Straag Rod: Book 1, Part 1, Chapter XIV


    It seemed Äelberon had dispatched most of the dangers of the road in last night’s darkness, while he paused to string his bow, to ready it for today's trials. Evidence was scattered in numerous locations; spiders and wolves. The prayers of gratitude were indeed warranted this morning, for in the darkness, he was shooting by honing in on the target’s sound. He had not wanted to frighten Tavia, but he did not even see most of what he killed last night. He passed a small ruin to his right and several bandits, but they did not seem interested in him, and he would not engage unless they did. He placed both hands on the saddle’s horn and relaxed his posture.


    The leaves of the Rift fell in a constant shower of gold. It was exceptionally beautiful, especially under the oranges and pinks of the early morning sky. The dew still clung to the tawny grasses and red mountain flowers dotted the landscape. It was then that a knotty little shrub caught his eye.


    Canis root!


    He brought Allie alongside the little plant, dismounted, and made several cuttings, putting them in a satchel. He would grind it later.  There were several more plants scattered about and he repeated the process. This was plenty to return to Keeper Carcette and to keep some for himself.


    There they were, the watchtowers of Riften. The city was close to the border of Morrowind and as a result, was heavily guarded. While he passed the watchtowers, the guards noticed his approach and were walking toward him. He responded the way he always responded, hands upheld, and he slowed Allie to a stop. Again, a guard took Allie’s reins and looked up to ask the all too familiar question.


    “State your business in Riften, traveler.”  No “Elf” this time. They probably saw more Elves in this hub between provinces.


    “I make pilgrimage to the Temple of Mara. I seek the High Priestess Dinya Balu.”


    A pilgrim, thought the guard. Now that’s a rare thing for Riften! Usually only thieves or merchants made their way to the city by the lake, or people coming to seek their fortune. Ah, he wouldn’t give this Elf any trouble. He patted the horse on the neck and returned the reins to the Elf, who nodded.  “The city’s just up ahead, traveler, may you find what you seek with the Lady Mara. Oh, and be sure to sample some Black Briar mead while you’re there. It’s our specialty.”


    “Thank you.” Äelberon smiled.  No, no Black Briar mead for him, but it was nice to see a pleasant guard. The guard suddenly turned hard and began running towards the city, his bow drawn. Äelberon’s smile turned into a frown when he heard the sounds of fighting.


    “Koor,” Äelberon commanded as he pressed Allie’s flanks with his strong legs, drawing his own bow.  He rushed past the guard and to his right, near the stables, he saw the source of the commotion.




    They were attacking the Khajiit caravan, and Äelberon saw Kharjo bravely warding them off, his face contorted in a vicious snarl, his ears laid back flat on his head, his sword raised and his shield blocking; using his body to defend the caravan leader, who was defenseless in her tent. The Orc bandit brought his mace down hard and the Khajiit staggered but blocked the blow. But Kharjo did not notice the Bosmer archer a distance away, aiming for the Khajiit’s head. Äelberon saw it and readied Allie for a charge, his own bow now ready with an arrow, letting out a fierce battle cry and charged at full speed. The Bosmer saw him approach and tried to aim for the raging warrior, but fell dead as Äelberon’s arrow struck first. He then turned Allie towards the camp, as three more bandits were now overwhelming Kharjo. He showed no fear and he fought like a sabre cat, keeping the bandits at bay with swings of his steel sword. Äelberon put away his bow and unsheathed his sword and shield. The quarters were too close, he did not want to accidentally hit Kharjo. As Allie quickly approached the caravan, Äelberon dismounted and joined in the fray.


    “Late, late, late… you almost missed all the fun!” Yelled Kharjo as he ran the Orc through with his sword.


    “I was detained.” Replied Äelberon with a warrior’s smile, making the Khajiit laugh, while he blocked another bandit’s battle axe with his shield and then struck the bandit with its edge in a hard swipe, snapping the bandit’s neck.


    The two warriors then stood side by side and faced down the last bandit, their faces grim and battle ready. The Khajiit’s eyes narrow, his teeth bare, and the Elf’s eyes like fire, his shield dripping with blood. The final bandit stared at the two warriors and a stream of urine suddenly fell from between his legs, steaming in the cool morning air.  Altmer and Khajiit turned to each other for a moment in disbelief and then turned their gaze back towards the bandit, who suddenly bolted away. Only to be brought down by a quick shot from the guard who spoke to Äelberon earlier at the watch towers. The guard then raised his right hand and Kharjo followed suit with a nod.


    The guard smiled, the pilgrim wasn’t just a pilgrim, he was a Paladin. Even better, he thought as he started to walk towards another guard, who had also seen the commotion. Snapping a neck with a shield! This was going to be the talk of the barracks!


    “Welcome to Riften, Crazy Elf.” Said Kharjo as he patted Äelberon shoulder. “Come, sit by the fire. Have you eaten?”


    “No, I have not.”


    “Then Kharjo will not take ‘no’ for an answer, for you have already repaid your promised debt once over.”


    They sat by the fire next to each other. The Khajiit was cross-legged and Äelberon leaned back upon a stump, his long legs stretched out. Koor settled between them. Kharjo stroked the dog’s neck.  “A fine animal.”


    “Yes. That he is.”


    Ahkari set a basket in front of Kharjo and he began to distribute food to the other members of the caravan.  “Catch!” He tossed Äelberon a bottle of milk, which he caught. Kharjo then took the other bottle of milk for himself. A naughty grin formed on the cat's face when he almost threw the cheese at the Elf, but thought better of it and handed it to him instead.  “Bread?” Asked Kharjo, showing Äelberon the loaves in the basket.  “Only if you can spare some.”  A loaf was handed to the Elf.


    “You do not drink, Kharjo?”


    “No.  A word of advice, my friend -- do not mix gambling and drink. Taken together, they will empty your pockets of every septim.” He sighed, sipping his milk.  “This one was in prison for his debts until Ahkari selected this former drunk to work it off as a caravan guard. It is thankless work, but it is far better than prison, no? No, Kharjo does not drink. This Khajiit learns his lessons.”


    Äelberon took some bites of the cheese and watched the fire for a moment.  “Do the bandits attack often?”


