risk the youngling. Though the other route would be dangerous too. The air was also beginning to grow chill. He pointed to the fort and turned to face Tavia.   “We cannot go through there. Bandits.  Is there another way?” He asked, as he exchanged the map for the reins and she put the map away.

     

    She furrowed her brow, leaning back against his chest again. She could feel the cold and he was warm. “The dirt path merges again with the road once you pass the fort some distance. But it is dangerous.” She whispered, “Spiders…” Tavia then felt his hand on her shoulder, giving her a reassuring squeeze.  She was surprised when she felt him dismount, his expression grim. He whispered into the horse’s ear, and the animal stomped in response. Äelberon then removed his bow from its slot, taking a moment to string it before slowly beginning to walk the horse along the dirt path, leading Allie by the reins. He turned to Tavia while he. His voice a hushed whisper.

     

    “If the spiders overwhelm me, take the horse and go.” Äelberon grabbed her hand and squeezed. Her hand was like ice and he tried to warm it for a moment by holding it while he continued.  “Do not look back. Head to the Beacon. She is a strong horse and will not fail you.” He then removed his bearskin cloak. “Lean over, child.  You are cold.”  He wrapped her in his great cloak and he continued to lead the horse along the dirt path as the sun disappeared over the horizon. 

     

     

    It was now dark.

     

    She lit his torch, to keep his hands free for the bow, but the light was feeble. Koor was close behind his Master, and again gone were the games and mischief. All about them were the sounds of the darkness, as their breath came out puffs of steam, catching the torch light. The howls and yaps of a pack of wolves, eager for a night's hunt. The groan of a troll. The shrieks of skeevers. The growl of a bear. The pounding of deer’s hooves as they fled their pursuers. But the rustles and clicks of the spiders were the worst and Tavia felt her heart pound in her chest.  

     

    Without warning, Äelberon stopped his horse, letting go of the reins, drew his bow and let an arrow fly.  A spider collapsed dead at his feet, making that distinctive squishing sound when its exoskeleton is punctured. Her heart lept to her throat when she saw how close it was to them; the green of its poisoned blood visible in the torchlight. She could hear more rustling everywhere, their clicks and chirps ringing in the night. She wished the moons were full, but no, they were not, and if they were, the golden trees of the Rift would block most of it anyway...“Take them,” He whispered, handing her the reins.

     

    “Please don’t leave me, Äelberon.” She whispered. She recognized then how inexperienced she was. That was why Calvus had been assigned to her, to train her in their ways. They sensed her desire to help and her enthusiasm, but she was fresh from the farm and knew nothing of Skyrim’s dangers. She only knew how to wield a blade and that she wanted to become a Vigilant of Stendarr. He was recently arrived as well, but he was a two-hundred and forty-three year old Altmer warrior.

     

    “I will not, we will go slowly. Follow me. And again, if I am overwhelmed, fly…” He stopped abruptly, drawing his bow again in one fluid motion and another spider fell with a shriek. She jumped on the saddle, her heart skipping a beat.  How was he even seeing them? She had the torch and she could not see them approach.

     

    They continued up the path, when she heard the footpads approach, and then the howls. A great wolf lept from the shadows and Äelberon shot it down before the beast could land. The dog ravaged the second wolf while his Master, unable grab another arrow fast enough, punched the incoming wolf first with a left hook to its jaw and then stabbed it with an arrow. They continued.

     

    Another spider fell.

     

    And there it was ahead, a faint lantern light indicating the return to the road at the path to the Blackbriar Lodge. She closed her eyes. Praise to Stendarr.

     

    When they reached the road, she sighed in relief, but it began to snow. They did not need this. He was without a cloak now. “Äelberon, are you going to get back on?” Tavia whispered.

     

    “No, there is still too much danger and it is too difficult to shoot from horseback when there are two riding.”  He answered. “How far to the Beacon?”

     

    “When you see the border gates to Morrowind, turn right onto a path. But Äelberon, your cloak, you will freeze!”

     

    “I am not cold, Tavia.”  The snow now dusting his helmet as he walked and he was feeling the cold, but if he was distracted, he could endure it.  “Ask me that question again.”

     

    What question, she thought, as the snow became heavier, the blackness of night turning into a grey void of dense snowflakes. Then she remembered the question, when he turned right, following the path that led to a valley. To their right, they could hear rushing water, a small waterfall.

     

    He wanted to talk about that?  

     

    Äelberon drew his bow again, and with effort, he brought down another wolf. But the cold was winning the battle for his body, his eyes beginning to blur and his teeth chattering.  

     

    “Up here, to your left. Äelberon, your cloak, please…”

     

    “I am alright—“ Another wolf went down in two shots, as they began the ascent to the Beacon. He was slowing down, his limbs stiffening, but he gritted his teeth and continued. They knew they were going up, but with the dense snow, it was impossible to see clearly what lay in front of them.  “Ask your question… please.” He spoke with effort.  Damn child was quiet again and he wanted her to talk.

     

    “Did you ever want to marry?” She whispered.

