Straag Rod: Book 1, Part 1, Chapter XVI


    26th of Evening Star, 4E 201


    “The horses, quickly move them! To the cave!” Ordered Thorygg Sun-Killer, as he wrapped himself in a heavy cave bear cloak, his blond hair already covered with a dusting of snow, and stormed towards the tents, kicking snow inside roughly to wake the soldiers. “Arses and elbows men! Those horses are more important than any of us are!  So stop with your beauty sleep already and get up! It isn’t working ANYWAY!” 


    The soldiers laughed heartily as the heavy snow squall pummeled the fur tents of the Falkreath Stormcloak camp, bringing a brutal icy wind and flurries of blinding snow. The horses were quickly herded to shelter; a cave that was at the base of a rock outcropping, and Thorygg took his place at the fire side.  He scowled, further marring his heavily weathered features, his green eyes mere slits as he squinted against the squall’s winds. He guarded the mountain pass to the Rift and he had his orders. Travelers pass. Farmers pass. Hunters pass. Pilgrims pass. Imperials were killed on sight, bandits too. And the Thalmor… he spit in the snow and brooded, his square jaw set.


    The Thalmor were shown the same mercy they showed Talos worshipers…


    He and his men saw the Shrine just south of the Guardian Stones. They saw what was done. They had coming running when they saw the flashes of light coming from the shrine, but they were too late.  It was a massacre. Men and women, gentlefolk, and Ysmir’s Beard! Priests. Butchered, their bodies scorched with magicks; their backs torn to shreds, the wounds shaped in the now familiar clusters of eight. The lash was used at that Shrine. Forever obsessed with the number Eight.  No trial, just murder. Damn High Elves. Damn them all to Oblivion. How Tullius could even align himself with such monsters, Thorygg could not fathom. How Titus Mede, their Emperor, could forsake Talos, the man who built their Empire, was beyond his understanding. They buried the worshipers near the Shrine and put the Thalmor monster on a pike. Shame he was already dead, the worshipers fought for their very lives. Thorygg shook his head in an attempt to erase the vivid memory. The blood. The stench of charred flesh.


    They were stationed near Helgen too, what was left of it, and that was now overrun with bandits since the dragon attack. If it wasn’t the snow trying to kill the horses, the bandits were trying to steal them. And they were desperate to try anything, especially in this weather.  This was going to be a rough, crazy afternoon, thought Thorygg as he gathered the cloak closer to his body, his eyebrows already forming ice crystals.


    “Be vigilant.” He ordered his men from the campfire. “Watch for Thalmor coming from the pass, and bandits from Helgen. This weather will make Men and Mer do crazy things.” 

    And he watched the pass, his green eyes narrow warming his hands by the fire…



    They traveled along the mountain pass, casting soothe spells to ward off the sudden bitter squall that had blown over. Justiciar Psyginia was not overly concerned, however, as she adjusted her fox fur cloak.  It was not much farther to Falkreath Hold and Jarl Siggdeir always welcomed the Thalmor into his city. If they could clear the mountain pass, the weather would improve significantly.


    She walked with purpose, back straight, head held high; her two agents close behind, their heavy cloaks partially covering their Elven armor; their conjured weapons charged.  Soon they would approach the Stormcloak camp. She had been told what was done to Agent Sanyon and was told not to engage. But… no one puts a Justiciar on a pike, her golden eyes narrowing to slits. She would engage and destroy the barbarians once and for all, and her name would spread throughout the ranks of the Aldmeri Dominion. Of course they were outnumbered, but they were Thalmor, it mattered not. They had magicks on their side… 



    There was a snow squall and they would take full advantage of it, Yargol thought as his band from Helgen made their way slowly to the Stormcloak camp; sneaking amongst the trees and rocks, their fur armor and cloaks keeping them warm in the squall’s chill. With the trees as cover, the Stormcloaks were blind in the snow. Sitting ducks. Six bandits were plenty; three archers and three berserkers. They had already taken advantage of a previous squall and did a successful raid on the Stormcloak camp just south along the road. That was a few days ago. They injured three of their soldiers and stole two horses before that Son of a Bitch officer drove them away. Now Yargol was back for more and this time with more men, he smiled as he unsheathed his battle axe, the spittle freezing as it dripped from his tusked underslung jaw. He had his eyes set on their leader. He always fancied their armor. It would look good on him, he smiled cruelly.



    Äelberon quickened his pace, urging Allie forward and she grunted while she trudged through the heavy snowfall, her spit freezing on her bit. He reached forward with a trembling hand and cleared the icicles from her bit. They would hurt her mouth. He stared at his hand, checking. No, not white yet. He squeezed it to get his blood flowing, his breath coming out hard as his teeth chattered uncontrollably.




    He quickly looked back, puffs of steam escaping from his snow-blistered lips, ice crusted on his eyebrows and beard.  Koor was keeping up, but Äelberon did not know for how much longer, he could barely see him now. He dared not cry out to encourage the dog. Lest it be the death of them. He turned back around and continued, scanning the road with watering eyes. He had taken a bear pelt from the back of the saddle and wrapped himself in it to ward off the bitter cold. The squall had followed him the entire mountain pass, descending so fast that he did not have time to stop and set up camp.  He had tried, twice, but he grew too cold and he could not even setup a tent the snow was so blinding.  He needed to keep moving. 


    He wanted to go faster, but even in the dense snow, he could still make them out just ahead. The golden armor and black robes were unmistakable. Thalmor. The heavy squall was protecting Äelberon to some extent, for the snow hid him from view and the howling wind muffled Allie’s hooves. But when they arrived closer to Ilinalta’s valley and more mild weather, there would no be protection and he would be forced to engage if they recognized him and attacked. They were on the hunt, and it was not for game, he had been watching them now for some time. The Justiciar… she knew exactly where she was going.


    Äelberon assumed he and the Thalmor had cleared the mountain pass when he felt the ground incline downwards. He heard the commotion first, but was not entirely sure what was going on.  He knew one thing, however, it was definitely sounds of fighting. He then saw through the dense snow fall the Justiciar let out a cry and charge her spells as her two agents conjured weapons, running toward the commotion.


    He could hear voices, and the sounds of battle, and Allie suddenly reared violently when a stray arrow struck her armor, making him fight to keep her steady. “Easy girl,” He soothed in a whisper as his eyes frantically scanned the snow, searching for signs of movement. If he was freezing to death, he put those thoughts aside as he pulled the arrow out of her armor immediately and frowned when he saw its make. Orcish. He furrowed his brow, squinting to see in the heavy snowfall.


    “Guard the horses, men! NOW!” 


    It was a man's voice. A Nord, thought Äelberon.   


    “They are coming. Damn it, bandits first, now Thalmor?! GET MOVING MEN!” Cried the voice again.


    Äelberon heard the clang of metal, explosions, and more cries as he controlled Allie who was now shifting nervously, her ears flat. Readying herself for battle.  


    “For Skyrim! Men, defend her til your last breath! The wounded, the wounded, safeguard them!”


    Damn it, cursed Äelberon.  Stormcloaks! 


    They were being attacked by both bandits and the Thalmor party and from the sound of it, it was not going well for the Stormcloaks.  He shook his head and sighed. Ride away Äelberon, it is not your fight, and his hand closed over the reins, ready to run, for it was his chance to evade the Thalmor. But then all the memories of their oppression of his own people came flooding back to him; the Purges, the Assassinations in the dark, the Interrogations, the Imprisonments, the Exiles, and he looked up to the sky for a moment, the snowflakes blinding his eyes, and then looked ahead.  His face beginning to flush with anger and he suddenly shrugged off the bearkskin. They were defending their rights, they did not deserve to be massacred by bandits and the Thalmor. Let them live to fight the Imperials in a fair fight under the proper rules of engagement, not die like sheep to the slaughter. Especially with wounded. He readied his bow and removed an arrow from his quiver. He then leaned towards Allie as he gave her flanks a hard squeeze.


    “Fly…” He whispered darkly, and she was off on a hard gallop. Koor keeping pace.


    “They are cornered! Finish them!” Cried Justiciar Psyginia, while she cast her fireball into the camp, smiling smugly as she watched the Barbarians scatter and their tents burn. They did not even have a mage among them. It is a wonder they lasted this long against the Empire with their light armor and Berserker techniques. Not a single archer in the group either, it was pathetic really, she thought as she fingered the lash she carried at her belt. They would know the pain of it by the time she was finished with them.


    “Move the wounded!” Cried Thorygg, “Quickly!”  He blocked a blow from a Thalmor agent, the bound sword creating sparks on his steel shield. An arrow suddenly struck his thigh and he cried out in pain. The Justiciar heard him and began her approach. The Khajiit bandit readied another arrow and nodded at the Justiciar, acknowledging her superiority. The Stormcloak would fall. Thorygg saw the Khajiit about to fire at him, and then his eyes went wide as he looked past the Khajiit onto the open road.


    He came like the very squall itself, thundering along the path on a great black charger, a husky by his side.  Thorygg was not a man who readily felt fear, but the battle cry that came from that warrior’s lips put fear in his heart. It was fierce, drawn-out and low, betraying someone of incredible size and strength. And it was a cry that carried great rage behind it. Even the Justiciars and bandits around Thorygg seemed to startle when they heard it before they resumed fighting. Thorygg was even more surprised when he saw the creature that issued that cry. By all accounts, he was the enemy, for the blazing red-orange eyes and slanted brows that showed from beneath the great bearskin cloak he wore immediately betrayed his heritage. Yet when the High Elf drew his Orcish bow, he aimed it not at Thorygg to finish the job for his Thalmor kin, but aimed it instead at the Khajiit that targeted Thorygg.  Hearing the rider, the Khajiit whirled around to try to fire his arrow at the new target, only to be struck dead by a well-placed arrow to the forehead.  Followed quickly by two of his fellow bandit archers in rapid succession. By Ysmir, the rider had the eyes of a hawk and the speed of a Bosmer with that weapon! 


