Straag Rod: Book 1, Part 1, Chapter XVIII


    31st of Evening Star, 4E 201


    He walked slowly, leading her gently by the reins. She was not limping in pain yet, but he could sense her discomfort. She was grossly off-balance. It happened when they encountered a band of forsworn, the “madmen” of the Reach as they were called, at a small cabin at the divide in the road near a waterfall. He was approaching from the Northeast; from Karthwasten. He had arrived there yesterday and there was indeed silver. More silver than he needed. More than enough for Bleak Falls Barrow and to maintain his equipment for a long while. But he was now very concerned about the weight on her back. It was the left hind leg.


    The forsworn attacked them from the cabin and as he charged Allie to attack, she threw the shoe, and it took great effort to control her to finish the attack. It must have loosened on the way, but Äelberon was not sure when. The Reach was a region of jagged stones and boulders, interspersed with grasses and twisted juniper shrubs. Murder for a horse’s hooves. He stopped her and gave her a soft pat on the neck. She snorted, poor girl was miserable. Not for any pain, but for not being able to move like she wanted to. She was not understanding why he was walking her thusly.


    “Shh, your Master knows what is best, and no, I do not care how mad at me you are, you cannot run now. Nor can you now bear my weight, for Tilma has made me fat.” That she had, for Äelberon was already back to his original weight, and then a wee bit more.  It could well be the Steel armor. His old silver plate armor was a little lighter? Maybe?  Yes, it was indeed the armor and not the rich stews or the honey nut treats, he rationalized with a chuckle.


    He stooped to the back leg and gave it a good feel. Starting with her hoof and pastern and then continuing up the canon and ending on the hock, pressing firmly to test for pain or swelling. There was none yet. He lifted her hoof and checked the underside. No splitting. If he continued at his pace, perhaps he would be lucky and all she would need would be a new shoe.


    Koor was not having an easy time of it either. Twice he had to stop and pick stones from between the dog’s paw pads. He removed his pack and took out the map, scanning the distance and checking. Markarth was just southeast. At least the weather was cooperating. The citizens of the Reach would enjoy a fine evening for the Festival of Old Life. Cool, but clear. He put away his map and after slinging the pack on again, he took Allie’s reins and the trio resumed their slow walk. He could just make out the windmill of a farm…


    Some moments later, Äelberon stood in awe before the great city of stone and gold, glittering in the morning light.  Markarth. They built the city within an ancient Dwemer ruin and the architecture was impressive. Peeking above the thick walls, he could see tall Dwemer spires and winding staircases of stone; some carved directly onto the mountainside. Ivy and moss hung from the ledges and some of it faintly reminded him of the terraces and balconies of Summerset buildings. A guard approached, his dark green cloak blowing in the breeze.  Äelberon raised his hands slightly and nodded. He knew the routine very well by now.


    “Hail traveler, what brings you to Markarth?”


    “I have business with Master Calcelmo and I am also meeting a friend for the Old Life Festival, but..." He gestured to Allie’s leg, “My horse threw its shoe along the way; could you possibly direct me to the stables?”


    The guard walked up to Allie and knelt near the horse’s legs, giving her a reassuring pat. “Ah, shame, which leg?” At least the Elf had the sense to walk the animal. He had seen so many horses ruined by a stubborn owner.


    “Hind left.”


    The guard felt Allie’s leg. Not swollen. “She in pain?”


    “Thank the Gods, no, not yet. Just grumpy that she cannot run.” A snort from his girl let Äelberon that she knew he was talking about her.


    They shared a chuckled and the guard stood up, gesturing past the farmhouse. “Just go up the hill, the stables will be to your right. The Reach is a brutal place for a horse. I’ve seen a lot of ruined horses come up this hill, and many need to be put down, but you seem to have the sense to treat your animals well.”


    “They are my life in this harsh land, friend.” Äelberon replied. “I would be dead without them.”


    “Ah, it’s a wise man… uh mer who understands that. I’m sure she’ll feel right as rain with a new shoe.” The guard patted Allie’s rump. “For finding your friend, you’re on your own, but Master Calcelmo will be in Understone Keep. He is in charge of a Dwemer excavation. Can you believe it? Right underneath the city.” The guard paused for a moment, recalling the name. “Nchu… Nachensal… ah damn!”




    The guard patted Äelberon on the shoulder and laughed heartily as they began walking up the hill. “You say that entirely too easily, High Elf. I envy you. I can never get the bloody names straight.”


    Äelberon laughed. “It was a struggle for me in the beginning as well, it takes a few decades for the words to really roll off the tongue with ease.”


    The guard again laughed. He had many dealings with the Thalmor as they entered the city and this High Elf was like a breath of fresh air, possessing none of their arrogance. Did he dare ask him? Why not? Worse he could do is not answer.  “I’d hate to trouble you, but since we’re walking. Tell me something, Elf, you know how fireworks work? I could never wrap my head around it. They are bringing them in from Winterhold you know. And since your people are known for well, knowing things, I thought I'd ask you.”


    They were nearing the stables, Koor following close behind, lolling his tongue. Äelberon liked this guard, extremely friendly. “No trouble at all, friend, and though my knowledge is limited, I shall share what I know. They are elemental powders.” Explained Äelberon. He then continued to describe the process, gesturing with his hands, as he was prone to do, though his right hand still held Allie’s reins.  “When you grind various metals at the forge, you can produce a fine powder. When ignited, these powders will produce a colored explosion. You can also use salts, but most fireworks use metal. For example, silver will produce a white explosion, while Corundum will produce an orange one. Malachite, green, iron red. You understand me?”


