Straag Rod: Book 1, Part 1, Chapter XXXVII


    Äelberon stood patiently at the counter of the Riverwood Trader, his great arms folded over his chest, and waited while he watched Lucan Valerius search through his large chest of supplies. Where the shopkeeper tended to keep his smaller or more fragile merchandise. It was just past sunset and the Old Knight was already stiffening up from the day’s events, his ankle beginning to swell uncomfortably against his boot. But he did not care. The punchline was well worth the pain.


    When he and Koor finally emerged from the Barrow, they were at the other side of the mountain, near Lake Ilinalta, and it took some doing to reach Allie. Fortunately, she was safe, waiting patiently at the thicket, her lips stained red from snowberry juice, the branches around her stripped bare. They then had to double back through the tomb and retrieve the Dragonstone, wrapping it in fresh linens and bearskin before heading out again. A hasty washing under the small waterfall near the bridge leading to Riverwood made him presentable enough to venture into town without striking fear into the hearts of the Gentlefolk. His hair, a Holy mess, was concealed in his hood and it would remain there until he returned to Jorrvaskr for a soothing bath and a hot, hot meal! He chuckled to himself as he watched the Imperial continue his hunt for the elusive vial. He enjoyed surprises and Lucan was in for a big one!  


    Lucan held up a small green ceramic vial and showed it to Äelberon. “This it? Uh… Lamp oil?”


    “No, Lucan. Torch oil.” He replied, shaking his head.


    Lucan scrunched up his face and scrutinized the bottle more carefully. “Oh, that’s right. They are different. I could’ve sworn I have it somewhere, give me a sec, will ya. It’s here… I know it is.” And Lucan renewed his efforts, grumbling to himself about Camilla needing to be better organized.


    Äelberon turned to Camilla and Faendal and nodded politely, leaning back against the counter casually while he lowered a hand to pet a panting Koor.  Shifting positions only just helped his aching back.


    “Would you like to stay for dinner, Äelberon?” The offer made with a friendly smile while Camilla stirred the cooking pot, the smells of overcooking beef wafting towards the Altmer’s nose. She was neglecting to add more water and it would make the beef very stringy. Tilma made no such errors.  Äelberon forgave the young maid, however, bless the child, she was very distracted. The Bosmer chuckling in her ear as she cooked was no help, and the food was not the only thing that was heating up in the room.


    Camilla liked the Altmer, she thought, stirring absently, enjoying Faendal's hand rubbing her shoulder. He was a frequent visitor to the Trader to sell his wares and buy supplies, often warming himself by the fire and telling grand tales of adventure, his eyes always with a twinkle. They were twinkling now and she wondered what he was thinking. He kept watching her brother and smirking.


    “Yes, Spinner, join us for dinner!” Chimed in Faendal, his face beaming as he leaned against the stone fireplace.


    “No, no, no, I must politely decline this time, my dear Camilla. I have important business in Whiterun.” He nodded graciously, “Another time, perhaps?” He turned and leaned over the counter, peering at the shopkeeper, who was now practically submerged in the chest.  “Lucan, have you found it yet?”


    How big was the bloody chest? Äelberon was chomping at the bit, he really wanted to give Lucan the claw, but he was feeling rather impish and he wanted to have some fun with the shopkeeper first. He was sore and tired and at the same time exhilarated and eager, so very eager to return to Jorrvaskr and tell this tale. To celebrate! Gods, it felt so good to be finished!


    “Wait, wait, I can see it now, it’s sort of stuck in the back. Ah, here it is.” Lucan produced a small tan vial and with some effort stood up and returned to the worn counter, wiping the sawdust from his embroidered merchant’s tunic and breeches as Äelberon leaned back from his position and placed both hands upon the weathered wood, drumming his right fingers. They made a metallic sound upon it and he was well-aware of the noise. He could barely contain a grin, studying the shopkeeper’s olive complexion, the under eye circles more prominent. Lucan looked demoralized and he could use some good news for a change.  With the Civil War and the dragon attack at Helgen, business was slow for most of the shopkeepers in the smaller towns and villages. People kept to the cities. “I’m sorry for the wait, Äelberon. I’ve been a bit distracted since someone robbed the store a few months ago. Just before you arrived actually, and I’ve not had time to organize my inventory the way I’d like to.”


    Äelberon could not resist. “Your store was robbed?” Äelberon managed to make the tone sound as innocent as possible.   


    “Aye, the scum.” Lucan cursed and Äelberon could see Camilla’s worried look. “Been saving to see if I could perhaps hire the Companions about it though. Track down the little rat.”


    Raise those bushy brow of yours, Old Mer. “Oh?”