    The Khajiit scowled.  “Eh, nothing that the caravan guards usually cannot handle. A mere nuisance, really, but many of the marauders had quick and sticky fingers. A while back, one of them stole my Moon Amulet.”  Äelberon noticed that Kharjo used a pronoun then. He had spent some time away from Elsweyr and it showed. The Khajiit warrior continued, his tone now wistful.  “Given to me by my mother when I was just a cub. It is my only memory of home in this cold, cold land."


    “How long have you been away from home, friend?” Asked Äelberon, understanding what it was to only have one thing from home.


    The Khajiit sighed and his shoulders slumped as he stared at the fire.  “So long now that this one has even forgotten to how to speak. You have heard it, no? You have traveled the province, Kharjo knows this of you. It is not the way of the Khajiit to say ‘I’ and ‘me’, but it has been so long since Elsweyr. So hard to keep to the old ways...”


    “Then my debt will indeed be paid twofold, do you know where the bandits that made off with your amulet went?”


    “You are kind to offer, but no. Khajiit cannot allow you to risk yourself.”


    “Kharjo,” Äelberon started, as his hand moved towards his top-knot.  “Do you see this leather that binds my hair?”


    “Yes.” Kharjo replied, his eyes studying the leather. It was worn smooth from many years of handling and when the Elf spoke of it, something in him changed.  “That… is the only thing I have left from Summerset Isles. I have had it since I turned seventeen and now I am two hundred and forty-three.”


    Kharjo’s eyes widened, two hundred forty-three years! By Sheggorath, the Crazy Elf was old!


    “It is everything to me, so I understand just what your amulet means to you and I promise as a friend who also yearns for his beloved home, that I will get your amulet back.”


    Kharjo was moved by this Elf’s kindness. Altmer were not typically so kind, the Khajiit owed them much, but it was clear the Altmeri regarded them as lesser beings. Ha! To the Altmeri, everything is lesser being, and yet here was this Altmer… Kharjo sighed. That he would do this for Kharjo...  “You have a map?” He replied, his voice thickening with emotion.  There would be no talking Crazy Elf out of it. It was plain to Kharjo that he had the stubbornness of his people.


    Äelberon removed his pack and pulled out the worn map. He moved closer to the Khajiit and also sat cross-legged upon the ground near the fire. Kharjo took the map and laid it flat on the floor, gently pushing Koor aside to make space. The dog snorted and shifted his position.


    Kharjo squinted as he eyed the map, his pupils becoming no more than slits. His steel-plated hand traced a path west of the White River, and then paused at a labeled waterfall along its course. In Whiterun Hold, from what Äelberon could tell.  “Here, Valtheim towers.  The bandits are a part of a group headquartered there.”  He turned to Äelberon, his face grim. “Be careful. This one misses his amulet, but a life cannot be replaced as easily and this Khajiit likes you, Crazy Elf, and counts you as friend.”


    Äelberon memorized the location and then put away the map as the Khajiit placed his hand on his shoulder. Valtheim Towers. He had approached Eastmarch from another location, so he did not pass this.  “I will be careful..” The Elf smiled, placing his hand on the Khajiit’s that rested on his shoulder.


    They then sat for a few moments and continued to share their breakfast, sipping their milk, and talking of more pleasant things. Of Elsweyr and its sandy beaches. Kharjo was surprised to learn that Äelberon had indeed been there. For a time, the Elf served as Captain of the Guard of a great Elven house, and the Master of the house and his family frequently took vacation in the coastal resort city of Senchal. He had swam the crystal seas. He had indeed ridden Senche. It made Kharjo miss home all the more. Äelberon stood up and wiped the crumbs of bread from his armor, and extended his hand to Kharjo, shaking it.  “Ah, friend, this was a welcome respite, but I must enter the city now.”


    "May your road always lead you to warm sands, Crazy Elf" He said, still looking at the fire, his eyes distant.


    Äelberon could sense that their conversation had made Kharjo homesick. He understood that feeling. “Next time we speak, we will speak of my home. It is my turn to be homesick.”


    “And get more depressed over milk, no?” Smiled the Khajiit.


    “Do not forget the sugar, for I like that too. May your moon sugar always be sweet, friend.” 


    Kharjo laughed as Äelberon beckoned the dog to follow and the pair headed to the Riften gates. Hmm, thought the Khajiit, or get depressed over something better. Ahkari had the moon sugar and the extra pipe!


    Äelberon was stopped at the gates by another guard.  He sighed.  “Koor, sit.”  The dog sat with a grumble and Äelberon rubbed the dog’s ears. Koor was tiring of this as well.


    “Halt, in order to enter Riften, you need to pay the, uh… visitor’s tax.”


    Äelberon crossed his arms over his chest and looked at the guard, he did not know whether to take the guard seriously or not.  “The… ah…visitor’s tax?” He repeated.  He was not even in the city yet, and already he was being extorted.  Ulundil was right.


    “Yeah, the visitor’s tax, for the privilege of entering the city.”  The guard puffed up. He had this Elf for sure.


    Äelberon thought for a moment.  “Well, as a priest, I should be tax exempt, no?” Äelberon countered.


    The guard scratched his chin, he was going to call the Elf’s bluff.  “If you are a priest, then yes, you are exempt from the visitor’s tax, but you need to prove it.”  Ha! No way now, thought the guard. He knew that priests bore marks on their necks. The Elf was a bloody mercenary by the looks of him, and by the way he handled those bandits at the caravan. Clearly now trying to weasel his way out of paying.


    “Very well.” Äelberon removed his helmet and handed it to the guard, “Hold this for me, please”  The guard took the helmet, his face puzzled, and Äelberon continued.  “Now my specific Order calls that I wear my hair rather long, so forgive me as this takes some doing.” He gently pulled his hair from his cuirass. “There.  Now, I’ll part the hair and kneel so you can see.”


    “Your friend is mad.” Ahkari quipped, poking Kharjo in the ribs as the two observed the proceedings from the caravan.


    “No, not mad at all, just no one’s fool.”


    “Can you see it?” Asked Äelberon, as he knelt “A golden sun with rays, on the back of my neck?”


    “Uh huh,” Replied the guard.  Damn it, he really was a priest. The Elf stood up, and took his helmet back from the guard with a smile.