     

    He swallowed hard, the wind now biting his arms and legs. He found it hard at first to speak and the words were at first marred by his teeth chattering.  “There… There was a time... Damn it!” He exclaimed, growing frustrated when his mouth would not cooperate due to the cold.  “This bloody cold, cannot say a damn sentence for my life! Ha! Well, found my voice now. Just have to color it up with some cursing every few words or so. Forgive the salty speech, little one.”  He chuckled, making Tavia smile. He cursed, she had never heard a priest curse before. He took a deep breath and continued.  “Where the Oblivion was I? Ah, there was a time long ago when I perhaps once did.”  Then he stopped moving and turned to her, his face reflective.  “But after the despair of the Great Anguish and then the Thalmor conquering my home, I no longer wanted to marry and bring a child into that world.”  He turned away and faced the falling snow, his jaw clenching slightly as he explained. She saw only his profile and she was struck by his dignity.  “I did not want to watch them grow up and be indoctrinated by the Thalmor. I could not watch them grow up believing their lies when I knew the truth. It would have been the death of me. Your people understood this, and they did something my people and an entire Empire could not do. They fought back, and won.”

     

    He paused for a bit, bending his head a little as he kicked at the snow. He no longer felt cold, and he found it strange that he was telling this youngling so much of his life. She was but a stranger to him, only meeting her in the morning. Yet he told her such things already, as if compelled now, after all these years, to finally tell his story.  “So I continued to pay the fine and remained celibate. The years passed by slowly and now… and now… those years are so very far behind me. I regret nothing, it has become a part of me, that I am alone.” It was not the full answer, there was more to it, but it was not for the ears of a youngling. He had already told her too much and the rest of it was too dark, entirely too dark.

     

    She was taken aback by his answer, and felt deeply for this Elf.  “Tavia,” He looked up at her, his mood suddenly much brighter.

     

    “What, Äelberon?” She asked.

     

    “Thank you,” He smiled through chattering teeth.

     

    “For what?”  She was such a child. She did not even know the true reason why he had stopped in the snow. It was beautiful, he could see the great fire beyond the dense snowfall, upon a stone tower. Burning eternal in Stendarr’s name. On a clear day, one could probably see its smoke from Riften. A beacon of light.  His wise eyes twinkled a bit, the snow clinging to his lashes and eyebrows, as he took her hand in his and squeezed.  “For guiding me to the Beacon, child. Look.”

     

    She looked ahead, following his extended hand.  The Beacon loomed large, as several Vigilants rushed out of the stone watchtower, bearing heavy blankets, calling her name.

     

     

    25th of Evening Star, 4E 201

     

     

    Vigilant Theodard climbed up the Beacon steps to the roof, breathless from his exertion. He was about to call his name, but paused when he saw the Elf. His back was turned and he was on one knee, his long sword held downwards on his right hand; its point resting upon the grey, stone roof. His dented steel shield was upon his left hand; upon his back hung an Orcish bow, ready to be strung if needed, and a quiver of steel arrows peeking under a great bearskin cloak. He was dressed for a Vigilant’s funeral. Theodard had heard of him, for news traveled quickly--and secretly--among the Vigilants that Äelberon of Dusk was now in Skyrim. A Knight-Paladin of Auri-El and a demon hunter of great reknown among the Vigilants. The Altmer’s head was bent, turned towards the rising sun, and it was obvious he was deep in prayer. Theodard had already heard him recite his tenets earlier in the morning as he lay in his bedroll, barely hearing the low whisper.

     

    “To do so is to invoke the wrath of Auri-El.”

     

    Those lines had stood out to Brother Theodard, as did the various rules. No drink, no necromancy, no lying, no stealing. Theodard wasn’t so keen to complain about the Vigilants anymore. And then, there was the ritual. Involving his hair. The Elf was up earlier than everyone else, binding his long, silver-white hair as was the tradition of his Order, just as he had unbound it before retiring the prior night. But this prayer was different. That’s when Theodard heard it, in the silence of the clear morning. It was faint, but it was there, the Elf was singing. A hymn. He had a sweet voice, mournful and low. When he finished the hymn, he then closed his prayer with a whispered verse.

     

    "Come to me, Stendarr, for without you, I might be deaf to the manswarm murmurings of thy people, and forgetting their need for comfort and wisdom, I might indulge myself in vain scribbling."

     

    Äelberon rose slowly and sheathed his weapon, turning his head slightly; he had heard footsteps come up the stone steps leading to the roof.

     

    “Brother Äelberon?”

     

    The Elf turned slowly to face Vigilant Theodard. Damn High Elves, they always looked so bloody impressive. Like they existed in a different plane of time from anyone else, or something. It was the height, of course, and being a Breton, Vigilant Theodard was keenly aware of the difference. No wonder many of them considered themselves the master race. Äelberon was a humble sort though and he greeted the Vigilant with a smile and a nod.

     

    “Is it time then?” Äelberon asked.

     

    “Yes, follow me.”

     

    The two descended down the steps of the Beacon. It was the twenty-fifth of Evening Star, The New Life Festival, or Saturalia as it was known among the gentlefolk, and Äelberon was starting this day of new life by burying the dead. They exited the Beacon and headed towards a group of Vigilants standing over a freshly dug grave. He took his place next to them and placed a hand on Tavia’s shoulder.