    “You’re a member now, aren’t ya?”


    “Yes, I am counted among them.” Äelberon pretended to scan the room, “I see all your inventory here. Did you recover your losses quickly?” At this point he was biting his lip while Lucan wiped the dust off the vial with a cloth.  Steady, Old Mer. It is coming.


    “Oh we’re fine and nothing in the shop was stolen, save a family heirloom.  An ornament, solid gold, in the shape of a dragon’s claw.” Lucan held up the vial, “This it?”


    “Ah, what a shame.” Äelberon replied, his tone sympathetic. “Aye, that is it. What do I owe you for the oil, Lucan?”


    Lucan thought for a moment, running the price lists of his inventory in his head. “Twenty septims ought to cover it.”  


    “Very good,” The Elf replied and he removed his pack from his broad shoulders, placing it with a heavy thud upon the counter. Äelberon watched Lucan out of the corner of his eye as he feigned rummaging through his pack. Auri-El would forgive a little jest. He knew exactly where the claw was inside, knew where his coin purse was too, but he wanted to have some fun. After some moments, he shook his head slowly and let out a blast of air, scratching his beard for extra effect before resuming his “search”. “Oh no…” He moaned, a bit on the dramatic side.


    “What?” Lucan leaned forward.


    “Seems I have misplaced my coin purse.” He looked up from his rummaging, closing his pack when Lucan got too close. “Now, where did I leave the confounded thing?” He mused absently as he continued his now very noisy rummaging, “This is embarrassing…”


    “Don’t worry about it.”


    Äelberon dismissed Lucan’s kindness with a wave of his hand and resumed his exaggerated searching, now biting the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing. “No, no, no, I will find it…” He muttered. A few more moments passed before Äelberon dramatically closed the pack again and looked up. “Damn, not here. I cannot keep you waiting. Would you perhaps take a trade for it?”


    “Sure. Whatcha got?” Lucan replied, eager to see what he had in that pack that made searching for a damn coin purse such a hassle. The Elf suddenly glanced upwards and let out a whistle as he reopened his pack.


    “Oh, I dunno…” Äelberon started, imitating their more common dialect. It was a poor fit with his distinct accent. The Elf then smiled slyly as he began to pull something from it. “You think this is worth twenty septims?”


    Lucan’s eyes popped out of his head and Camilla immediately turned from her cooking when she saw the Golden Claw, her berry-stained, pouty lips separated in surprise. Lucan clasped his head with both hands and jumped excitedly behind the counter. It was back! “By the Eight! You found it! The claw, it’s back! It’s smaller than I remember. Ha! Could be 'cause you're holding it and you're huge.” Lucan turned to Äelberon, his eyes full of joy. “You really found it? You went to Bleak Falls Barrow?”


    “Aye, I was on errand there for the Court Wizart. ‘Twas in the hands of a Dunmer bandit, Arvel the Swift. His journal mentioned a shopkeeper in Riverwood and I have always excelled at summation...” Blank stares from the three of them. Äelberon cleared his throat. That was not right. “Blast! How does one say it now? Oh yes, I… put two and two together.”


    Lucan laughed and Faendal shook his head. That Old Altmer was definitely in his third century. At least he attempted to keep up with current turns of phrase. Most Elves gave up after their second. Altmer especially.


    Äelberon slid his pack to the right of the counter and quickly felt it with his right hand. Yes, he found them fast enough. Three small indentations in the wood and one farther behind that marked the claw’s former position. He placed the claw on that spot and smiled at Lucan, his laugh lines wrinkling. “It goes there, correct?”


    “That’s exactly the spot, thank you, thank you.”


    “Well, you have it back. Twenty septims, you say? Here.” Äelberon nodded, easily finding his coin purse and removing 20 septims to place on the counter, only for Lucan’s hand to grasp his forearm.


    “Don’t. Wait. No, this can’t go unrewarded. I never asked you. I was going to hire someone out and you did this for me. You could have kept it for yourself and you didn’t. Hold on.” Lucan went back to the chest and pulled out a bag of septims. “Look, I had some money coming in from my last shipment,” He handed the bag to Äelberon, ignoring the Elf’s protests at such generosity. “Here, take it, and take the oil too. Friend, you don’t know what you’ve done for me today. Thank you.”


    Äelberon smiled at the shopkeeper and reluctantly took the coin. He would set it aside for now. Perhaps at a later date, he would use the money given to invest in Lucan’s business. The sign needed repair; Lucan needed more shelving to display items, the roof needed reinforcing. Perhaps even hire an assistant? There were so many ways to give back. “You have my gratitude today as well, Lucan, for I would not have been able to complete my errand for Farengar Secret-Fire were it not for your heirloom. Speaking of which, he is a rather impatient man and I truly need to be off.”