    “Then I am indeed exempt from your… visitor’s tax? Because if not, you would be lying to a priest. And extorting him for money, no less! Which I am sure as a loyal, honorable guard of the Rift; that can surely not be your intention?”


    “Okay, okay, let me just unlock the gates.” The guard replied, sulking for the lost money. 


    “Koor, up.”  A large husky then followed the Elf into the city.



    It was a lakeside town that featured wooden buildings, with boardwalks forming the walkways.  It was in two levels and at the lower level was a series of canals. He peered down the railing and saw small boats drifting in the water and he wrinkled his nose when he caught the scent.  A pungent mixture of salmon, garbage, and mead.  He pitied those that had to live in the lower levels and moved away from the railing. They must get used to it after a while, at least he hoped they did. He opted to keep his helmet off. He would not have worn it at the Temple anyway. Two people were talking as he passed. A strong-looking Nord woman with sandy blonde hair in banded iron armor and a young Imperial man in fine clothes. He did not catch all their words, but it was something about having another run-in with the Thieves Guild.


    “I don’t know you. You in Riften looking for trouble?” It was a very gruff voice. Äelberon turned and faced a very burly Nord in steel armor with black hair. He reminded him a bit of Farkas, but with a more trimmed beard and a far fouler manner.


    Maul gave the Elf a once-over. He was tall and not skinny like they normally come. He was also the wrong color. Too light. Maul frowned. He didn’t like him.


    “I am a pilgrim. I seek the Temple of Mara.”


    “Do I look like a priest to you?” Maul answered, his tone condescending. 


    Äelberon glanced at the Nord, his eyes narrowing. “No, you do not, but it seems you could sorely use some spiritual guidance.” He began to walk away. He was finished with this one. “Come Koor.”


    Maul fumed, nobody walked away from him. “Hey! I’m talking to you and nobody, I mean NOBODY walks away from me!” Damn! The Elf was still walking away! “You can pretend not to hear me all you want... but you better stay out of the Black-Briars' business." Maul growled back.


    Äelberon stopped, his back straight as he again turned to the Nord. “I am not afraid of you.”  He was not. “Hordes of Daedra have fallen to my blade and bow, do you honestly think you are going to intimidate me?” Aye, very mature, Old Mer, Äelberon thought to himself. Really, he should have just walked away and be done with him, but... no.


    Mjoll turned when she heard the Elf stand up to Maul. Hordes of Daedra? She had seen him walk into Riften. He was older than she previously imagined then. Aerin was about to speak to her again, when she raised her hand to quiet him, indicating that she wanted to listen to the Elf’s conversation with Maul. Aerin was instantly quiet, he knew Mjoll very well.


    "That's the wrong answer.” Replied Maul, as he puffed up to look larger.


    Mjoll smirked, the Elf wasn’t buying the intimidation and looked at Maul with that typical Altmer disdain, only she didn’t mind it this time.


    “Oh really?” Retorted the Elf, giving Maul a once over. Was he actually puffing up? Oh, Scamp’s Blood, thought Äelberon as he rolled his eyes. 


    “Last thing the Black-Briars need around here is some troublemaker tryin' to steal a piece of the action." Maul was surprised when the Elf let out a laugh.


    “Last thing the Black-Briars need, eh? Stealing a what? A ‘piece of the action’? Fascinating, these Nord phrases. Ha! Friend, I am no thief, for it is against my holy Order to steal, and I am no troublemaker. Well, that is not entirely true...” He grinned and leaned casually against the column that Maul leaned upon. Maul was uncomfortable with the intrusion into his personal space. No one dared. Ever. Not even Guild members. “See, I am only a troublemaker to those who wish to do the innocent harm. Whether by direct violence or through thievery. The Black-Briars can bloody keep their status and their gold, if that is all they seek from life. Is that all you seek, boy?”


    Maul didn't know what to think. Elf called him "boy" straight to his face and didn't even care. Did he want to die? He'd say what he always says, usually shuts 'em straight up. "The Black-Briars have Riften in their pocket and the Thieves Guild watchin' their back, so keep your nose out of their business. Me? I'm Maul. I watch the streets for 'em. If you need dirt on anythin', I'm your guy... but it'll cost you."


    The Elf laughed again. “You rehearse that line of yours while sipping your morning milk, boy? Or do the Black-Briars coach you? Dirt is everywhere in Nirn, why the Oblivion would I pay for it?”


    Mjoll and Aerin both chuckled.


    “Gossip, you idiot. Not actual dirt.”


    “I know what you mean, you dolt.”


    Maul scowled, but the Elf relaxed even more against the column and let out a bored sigh, crossing his arms over his chest and glancing at the street. He was relaxed and playful on the outside, but inside Äelberon was angry. This Nord was able to wield a weapon. Why was he not helping his brothers? Like his own Shield-Siblings did. Or pick a side, it mattered not which side, but pick a side. People were dying and toiling for him while he leaned against a column like an oaf, feeding gossip to the Black-Briars. It was unfair. Äelberon was barely inside the city and he already hated it. He wanted to finish with Maul already. He had far better things to do. “So is this what you do all day, eh? Lean your arse against this column and watch for gossip like an old crone sitting in her porch?”  The Elf glanced at Maul, making sympathetic clicking noises with his tongue and shaking his head. “Aye, this is very boring.” He gave Maul a slap to the back and the Nord stiffened up. It was on the outside a friendly gesture, and the guards took no notice, but Maul felt the blow. Hard. The Elf knew how to hit. It was a stern warning. “Nice chatting with you, Maul. You have enlightened me as to the state of this city far more than any of your ‘dirt’ could have. Come Koor. Best we leave this one to his street watching.” The last words dripped with acid.  “‘Tis quite a stressful undertaking, you know.”  Äelberon‘s tone then darkened. “So much more stressful than dying for your land and all that, like his brothers beyond that gate are doing right now. Able-bodied man does not lift a single finger to fight. Hmph! At least a bloody mercenary gets out and earns his coin with his skill.”