    The Justiciar was surprised to see the Stormcloak dog gawking and turned around to find the source of The Nord's idiotic stare. Her heart skipped a beat.


    As terrible as the dawn…


    That was what was said of him in the books. Gods, the silver-white hair, the fair skin, his features partially blending with the white of the dense snow fall and partially obscured by the heavy bearskin cloak he wore. But his eyes, the eyes were not obscured and cut through the snowfall like fire, glinting with the heat of battle. Staring right at her.


    The Pale Elf…


    The Pale Elf… that was what he was called. A white ghost of Alinor’s distant past. She narrowed her eyes and then blinked hard several times, not believing what her eyes saw. Refusing to believe what her eyes now saw.  He was supposed to be dead. That was what First Emissary Elenwen had claimed a few weeks ago, when she arrived at the Thalmor Embassy.  She lied.


    Äelberon… That was his given name. A dog from Dusk, the son of a crippled fishermer and a blacksmith.  A peasant from the South. A testament to how low Altmeri society had sunk prior to the Thalmor taking over, for he rose above his station to the highest echelon of Altmeri society, to become a Knight-Paladin of Auri-El in the ultimate insult to the God-King of the Altmer. A mongrel with the blood of the degenerate Falmer in his veins. They purged his city of such filth years ago, but he stubbornly endured. The last survivor of Crystal-Like-Law that refused affiliation with the Thalmor. That refused to accept the truth.


    Justiciar Psyginia turned quickly, now ignoring Thorygg. The Stormcloak Barbarian could wait, she would now claim this new prize for the Aldmeri Dominion and do what Emissary Elenwen had obviously failed to do.  She charged her spells, her hands glowing with fire and followed her target.


    Thorygg could not help but watch, as he continued to fight bandits and the Justiciar’s agents, groaning, his thigh throbbing. He could not believe his eyes. She was heading towards the High Elf, her spells charged. What was this?  Thorygg growled and doubled his efforts, trying to clear a path to the Justiciar. Was she going to kill him?  Ha!  If the High Elf was going to fall to anyone, it was going to be Thorygg himself, especially if his intentions were false. He had only killed bandits so far. The High Elves hated Men. For all he knew, the High Elf was saving his own kind from the bandits, and would turn on his men next.  He needed to protect the injured in the camp.


    He was proven wrong when he saw the Thalmor Bitch charge a fire ball and aim it directly at the rider. Shor’s Bones! She was going to kill her own kin in cold blood. He was now curious, who was this rider that made his own kin turn against him? Thorygg now wanted him alive to answer.


    “Watch out, rider!” Thorygg cried out.


    Äelberon tried to turn Allie hard as he watched the Justiciar release her wall of flames. She roared at the bit when he pulled her reins to steer her away and then he felt the searing heat. He was too late, letting out a hoarse cry when the flames struck.


    Allie screamed in pain as the flames grazed her flank and she reared, throwing Äelberon off. He landed hard on the stone road with a gasp, but ignored the pain, and quickly righted himself with a sweep of his long legs. His bow lay broken on the snow. Quickly he ran towards Allie, barely dodging the Justiciar’s fireball. In one motion he grabbed his shield from her saddle, and unsheathed his sword. He struck Allie hard on the rump and she ran off towards safety, her flank oozing with clear fluid and blood from her burns.


    Äelberon faced the Justiciar, the heat of battle growing in him and he swung his sword threateningly, as the two faced off. She fired another fireball, which he blocked with his shield. Äelberon then gave the shield a swing, a rough growl escaping his lips, when she approached. She dodged the blow and narrowed her eyes. The dog dared to fight back.  


    “You are wanted for crimes against the Thalmor, Dusken Dog. Surrender… or die.” Justiciar Psyginia warned.


    Crimes, thought Thorygg, what crimes? It was the cry of defiance from the Elf that surprised Thorygg, spoken in his Elvish tongue.




    Äelberon was now on the offensive, and he raised his sword to swing, moving his blade rapidly in a fake maneuver.  Only to make a slight turn in the opposite direction and catch her by surprise.  She had forgotten the ancient techniques he practiced, for they no longer served the Thalmor.  The techniques still served him and she quickly cast a ward, absorbing most of the damage, though she staggered. The dog came at her again, his blade moving rapidly despite it being a relatively weak weapon of steel make and she found herself backing away from his strikes. Her surviving agent quickly came to her rescue and sped towards her, gaining the momentum to leap in the air in an attempt to kick Äelberon down, but Äelberon gave a mighty swing from his shield arm and the agent was knocked off balance mid-air. It gave the Justiciar time to cast another fireball, which barely missed Äelberon.


    He turned again to face her, the snow still falling heavily.  From what she could see, the years had not been kind to the dog, even more lines marred his already disgustingly scarred face and he now sported the beard that hallmarked the long Altmeri middle age. He was now past his prime and Justiciar Psyginia would use this to her advantage. She cast spells again, this time two conjured swords.


    She watched as the dog’s face changed. Thorygg saw it too as he continued to fight with his men, the darkening of the features, the blazing of the eyes, the mouth contorting to an angry frown against the backdrop of the squall. The rider was displeased and the Nord could see the beginnings of fear in the Thalmor pig when the Elf uttered his next words, the tone low and menacing.


    “By wielding those weapons, you insult our kin who perished in a sea of Daedric blood. You insult your God-King… Blasphemer.”


    “Your very existence is blasphemous, Dusken.” She responded, her eyes narrowing in disgust and she spit upon the ground. “You are no kin of mine, Falmer Dog!”


    Thorygg heard the Elf laugh a bitter, hard laugh and he answered the Justiciar. “Falmer dog?! I would rather be thus than what you are, youngling, for all of your claimed purity. Too weak-willed to even think for yourself. Fed by a lifetime of Thalmor lies. And their food does not nourish, but only gives enough that just the skin and bones remain of the proud Race we once were! Auri-El! My heart cries at the injustice the Thalmor have done unto my People!”


    “Then I shall ease your whimpering, Dog!” She screamed, assuming the same stance Äelberon had showed Skjor at the training circle.


    “So be it.” He hissed.


    The two then rushed each other and there were sparks as the steel hit the Conjured weapons in a flurry of speed. Both were excellent bladesmen, meeting each other's strikes, as they parried in the snow. She was far faster, but he had greater strength and a brutal shield arm. She made several attempts to cut the lacing of his armor, but he was able to dodge her. Her agent came at Äelberon again, this time with his own bound weapons. Four blades against one, and they backed Äelberon to a corner, their blades glowing as he shifted his own blade quickly.


    While Thorygg ran the Orc bandit through, an old Nord saying popped into his head, as he watched the Thalmor back the rider against the rock face.


    Never back an old bear into a corner.


    The rider showed no fear as they closed in on him, their weapons poised for the attack. This was no bear cub, thought Thorygg. With a cry, the rider used his shield to lunge at the Justiciar hard, the force of which propelled himself off the ground, freeing his long legs to kick the surprised agent, knocking him flat on his back, leaving him stunned. The action made the old bear fall hard on his side, grimacing in pain, but he shifted position extremely fast as the Justiciar came for him, her blades swinging with blinding speed. He lifted his steel longsword and their eyes met as he drove the weapon it deep into the Justiciar’s chest with a growl, his face contorted in rage.


    “For the many who suffered under your cruelty. For Men, and for Mer...” He snarled, as her spells instantly collapsed at the shock of her impaling.


    She fell to her knees, gasping; her eyes wide with shock as she desperately tried to cast healing magicks. He pulled the sword roughly from her body and she watched, her life ebbing while he quickly turned on her agent that was running towards him, swords raised, eyes red with anger. She saw the Pale Elf let out a mighty cry, as a brutal swing from his shield arm snapped her agent’s neck, sending him dead to the ground.  He turned to her again and stared hard, his red-orange eyes intense, steam coming from his mouth, snow clinging to his silver beard and hair, as the snow fell, and her blood pooled on the road.  He was the last thing she ever saw, and the Pale Elf’s firm words were the last thing she ever heard.


    “I am Äelberon of Dusk... and in spite of your best efforts… I still live.”



    Thorygg Sun-Killer was a brave man, but even he hesitated to approach the rider at first.  The rider was coming off the heat of battle and Thorygg still could sense the aggression. The rage, and… the anguish. Aye, there was anguish in his fighting and Thorygg remembered the rider’s words.


    My heart cries at the injustice the Thalmor have done unto my People!


    Thorygg’s men immediately assembled near their commander and he had to repeatedly gesture for them to stand down, incurring from him some rough looks. At least for now. He needed to learn this Elf’s intentions first. They understood after a few seconds. They trusted him. It took a few moments and the rider slowly sheathed his sword and his body relaxed enough that he could be approached cautiously. Thorygg hobbled to the rider. He killed Thalmor. He, a High Elf himself, had shed the blood of the Thalmor. He extended his hand, in a gesture of good will, and in a move that surprised Thorygg, the rider turned to him and accepted his hand with a nod.