    “You don’t say. And how do they get the powder in the air?” The guard asked as he pointed up.


    Eh, Äelberon scratched his chin; he had to make this very simple. He had a terrible tendency to over-complicate subjects. “Rockets, my friend. They will encase the powder in a small rocket and light a fuse, which when it ignites, a small reserve of fuel inside the rocket will propel it high into the air.” He replied, making his hand suddenly shoot to the sky as if it were a rocket. “It is a complicated art.”


    Äelberon nodded to the guard. The guard drew in his breath and let out a whistle on the exhale. “Rockets, Ysmir’s beard! Well that’s some college magic indeed.” He sighed as he stared into the late-morning sky. “But you certainly picked the right city for Festival of Old Life, clever Elf. Windhelm and Solitude can claim being the oldest and the capital, but you cannot beat the view of the fireworks from the top of the Guard tower. Listen,” The guard turned to Äelberon. “You humored me with my question, whereas others would’ve just dismissed me. If you go up to the Guard Tower at say just after nightfall, and ask for me, Jurgis, they will let you to the top. If you find your friend, you can bring them along. Happy Festival of Old Life and may your New Year bring you better luck.”


    “Same to you, Jurgis, and thank you.”


    The two then shook hands and parted company as Äelberon led Allie to the stables.



    It cost more than he anticipated to replace her shoe, but the stableman would have to work through part of the holiday if Äelberon expected to be out of the city by the first, so he paid the money gladly. He needed to get back to Whiterun if he was going to begin work on the silver weaponry. Bleak Falls Barrow was so close to being a reality now. He pressed his hand onto the great golden doors of Markarth and gave a firm push.


    And he immediately drew his sword, not even thinking. He saw her. Her back was turned to the dark-haired Breton that approached with a dagger. She was at a jewelry stall, putting a just-purchased necklace into a small satchel she carried as the shopkeeper counted the money from their transaction. The guard stationed at the stalls had not even taken notice. The man, in miner’s clothes, uttered a loud cry, which grabbed everyone’s attention.


    “The Reach belongs to the Forsworn!”


    The Guard suddenly turned around when he heard the cry and quickly drew his bow. But then he saw the High Elf, his sword drawn as the woman cried out in terror. It was over before the guard could fire his arrow. The Elf had run the woman’s attacker through with his steel longsword.


    “I die for my people,” whispered the Breton before death claimed him.


    Äelberon quickly sheathed his weapon and helped the woman up, while the guard approached the body, wading his way through the shocked bystanders. It was morning, the stalls were open and full of patrons buying wares. There were children present.  


    “Clear the area,” the guard commanded, his voice low, “There is nothing to see here.” The gathered crowd began to disperse, but it was clear the people were shaken. Markarth was supposed to be a safe city. From a distance away, near a group of houses along one of Markarth’s narrow avenues, Vigilant Tyranus paused his questioning of one of Markarth’s citizens and looked in the direction of the commotion, his eyes narrowing. He nodded to the Nord he was speaking to, excused himself and began walking towards the city entrance; to the source of the noise. 


    “Gentlewoman, are you alright, did he injure you?” Äelberon asked, his voice low, scanning her quickly for injuries as he supported her with his hand. He did not see injuries, but she was certainly in shock. She turned up to face him, brushing her fingers through her light red hair to move it away from her brown eyes. He was so tall, and his red-oranges eyes showed deep concern.


    "By the Divines, that man nearly killed me!” She exclaimed, her hands to her mouth in horror. “You… you saved my life.” She put her hand on Äelberon’s strong forearm and leaned against him to steady herself, her heart pounding in her chest with fear.  “Thank you.” She whispered; meeting his eyes again. She took a necklace from her satchel and placed it in Äelberon’s hand. “Here, gentle knight, I was going to bring this to my sister, but I think you should have it."


    Äelberon shook his head. He had not asked for anything in return. “This is too generous, I was only doing my duty.”


    He tried to give it back, but she insisted. “No, keep it. You have given me something worth a lot more than a necklace. My life.”


    Äelberon sighed, she was eager to give him payment for his service. He had to get used to that still, after all these years. That people paid for service, not understanding that the service in and of itself was the reward. The Knight-Paladin of Auri-El was no mercenary. He only took enough from jobs to cover travel and equipment expenses. The rest was given to the poor or donated to Temples. He cared not for coin or things. It had taken him nearly ten years to save for a small house in Bruma, and he ended up not buying it.


    “Thank you, gentlewoman.” He nodded, taking the necklace. Perhaps this could buy Danica and Arcadia some much-needed supplies. More troops sought them out for healing every day and even with him helping at the Temple, both women struggled to keep up with the demands of the injured and sick.


    “No, thank you, gentle knight.”


    Äelberon then turned to the guard, “Is there anything you require of me? A statement?”


    “No, Elf,” answered the guard, “It is clear that you acted without fault, and defended this woman.” He crossed his arms over his chest, “Rest assured, traveler, this is an isolated incident. Markarth is a safe place.”


    Äelberon turned to the woman again. “Do you need anything, gentlewoman? Where are you staying? I shall escort you there.”