    The Elf walked away with his husky and for a moment Maul considered following him and feeding him his steel, but then he remembered the Elf’s “friendly” blow to his back and the steel longsword he carried, the battle scars and the complete lack of fear when he spoke to him, and Maul thought better of it, opting for the easier task of street watching instead. He’d tell Maven about him though and let her deal with him. Damn, another Mjoll was all Riften needed and he frowned when he saw the Lioness and her little Imperial friend follow the Elf toward the market.


    Äelberon was still simmering when he neared the market. He understood that gentlefolk did not need to fight. After all, there were farms to till, ore to mine, and shops to keep, and their work was important too. But an able-bodied man like that doing nothing except watch the streets?  And not even watching the streets to prevent crime, as the guards did, but watching them for gossip and coin. Wasted, a wasted life. He leaned on the railing, pounding his fist on it, still brooding. He needed to calm himself before he stepped into the Temple.


    “You’re a stranger here too?”


    He turned and saw the very Nord who was speaking to the Imperial as he entered Riften. Mjoll regarded the Elf. Definitely not from the Rift. Well-traveled, she could tell, and far older than people probably realized. Hordes of Daedra more than likely meant… Shor’s Bones! The Oblivion Crisis. Well over two hundred years then!  “You mentioned the Temple of Mara? I can show you where it is. Follow me.”


    “Thank you,” He said with a slow nod. She had a noble face, dominated on its left side by a bold block of war paint in a worn teal shade and three scars upon her cheek. The skin was weathered from travel and her eyes were the very shade of her hair. He had not seen those eyes in a Nord before. “Koor.”


    Mjoll heard him call and they were joined by a great husky. He walked alongside her with his hands linked behind his back, a scholar's walk, and she knew immediately why Maul didn’t pursue him. The Elf wielded an Orcish bow, a steel longsword and a shield. And he was no slouch, a good head taller than Maul, perhaps more, and he was not of fine build, but muscular and battle hewn, with scars on his face. They spoke as she led him to the Temple, and Mjoll liked him straight away. He was a Knight-Paladin who was a member of the Companions, and his distaste for thieves matched her own.


    “Here is the Temple, friend. May you find the answers you seek.” She extended her hand.


    Äelberon took it and gave it a firm shake. “Thank you. My name is Äelberon of Dusk.” He said with a smile.


    “And I am Mjoll. Some people call me the Lioness, but that is only a nickname. It is a pleasure meeting a fellow traveler, and I hope you will visit Riften again, and perhaps exchange stories.” She leaned in closer and sighed, “Do not let the Thieves Guild put you off to Riften. Underneath all this corruption is a good city, with good people.”


    “If you say there is good, then I believe you, Mjoll. A few bad apples should not spoil the entire barrel.” He then winked and Mjoll liked the mischief behind his eyes. “You simply throw out the bad apples and feed them to the skeevers.”


    She laughed, and he walked up the steps. If he could talk to Maul the way he did, Mjoll wondered as she watched him enter the Temple, how he would talk to Maven Black-Briar?



    Dinya Balu was speaking to her husband Maramal, when she spied the Altmer enter the Temple. A priest, she could tell this immediately, for he moved with grace and his long hair and topknot betrayed his Order. One of the most severe in Tamriel. The Order of Auri-El. The King of the Elven pantheon demanded much from His priests and this one was clearly designed to defend the God’s name with sword and shield. They were called Knight-Paladins if she remembered correctly. That was the rank. What was he doing so far from his home?  He found the small shrine of Mara to the right of the Temple entrance and immediately knelt upon one knee to pray.  Dinya could not help but smile, for it had been a long while since one had prayed there.  When he finished, he closed with a verse and Dinya again smiled. Almost none knew these by heart anymore.  


    "Come to me, Mara, for without you, I might forget the ways of our fathers, and preening by the light of latest fashion, my words might tremble like the thin reeds of novelty in the tempest of enthusiasms."


    She approached him as he stood up.


    “You are Priestess Dinya Balu?” He asked, regarding the dark-complexioned Dunmer. Unusual that she had black eyes. But Äelberon was suddenly taken aback when he entered her presence, tilting his head slightly to one side, and he smiled warmly. He knew.  “And... you are with child.”


    Ah, so the Elf could sense the life growing inside her, she thought. He was truly attuned and she was now certain he practiced the healing arts. He took her hand in his, squeezing gently, and nodded, “Mara’s many blessings upon you and your... husband?”


    “Yes, husband. It is indeed the Goddess’ blessing that we were able to conceive. For he is a Redguard and of course, I am Dunmer. Please sit.” She gestured to a bench, and they both sat. “Now Knight-Paladin of Auri-El, what can I assist you with?”


    It was Äelberon’s turn to be surprised. She knew of his Order. “Äelberon, please, Priestess. That is my name. Knight-Paladin of Auri-El just gets very long after a while, and I was never one for titles.” He tilted his head to the side again and narrowed his eyes a bit as he smiled in good humor. “Well, unless I am intimidating an enemy, then the titles prove very useful.”


    She laughed and it caught the attention of Maramal who made his way to them. “Ah, husband, this is a fellow priest, Äelberon.  This is Maramal, my husband.” Maramal shook Äelberon’s hand.


    "Many blessings upon you and your wife."


    “Auri-El?” Maramal guessed.


    “Aye, Auri-El."


    “Then perhaps the people of Riften will listen to you.” Maramal complained as he slumped onto the bench, flipping back his priest’s hood in exasperation, revealing a grim-faced Redguard with a full black beard and a slight under bite. “We cannot get through to them.” He turned to his wife in frustration, “They laughed at me again, Dinya. They simply do not understand.” Dinya gave her husband a kiss on his cheek and rubbed his tense shoulders while he sat on the bench.


    “Where did you preach, my son?” Äelberon asked.


    “The Bee and Barb,” Maramal sighed. 


    Äelberon laughed a hearty laugh, which caught both Priests of Mara by surprise. Ah, Maramal was as he was when he was a new novitiate. Enthusiastically spreading the word from Cloudrest to Firsthold and then back again. At best, he was annoying and learned quickly to change his tactics.


    “It’s not funny, Riften is a den of iniquity.” Maramal retorted.


    “Aye, Maramal, that is not in dispute, but you are in Nord land, my son! They drink and they expect to do so undisturbed. Especially in a Tavern. Nords will be far more receptive to the word when you allow them their mead in peace. They are actually a very spiritual people.”