    “Well met, rider” Nodded Thorygg, shaking the rider’s hand. By Ysmir! It was like ice, how long had he been in the squall? If the Elf taking his hand surprised Thorygg, his next words surprised him even more.  


    “You are injured.” Replied the Elf, gesturing with his head towards Thorygg’s leg.


    Thorygg stared at his bleeding leg and waved his hand. “It’s nothing.”


    “I will help you.” Insisted Äelberon.


    And Thorygg, a Stormcloak and a Nord heard words he had NEVER heard before from a High Elf.


    I will help you.


    Help, Thorygg thought, completely taken aback.


    For Men, and for Mer...


    He was brought back from his thoughts when the Elf continued.  “Just let me first call my horse. I had sent her off. She is injured as well.”


    The Elf suddenly let loose from his lips a sharp whistle, and Thorygg saw the black charger approach. Her flank was badly singed and she fretted in pain.


    Äelberon took her reins and gently spoke to the animal, his words soothing, his features softening as he petted her neck. His eyes then widened, and he broke away from his horse, as he scanned his surroundings frantically. Koor… where was he? “Koor!”


    Thorygg could sense the worry in the Elf’s voice as he called for his animal several times, and the Nord knew the dog was loved. He had seen the dog approach with its Master, but it did not participate in the battle. He watched as the Elf backtracked along the road towards where he was initially thrown. Towards the blackened marks on the road, where the snow and ice was melted in the wake of the Justiciar’s wall of flames.


    The cry of the Elf when he heard the soft whines of his animal was terrible for Thorygg to hear. Not loud, but hoarse and pained, while he ran to towards the sound. The dog, a Cyrodiil war husky, lay on the road, his coat badly singed, parts of the flesh exposed and bleeding. The Elf let out another sharp cry and quickly knelt before the animal, ignoring the pain in his knees as he tore off his left gauntlet, exposing his frostbitten hand to the falling snow. He stroked the dog’s face tenderly and soothed the dog with his words just as he had soothed his horse.


    “Shh, do not cry, I am here, Koor, I am here…”


    Thorygg saw the Elf’s left hand glow. A healer!  He ran his hand over the dog’s chest and flank and gradually the burned skin healed. The Elf let his hand drop with a sigh, the spell was finished. The dog got up slowly, but it trembled violently with cold and the Elf took it in his great arms and held it tightly in a feeble attempt to warm it with his own body.  


    “I am so sorry, my friend.” He whispered as he held Koor. "My boy, my boy." Gods, he could not stop his own shivering, let alone keep the dog warm. He would die! Äelberon saw the Stormcloak Officer approach and he looked up. The Stormcloaks at the Whiterun camp had been kind to him, for the Nords were a people who kept dogs. He looked up and spoke. “Please? A fire for this poor animal, while I make my own camp?”


    The Elf pleaded, his eyes meeting Thorygg’s, his voice now quite hoarse with emotion as he held the failing dog close to him. “I cannot make my own camp fast enough. Please, he needs fire. The cold will be the death of him, please…”


    A High Elf was pleading, for the life of a dog. 


    Thorygg looked back towards his camp. His men were watching. Curious as to what he was going to do. The tents were damaged, but the fires still burned. This was a High Elf, his enemy. His orders were clear. Kill Thalmor. Kill the High Elves, yet Thorygg could not deny what his own eyes saw. They saw the High Elf fight like a bear when his own people attacked him. They saw him show such compassion for his animals. They saw him show compassion for him by offering his help as a healer.  And Thorygg, a Nord, needed to hear the "why" in all of this. The only way he was going to learn was if the dog lived. In a move that initially sent shocked gasps resonating throughout his camp, Thorygg Sun-Killer gestured to his camp and spoke while the shivering Elf knelt upon the road holding his dog in his arms. “Come quickly, you are welcome here, rider. I am Thorygg Sun-Killer, the commander of this camp.”


    “Auri-El be praised…” muttered the Elf under his breath, overcome with gratitude.


    Thorygg noted the incredible tenderness as the Elf gathered the husky in his arms and brought him to the campfire, setting him gently down upon one of the bed rolls, petting the dog’s head as it continued to tremble.


    Äelberon turned to his benefactor. He was also clad in a bearskin cloak, though his shoulder-length light blond hair was exposed and dusted with snow. The green eyes that met his were keen and bright. He was clad in the Officer’s uniform, which featured a strong bear motif. This must be the Falkreath camp, he thought, glancing around the campsite. It was in shambles from the attack. Tents still smoldering, armor and weapons scattered about. The bodies of bandits and Thalmor beginning to freeze in the cold. It smelled of blood and death, though he could also faintly smell stew and he chided his stomach for being so weak.


    “Watch him, please? He needs fur, it is in my saddle.” Äelberon asked.


    “Of course.” Replied the Nord and with a quick snap of his fingers, a Stormcloak soldier took a seat next to the trembling husky.


    Äelberon walked to Allie, and leaned his head against hers, and whispered. “I am so sorry, my girl, I promise, I will make it better.” His hand glowed again and Thorygg watched in amazement as the singe marks on the horse’s flank disappeared slowly as the Elf ran his now snow-white hand over the animal.


    Äelberon let his hand fall, having trouble getting circulation and his hands now felt numb, as he reached for a large bear pelt in one of the saddle bags. Frost bite had already set in.


    “Rider, you cannot stay in this weather. You need heat too.” Thorygg interrupted Äelberon, pointing toward the cave. He wasn’t going to learn the “why” if the Elf died. “We will lead your animal to the cave where our horses are. She will be warm.” He turned to one of his soldiers, “Jyta, take the animal.”


    “Jyta?” Repeated the Elf slowly, as a young, blonde soldier approached. He knew that name. He knew that face, his eyes widening.




    “Oh!” Jyta exclaimed and she dashed past Thorygg to the Elf and the officer's jaw dropped when he watched them embrace as friends, the Elf picking up the young Nord lass like a ragdoll, hoisting her to the air a bit. This Elf was full of surprises!


    Äelberon set her down and pushed her back to arm’s length and just looked at her for some seconds, his hands on her shoulders, squeezing them. His face showed such surprise and joy, and he shook his head in disbelief. “Praise to Auri-El, you did get out! When the path collapsed, I did not know how or if you would escape. And then, I was lost for so long, sick, and when I returned to search, I found nothing. Nothing, and it weighed so heavily upon me.”


    Jyta smiled. She had remembered those eyes of his and his kindness when her brother fell. The comfort that he gave her. It had given her the strength to go on. Gods, he had come back for her!  “The Jarl and his remaining men came not long after, searching for survivors.” She began, looking up at the Elf as she spoke. He was so tall. “We escaped in the other direction, through the entrance of Keep.” Her light brows then furrowed, her hazel eyes narrowing as she remembered. “Ulfric Stormcloak had asked for you, Priest. He knew you.”


    Priest eh? Thought Thorygg. And this High Elf KNEW Ulfric Stormcloak!? This was getting better and better.


    After one more quick embrace, Jyta  separated from him and walked to Allie, patting her neck. “By Ysmir, she is cold, let me take her to the cave and then we will talk.”


    Äelberon nodded and patted Allie on the rump, urging her to go. He turned to Thorygg, eyeing the Stormcloak’s bleeding leg. “It is your turn now.” He said, barely suppressing the chattering of his teeth.


    Thorygg shook his head stubbornly, and placed his hand on Äelberon’s shoulder, leading him to the campfire. No, the Elf was not getting off that easily. Thorygg needed to know the tale of the High Elf who knew Ulfric Stormcloak and hugged Nord women like they were kin. “Nay, Rider. Not until those white hands of yours get their color back and you’ve had some warm food in your belly. Don’t worry,” Thorygg grinned, “I’m a big boy and can handle the pain. Sit by the fire and warm yourself. Besides, you have some explaining to do…”  He faced the Elf, “Priest?”


    “Yes, priest, but I am called Äelberon of Dusk.”


    When they reached the fire, Äelberon knelt beside Koor and draped the pelt gently over him. Koor rewarded him with a kiss, and Äelberon smiled. He was coming back. “Sleep, boy, you have earned it. I will prepare a meal for you soon, but I will need some heat first.”


    He took his place next to his dog, wrapped himself in part of the bear pelt, and began to warm his hands by the fire. The frost bite was not too severe. As soon as he was warm enough to cast again, he would heal. The Stormcloaks were staring at him, very curious. There was no tent large enough for the entire camp, so they were all outside, huddled around the large campfire that still burned robustly despite the heavy snow. They were all wrapped in heavy furs, their heads covered, some of them sharing furs to boost their warmth. Every once in a while, several soldiers rose and cleared the gathering snow from the vicinity of the campfire. He was sure none of them had ever seen an Altmer kill Thalmor. He did have a lot of explaining to do. There was an awkward silence for a few moments, until Jyta returned and took a place by the fire to Äelberon’s left, leaning instinctively on his shoulder to warm herself. He immediately responded by bringing her under the bearskin and he could feel her shivering stop. She broke the silence, continuing where she had left off.


    “I journeyed with Jarl Ulfric back to Windhelm and then I received my next orders. I was assigned to the Falkreath camp. I have been with Thorygg Sun-Killer ever since, you?”


    Äelberon bent his head and smiled. “Oh, Jyta, I do not even know where to start.” He looked at her hazel eyes, “A lot has happened since we last spoke.”