    “The Silver-blood inn, you are again too kind.”  He led her gently across bridge and into the inn, opening the door for her. She then stopped him. “I am quite alright now, thank you, gentle knight.”


    “Are you sure?”


    “Nothing a tankard of mead cannot fix.” She took his hand and her tone suddenly turned rushed, like she was uncomfortable. “I am fine, please, you can go about your business now.”


    That puzzled him and his eyebrows furrowed a bit when he closed the door. He then felt a tap on his shoulder and turned. It was another Breton, clad in a green tunic and bearing the war paint of the Bretons of the Reach. Äelberon removed his pack and opened it, putting the necklace inside one of the pockets.


     "Gods.” The Breton swore under his breath. “A woman attacked right on the streets. Are you all right? Did you see what happened?"

    “You are asking me this?” Äelberon asked, raising his eyebrows in surprise, “Did you not see me kill the man as he attacked the woman? You were standing in plain sight.” The Breton shifted his gaze, Äelberon did not like it. Not one bit.


    "I'm so sorry. I hope the Eight give you more peace in the future." Äelberon grunted and started to turn away, when he felt a small folded piece of paper being shoved in his hand.


    Yes, thought Eltrys, this one would do nicely. He looked extremely fearsome. "Oh, I think you dropped this. Some kind of note. Looks important."


    “This yours?” Äelberon asked showing the Breton the note. “If you were trying to plant it, you did a poor job.” He attempted to hand the note to the Breton, his voice growing impatient. “Here, take it, it is not mine.”


    The Breton immediately raised his hands and shook his head quickly. "My note? No, that's yours. Must have fallen out of your pocket."


    Impatience quickly became annoyance. Was the Breton wrong in the head? Pockets? Where? “Take a look at my armor, Breton, I do not have pockets. Now take the note. It is not mine.” The Breton suddenly looked scared and bolted, leaving Äelberon standing just outside the doors of the Silver-blood inn frowning. He started to follow the Breton and was about to call out, when a gruff voice stopped him in his tracks.


    “Äelberon of Dusk! Is that you?” Tyranus. Ha! So few actually knew him by his given name. Unless it was Thalmor? No, not an Altmeri accent, he chuckled to himself. With a smile, Äelberon turned and saw him in the distance, his hand raised in greeting. He turned quickly again to find the Breton, but he was gone. Damn it, he thought as he let out a blast of air. Lost him. “Äelberon? What is it? Stendarr’s Mercy, what the Oblivion happened here? I heard the commotion and came.” He spoke as he came down the path and saw the body on the street.


    Äelberon gestured to it. “A woman was attacked, by that forsworn over there. She is safe.”


    Tyranus knew what that meant. By the Eight, only minutes inside a city and already he was rescuing people. Tyranus shook his head and chuckled. Aye, no way this was not him. 


    The Imperial was clad in a shining set of steel plate armor, made with a silver and steel alloy; Äelberon could tell, with an ornately carved cuirass and lacings of deep maroon leather. Maybe maroon, it was hard to tell in the dim light where they were standing, for the Dwemer spires cast the streets of Markarth in places with dark shadows. Hung proudly around his neck was an amulet of Stendarr and upon his back was a silver great sword and an enchanted crossbow. And he was tall, among the tallest of men Äelberon had ever seen. Nearly his height, which was almost unheard of for an Imperial. One of the best Witchblades in all of Cyrodiil, and Äelberon was pleased to finally meet him.  He slipped the note inside his pack, forgetting his annoyance. He would track down the little Breton later. He closed his pack and slung it over his shoulder and extended his hand warmly. “Brother Tyranus. By Auri-El you are tall!”


    They clasped forearms and shook with enthusiasm. Damn, Äelberon clasped like a bloody Nord, Tyranus grinned under his helm. “And you, Brother Äelberon, are exactly as I pictured. Even taller!” Äelberon laughed heartily. Brother Tyranus removed his steel plate helmet; revealing a stern-looking Imperial with a strong jaw, lines of experience, a Roman nose, close-cropped thinning black hair with grey temples, and intelligent grey eyes. 


    Äelberon followed suit with his own helmet and Tyranus could not help his jaw dropping slightly as the Elf pulled his long hair from its cuirass. Stories were told about that hair, the commitment that it meant. There were so few of them left and as far as Tyranus knew, unless Alinor had more within her Isles, he was the last of them. The Knight-Paladins of Auri-El. The last Knight of the Crystal Tower. Before him stood the great Äelberon of Dusk.  His fair skin, his long, silver-white hair, and the keen red-orange eyes.  He had seen his share of High Elves, and Äelberon looked older than he expected for a Mer his age, well into his third century, but it was probably the scars on his face that aged him, and the beard. The body did not betray age, however, for it was powerfully built, not thin and fine-boned as was typical for his race.

    “So it is true then, the Order of Auri-El. By the Eight, I have traveled Cyrodiil many years and have only ever known of one. And I did not meet him until today.” Tyranus bowed slightly. “The honor is mine Knight-Paladin.”


    “The honor is also mine, Brother Tyranus of the Vigilant.” Äelberon nodded back.


    “Keeper Carcette in her letter told me what had happened to you. How unfortunate to have lost everything and with the target still at large.” Tyranus watched Äelberon’s face darken. He was not at all like his people. Emotions were readily played out on that face of his and he seemed disappointed, the silver slanted eyebrows furrowing slightly.