    Maramal crossed his arms over his chest. “Well, how do you preach?”


    “Oh, I am no Vivec, I learned that very quickly. I do Auri-El’s work through good deeds and my defense of the innocent.” He flashed a wry grin and patted the hilt of his sword. “My sword and my bow are far better preachers than I will ever be.” Äelberon sat back upon the bench, slouching a bit, and stretched his long legs, a gesture of comfort. He always felt at home in a Temple and these were good people, if a bit over enthusiastic.


    “But surely the rampant sin gets to you?” Maramal asked.


    “Not the sin so much, Maramal, as I am not without my own vices, but the waste. Waste of a life’s potential upsets me far more.” Dinya noticed his face darken a bit. “I have seen too much death to see life wasted.” He then turned to Dinya and he straightened up. “I could sit here and discuss for hours the many ways to share spiritual knowledge, as I enjoy the subject, but alas…”  Dinya felt his tone change, becoming more serious, more solemn. “....time does not allow me such luxuries, and I must come to the point of my visit, my dear Priestess. I was sent to you by Danica Pure-Spring, Priestess of Kynareth at the Temple in Whiterun. Know you of her?”


    “Her name is known to me.”


    The Knight-Paladin then took a deep breath and exhaled as if he was releasing a heavy burden. Whatever he was about to say, it weighed on him terribly. Dinya listened, her heart open. “I have been given a great trial, pertaining to the coming of the dragons that will test my abilities as a servant of Auri-El.” His head bent slightly. “Dinya, I am very, very flawed in my make. It is the bane of my people that while we excel at tapping into magic, we are sorely weak to its affects.  Is there any way I can overcome this weakness? Prayer? Meditation? Pilgrimage? Quest?” He took her hand, his eyes searching hers, she could see that it troubled him deeply, “I will do anything that is required of me. Anything. I must. The people of Whiterun, nay all of Skyrim depend on me, and I will fail miserably if I am not prepared, for I know the darkness that looms ahead. Black wings in the sky. Fire that melts stone. He cannot… Damn it! I will not let him…” He growled, shaking his head in anger. “Forgive me for swearing in Temple, but I am desperate, Dinya, and I need help.”


    They were both moved. In the sin and corruption that was Riften, he was as a light, but now the light was frail and dim. Dinya felt light-headed, like she was floating and she heard herself speak, or rather her body did, for she knew immediately they were not her own words, but those of the lady Mara herself. She was away from her body and saw the Lady Mara use her hand to gently brush aside a silver-white tendril from the Altmer’s serious face, as a mother does to a child.


    Maramal was aghast, this was no longer his wife and he knew that the Altmer also felt the presence of the goddess within the body of his wife. His breathing had quickened and his eyes seemed to blaze.


    “Oh my worthy child, ancient Kyne has beseeched that I help you, and as her handmaiden, help you I will.”  Äelberon’s heart pounded in his chest and his eyes misted, for he knew that a goddess now spoke directly to him, and he avoided her eyes out of respect. Gods! She had touched him, brushing his hair from his face.


    “To love is to know the true nature of the gods, for it is through love, that you have a glimpse of immortality. To receive the touch of Mara, you must first act as her hands in the world. Explore the facets of the infinite jewel.” She tilted his head to face her and continued. “Are you prepared, then, to help bring the light across this land?” Yes, Mara thought to herself. This was the one They had been watching. The wanderer had returned. 


    “Yes, my great lady.” His voice barely a whisper, as he nodded, “I will do anything... Yes.” He let out a ragged sigh. His heart felt less heavy, his prayers had been answered.


    “The dawn surely opens upon you, my child. You must bear its light that all may see." The goddess was then gone and Dinya felt herself returned to her body and she smiled a great smile, Maramal breathing a sigh of relief.  She was ecstatic at what had just transpired and spoke to Äelberon in earnest, eager to share her vision. A goddess was in her body! The joy of it! Who was this Knight-Paladin that the gods themselves wished to speak him? “Mara has reflected an image to me.” She paused, organizing her thoughts. She was so excited to be Mara’s vessel. “At the foot of the throat and a young woman... almost a girl... her fickle love must resolve itself. The village of Ivarstead. The woman, Fastred. This is the prayer heard by the goddess and relayed to her servants. Return when she has seen her path.” She kissed Äelberon’s cheek, and squeezed his hand. “I promise. I will entreat Mara on your behalf."


    “You give me great comfort, Dinya, thank you.” He kissed her hand, and patted Maramal on the shoulder. He did feel much better and felt his strength renewed as he rose. “Though I am loathe to do so as you two have shown me great kindness, I must now leave and begin Mara’s task.  It is so very urgent. But again, thank you... Thank you.”


    He nodded to them and began to walk towards the Temple entrance, stopping again at the small shrine to offer prayers of gratitude and to take blessing. He then left, his devoted husky close behind, and both noted the renewed strength in his steps.  



    Äelberon sat upon a wooden bench overlooking the marketplace of Riften, his pack by his side. He needed to sit for a moment. To take it all in. He squinted up and found the sun’s position. Late-morning and it was rather warm. The cloak would go soon. Koor rested his head on Äelberon’s knee and his Master’s hand instinctively found it, rubbing his ears gently. He looked back down and found his dog’s gaze.  Äelberon leaned closer to Koor and whispered softly, his heart lifted. “A goddess spoke to me today. Did you see that, boy, did you?”

    Koor twitched his ears and snorted.


    “I think, Koor, that I am being watched in all of this. What do you think? Is your old Master being tested?”


    The dog’s ears pricked and he wagged his tail.


    “Ah, so you do think this is all a test? That the old Doom Drum is watching? Watching from Sovngarde?  He is a corpse, dead, yet he keeps coming back, shades of him, avatars. Auri-El is watching too. The old rivals. That would be ironic, would it not?” He scratched Koor’s head and chuckled softly, “Well if Doom Drum is not watching me, his widow certainly is.”