    “Well,” Interjected Thorygg, “It’s still squalling and there’s not much we can do until it stops, except eat and drink, so if you have some skill with words, you can entertain us with a good story. To satisfy me, I only want to know two things; how do priests fight as you do and why on Nirn was a Thalmor Justiciar attacking you?” He turned to his quartermaster, “Bjarne, that stew ready? Should be unless that Thalmor Witch burned it all with her fireballs. I’m starved.”


    “No, she didn’t touch the stew. It’s safe. I would’ve guarded it with my life.”


    The Stormcloaks erupted into laughter, and Äelberon chuckled, clearing his throat before he spoke, the feeling in his hands starting to return. They saw his face in the fire light start to change as he began to speak. Oh yes, thought Thorygg, this one was definitely a weaver of tales.


    “I will answer both your questions, Thorygg Sun-Killer, with but a single tale.” He paused, a tiny smile forming on his lips, “For not even the most powerful of squalls would last long enough for me to tell the tale of my entire two hundred and forty-three years.”  Some of the Stormcloaks’ eyes’ widened and there were several audible gasps, when they heard his age. He did not look that old. Battle-hewn, of course, but no more so than a Veteran Nord late in his fifth decade or perhaps early in his sixth? His eyes then twinkled in the fire light, great eyes that matched the intensity of the campfire. “And you would surely run out of mead.”  They laughed. He continued, his eyes growing distant as he remembered, “And forgive me if I shed the occasional tear or if my voice breaks in its telling, for it is a dark tale, though not entirely without hope. Appropriate for this time, I think.”


    He suddenly removed the bearskin that covered his shoulders and removed a pack. After rummaging through it, he produced a small satchel and a waterskin. “May I use your cooking pot?” He asked.


    “Of course, help yourself, this part of the story?” Quipped Thorygg.


    “No, no,” The Elf chuckled, “but I find that stories go well with tea.”


    Tea? Thought Thorygg with a frown, while the Elf carefully poured from his waterskin into the cooking pot, before again taking his place by the fire.


    “I take you back,” Äelberon began, “Back to a time when the moons above us did not shine. The Void Nights, they were called. It was a strange time. Unsettling, dark. I was serving as Captain of the Guard to one of the great Elven houses in Cloudrest, when I learned that my dearest friend had… “  He hesitated as he searched for the words, “had done something to himself, something that I could not comprehend. Ah, the Void Nights made Mer do strange things. And they brought an entire nation to their knees, for no Khajiit survived birth for two years. Ah, a dark time, both literally and figuratively. You are lucky to have been spared it. The blessings a short lifespan...

    He was a high-ranking Thalmor Official, and many obeyed his word, but still he yearned for more power.” His voice grew bitter, “Because once you have a taste of it, you never stop craving it. He struck a terrible bargain with the clan Volkihar, thought I did not know it was that clan at the time, and became the darkest of all things…”


    His eyes blazed in the firelight, his voice turning dark when he spoke the next words. “A vampire.” Some of the Stormcloaks frowned and made various signs in an effort to invoke Talos’ protection. The Elf spoke such terrible names openly and without fear.   


    “The other Thalmor did not know, for he hid it well and was greatly gifted in the Illusion school, but now Thorygg Sun-Killer, I will answer your first question. I knew, and how did I know? I am a Knight-Paladin of Auri-El. I am his priest, gifted by the King of the Aedra to know all that is dark in this world, so that I may rout them out in his name, with my blade, my bow, and my magicks. I have been his warrior for over two hundred years. I know no other way.”  He bent his head and his voice suddenly broke as he spoke his next words, and Thorygg could sense the building emotion, Jyta’s eyes welled with tears as she heard his voice, full of anguish. “But alas, I could not bear to kill my friend. The Mer who had saved my mother from the Great Anguish. The Mer who reunited me with my family. The Mer I called brother. It is part of my holy Order to see the good in all things, and in my naiveté, I sought a cure for him, for I thought no one, no one would want this?”


    He turned to the Stormcloaks, his eyes searching theirs.  “Am I right? No one? Surely it came to him by some bitter, bitter accident?”


    They nodded, and he composed himself long enough to continue.


    “I confronted him, as a friend; nay as my brother. For he was, in all but blood. We did not always agree, especially then. We argued bitterly at times on the direction our people should go after the Great Anguish.  But deep, deep down he was still my brother and I loved him. I loved him.”  He let out a ragged sigh and then abruptly stopped when he heard the gurgling sounds from the cooking spit.  “The pot, it boils, I am sorry.”


    “No, no finish your tale,” Prompted Jyta, “Where is the tea? I will steep it for you.”


    He handed her the satchel and she put a hand on his shoulder as she got up and tended to his tea. “Thank you, Jyta.”


    “Go on, Rider.” Pressed Thorygg.


    Äelberon stared into the flames again and continued.  “If I had been perhaps a smarter Mer, more wizened to the ways of the world, more bitter, perhaps I would have saved them. If I had known then what I know now, then perhaps. But I did not, and I confronted him. I remember my words. He was at the balcony of the Thalmor Office at Cloudrest. It was just past sunset. He was alone, facing the outside, towards the foothills of Eton Nir. His back was to me. I put my hand on his cold shoulder. I was such a fool.


    ‘Vingalmo, my brother, I know what you have become and my heart aches for your suffering. Please, let me help you. I know of a cure’


    He turned to me and I then saw his face. His eyes. They glowed orange, with a vampire’s fire, his face like ash, and his fangs sharp. His blond hair turned snow white from what he had endured to receive this ‘gift’.”


    He turned to the Nords, his eyes rimmed red from suppressed tears. “To become Clan Volkihar, you are raped to death by their clan leader and then brought back with vampire's blood, as they themselves were raped by Molag Bal. On the very summoning day of their dark lord. On Chil'a.”  He could see that the Nords were now quite pale with revulsion and Äelberon cleared his throat. If they were pale now, it was going to get far worse.


    ”His Illusion spells did not work on me, for I am blessed by the Gods to see things as they really are. Though on that day, it was a curse to see. To the other Thalmor, he looked as he always looked, a golden Altmer, beautiful by the standards of my People, and as soon as I met his gaze, I knew. This was what he wanted.  And then I knew I had made the greatest mistake of my long life. He had known from before that I would learn his affliction, for he knew what I was. I will never forget his voice. It was as if a dagger of ice was plunged into my heart. Into my soul, for he struck not at my body. No, now that I knew his secret, he knew better how to silence me. He raised his writing hand and spoke to me.


    ‘I know that you know, my brother, which is why, with this hand, I signed the Purge Orders for Dusk. You have a day… if you want them to live.’”


    He paused for a moment, visibly distressed while he replayed the terrible memories in his mind. As fresh as if they happened only yesterday. At first, the Stormcloaks thought he could not continue, but he found words again.  “The Purge. It is what is done to keep the Altmeri race pure.” He turned to the Stormcloaks, “I am not pure Altmeri, as you may have already guessed. Many, many years ago, as they escaped the vengeful Nords, three ships of Snow Elves found their way to Dusk. Escaping the terror caused from their own unjust actions in Saarthal. Dusk, on the Southeast corner of Summerset Isles is… was a kind city. A city by the Crystal sea. Of wood and boardwalks and fishing boats. A city of simple folk. We took them in, feeling keenly the anguish of our Snow kin, and over thousands of years, their blood mingled with ours. It is very much diluted now, but sometimes Altmer like me appear. This is the gift from my mother's side. And my father? His heart pumped blood mixed with that of the Wild Elves of Cyrod. Another group of refugees fleeing the Alessians. No, we were not pure, but we were ignored for centuries. Until he realized that I knew, then my city was condemned.


    “I rode for a full day, from Cloudrest to Dusk, without stopping. I killed my horse, but the beast bore me past my city. And I saw it burn. Thalmor took their brothers and sisters out of their own homes and slaughtered them, whether they were light-skinned like me, it mattered not. Only that they were from Dusk.” His voice broke and the Nords watched him strike his chest with his left fist. “An entire city condemned because I could see what others could not! And I passed Dusk, ignoring their cries of terror. I, a Knight-Paladin of Auri-El, ignored the cries of the innocent because I needed…”


    He took a sip of his tea and took a deep breath before continuing, in an attempt to calm himself, for they could see that he trembled slightly as he spoke, the pain nearly ready to overtake him.  Ah, Äelberon thought, just the night before, he was celebrating with the Khajiit, laughing and joking. This morning he had selected his second gift from Ahkari. And now, joy had become despair. He almost thought about stopping, not continuing, for he did not know how much more grief his heart could bear, but they needed to hear. He was compelled to tell his story. They needed to know that they were not alone in their struggles. They needed to know the future of Skyrim if they did not act. The Thalmor had done this to their very own...


    “I needed to reach my home, so I ignored the cries of the innocent and passed Dusk.”


    “Why?” Asked Jyta.  By the Nine she could tell that the Priest struggled terribly to tell this story.