    “Aye, I have lost nearly everything.” Äelberon set his jaw and Tyranus could see the stubbornness and the fierce pride as his hand found his dog’s head. The animal, in response looked up adoringly at his Master, as if it too understood the struggles that he faced. “But it is not the first time. I rebuild and move on. The target will be destroyed. I have sworn to it. In His name, it will be done.”


    “Of that, I have no doubts, Brother.  For here you are, despite the odds, and you do indeed look well.  It is good to finally meet you in person. We have always known of each other, and yet we have never had the privilege of crossing paths. I am excited to finally work with you. Have you eaten?”


    “No, not since I left Karthwasten; early in the morning. I may have the trappings of a warrior, Brother Tyranus, but at heart, I am your typical Altmer mage.” The Elf grinned and Tyranus saw his laugh lines crinkle. “I love eating, I just frequently forget to do so.”


    “Then we must share a meal!” Tyranus replied, giving the Altmer a friendly slap on the back. “One cannot smite Daedra on an empty stomach and to work with you and not have words? That would be foolish.”


    “Likewise.” Replied Äelberon.


    “To the inn, then, Knight-Paladin.” Replied Tyranus, gesturing to the Silver-blood Inn. “It is where I am staying. The food is quite good, and we can talk.”


    “I loathe titles, Brother Tyranus. ‘Brother’ is fine, for I also walk the light, or just simply ‘Äelberon’.”


    “My apologies, Brother Äelberon.” The Altmer let out a hearty laugh, slapping the Imperial on the shoulder.


    Damn, striking him was like striking a stone wall! Äelberon was glad they were allies. “No apologies necessary, friend, and yes, by the Gods, yes, I would enjoy a meal very much. Though before we conduct our investigation, I do have one task to complete for our divine Lady Mara. I will explain as we dine.”


    And the two Holy warriors entered the Silver-blood Inn, Brother Tyranus holding the door for Äelberon in a show of respect that befit the last Knight of the Crystal Tower, the Slayer of Bet.



    Vigilant Tyranus watched Äelberon while they sat upon stone chairs at a small, Dwemer-style table at the inn by the roaring fire, the smell of roasted goat and mead heavy in the air. ‘Twas quite plain that the Silver-blood Inn was not used to accommodating two warriors of such bulk. Äelberon was steeping some canis root tea in a tankard, his long legs taking up considerable space as he reclined on the stone chair, shifting uncomfortably on occasion as they talked. Tyranus found himself shifting too.


    Stone chairs were a lousy idea for an inn.


    Despite that, they had enjoyed each other’s company, often erupting into laughter, for the Elf possessed a quick wit and a love for bawdy jokes, making Vigilant Tyranus raise his eyebrows several times in surprise.  But most of all he found Äelberon of Dusk a genuinely honorable Mer, utterly devoted to good works and routing evil from the world, a truly fine Knight-Paladin, noble and true.  He had told Tyranus of his experience in Helgen and subsequent time among the Companions and the Vigilant was looking forward to fostering a working relationship. The knowledge Äelberon possessed was limitless and his battle tactics were often novel and clever. But he noted that the Elf was sometimes quite uncomfortable during their conversation and it wasn’t just the stone chair. The Vigilant leaned forward and whispered to Äelberon, a smirk on his face, his own eyes carefully following the buxom barmaid as she checked the status of their food at the wooden counter of the inn. Her name was Hroki,  the daughter of the innkeeper.


    “That barmaid has not taken her eyes off you, since you walked in, Priest.” He chuckled, “I think she is in love.”


    Äelberon shot him a look and sighed as he shook the tea bag in the water several times to get the last of the flavor out before setting the spent bag upon the stone table, further distracting himself by tracing its intricate, gold Dwemer carvings with his index finger. Not wanting to look up. He had noticed and he was uncomfortable with the attention. He never considered himself attractive. Ever. By Altmeri standards especially, but by all standards. Too pale, too old, too large, and his features were too hard. He did not even address the scars. The scars that were so revolting to his own people that he was required to wear a helmet covering his face in public. Bah! There were many attractive Nord men here, and Tyranus. The child needed her eyes checked.  He looked up at Tyranus and whispered, shaking his head in dismissal.


    “Brother Tyranus, my days for those games are long, long behind me.”


    “She is pretty, though, for a Nord.” Tyranus observed. She was pretty. Honey blonde hair, blue eyes, that lovely clear skin that all young Nord women seemed to be blessed with, with just that touch of peach to the cheeks and the shoulders. It also did not hurt that she was well-built, her clothes hugging her figure, the heavy gold necklace she wore falling just so. Tyranus let a saucy grin form on his face. It had been a while. Shame she was ignoring him and eyeing the squirming Altmer. 


    “Of course she is pretty, but no." Äelberon looked up to glance at her briefly only to bring his eyes down again when he caught her gaze, and Tyranus could detect the slight rise of color in the Altmer’s cheeks. He was blushing from the attention. "Besides,” He continued, keeping his voice down, “to me, she is but a babe! Even if I was not sworn to celibacy, it would still be very unseemly.” The Elf chuckled, “Most of you are like children to me. I am ancient and I look it too. Gods, ancient and ugly.”


    “Nah, you are still quite hale.” Tyranus suddenly shot a look to the side, his grey eyes dancing with mischief. “Ha! She’s coming.”