    He knew him as Lorkhan or the Doom Drum, the great “Enemy” of the Elves, the one who caused them to be sundered from the spirit plane by orchestrating the creation of Mundus. The Elves were always bitterly divided on what this action had meant. Most Altmer saw Mundus as a prison and struggled to get back to the spirit world at all costs. Äelberon had studied many books though, not only those written by Altmer, and had a different view of Lorkhan’s deed. To him, Mundus was created as a great testing ground, where if one conducted themselves well in the eyes of the Gods, they could achieve transcendence.  It was the source of much suffering, but, it was a necessary step. His was not the popular view, though, and he had suffered for this greatly under the Thalmor. 


    In Skyrim, Lorkhan was called Shor, and his widow was Kyne. Kynareth was a form of her that was commonly worshipped in the empire as a Goddess of wind and rain, but the original Kyne was a far stronger Goddess. A Goddess of storms; Patroness of warriors. He remembered the words of the Lady Mara well.  It was Kyne who beseeched her to act, not Kynareth. Kyne was not part of his Pantheon.


    “The Mother of Men…” He whispered aloud, deep in thought.


    Of Men, not Mer.


    He rubbed his brow. What interest would Kyne have in an old Altmer? He knew deep down that all this was somehow connected to Bleak Falls Barrow and ultimately to Alduin. The dragon had spoken to him, words that he did not understand, but those red eyes were upon him. “Oh Rynandor,” He sighed, “Not a day goes by where I do not wish you still dwelled among us and I could partake of your wise counsel.” He gave Koor a reassuring pat on the head, but it was more for his own comfort than the dog’s. Koor looked up at his Master and sighed with him. “It is time to go to Ivarstead, boy. It is time to start Mara’s quest. Her will be done.”


    He rose and slung his pack about his great shoulders and cut across the market square on his way out of the city. Äelberon spied various stalls while he walked; one for jewelry, two general merchants, a butcher, and… a scam artist. He was in the corner stall and he was by far the loudest of the vendors. A healthy crowd had gathered about him and Äelberon could see that the other vendors were none too pleased. An able-bodied Nord, quite strong-looking actually, with vibrant red hair and beard and blue eyes, dressed in fine clothes. He held up a large, dark red bottle and gestured to it with his other hand, his teeth flashing with that empty smile one uses when they are not being sincere.


    “Make love like a sabre cat, with my genuine Falmer blood Elixir!”


    Äelberon guffawed, and crossed his arms over his chest and watched. Brilliant, Äelberon thought, if your idea of making love consists of roaring and spitting like a beast, mounting your female, and then collapsing after 15 seconds. All the Nords really needed for that affect was to simply indulge in way too much mead.


    Brynjolf had heard the High Elf laugh at him and he stepped up his pitch. He had never seen this Elf before. “Read minds…” He saw the Elf raise a bushy silver eyebrow. “Heal severed limbs…” The Elf’s eyes narrowed.  He was giving Brynjolf a hard stare now. “Channel the powers of Aetherius itself… all with my genuine Falmer blood Elixir.”


    The Elf scowled and walked away. Hmm, thought Brynjolf, as a customer took a bottle, someone new eyeing the competition eh? Then he saw their outline, right under the Elf’s belt. Lockpicks. So… a fellow thief.  Well, let’s see what you’re made of, laddy. Brynjolf smiled in satisfaction.  Maybe this Elf was just the extra pair of hands he was looking for his little job. Grelka paid the Guild some coin to get rid of her competition in exchange for Guild support in the form of a tribute. Girl was desperate to monopolize the stalls.  Brand-Shei needed to be put out of business, and he had just the scam that would do it, but he was at the stall, and needed someone who was good with a lock. Elf looked big and perhaps a bit cumbersome, but sometimes that worked to an advantage. Most think thieves are small and sneaky.


    Brynjolf closed his stall, and began to follow the Elf. He waited until the Elf took a seat at a bench away from the stalls. He had removed a map from his pack and was studying it carefully, while he ate an apple, a large husky was seated by his side. Big lad, clad in very finely made steel armor. He had coin for sure. And… if things didn’t go well for him, Brynjolf was certain his blade and his bow finished the job. Or, Damn! Bastard could be a member of the Summerset Shadows, doing recon work for his Guild, disguised as a mercenary. Brynjolf had not considered that and High Elves were very clever.  He closed his hand on the hilt of his Elven dagger, a trophy from his last encounter with the group, just in case.


    Äelberon knew he was being followed. Damn Nord made more noise than a mammoth.  So he sat on a bench and waited, studying his map as the red-haired Nord approached him, keeping one keen eye on him and another on the map. He needed to mark Ivarstead anyway, which he did with a thin piece of charcoal, but he also had his blade ready, just in case. He took a bite of his apple.


    His last apple.


    He had stashed it away when he saw that Tavia was quickly eating her way through his saddle bag. She had gone through the apples and was working on the cheeses. Where the child put it all, he had no idea, for she was small. Ha! Most were small to him. He smiled, the missing food was well worth the company. He felt the Nord take a seat next to him on the bench and the Nord leaned forward and whispered with a thick brogue.


    "Never done an honest day's work in your life for all that coin you're carrying. Eh, lad?" Brynjolf was greeted by a pair of intense red-orange eyes as they peered from the map. The Elf set down the map.


    Where was he from? ‘Twas plain it was not even his real accent. He could hear that from the stalls. 


    “Excuse me?” Replied the Elf, his voice low with just a hint of that “tone” their people often have.


    “You heard me.”


    “That I did.” Was the Elf’s response as he stored the map in his pack, and then gave Brynjolf a hard stare. Brynjolf didn’t like the eyes at all and avoided them after a while. They were studying him carefully, and it was a few moments before the Elf spoke again. “You know, in my homeland, a Mer can be killed for accusing another of being a thief.” The Elf then gestured with his head to Brynjof. “Why do you think this of me?”


    “You have the ‘tell’, laddy, I can sense these things in people. I have a way you can make more coin, if you’re interested?”


    Laddy? What the Oblivion was that, thought Äelberon. He leaned in closer to Brynjolf and found the Nord’s eyes after a few attempts. Ah, you do not like my eyes, eh?  Many do not, for they see truth. Äelberon bit into his apple before continuing. “Then your senses, thief, are getting dull and perhaps you should consider a new line of work.” He nodded slowly and placed a gauntleted hand upon his heart. The gesture was slow. “On my honor, I have never stolen a thing in my entire life.” He began softly, “All that I have, all that I am, was earned through hard work through blade, bow, and magicks. All that I do, is in service to my God.”