    “Hidden among Thalmor were members of the clan Volkihar, planted, with an even darker purpose, Jyta. I raced to my home, finally killing my horse when it collapsed upon the sand, and saw that it too burned. The very home that managed to escape the Daedra of the Great Anguish now fell to the Thalmor for the one I once called ‘brother’ knew my home well, spending many afternoons at my family’s grotto by the sea. Sharing meals with us. Reveling in the affection his own family failed to give him. When I entered my burning home, I saw my father first, my ata.  I rejoiced that he lived. Until I saw his face, and I knew. I kept repeating to myself that he was no longer my father; that my father was dead, but I still felt the pain in my heart as I killed the monster he had become. I continued into my burning home. I needed to find her. My mother. Lenya in the language of my homeland. I looked everywhere, burning my hands terribly as I turned piles of wood and brick over. Searching…”


    Äelberon sighed and brought his face to his hands, as he fought to compose himself long enough to finish. The Stormcloaks were silent but Äelberon felt a hand upon his shoulder and took comfort in her presence. Jyta had also lost. He was there when her brother fell to the Imperials at Helgen. He removed his hands from his face and faced the soldiers. They were taken aback by the look of despair. He did not bother to hide his pain anymore. “She was not inside our home.” Äelberon began, “My lenya aure. No, I found her upon the grasses of our family grotto, her bow a short distance from her. The corpses of several of them nearby.”  His voice suddenly took a tone of great pride, “She had fought them.”  Äelberon bent his head and the anguish returned.  “Fought them, but was overwhelmed. Her body burned with their ice magicks, and I saw the telltale bite marks on her pale neck. I cradled her in my arms and bore her to the golden grape blossom tree that guarded the grotto’s gate. A tree she and my father planted when they first came to live in that house. The tree that sheltered my head as a little boy while I lay under its trunk reading, waiting for her to come home from her day at the forge and his day at sea.  When I brought her to our tree, she stirred… apologies… please...a moment…”  


    He could no longer control his tears, and they flowed hot onto his cheeks.


    “Friend, stop. It is too much for you.” Offered Thorygg, his own eyes watering.  There was not a dry eye among the Stormcloaks and several were crying, remembering their own losses in this terrible Civil War. The Elf shook his head and cleared his throat, wiping his face with the back of his hand, though the tears continued to flow.


    “No, you need to hear the tale and I need to tell it. You need to know what the Thalmor are and I promised that I would answer your question.” Äelberon then took a deep breath and continued.  “She woke, and despite the pain I felt knowing that she would die, there was also joy and hope, for I saw that she had not yet turned. And I knew that again, it would come to me. We exchanged... tender words that only mother and son could understand, and then knowing that I was the only one who could help her, for I was His priest, she begged me to take her life. She did not want to die damned; her soul forever belonging to Coldharbour. So I ended her life quickly and painlessly, sending her to Aetherius. Separating her from the Mer she loved forever, for I could not bear to tell her his fate. So…”  Äelberon faced the band of Stormcloaks, letting out a great sigh. They were completely silent as he stared at them. He regained his composure slowly while he sipped his tea, taking time to wipe Jyta’s tears from her face. She could not help herself and hugged him again. “It is alright, Jyta. I am alright.”


    He turned again to the band of Stormcloaks and continued his original train of thought. “So, you see now that I understand you, Stormcloaks. I understand your struggle in this land. But do not despair, I told you that this tale had hope, and I will answer your second question, Thorygg, if that is still what you wish.”


    “It is indeed my wish, Friend.” Answered Thorygg.  Damn, his eyes were still misting. He never expected such a tale from a High Elf. That they could do this to their own people! Nords fought, brother against brother, but to destroy a city for not having the same colored eyes or hair? And then Thorygg thought about the slaughter at Karthwasten and was silent. His own people were indeed capable. 


    “But first, your leg, Thorygg, my hands are quite warm now. And… I need some time.”


    “Fine,” Grumbled Thorygg, he really wanted the Ef to continue, if it meant getting his leg patched up, then so be it.


    “Bring him mead, please, he will need it.” Directed Äelberon, as he knelt where Thorygg sat, still sniffing as the grief in him slowly subsided.


    The Nord watched tensely as the Elf began to inspect the wound. A bottle of strong mead was brought to the Nord, but before he could grab it, Äelberon took it. Great he’s going to drink it, thought Thorygg. After that sad tale, he deserved it, but then the Nord’s eyes went wide as Äelberon poured the mead over his wound.  "What the blazes did you do that for?!” Thorygg bellowed, grimacing in pain. Not for the wound, but for the waste of a good bottle of mead! The Elf was mad!


    “Oh it is not that bad,” chided the Elf, “You are just sore that you do not get to drink the entire bottle. Here.” Handing Thorygg the bottle, “The sugar, alchohol, and honey will clean the wound.”  Äelberon studied the shaft of the arrow and then frowned, his eyes narrowing.


    “What is it?” Asked Thorygg.


    “This arrow is of Orcish make. The heads have barbs. If I pull it out, I will do even more damage. I need to push it out the other end.” He turned to Jyta, “Jyta, please bring me a dagger and a hammer.”  She quickly got up and went to the work bench.  “And another bottle of mead!” He called after.  She nodded. Äelberon sat back on his haunches and crossed his arms over his chest.  “It won’t be long. Sit at the edge of the rock please, and straighten your leg.”


    Jyta arrived with the requested items, setting them down next to the Elf and Äelberon began cutting at Thorygg’s armor with the dagger, exposing his bare, muscled thigh. When he finished cutting, he laid the blade of the dagger directly into the fire and began to remove his other gauntlet.  “What are you doing that for?” Asked Thorygg as he sipped his mead.


    “I must clean my hands,” and with that Äelberon plunged his hands into the fresh snow, wincing at the cold. He then took the dagger and trimmed the arrow, just below the fletching. Thorygg watched while the Altmer grabbed fresh snow and started to rub it on the Nord's wounded thigh, both cleaning it and numbing to reduced pain.  Äelberon chuckled, his eyes twinkling with mischief. He needed the laugh and it would ease the tension in the camp, for his story had been very dark indeed. Äelberon looked up at Thorygg and grinned, his eyes still a bit swollen from his recent tears and he continued to rub the Nord's thigh. 


    “What?” questioned Thorygg.


    “Now that I have rubbed your thigh, do not go expecting a wedding proposal or anything like that."


    The entire camp roared with laughter and Thorygg turned bright red. So the Elf had a sense of humor, eh? Especially after the horrors he went through? He was a most unusual priest.  “Don’t flatter yourself, your people are damn ugly. Besides I don’t swing that way.”


    “Neither do I.”


    Thorygg laughed again at the Elf's words, while the Elf gave his bare thigh a friendly slap. He reached for the dagger and the hammer and turned his attention back to Thorygg.  “Alright, Thorygg, are you ready?”  The Stormcloak Officer nodded. Äelberon placed the blade of the dagger directly over the shaft of the arrow and raised the hammer.  “Look me in the eye, Thorygg, and breathe when I breathe, for I will hit hard and fast.”  Thorygg met the Elf’s gaze, and the two inhaled together. On their exhale, Äelberon brought the hammer down hard, driving the arrow through the other side of Thorygg’s thigh. Damn it, the Nord was made of strong stock, he never broke eye contact. What a people, Äelberon thought. He quickly pulled the shaft from underneath Thorygg’s leg and then doused the wound with more mead.


    “Now, for the actual healing part.” and Äelberon’s hand began to glow, his long fingers trembling as his hand moved over the Nord’s leg, his eyes focused.  They watched in amazement as Thorygg’s wound closed, and he could feel his pain subside. With a sharp exhale, the Elf released his hand and the spell was complete. It was as if Thorygg had never been shot.


    “There are more wounded?” Äelberon asked.


    “No, that is too much, Elf. That was no easy thing you did. Not in this weather.”


    “You fought bravely to safeguard them when the bandits and Thalmor attacked. That is why I came in the first place. I heard you, your words telling your men to protect the wounded. I admire your sense of honor, Thorygg Sun-Killer. Please, as a Knight-Paladin of Auri-El, it would not sit right with me if I did not help them.”


    “Are you always this stubborn?”


    “Yes.” Was Äelberon’s reply. “Why do you think I have lived so long?”


    Thorygg laughed. “Fine.”  He led Äelberon to a large tent towards the back of the camp. He could hear the groans as he approached. Three soldiers lay wounded. It took him some time and great effort, for he was beginning to lose focus for such demanding spells due to the bitter cold, but he was able to heal all three. He was visibly tired when he finished and Thorygg barked at Bjarne.


    “Bring food, Bjarne! You,” He turned to Äelberon, “You sit and finish your story; you have procrastinated long enough.”


    They walked back to the fire, where the Stormcloaks were beginning to distribute the stew in wooden bowls, along with bottles of mead. The snowfall had lessened somewhat, but not enough. Famished, Thorygg sat upon a stone and began to eat and drink, while the Elf resumed his place by his dog. A bowl was handed to him, which he readily took, but they stared at him when he politely refused the bottle of mead.


    “You don’t like mead?” A Stormcloak soldier asked. "It's good Nord stuff."


    “I do not drink.”  The entire company of soldiers stared at him in silence; some of their mouths were agape, and Äelberon looked up from his stew.  “It is against my Order to do so.” He quickly added.


    “How do you even live?” Asked a soldier.


    “I live.” Äelberon replied with a slight smile.


    “Don’t you miss it?”


    “One does not miss what one does not know.”  He had lost count of how many times he had said that line in his long life.


    “You mean not ever, not one drop?”




    “Well,” Chimed Thorygg with a hearty laugh, “At least there are always women, eh? Big tits and a nice arse warm up just as well as a tankard of mead, if not better!”


    Äelberon averted the Nord’s gaze and continued to eat in silence, breathing a sigh of relief that the Nord did not press further. The drinking was easily explained, the celibacy was not, especially to Nords.


    “Would you like more tea?” Asked Jyta.


    “Yes, my child, thank you.” He smiled.