    “Xarxes’ Arse!” Äelberon sank into his chair, in a futile attempt to look smaller, and sipped his tea. She was puffing out her… assets and he could see that she had freshly pinched her cheeks to bring out their color.  He blew out air and waited, trying to avoid eye contact. She sat at the edge of the table on his side, her short, dusky green skirt parting to show quite a bit of a shapely, smooth thigh. She then flashed her best smile, all her teeth present and accounted for, and crossed her arms over her chest, as if her bosoms could not escape even more from the frail confines of her tightly laced brown bodice.  How she managed to breathe in that thing was beyond him. Äelberon managed a polite smile and nodded as she leaned towards him. The perfume was very strong, freshly applied. He wrinkled his nose; and very cloying. He would be ill if she hovered any closer.   


    “Your food will be ready in a few moments.” She then found Äelberon’s eyes in the warm glow of the inn, her light blue eyes narrowing, her lips slightly parted. She had licked them to moisten them and he caught the faint scent of snowberries. Nord women often used snowberry juice to redden their lips. He had seen Ria and Aela apply it in Jorrvaskr. “Is there anything else you need?”


    Her voice was husky and the question loaded with far more than the usual polite niceties. Vigilant Tyranus was biting his lip to keep from laughing while the High Elf squirmed in his chair obviously unaccustomed to such advances. It was endearing and he liked this Elf all the more for it.  There was genuine goodness in him and that was terribly hard to find in this day and age. Daedra, vampires, draugr, werewolves all fell to this great warrior’s blade and bow, yet it was a young barmaid that made him uneasy. Poor priest. He would help out.


    “No, my dear, I think PRIEST Äelberon and I are fine for now.”


    Immediately the young woman straightened up and changed her body language. Shame, if Äelberon wasn’t enjoying it, he sure was.


    “Priest?” She questioned, her tone clearly one of disappointment. He was so different from everyone else. The Imperial wasn't hard on the eyes either, but the Elf was more unusual. Exotic, tall, and beautifully built, the added height giving him an elegance that she seldom saw in her fellow Nords. And when he smiled, Gods! Perfect teeth! Hroki didn't even want to start on his hair. Damn!  A priest!


    “Yes, my dear child.” Answered Äelberon in the most “priestly” tone he could muster. She left.  He felt bad, for he could see she was disappointed, but she was young; she would find someone who would give the attention she deserved.  Perhaps even Tyranus later, for Äelberon could plainly see that the Imperial was eyeing her closely. The Vigilants did not practice celibacy. Neither did the Order of Auri-El for that matter, and he even caught himself watching her walk off for a second before he turned to face Tyranus again. Her back end just as well-built as her front end. He felt nothing though and sighed. No, those feelings were finished with him. Dead inside... 


    “Thank you,” He mouthed to the Vigilant, who laughed aloud, knowing full well that the Altmer did his fair share of staring at the pretty Nord, even as he squirmed. Was there hope for him yet? 


    “It is true then?” Tyranus observed quietly, “That you are untouched? It was said, but well, no one—“


    He was interrupted by the Altmer’s own laughter. It was a boisterous laugh, perhaps a bit too boisterous, almost as if he were covering something with it. Covering something darker. Altmer were strange creatures to him. “No one wanted to come up and ask a 42 and a half pertan Altmer warrior if he was a virgin, eh?” He took a sip of tea and smirked, “I love Vigilants. Such a cautious group.” 


    “You do not hide it, then?” Tyranus asked.


    The Altmer's expression grew thoughtful. “Nay, I do not hide it, but I am having the worst time trying to figure out how I would explain it to the Nords here should the subject ever come up. They really do enjoy their sex. About as much as their mead and their fighting.”


    “Have you told your Shield-Siblings at Jorrvaskr yet?”


    “No, I have not. ‘Twould be a jest for sure! No, no, no…” Äelberon chuckled, taking another sip of tea. “Poor things would probably arrange to have a prostitute visit my bed. They already think me a little crazy for not drinking. Besides...” Tyranus watched Äelberon's features darken again, remembering something from his past, his eyes drifting away. “It is none of their business what I choose to do with my body. That was the point in the entire matter in the first place. Choice.” Tyranus knew by the tone of the Altmer’s final words not to press further and shifted in his stone chair. Äelberon wasn’t referring to his Shield-Siblings then.


    An old grey-bearded Nord in leather armor began to sing next to the roaring fire of the inn. Äelberon listened, for something caught his attention. It was an older voice, but his phrases were well-turned and the text was clear, and clearly what he sang about moved his very heart.  That was far more important to him than a lovely voice. He sang a tale of the Dragonborn. In this dark time, appropriate.


    Hopefully their prayers would be answered and one would show themselves. But there had not been one in centuries. Äelberon studied the faces of the Nords in the inn, watching them go about their daily activities; smiling, chatting, eating, his face suddenly turning very dark. Was there one among them now? Surely there had to be. A Nord hero or heroine had to come forward. The alternative was too much to even consider. He knew the verse well.  


    “The World-Eater wakes, and the Wheel turns upon the Last Dragonborn…” He whispered aloud, deep in thought, as his eyes focused on the hearth fire. Where is this Last Dragonborn?   


    “Äelberon?” Tyranus was staring quizzically as he watched the Altmer brood in his chair. Aye, those eyes of his were definitely somewhere else now.  They matched the colors of the flames in the hearth. He had never seen such eyes in an Elf before. The Dunmer and Bosmer had blood red eyes and Altmer usually had golden or green eyes, but Äelberon’s were a very strange shade.