    Brynjolf pointed to the Elf's belt. He’d take this Elf down a peg for being so high and mighty. Everyone is a hypocrite. “Those lock picks tell me a different story.”


    “You noticed those. Aye, ‘tis true, I use them, extremely well in fact, however, you are again mistaken, thief. For I do not use them for stealing. See, I hunt the undead, as I am a Knight-Palladin of Auri-El. Many of their lairs are securely locked.” He raised his silver eyebrows in a question. “Would you prefer I not pick the locks and let the vampires go?” He took another bite from his apple and smiled, enjoying that he was now two for two against the thief. ‘Twas prideful of him, Äelberon admitted, but he was in good spirits. 


    Brynjolf frowned. This Elf was clearly not what he thought. He hated wasting his time and began to get up rudely.


    “No, no, no! Do not leave yet, thief.” Responded the Elf, gesturing for Brynjolf to sit down again, “sit a spell, I wish words.”


    “I wasted my time, you’re not what I need.” Brynjolf again started to rise. It was extremely quick. The Elf reached for his blade and with great power, swiftness, and a sudden flash of steel, the very sharp end of a longsword blade was now stuck to the bench, just barely touching Brynjolf’s thigh. The Elf again turned to him and his look was stern, but at the same time kind, his eyes bright and keen. He then spoke.


    “I did not have to miss.” He gestured to Brynjolf with a smile,  his eyes twinkling, “Sit, please. I wish words.”


    Brynjolf let out his breath and sat back down. The guard had seen the blade fly, but did nothing. Brynjolf frowned and glared at the guard. Damn it. He’d have to talk to Maven about that. She wasn’t keeping up her end of the bargain.


    The guard flashed a toothy grin when Brynjolf glared at him. No way was he going to rat on the High Elf that just defended the city from bandits. Guards had been talking about it all morning. Sure, they only made it to the Khajiit caravan, but if the Elf hadn’t showed up, their caravan guard would have died and perhaps Riften would no longer be a stopping point for the caravan. City needed the coin.  Damn Guild took most of it. As far as the guard was concerned, the High Elf got a free pass today.


    “Why do you steal?” Was Äelberon’s first question.


    “I don’t have to answer that.” Brynjolf scowled.


    The Elf gave him another look. There was pity in his eyes now and it was insulting. He didn’t need pity. “Answer.” Pressed Äelberon.


    “Why do you think? For the coin! You’re a fool, Elf.”


    “And do you have coin?” Was the Elf’s response.


    “Well, if I did, I wouldn’t be stealing now would I?” Brynjolf watched the Elf laugh and take another bite of his apple.


    “So stealing is not working so well for you then?”


    “Stealing is working just fine.” Brynjolf was losing his patience. He needed to get back to the stall.


    “Then I ask again,” Äelberon could not help a slight smile. The thief was a bit on the slow side. “Where is your coin?” He removed the blade from the bench and sheathed his weapon. It was no longer needed, the thief was not going to move from his seat. Äelberon had his complete attention and he relaxed upon the bench taking another bite of his apple.


    Damn Elf, damn apple, thought Brynjolf. Bastard was in complete control of this conversation and he knew it.  “The Guild takes a cut.” Brynjolf answered.


    “And where does this cut go?”


    “Our Guild Master is in charge of it. Wait!” Brynjolf suddenly growled, “You using that Illusion stuff on me? You a member of the Summerset Shadows and trying to get information on the Guild?” Brynjolf drew his dagger. “You’ll know then where I got this.”


    The Elf reached over and grabbed the dagger from Brynjolf’s hand, making the Nord’s eyes go wide. He just upped and grabbed it. “Scamp’s Blood! Well do not look so surprised! Two hundred years in combat has left me quite a bit sharper than you, friend. Ah, fine…” The Mer shifted the Elven dagger quickly in his hand and adjusted the weapon so that the hilt faced Brynjolf. Not even Mercer wielded a blade like that. “Well, there you are. No need to sulk like a baby because I took your weapon. You must admit, though, that was pretty…” he furrowed his brow for a moment and looked at Brynjolf, “How do you Nords say it? ‘Slick’?”


    Brynjolf was now pretty certain this Elf was insane.


    “Rest assured, friend thief, my Order does not allow me to lie, so you have it in every confidence that I am neither using any Illusion spells on you, nor I am I a member of the Summerset Shadows. Where was I? Ah, yes, I remember… does he have coin, your Guild Master?”




    “Does he steal, thief?”


    Brynjolf had to think for a moment. Did Mercer steal anymore? He had not seen Mercer on a job for a long time, but he was Guild Master, he didn’t have to.


    “I take it from your silence that your Guild Master does not. At least not any more. So, thief, who is the bigger fool, you or I?” Äelberon took a final bite from his apple and then looked down at Koor. The dog looked up at his Master, his tongue lolling, and Äelberon gave him the rest of his apple, patting the dog playfully on the head. He then turned back to Brynjolf, noting the Nord’s tense body language. Aye, I play with dog, you dolt.  “See, I am my own Mer. I keep what I need to cover my expenses and then I give to those who are less fortunate. My Order demands only that I serve Auri-El with love, and this I do with a happy heart.  I also belong to the Companions, and they do take a cut of what I earn from their jobs, but they also give me room and board and their jobs do not require that I steal.” He suddenly let out a laugh. “Usually, I am stopping others from stealing.”


    Brynjolf observed the Elf stretch his arms and yawn.  Why was he even sitting here? “Your point?” Pressed Brynjolf coldly.


    “I do tend to be rather long-winded, my apologies. On the other hand, you steal, risking your life and your freedom, and then give it to another! Damn! Does he even thank you for what you risk for him? Never mind, you do not need to answer that.” Äelberon continued, knowing now that the Nord was processing his every word. This was what Maramal did not understand. Get them thinking about what they are doing. Not to others, but to themselves. Give them their self-respect back.  “Where do you live, thief? Choose your answer well, for I have already heard the guards’ gossip.”


    “The Ratway.”


    “So, you are a thief who has no money and you live in a dank sewer under the city? Aye, that is what I heard from the guards.” The Elf paused for a moment and then continued, “Now, where does your Guild Master live?”