    Thorygg let him finish his meal and waited for Jyta to bring the Elf his tea. By the Nine, tea!  Of all things… He then heard the Elf speak. He was beginning.


    “I am afflicted,” Began Äelberon.


    “Afflicted?” Questioned Thorygg.  He had such strange beginnings to his tales, but at the same time, they kept him interested, unlike the typical Bards. 


    “Aye, another blessing of the Gods, or a curse. I remember that night as if it happened yesterday. I remember everything that happened in my life like it happened yesterday, and many nights I do not sleep because I play a random day over and over in my mind, or I dream of it. On the positive, I have committed to memory entire libraries of books. Every song I have ever heard.  Like I said, both a blessing and a curse. I can see that burning home now, in my grotto by the sea. After she died, I knelt by her body underneath that golden tree, its leaves catching the light of the fire, its blossoms weeping golden petals. Her favorite flowers came from that golden tree... I had failed to protect the two people in all of Nirn who meant the most to me and many more died because I ignored their cries to get to my parents. I despaired, unbinding my hair in shame, and I started to walk back to my home, to end my own life in the raging fire. It then attacked me from behind.”


    “What?” Cried Thorygg.


    “Aye, a vampire and I killed it. I then left the grotto and saw that the monster had traveled by horse. Probably returned to check on his clan members. Such simple twists of fate... I chided myself for my selfishness and finally I heeded the screams from Dusk."


    “Shor’s Bones, you went back to the city? But, were they not looking for you?”


    “Aye, they were looking for me, and I found them, riding back to a burning Dusk. When I arrived, I openly engaged the Justiciars that were slaughtering my city.”  His face darkened and Thorygg could see the potential for great rage if the Elf was pressed to far. He imagined he was pushed like that on that terrible night. And now the Nord understood the battle cry the Elf uttered when he first appeared. He bet it was the very battle cry the Elf uttered when he tore through Dusk, for there was anguish mixed with the anger.  “Many fell to my bow, my sword, and my shield. I saved that night, but I also destroyed, and that act nearly destroyed me, for I was shocked by the very darkness that lurked in my heart. Me, who had slain armies of Daedra to protect them, now killed my own people. When the violence in me was spent, I went home. Back to that golden tree and the house that now burned.  The Thalmor found me unconscious next to my mother under our tree, overwhelmed by my own despair. They arrested me in secret, for I was a hero of my People and they could not condemn me openly."


    Äelberon let out a bitter chuckle, catching the Stormcloaks by surprise. His great eyes found theirs again.  "You look at me for laughing, I will explain. They are illusion mages, and cast their magicks upon the people of Dusk. Those that survived the Purge of Dusk spoke of my great valor on that night. See, they thought it was a vampire raid, the Thalmor made them believe it. So, everything backfired on the Thalmor and Duskens thought I was slaying vampires, not Justiciars. I was a hero.”


    “And were they ever brought to justice for what they did?” Asked Thorygg.


    “Thorygg, the Thalmor considered what they did at Dusk justice.” Äelberon explained.


    “What happened then?” Asked another soldier.  


    Äelberon stroked Koor’s fur. His boy, he thought tenderly, remembering a tiny hungry mouth mistaking his gauntlet for a teat... “To the people of Alinor, I was pronounced a victim of that raid and buried in a lavish funeral, or so I was told. I was held for several months at the Thalmor headquarters, was tried in secret, and sentenced.”


    “To death?” Asked Thorygg.


    “Death would have been preferable to me at the time, for I was despondent, and took barely any food or drink in that time. Nor did I know the relief of sleep.” He gazed into the fire, “No, I was sentenced to far worse.”


    “What is worse than death?” Asked Jyta.


    He turned to Jyta. “You do not know because you are not Altmeri, but to us, those who felt most keenly the split from the spirit realm. Those who settled in the Summerset Isles for thousands upon thousands of years. The eldest of the races of Tamriel. You ask me. What is worse than death? Exile, my child, exile is worse than death, for it is a true sundering. With death, there is escape. With exile, you live, and yet you are sundered from all that you know.” He paused.  “Exile is the living death.”


    He took a sip of tea and continued, his mood turning retrospective. “At least that was what I thought at the time. My heart was still very dark from the death of my parents and I truly wanted to die. And when they did not grant me release, but instead ordered my exile. I was in terrible shock.”  He shrugged suddenly and took another sip of tea, “I was to be placed on a ship bound for Anvil, as all people were who openly defied the Thalmor, and I was bitterly disappointed.”  Äelberon let out a chuckle, remembering his own folly.  “I was such a fool then. A warrior and overly dramatic at times. You see, what I did not know was that the Thalmor had long given up on actually exiling anyone. They killed them instead.”  He grinned, “Oh, they would put them on the boat for Anvil, giving them a dramatic send off, often very public, though mine was actually quite secret, lest people get wind that they were exiling the Slayer of Bet, all for show, and then the exile never arrives at their destination. They are killed before. Usually right in the boat. So, I was going to get exactly what I wanted for all my disappointment.  And so were they…”


    “What’s the point of exiling someone if you are just going to kill them anyway?” Asked Thorygg.


    “Thorygg, I have long since given up trying to make any sense of the Thalmor.” He finished his tea and put down the tankard.  “So, there I was on that fateful evening, another moonless night." He paused again, "Those nights were so very dark. You know they lasted for another two years? Strange nights... I was chained. I think they wanted to make things just a bit easier on themselves when they finally set about killing me, and two Justiciars escorted me to the boat. One on either side. I could see the boat from the distance.”  Äelberon’s eyes narrowed as he remembered, “It was a large boat, and there was a small army of Justiciars patrolling it.” He chuckled, “Why a small army was needed for a Mer who clearly wanted to die, I will never know, but I take satisfaction now in knowing that they indeed feared me. They still do. The one who destroyed my world was at the plank himself. I remembered his snide face and their black and gold robes, like it happened yesterday. I had made my peace with Mundus. Then...”


    He smiled a wry smile.


    “What?!” Pressed Thorygg, ruffling his great bearskin in frustration.  Confounded Elf! He was deliberately delaying. Made for fine, but frustrating story-telling.


    “Of all things, I heard a child’s voice.  ‘Äelberon of Dusk, you are getting on the wrong boat’.  And then two guards bearing the colors of a dear friend’s house, a deep indigo, quickly dispatched the Justiciars and released me from my chains. I turned to the child and saw him beckon me to follow.  And something in me, Thorygg, snapped. The darkness in my heart suddenly passed, for I recognized the child. It was the child of that dear friend. Her son, for his hair was the very same shade as hers, like spun gold. And for the first time in the months since my parents’ passing, I wanted to live. Sure, I would struggle with this. Gods, my first years of Exile were the worst, wanting to die again as I struggled with the sundering, but at that moment, I wanted life. My spirit was renewed, by Auri-El’s grace, I am certain. For in living, I would defy the Thalmor, for my family, and for all of those who suffered in their hands. They had wanted me to give up. Hearing the child’s voice gave me the strength to refuse the fate that the Thalmor had designed for me. My fate was mine, not theirs!”


    He suddenly shot a stern look at the Stormcloaks.


    “Know this, Nords of Skyrim. Never forget this. Never forget that your hearts, minds, and souls are your own and those are the things which define you. Do not let someone else tell you how to live. You are your own people. Most of my people have forgotten this and that is the great tragedy of the Altmer. They relied on things to define who they were, and when they lost those things, they never recovered. I do not wish this for you.”


    He then continued his tale, his voice suddenly full of pride, even betraying a hint of defiance.


    “I then followed the child and the guards through the avenues of Alinor, until I came to the pier opposite to the one where the boat to Anvil that the Thalmor had arranged for me was. It was a small vessel, manned by Imperial soldiers. Bound for Anvil as well. The child ran to his mother, who scooped him up in her arms and kissed him, and it was indeed my dear friend. Her, her husband, and the head of the house where I served as Captain of the Guard. They were there and they wanted me to live too, and I was moved, for I knew that they had risked much for my life.  They fitted me with the very armor my mother had made for me when I battled Daedra in the Great Anguish. The very armor I wore when I took my Orders. They gave me the bow that challenged a child of Molag Bal sent to torment my people. But most of all, they gave me hope, Thorygg. We then embraced and said our farewells, bittersweet, but also defiant, for that night, the four of us struck a silent blow against the Thalmor. So, I did indeed board a ship to Anvil on that moonless night over a hundred years ago. Only it was the wrong boat, and my friend Thorygg, you now have the answer to your second question. The Thalmor attacked me today because I boarded a boat for Anvil as an Exile…”  He smiled a wise smile and winked at the Nord.  “And lived.”



    The squall was now spent and the late afternoon sun was finally able to cast its golden rays upon the fresh snowfall. Äelberon and Thorygg Sun-Killer knelt at the open road and inspected a victim of the skirmish. “Can you fix it, Äelberon?”


    Äelberon, held up half of his Orcish bow.  “Nay, Thorygg, this goes to the smelter.”


    “Sorry, friend, you were a demon with that thing.”


    The Elf smiled at the Nord.  “All is not lost. There are a lot of things I can smelt here, if you will let me have them.”


    “What?” He kicked one of the Thalmor agents, “This Elvish stuff? Bah! Nothing beats Nordic Steel.”


    “You a marksmen, Thorygg?” Äelberon asked, a twinkle in his eye.  Nords had such pride. And who was he to talk?


    “Nah, two-hander.”