     

    “Little Sister,” he whispered, squeezing her shoulder gently.

     

    She looked at him briefly and then bent her head, taking comfort in his presence. The Vigilants placed the body of their brother Calvus gently into the grave, and laid upon his chest was the badge of his service; an amulet of Stendarr. Each then took turns with the shovel to fill the grave. When Äelberon took his turn with the shovel, he noticed the sword was missing. Odd, a Vigilant would most surely be buried with his weapon. He furrowed his brow, but said nothing though, as speaking at this time would have been grossly inappropriate. When the grave was filled, they stood in silence for several moments, until Vigilant Theodard spoke.

     

    “Brother Äelberon, I know you are not truly a brother of our Order, but we Vigilants consider you one nonetheless.” He took out a sword wrapped in white linen. Äelberon sighed and began to shake his head, that was too generous a gift and was about to speak when Vigilant Theodard continued.  “Please, accept the sword of our Brother Calvus, for bringing his body here for burial was indeed a great and moving deed in the eyes of the God of mercy.”  He brought the sword to Äelberon and held it before him.  “Take it, Brother, and may you put it to good use.” 

     

    Äelberon picked up the sword. A handsome weapon. Silver in make, slender of blade, with delicate scrolled carvings on the crossguard, and it glowed with a soft purple enchantment. Banish daedra. He knew that particular enchantment well. One of the few he knew. He bent his head and spoke softly.  “Your kindness is too great. I am unworthy. Thank you.”

     

    Vigilant Theodard then addressed the crowd.  “Let not Calvus’ death deter us. Let it instead inspire us to always walk in the light.”

     

    The Vigilants then raised their weapons and chanted. “Stendarr’s mercy be upon you for the Vigil has none to spare!”  And they brought down their swords and dispersed, to mourn their fallen brother as each individual saw fit. Äelberon walked towards Allie to store the weapon, when he felt a tap on his back. He chuckled, she could not even reach his shoulder.

     

    “Are you leaving?” Tavia asked. 

     

    “Yes, little sister, I am leaving. I head to Riften today.” He replied, placing the sword in the notch where his steel sword typically was. He would carry the steel longsword today.

     

    “Will you come back?”  

     

    “Of course, child,” He smiled. “And… I want to thank you again.”  He mounted his horse and looked down at her.

     

    “Thank me? For what?”  She handed him the reins.

     

    “For asking me your questions. It was good to speak of those things again. I had been silent for many, many years. Too long, in my opinion.”  He slowly raised his right hand.  “Stendarr’s mercy be upon you always, little sister.”

     

    She raised her hand, “And also with you, my very, very big brother.”

     

    He laughed. Such a child. He nudged Allie with his legs and with Koor close behind, Äelberon began his descent into the valley below.

    Straag Rod Book 1 ToC

    Chapter XII    Chapter XIV

     

     

Comments

17 Comments   |   SpottedFawn and 1 other like this.
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  October 16, 2015
    Yep, those events are crucial for the Vigilants of Stendarr. It is also not lost on me that many of the Daawnguard members were former Vigilants and some may have more sympathy for their plight than others. There is also a very special Vigilant that you'l...  more
  • Rhoth
    Rhoth   ·  October 16, 2015
    Yes, the Vigilant tragedy is what I was talking about.  I'll be interested to see how you reference it in your story since Aelberon is a good friend to them.
    Dawnguard pretty much screws over the Vigilants pretty thoroughly, between their house and ...  more
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  October 16, 2015
    Characters introduced tend to come back and be featured. Vigilants of Stendarr play a part in Aelberon's story and I always wanted to address their future. They suffer a pretty huge tragedy in the game. 
  • Rhoth
    Rhoth   ·  October 15, 2015
    Forgot to like this yesterday. Still enjoying the story. Have to wonder now what will happen to Tavia. I liked their conversation.
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  October 15, 2015
    Made a minor edit to this chapter, to reflect my views better and refine a future plot element. The Old Altmeris will be deliberately remain untranslated. Some secrets are for later. 
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  August 27, 2015
    Thank you very much. He likes young people. The teacher in him kicks in sometimes, but they make him smile. I think it keeps him young, especially with all the tragedy he's experienced. He is more ready with his emotions than most other Altmer. Duskens in...  more
  • Exuro
    Exuro   ·  August 27, 2015
    Nothing like a brash youngin' to bring out exposition. I do like how Aelberon always takes the time to know the new generations. It's probably how he stays sane, with such a long history it would be easy to see all the tragedies and lose hope or become is...  more
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  June 1, 2015
    Though I still don't consider myself much of a writer. 
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  June 1, 2015
     Makes a lot more sense when you back track and start with chapter I.  But yeah, completely opposite style to yours. I am a very sensory writer.
  • Idesto a'Shinbira
    Idesto a'Shinbira   ·  June 1, 2015
    I really enjoyed this! I had to get use to your slow style, but once I did I became engrossed in the story. The start was confusing as I wasn't sure who the protagonists were, but that's probably because I'm new to the story. I loved the Atronach fight; I...  more