    Brynjolf furrowed his brow. Mercer had a large manor house in the city. A gift from the Black-Briars. He wanted get up and leave now, but something in the Elf’s words was making him stay. He had seen Mercer lately, pouring over the Guild’s inventory books, the Guild was struggling and times were rough, yet Mercer was getting steadily richer. Why? “He has a large manor in the city.”


    The thief’s tone was now flat. Äelberon was getting to him, he knew it. He bent his right knee and brought his foot to rest upon the bench and then rested his arm upon his knee to make himself more comfortable. The position relaxed his back muscles and he needed them loose for his ride to Ivarstead. “I have quarters in the great Mead Hall of Jorrvaskr. Small, but I am content.” He chuckled, “And I am definitely not in a sewer.”


    He made a gesture as if he were gathering something while he spoke. Damn Elf talked with his hands almost as much as he ran his mouth. “In the evenings, my Shield-Siblings and I gather around the roaring fire and tell stories of our adventures, as little Tilma serves us the food that she prepared with love. All of us equals. Our Harbinger, Kodlak Whitemane, is a noble man and sits among us.” Brynjolf saw the Elf pause, knowing full well that he had another question for him.


    “Tell me, thief, does your Guild Master dine with you?”


    “No,” Another flat reply.


    “That is a shame. So tell me again, thief, who among us is the bigger fool?” Äelberon’s gaze softened, his tone suddenly kindly. “Ah, I tire of calling you thief, for we really are speaking as friends. I am Äelberon of Dusk. What is your name?”


    “Brynjolf.” Damn it Brynjolf cursed. Why was he telling the Elf his name? Why was what he was saying bothering him so much?


    “Brynjolf, one more question. I want to understand something. You seem quite capable and smart. Some of the best bladesmen I have ever encountered in my long, long life have been thieves. You could have gone a different path. An honorable one, and you would have done well, for these things I can sense in men."  He reached out and patted Brynjolf’s knee, a friendly gesture, taking the Nord by complete surprise, before he continued. “Yet you chose this, why? Why this way? For what has it gotten you, Brynjolf? You are no longer a young lad and the Halls of Sovngarde looms for all Nords in the very end. You live in a sewer; you give most of what you make to a man who is most certainly taking advantage of you. Probably even stealing from you as we speak. You steal from your own people, many of whom are dying right now outside these walls so that you can enjoy freedom.” The Elf suddenly laughed aloud, and brought up his hands in exasperation. “Who knows?” He said, bringing his hands down heavily. “Maybe you actually like this? The rush perhaps?  I had not considered that. I often feel it when I hunt vampires or deadly game.  It must be that then, because I cannot imagine that living in a sewer with no coin would be the draw for the path you have chosen.”


    The Elf suddenly stood up and took Brynjolf’s hand, shaking it and Brynjolf strangely found himself shaking it back. “Well, I am off, for I go on an errand for the Lady Mara. But before I go, I ask you this, friend Brynjolf. When the time comes, will Tsun let you cross the great whalebone bridge into Sovngarde? Think on that, please, for your sake.”


    He let go of Brynjolf’s hand and turned to leave the city. He then paused, and looked back. “One more thing. Know you the one who…” He chuckled again, “watches the streets? The Nord named Maul?”


    “Yes, his brother Dirge is a Guild member.”


    “Tell him what I told you today. That there is still time for the both of you. That you both are worth more than this. Oh and... 15 seconds.”


    "Huh?" Replied Brynjolf. "What do you mean, 15 seconds?"


    The Elf winked at him. A sly gesture. "That is how long sabre cats last before they... well, you know, finish."


    Brynjolf narrowed his eyes. "Really?"


    "Aye, 15 seconds, give or take a few seconds."  Äelberon then furrowed his brow, thinking. "Granted, they can mount every 15 minutes--"


    "They can mount again after 15 minutes?!" Brynjolf exclaimed, letting out a gust of air. "Damn!"


    "So whether your pitch will work depends on what you are trying to emphasize. If it is to prolong the act, then Ha!" He chuckled, shaking his head, "The sabre cat is definitely not the animal for you. Now, if it is for... I guess stamina, to repeat the process, then aye, use the sabre cat."


    With that the Elf left the city, trailed by his great husky, leaving Brynjolf seated on the bench, his arms crossed over his chest, brooding. He needed a drink, very badly, because damn it, despite everything, he found himself liking the Elf. He needed to speak to Maul, and he needed to have a serious talk with Delvin and Vex, about Mercer. Something wasn’t right.


    Straag Rod Book 1 ToC

    Chapter XIII    Chapter XV



21 Comments   |   SpottedFawn and 1 other like this.
  • SpottedFawn
    SpottedFawn   ·  April 30, 2017
    This was a great chapter! I loved his talk with Brynjolf, it got ME thinking about the situation with Mercer compared to the other members. Loved his confrontation with Maul. I can't wait for him to meet Jarl Siddgeir or some of the other more obnoxious c...  more
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  October 27, 2015
    Keep reading, he gives some speeches later. 
  • Ebonslayer
    Ebonslayer   ·  October 27, 2015
    I think he's better with one on one councils than big speeches
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  October 27, 2015
    I have thought about him giving a sermon in the narrative at some point. It would be very different from Heimskr's scream--ah preaching. 
  • Ebonslayer
    Ebonslayer   ·  October 27, 2015
    I think he underestimated his preaching powers, damn he's good.
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  October 16, 2015
    LOL, he's such a funny mess. He has sooooo much book knowledge and NO practical experience. 
  • Rhoth
    Rhoth   ·  October 16, 2015
    I just thought it was amusing that he would know that about sabrecats, but a few chapters back made the "one poke and it's over" joke.
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  October 16, 2015
    Hehe, Albee and his bad sex jokes. It's funny how people point out different things that they pick up on in the narrative. 
  • Rhoth
    Rhoth   ·  October 15, 2015
    15 seconds...
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  August 30, 2015
    Nope, that they didn't. I'm not quite done with those two yet either, though their tale won't continue for a long time yet. You can also see Aelberon's impatience in this chapter and instead of taking the high road, he'll sometimes become a bit immature. ...  more