    “Äelberon?” Tyranus repeated.


    “The Last Dragonborn…” The Elf continued to muse, swirling his tankard absently.


    “You trying to compete with the bard?”


    Äelberon snapped to attention at Tyranus’ words and turned to face the Imperial. He set his tankard down and he listened to the bard. He could see that the old Skald’s eyes watered when he sang. Aye, he sometimes got carried away too and he smiled. “Oh no, he is quite good, I was just thinking aloud.” Äelberon remarked as he began to search his pack for his coin purse.  “Such songs are not played in the Isles or in Cyrodiil.”


    “True.” Replied Tyranus.  


    The bard finished and two rewarded him with applause, causing Ogmund the Skald to approach them.


    “Thank you for your praise.” The old Nord said.


    Äelberon nodded in appreciation. “It is good to hear the words delivered by a true Skald. Bards sometimes lose sight of text in favor of melody and text, to me, is very important.” Äelberon replied as he reached into his coin purse and handed Ogmund 10 septims.


    Tyranus’ eyes went wide, it was a generous payment for a bard.


    “Thank you. I am Ogmund the Skald at your service, gentle Elf. If you have any additional requests, you need only ask.” By the Nine! An Altmer giving so generously, he thought as he eyed the septims in his hand.


    “Thank you, Skald.” Replied Äelberon.


    Ogmund gave a slight bow and returned to his chair at the hearth as the barmaid returned to the two warriors with their sizzling meals, the smell of beef and fish now mixing with the roast goat, making Äelberon’s stomach growl. He had asked for the seared slaughterfish. Tilma did not cook fish much and he thought he would see how Nords prepared it. In his land, slaughterfish was prepared over an open flame over coals mixed with bits of fragrant wood. Or it was salt-dried to be reconstituted later for stews. He knew of many ways to eat fish, not even trying his first taste of beef until he began his training in Alinor. 


    He eyed the dish. This looked pan-seared to him and he could smell traces of garlic. The white meat was... Scamp's Blood. Overcooked.  The cook was no Gourmet.  


    “So,” started Vigilant Tyranus, as he cut into his cooked beef.  That was done better, Äelberon observed, for the meat was juicy and had a pink-red center and it smelled very good to him. He was used to dried beef, jerkies, and stews. Steak was a luxury he could never afford.  Damn, he should have ordered the beef.  “What is this business you have with the Lady Mara?”


    Äelberon glanced at the Imperial while he continued to cut into his fish. Hack was a better word.  “As you know, I am to go into Bleak Falls Barrow for the Jarl of Whiterun and retrieve a map of dragon burial sites for his court wizard. It has been what I have been preparing for my entire time in Skyrim thus far. For some odd reason, at least to me, they think knowing where dragons are buried will help this Dragonborn that is supposed to emerge. I do not know. I personally would be more concerned with the live dragon that destroyed Helgen rather than clearly dead ones, but I could not refuse to help them.” He took a bite of the fish and frowned. Overcooked and gummy. He cleared his throat and washed down the fish with some tea.  He then continued, setting down his utensils to fill Tyranus’ empty tankard with the pitcher of alto wine that the Vigilant had ordered with his meal.


    “You still fill to your left? Old customs never die, do they?” The Vigilant smiled, watching the Altmer pour.


    “No, they do not.” The Elf replied.


    Tyranus gestured to Äelberon’s meal with his fork. “Fish any good?” He asked, his mouth full of steak.


    “Bah! Very dry... and gummy.” Äelberon replied, reluctantly taking another bite, “I am Dusken, though, we know fish, but...” He chuckled, “Even dry, it is still far better than anything I could cook.”


    “You ordered wrong, friend.” Replied Tyranus as he attacked his steak. “This is the Reach. Best roast goat in all of Tamriel. Had that yesterday and almost died it was so good. If you are homesick for fish, best head to Dawnstar, Solitude, or Riften, my critical Dusken.”


    “I will keep that in mind as I travel.”


    “Just don’t forget to eat, Altmer. That’s the great thing about being an Imperial.” Tyranus grinned as he chewed, “I never forget to eat.” His tone then became wistful. “I miss the Imperial city sometimes. The food…”


    Äelberon nodded in agreement, but he missed the rustic Bruma even more. Relaxing at the Tap and Tack, eating berries while he read by the candlelight in his tiny room, Koor napping at his feet. Half-listening to Bumph's stories, before the three became fed up with being inside and would walk the snow-covered city. “Aye ‘twas excellent. I miss strawberries and oranges quite a bit. But at least Skyrim has apples. Gods!” He suddenly exclaimed, dramatically putting his head upon the stone table in mock anguish. “I think I would have turned back if they did not.”


    Tyranus laughed at the Altmer’s antics. “So, the Lady Mara?” Tyranus pressed, taking a sip of wine.


    The Altmer raised his head from the table and took another bite of his fish and a sip of tea, his suffering renewed as he chewed his meal. He would rather be enjoying an apple than this fish. “I knew I would be facing casters at Bleak Falls Barrow and well, my race, Tyranus, is very weak to magic. I was directed to a priestess of Mara at Riften. When I spoke with her, I did not speak with her, but with the Lady Mara Herself.” 