    Äelberon rolled his eyes, he was not surprised.  “Ah, well, when you are an Altmer marksman, there is none finer than Elvish. Yes, there is Ebony and Glass, but Elvish is faster and lighter. Give me a bow of Elvish make and watch the arrows fly from my quiver! And by Auri-El, Thorygg." He sighed, his own pride coming through, “there is no weapon more beautiful in all of Tamriel than an Elvish bow when it catches the sun’s rays. You know we dip the fletching in a gold and moonstone alloy? When the enemy sees a volley of our golden arrows...”  Äelberon sighed again. He had pride too.


    Thorygg knew that Äelberon was remembering a battle where such volleys occurred. He was pretty certain though that it wasn’t the golden arrows that intimidated the enemy. It was the proud Elf that stood before him. Äelberon gestured to the dead Thalmor agents.


    “I am assuming then that you will not mind if I take their armor and weapons for the smelter.”


    “By all means, Äelberon, you’re free to take out the trash.” Thorygg winked.  Äelberon let out a hearty laugh and slapped Thorygg on the shoulder.


    “Where are you headed, friend Elf?” Thorygg asked.  Aye, he would continue to call him "friend".


    “Back to Jorrvaskr.” Äelberon replied as he started to remove the armor from the Thalmor agents.


    The Nord’s eyes went wide again. Surprises, this Elf was full of surprises. A Companion? Thorygg suddenly stopped, his eyes narrowing, and he stared at Äelberon as the Elf began to gather the Elvish armor in a pile. Thorygg muttered under his breath. “Be you Nord, or be you Elf, Äelberon of Dusk? Sometimes with you, the lines are blurred. And, by Talos, I have wondered more than once today, who it was that sent you to dwell among us?  Who are you?”


    “Thorygg?” Äelberon was watching him, “Are you alright?”


    “I’m fine.” Replied the Nord, returning to the world at the Elf’s question.  “I will have my soldiers help you load the trash.” He turned to the camp and barked, “My lovely barmaids, help this Elf take out the Thalmor garbage!”


    The soldiers laughed, while Jyta brought Allie from the cave. They piled the armor onto a bearskin pelt and tied it securely to Allie. Koor darted to his Master, back in full form, restless when he circled him, as Äelberon loaded his shield onto the saddle. He slapped Allie’s saddle and turned to the Stormcloak soldiers, a thoughtful smile on his face. Jyta stepped up to him, they again embraced and he kissed her blonde head several times.


    “Talos guide your steps, my child.” He whispered in her ear.


    “And may Auri-El guide yours, faithful Priest.” She whispered back.


    They separated, he taking time to touch her cheek gently. He then mounted Allie and straightened his back upon the saddle. He was tall and Thorygg noted the command in his countenance.  


    “Nords of Skyrim!” He spoke, his right hand raised in the air in a gesture of farewell, his voice strong and noble, “May Talos ever guide your steps, my friends. Do what is just, do what is right, and above everything, honor your brothers and sisters; be they Stormcloak or Imperial.”


    He squeezed Allie’s flank and she broke into a brisk trot, the husky close behind, his nose to the ground. Thorygg watched the Elf leave and knew deep down that if it was an Imperial camp that had been threatened in the very same way, Äelberon of Dusk would have done the exact same thing, putting his own life at risk for honor. Thorygg was right, it had been a crazy afternoon. An afternoon where an Elf, of all creatures, taught a Stormcloak camp about honor.  If this Elf joined the Stormcloaks, Thorygg thought, what a warrior they would have. Skilled in battle, but not only that, compassionate and noble. A Mer… a Mer that Men would die for. And not because he killed them, but because he could inspire them, through his own example. Now that was a concept, chuckled Thorygg as he walked back to camp.  Only Ulfric could do that. Äelberon of Dusk was close to making a decision, he could tell. That Old Mer’s heart did not like to see people die. He did not like life wasted.



    The skirmish today was ultimately a lucky boon and Äelberon could barely contain his excitement as he rode back to Whiterun, following the road along the White River as he passed the sleepy village of Riverwood, his work at the smelter complete. There it was, in the bearskin sack, enough moonstone to craft his Elvish weapons and even some arrows. He would make the bow at least before he traveled to the Reach. Ah! To have an Elvish bow again! Without one, he had felt nearly naked. The only thing he really needed was a crossbow. The Elvish bow was brutal and fast, but the crossbow pierced armor, and with silver bolts, undead would fall quickly. He would have to raise the funds to purchase one. He would speak to the Companions and ask for more work.


    As he passed the Honingbrew Meadery, he marveled at the sunset that cast its golden rays upon the tundra, and the sky in shades of red, pink, and orange. Wisps of cloud were silhouetted in the distance. He drew in his breath and stopped Allie to appreciate Aetherius’ lovely display of light. Prison? Nirn? Nay, if this was his prison, then he was content to remain. Allie suddenly snorted and shifted.


    “Oh you’re here, you’re here! You’re here!”  It was a child’s voice. Äelberon looked down and could not help but smile. He knew this one very well. He furrowed his brow and frowned, exaggerating his features to make himself look more menacing and when he spoke, he lowered his voice on purpose.


    “Lars Battle-Born, what are you doing outside the city gates?” He scolded, “Tis damn near nightfall!”


    The boy saw right through Äelberon’s ruse and laughed. They called him Snow Bear and he was tall enough that they; he, Mila, Lucia, and Braith could use him to get upon the roof of Belethor's so they could play pranks on the guards. But he was the best at it, joining them on the roof. He could flick a pebble with his thumb and his finger and he could hit anything. The bestest was when he knocked buckets into the well, making the guards jump. 


    “But you’re here, you’re here!” Lars yelled, jumping up and down, his voice breathless. “Tilma paid me, Tilma paid me. A WHOLE gold septim each day, if I’d keep watch for you at the road. You’re big and tall, super easy to spot, Snow Bear.”


    Äelberon grinned and relaxed on the saddle, placing his hands on the horn, he leaned forward, his eyes twinkling. “Did she now? A WHOLE gold septim? 'Tis more than I make! Verily you must be rich now, Lars.”


    Little Tilma. He had not forgotten her, for her birthday had passed while he traveled. Ahkari’s second gift, his pick of whatever inventory was in her caravan. There had been a crossbow, and he was sorely tempted, but ‘twas a thimble that caught his eye. A silver, delicately carved thimble with an amethyst crown. She darned their tunics, their gloves, their caps without complaint and often late into the night, while they slept. His dear Tilma. There was no question what he would take from the caravan. Kharjo thought he was insane, especially after Äelberon had the gift wrapped in the Altmeri tradition, using fine paper and a satin ribbon.


    “So much trouble,” the Khajiit had said, “for such a little thing…”, but Äelberon did not care, Tilma was worth it.


    The boy yelled again, interrupting his thoughts. “And how! And here you are!” He jumped again and Allie shifted, snorting in annoyance. If he did not keep her in position, she would have stomped on the boy by now.


    “Steady boy, you are spooking my horse.” He patted Allie’s neck. "Easy girl..."


    “Sorry!” Lars replied as he stopped jumping, though he still fidgeted. Men did not process sugar very well, it seemed. Mer processed it better and, of course, the Khajiit processed it the best. He was not sure on how Argonians did with sugar. He had only been to Blackmarsh once. Sugar made Men jittery, especially the younglings, who liked the taste of it and often indulged. Äelberon could tell that Lars Battle-Born had enjoyed his sweetrolls today, but he was a good boy otherwise. The Jarl’s children were another story entirely. Brats.  “I get an extra five if you are here! And you are! I need the money too,” He suddenly hung his head down, “Braith beat me up again.”


    “Oh, she did, did she?” Äelberon was trying hard to not laugh. The poor lad’s ego was bruised enough.


    “Aye,” The boy sighed. 


    Äelberon put his hand on his forehead and sighed heavily, echoing Lars’ dismay. Lars read it as a sympathetic gesture, but Äelberon was at this point trying not to burst out laughing. The Civil War was not the only great war in Skyrim. By far, more intense was the war between Braith and Lars Battle-Born. ‘Twas an epic story to rival all of Skyrim’s epic stories. He had gotten an ear full from the both of them. Poor Lars, if all he did was give Braith but a single kiss, the war would be over and the mighty Redguard lass would concede victory. But alas, he was a young lad and knew not the passions of a lady’s heart, and he continued to suffer her frustrations. He turned to Lars.  “So are you going to earn those five septims and tell Tilma I am here, or are you going to just stand there?” He gestured to the stables, “Go! Get thee to the gates!”


    He readied his reins, making Allie snort and the young lad jump.  “Ha! I race you! I even give you a head start, go!”


    Lars jumped and began to run, his little legs pumping hard, and Äelberon squeezed Allie’s flanks, urging her to go. He would show the lad some fun. He sorely needed it.  A little something to brag to the other children about. He remembered, for he too had been small for his age in the beginning. He then caught up in spades and overtook all of his friends. He urged Allie faster.


    Lars looked behind him, the black charger was coming closer and he tried to go faster and then he felt himself be scooped up by the scruff of his shirt and set upon the saddle.  “Hold on, tight.” The Elf whispered.  “Allie, give this little man something to brag about.”  He squeezed her legs and the trot became a full-on gallop, down the road, as fast as the wind it seemed to Lars. The guards turned their heads as they passed and laughed, wisps of tundra cotton scattering at their wake. Äelberon took Lars Battle-Born as far as the Western Watch Tower and then turned Allie on a fine point bringing her back again. The boy cried out in glee as they sailed high over a cart on the road, his hair blowing hard and Äelberon was merry as he watched the boy enjoy himself. He had Allie jump several of the farm fences, and they both waved to Severio Pelagia as he tilled his crops. He waved back, grinning as he shook his head. He rode towards the gates of Whiterun, and slowed down, coming to a full stop in front of them.