    Tyranus’ eyes widened and he almost dropped his latest bite of steak. “A Goddess spoke directly with you?” He managed.


    The Altmer looked up at him and nodded. “Aye, I know. I could not believe it myself.”


    “What did She say?”


    “She assigned me a series of tasks, and if I completed them to Her expectations, She would then favor me with some resistance to hostile spells.” He then chuckled and shook his head before turning his glance to the Imperial again.  “All the tasks pertain to matters of romantic love.” He winked. “So I am just like this plate of seared slaughterfish served in a land that is known for their roast goat." The Vigilant laughed hard and took a big gulp of his wine. The Elf was indeed if a barmaid made him squirm. "I was sent first to Ivarstead, and now, I am in Markarth. To help none other than Calcelmo himself. Imagine that? Calcelmo. Mer was practically a god in the Isles when I was growing up. Ha! Someone still running around that is old—“  He took another bite of his fish and looked up at Tyranus again without even chewing. The Imperial’s face was frozen, his face darkened, his eyebrows furrowed. Äelberon swallowed the fish. “What? Is there something wrong, Tyranus?”


    “Äelberon, he is in Understone Keep.”


    “Aye, that is what the guard outside the city told me, Nchuand-Zel. I am excited. Perhaps Calcelmo will let me see the excavation site—“


    Tyranus’ tone suddenly grew very serious and he leaned closer to Äelberon and whispered, his breath a heady mix of steak and wine. “Are you still hunted by the Thalmor?” All Tyranus had to do was look at the Elf’s face and he had his answer.


    “When I was taken to the block at Helgen, First Emissary Elenwen left before the dragon attacked. Incompetent bitch never bothered to see if the job was bloody done, but she was always that way. Lazy, save with matters of torture. Then she was extremely thorough.” Äelberon frowned and began to poke at his fish as if it were an enemy, the memories of Elenwen’s interrogations still keen in his mind. Tyranus then noticed his voice take on a hard edge when he spoke again. “If I had been a Justiciar, I would have killed me long ago. Yes, I am still hunted.” He eyed the Vigilant, his eyes narrow with disdain. “I killed the last Justiciar that figured out who I was. She was attacking a Stormcloak camp with wounded. With wounded, Tyranus! No honor. No bloody honor anymore. No wonder there is such hatred for my People...” He hissed. “I helped them." He picked at his slaughterfish before continuing. “There were wounded and I am His Priest. I am not sure if others know of me. It depends on their age. I have far better luck with the younglings. The true history of my People is rarely taught to them now. The Slayer of Bet only a subject for children’s stories…”


    “Well, when I was investigating the house we’re going to search through, part of my investigation took me to Understone Keep. There is a Thalmor Justiciar there. His name is Ondolemar. Does that name sound familiar to you?” Tyranus could see that the Elf immediately recognized the name. Äelberon rolled his eyes and his voice grew gruff as he stabbed the slaughterfish filet with his fork in disgust. He wasn’t particularly frightened. If Tyranus had to pick a word for the Elf’s reaction, “annoyed” would be it.


    “Ondolemar, eh? So that was the best post he could get? Ha! On that,” He nodded as he leaned back on the stone chair crossing his arms over his chest, “I am pleased. Bastard could never keep his breeches on.”


    “Best post? Breeches?” Repeated Tyranus.


    Äelberon could no longer suppress a chuckle. “He was caught literally with his breeches down during the Vampire Symposium of 185. While his people were dying, all he could think on was sex, and it is very childish of me I know, but I think I may have actually done a wee dance as I ran from the Thalmor when I learned that he was stripped of his title and sent for reeducation. At least the young agent he was attempting to bed proved far more competent. She saved many lives that night. Many lives...”


    Aye, she saved his life too. He took a long sip of tea and sighed. Vastaril, the Nordling. Grey eyes and brown hair. Of mixed heritage, like him and not without her own secrets. Kin to a stone statue. 


    "You are not beyond help..."


    Damn, he was going to dream on this. It was not a memory he wanted to replay tonight but he could never control such things. He found Tyranus’ eyes again and picked up his fork. He needed to eat and forced himself to take another bite. Damn fish. “So he is here, eh?” His mouth still working on the slaughterfish. “Well, he is a zealot, so I doubt he would venture near Nchuand-Zel…”


    Tyranus could sense the Elf’s growing tension, as if he was now presented with an unforeseen obstacle that he had to overcome and he was growing frustrated, while his mind attempted to resolve it. The poor slaughterfish filet was suffering for his frustration, the jabs with the Altmer’s fork becoming more pronounced.  “Thalmor hate the Dwemer.” Äelberon continued. “In their eyes, the Dwemer were heretics. Hmph! To them, we are all heretics...” He suddenly threw his fork down in frustration, his appetite gone. This was going to significantly complicate Mara’s next task and there would be no time to chat idly with Calcelmo. Damn, he was looking forward to it too. He leaned in closely to the Vigilant, his eyes focused.  “Does he do a walk around?” He knew their habits well. In buildings stationed by Thalmor, they regularly patrolled the building and followed a very set pattern, never deviating from it. If he could learn the pattern, he may be able to avoid being seen.


    “From what I observed during my brief time at the Keep, he seemed to patrol a great deal.” The Vigilant reached over his back and grabbed the hilt of his great sword. “Do you need my help?” He offered.