    “Aww!” Sulked Lars, his face flushed with excitement, his hair tossed by the wind. “Do it again! Do it again!”


    “Do you not have a job to do?” Äelberon replied as he lifted Lars down, setting him gently upon the ground. The boy was but a mere sack of flour to the great Elf.  “Must not keep Tilma waiting. I must away to the stables and unload my horse. You have a head start. Go.”  He could not help himself and started chuckling. “And Lars…”




    “Fix your hair, boy. It is standing straight up!”


    Lars Battle-Born touched his head and tried to flatten it with his hands, making the Elf’s chuckles evolve into full-blown laughter while he gently pulled the reins and trotted Allie to the stables.


    “Hail, Äelberon, you are back.” Nodded Skulvar Sable-Hilt as Äelberon led Allie to her stall. Sable-Hilt drew in his breath, “By Ysmir, she’s packed. Good travels?”


    “Good travels, friend,” Äelberon replied, handing Skulvar a coin purse.  “See that she is fed and groomed for me. I will unload most of her goods tomorrow, but I will take a few thing with me now.”


    He took the shield, the Staff of Hasedoki, and the bearskin sack with moonstone. He also reached into one of the saddle bags and pulled four tomes, and finally a tiny package; the thimble. He set them carefully on the ground and then turned to Skulvar again.


    “Help me remove the saddle, please? It is heavy and she needs rest.”  Skulvar nodded and the two grunted with effort as Allie’s saddle was removed and placed on some stacks of hay. “Thank you, Skulvar, a fine evening to you.”


    “Likewise, friend. Send my best to Jorrvaskr.”


    “Will do.” Äelberon answered with a smile.  It was awkward to carry everything, but he made do as he walked to Whiterun’s gate. The staff and shield were upon his back and his sword was sheathed to his side.



    Lars Battle-Born pumped his little legs across Whiterun all the way to Jorrvaskr’s great doors. And then he stopped.  He couldn’t budge them, though he tried with all his might. They were too heavy. He would give it one last great push and then come get a guard to open the doors if they didn’t open.  He faced the doors and let out a gust of air, beads of sweat forming on his forehead, his hands clenched to his sides, his jaw set. He was going to do this.


    Äelberon found Lars at the double doors and immediately silenced his steps. The boy looked as if he were preparing for battle. Bless the lad, he wasn’t strong enough to open Jorrvaskr’s doors yet, but one look at his father, Idolaf, and the boy would be swinging those doors open wide in no time. Ah, he would help him and give him his second thing to brag about today.


    Lars approached the door and placed both hands upon it, taking a deep breath. On the exhale, he gave the door a heavy push, using his little legs as leverage. Then all of the sudden he felt the door give just enough to get him inside. He did it! He opened the doors to Jorrvaskr! Oh wait ‘til they all find out, he thought. What a day!


    Äelberon smiled, exchanging glances with a grinning guard. The boy did not even see that Äelberon had pushed the door at precisely the same time he did, but he did not go in yet. Let the boy earn his septims. He waited just outside, listening through the door. He could hear the loud commotion in the Hall, and he smiled. Time to open the doors. With a hard kick, both the doors flung wide open, creating a great noise and the Companions of Jorrvaskr saw their wandering Shield-Brother at the entryway, holding the door open as a beaming Lars Battle-Born left the Mead Hall five septims richer. Until Braith will take them on the morrow. 


    “Hail, Shield-Siblings!” Äelberon spoke, his voice strong and merry.  Koor rushing in ahead of him, searching for his Mistress. He found her and the Huntress rubbed his ears as he nuzzled against her hip.


    “Good hunting?” Aela asked, laughing at Koor’s antics. He had been missed and to be honest, she had missed his Master as well.  Äelberon placed the great sack down with a thud, and removed four books, and walked to his place at their table. Food was already set for him, venison stew. He smiled and then gently placed the four great tomes upon the table of the Mead Hall. He moved his hand over the ancient leather bindings, and turned to Aela.


    “Good hunting.” He said with a nod.


    Skjor furrowed his brow, books? Books? He sighed, Äelberon and his books. Tilma then appeared and set upon his place a tankard of milk and made to leave, but he took her hand in his and stopped her.


    “Dear Tilma,” He whispered and gave her the package. “Happy Birthday.”


    Tilma the Haggard took the tiny package in her hand and began to unwrap it carefully, making sure not to tear the light blue paper done up with a white satin ribbon. She had seen such paper and ribbons among the Khajiit traders and she didn’t want to break such fine wrapping. Usually Nords just wrapped presents in a sack of burlap wrapped in twine.  Äelberon’s Shield-Siblings craned their necks to get a closer look at the contents of the package.


    Was it Tilma’s Birthday, Kodlak thought.  He couldn’t remember. It was some time during Evening Star, but he didn’t know the precise day and Saturalia over-shadowed it. In all her years at Jorrvaskr, she never said anything. She was as old as Vignar, but they didn’t know when she was born.  How did the Elf know? Ah, thought Kodlak; the mornings, as she cleaned. Snow Bear was awake too, usually reading a book, and Kodlak, if he was up early enough, could hear their voices as he lay in bed. Just after the Elf said his Tenets.


    When she finished unwrapping the package, Tilma picked up the little thimble that had rolled onto the palm of her hand, holding it to the hearth fire to see the light dancing off the facets of the amethyst crown. Never in all her years had she seen something so lovely.


    Nord women were of strong stock, but the Companions could see, even the hardened warriors of the group, that her lip trembled when she held the thimble, and her old eyes brimmed with tears. She suddenly embraced the Elf hard and he hugged her back, kissing the top of her head tenderly.


    “Oh Albee,” she said softly, burying her face against his chest.


    Straag Rod Book 1 ToC

    Chapter XV   Chapter XVII 



20 Comments   |   SpottedFawn and 1 other like this.
  • SpottedFawn
    SpottedFawn   ·  May 2, 2017
    Wow Lissette, this chapter hits hard and doesn't really let up until we see Albee back in Jorrvaskr. I love that Albee is still able to crack jokes despite everything that's happened to him. This chapter also helped me sympathize with the Stormcloak cause...  more
    • The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      Wow Lissette, this chapter hits hard and doesn't really let up until we see Albee back in Jorrvaskr. I love that Albee is still able to crack jokes despite everything that's happened to him. This chapter also helped me sympathize with the Stormcloak cause...  more
        ·  May 2, 2017
      He hasn't been to Markarth yet. He took the quest, but that is on the other side of the province, he'll be stopping at Jorrvaskr first. That Stormcloak camp is right at the border of the Rift and Falkreath. If you've read CA, you'll notice that STraag Rod...  more
      • SpottedFawn
        The Long-Chapper
        The Long-Chapper
        The Long-Chapper
        He hasn't been to Markarth yet. He took the quest, but that is on the other side of the province, he'll be stopping at Jorrvaskr first. That Stormcloak camp is right at the border of the Rift and Falkreath. If you've read CA, you'll notice that STraag Rod...  more
          ·  May 2, 2017
        Ah I see! Okay, thanks for clarifying. I haven't read CA yet. :) Wanted to get through Part 1 first.
        • The Long-Chapper
          The Long-Chapper
          Ah I see! Okay, thanks for clarifying. I haven't read CA yet. :) Wanted to get through Part 1 first.
            ·  May 2, 2017
          yeah, it's a bit of a thorn in my side, but what can I do. At least it's not the same day. :D
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  October 21, 2015
    @Karver - thanks for your support. It is rather obvious in the game, at least I thought so. 
  • Karver the Lorc
    Karver the Lorc   ·  October 21, 2015
    So another few chapters down. I enjoyed that combat in the Stormcloak´s Camp. Also explanation of what happened in Dusk.
    As for previous chapters. What I really liked was how Albee got Brynjolf thinking about Mercer. It is quite obivous in the game isn´t it?
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  October 16, 2015
    Yep, Vingalmo is not a nice guy. 
  • Rhoth
    Rhoth   ·  October 16, 2015
    Damn, I predicted that Vingalmo would have something to do with Aelberon's mother's death, but I figured it would be a straight-out killing, not trying to turn his parents into vampires.  Still, he set it in motion.
    Great chapter!
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  September 21, 2015
    No worries, sometimes I miss chapters too. 
  • Exuro
    Exuro   ·  September 21, 2015
    I forgot to like this one, fixed
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  August 31, 2015
    Ha! Exuro, I cried when I wrote this, but it's not all glum. Thorygg is funny and Albee mentions swinging that way in jest. He makes naughty jokes, a lot. Humor often springs from tragedy. 
    Albee has seen a lot of people buried in his long life. It ...  more
  • Exuro
    Exuro   ·  August 31, 2015
    These are not tears, I swear!
    “Look me in the eye, Thorygg, and breathe when I breathe, for I will hit hard and fast.” I thought they said they didn't swing that way
    Ha, we both have detailed arrow wound treatments; Thorygg handles it a bit be...  more
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  July 26, 2015
    The biggest advice writers give is to write what you know.  While I didn't experience what Aelberon experienced, I have lost a parent (heart attack 15 years ago), so I put those emotions into that backstory and that's  just what came out. I also am a dog ...  more