    “Your offer is appreciated, Tyranus, but absolutely not.  While I do not doubt that you would be able to teach Ondolemar a lesson, I will not risk your safety, nor will I risk the safety of the people of Markarth. This is my task and if I am caught… I cannot risk.  Wait for me outside the house you want to investigate or here at the inn and I will find you when I am finished.” He stood up from the chair, his fish only half-eaten, and picked up the plate, setting it upon the floor. Äelberon managed a smile as he watched Koor wolf down the slaughterfish with great enthusiasm, reaching again for his coin purse to pay for the meal. Boy would eat a bloody rock covered in sweetroll icing, so long as it wasn't his cooking. Äelberon took some coin out and set it upon the table, addressing Tyranus again, who was finishing up his steak.  “I am sorry, this has become far more complicated than I anticipated. I need to leave. I have covered both of us.”


    Tyranus started to push septims back to Äelberon and reach for his own coin purse.  Damn, the Mer didn’t even count. What he gave was significantly more than the value of their meals.


    “Eh, no. Do not begrudge an Old Mer his generosity!” The septims were pushed back to Tyranus. “See that the meal is paid for and the rest, give to the poor.” Äelberon took his helmet from the floor and slung his pack over his shoulder. “Tyranus.”


    He leaned closer to him, putting his hand on the Vigilant’s shoulder, his eyes quite apologetic, his brow furrowed. “Watch Koor, please. Taking him would be unwise of me, for they know I travel with a dog, and—“ Tyranus could see that the Elf was having difficulty. He despised the Thalmor and he wasn’t afraid of Ondolemar, but he loved his dog.


    “Come boy.” Tyranus interrupted, patting the dog on the head, making the dog look up and loll his tongue. “Time for us to walk off this meal, eh?” He looked up at Äelberon, his grey eyes serious as he stood up. “I’ll watch him. Don’t worry.” He replied with a nod, knowing full well what the Altmer really meant.


    “And friend, if I do not meet you at the house, please accept my humblest apologies.” He clasped the Vigilant’s forearm and Tyranus answered the gesture in kind. “It was truly a pleasure finally meeting you, Brother Tyranus.”


    “Likewise, Äelberon.” The Vigilant of Stendarr replied.


    Äelberon let out a blast of air, his shoulders falling a bit as he did so, checking to see if he had everything. “Well, I am off to do the Lady Mara’s work and may the Goddess be kind, for Xarxes’ Arse if I know what I am doing!” He observed with a throaty chuckle. "You want a go at this instead?" 


    "No, friend. You're the Agent, not me!" Replied Tyranus, his hands raised.


    Their banter had attracted the attention of Hroki and for a moment her eyes locked with Tyranus' and she smiled while she removed empty mead bottles from the counter-top of the bar.  She wasn't ignoring him now and Tyranus smiled back, giving her a wink, making her blush.


    Äelberon had caught that interplay. Good, the Old Mer thought. That was a far better pairing. Both warriors then could not help their laughter, for the Lady Mara had indeed picked the strangest creature to be her Agent on Nirn.  Vigilant Tyranus gave Äelberon a reassuring pat on the shoulder and watched as Äelberon left the inn. Damn, Tyranus thought, as he stroked Koor’s fur, finishing his wine. Elf was risking a great, great deal for Mara’s favor, he hoped Stendarr would smile on him.


    "So are we walking, boy?" Tyranus asked Koor, rubbing the dog's ears. He looked up when he heard footsteps approach and he smelled her perfume.


    "Is there anything else you need?" Hroki asked.


    Tyranus chuckled under his breath and shrugged his broad shoulders. He gave Koor a rough pat on the head. "Sorry boy." He whispered.


    Koor snorted and grinned, his tongue lolling from his mouth. 


    Straag Rod Book 1 ToC

    Chapter XVII    Chapter XIX



12 Comments   |   SpottedFawn and 1 other like this.
  • SpottedFawn
    SpottedFawn   ·  May 4, 2017
    Loved this chapter. "Stone chairs were a lousy idea for an inn." xD Seriously did the Dwemer have square butts? Or maybe they were so obsessed with their own architectural aesthetic that they never really used those chairs at all.

    Albee getti...  more
  • Ebonslayer
    Ebonslayer   ·  October 28, 2015
    Ondlemar is a dick and was the first thing in my mind the second I read the word Thalmor.
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  October 21, 2015
    I know. 
  • Rhoth
    Rhoth   ·  October 21, 2015
    Working on it.
    Haven't had much time of late.
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  October 21, 2015
    Hehe, just read. 
  • Rhoth
    Rhoth   ·  October 21, 2015
    Poor Tyranus.  I wonder how Aelberon will deal with having to kill him...assuming you actually started the quest rather than just using him as a personality.
    Kind of amusing since in my current test run for another build my character just killed him.
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  September 3, 2015
    Yep. Poor Tyranus. 
    Albee's a virgin and very squirmy around the ladies. Poor thing. 
  • Exuro
    Exuro   ·  September 3, 2015
    Your 'poor Tyranus' comment on one of my earlier posts holds more weight now
    Watching Albee squirm was great fun though, flirty barmaid > Bet
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  June 11, 2015
    Albee NOT hiding in Kodlak's room is one of my favorite chapters. 
  • Sotek
    Sotek   ·  June 11, 2015
    Oh the part when Sotek hides in Kodlak's room. Thats one of my fav chapters.