    Äelberon shook Lucan’s hand firmly and turned around to leave when Camilla suddenly hugged him tightly, burying her face in his chest. Äelberon found his arms instinctively closing over the young maid’s back, returning her gesture. Many other Altmer would have shied away, rejecting the contact, especially from one belonging to the races of Man. The comfort of touch, however, was often instrumental in healing and he did not shy from it.


    “You don’t know how happy you’ve made my brother today. Thank you, gallant Sir” Camilla whispered softly.


    Ah, ‘twas a sweet thing to call him, he thought as he held her, very Cyrodiilic. Scamp’s Blood, though, the stew was burning. “’Twas nothing, my child, nothing at all.” He reassured, patting her back, “Now, go. You have a dinner to prepare for this fine lad here. We hunt day after tomorrow with the brothers, eh Faendal? I eat far too much, and Tilma needs the meat. ”


    “Aye, Spinner. Bright and early.” The Bosmer chortled. She broke from the Altmer knight and went back to Faendal, who nodded and smiled at Äelberon. He turned to the three as he paused at the door.


    “Goodnight, sleep well, and Auri-El’s many blessings upon your home...” He then gave it a firm push and left the Riverwood Trader.



    Äelberon felt incredible, alive, when he gave the doors of Jorrvaskr a powerful kick with his leg, oblivious to his ankle, opening both doors wide while he strode into the Mead Hall, Koor loudly following. They were at their evening meal. Ha! Never failed. His Shield-Siblings never stopped eating, neither did he and he would eat like a very bear tonight. He set the bearskin sacks that bore the Dragonstone and the loot from the Barrow down near the entrance and found his target.


    She had just set down a tankard of mead near Torvar and was completely caught by off-guard when she felt the Altmer grab her by the waist, hoist her high in the air, and twirl her around a few times. His Shield-Siblings looked up and many stopped eating, surprised at the Elf’s strange display. She was but a ragdoll to him and they were even more surprised when her response to his actions was a peal of laughter, her eyes nearly slits from her sunny smile. “Albee, stop, stop,” She managed between giggles, her hands on his shoulders, “You’ll make me dizzy!”


    The old Elf stopped his mad twirling, but he still held her high in his arms and gazed up at her, his red-orange eyes twinkling merrily, his face sporting a robust grin. He was happy and when her Albee, her newest, most handsomest cub was happy, Tilma was happy. She’d never been so damn tall and she liked it! Bet she could reach the chandeliers to clean the blasted lights and then give the beams a good dusting if he held her like this. She’d ask him after his meal. Tilma felt him give her a squeeze as he held her. “Tilma, Tilma, Tilma! I could smell that divine venison stew all the way from Adrianne’s. Your Albee is starved.”


    “Starved? You look well-fed to me, you fat Old Bear.” Came the snarky reply.


    He gave her his best "forlorn" look, his brows furrowing, deliberately teasing her. “Aye, verily I am starved. I was forced, Tilma, FORCED to eat my charred skeever. ‘Twas dreadful. I suffered terribly.”


    “Well, you won’t get anything, Old Mer, if you don’t put me down!” She bent her head towards his hood and then wrinkled her nose when she caught a whiff. “And take a bath! You were supposed to fetch that ol’ Dragonstone, not sleep with Draugr.”


    Äelberon threw his head back, his sonorous guffaw resonating in the Mead Hall. “Old Woman! If I do not sleep with the live ones, why on Nirn would I sleep with the dead ones?!”


    The whole Mead Hall roared with laughter, their excitement building at their Shield-Sibling’s success and apparent joy. It was going to be another night of celebration. They knew the Old Woman had been cooking again today, making his favorites: apple pie, honey nut treats.


    “Ha! Fine, Old Woman! I shall ease your spinning head and your offended nose.” And he set her down gently, though she still clung to him. “For someone who is complaining of the stink—“ He grunted when Tilma slapped his chest with her work-worn hand. Oghma’s tits, she hit as hard as his lenya did!


    Kodlak could not ignore their playful banter and approached with a smile on his face. He patted Äelberon on the shoulder. “I take it the Barrow went well.”


    Äelberon laughed again, urging Tilma towards the kitchen with a playful slap to the backside, making her squeal, and then settling by the fire to warm his hands, stretching his long fingers over the flames and squeezing his hands to get the circulation flowing again. He could smell the rain in the air when he left Lucan’s and he was very pleased that he beat it, he thought, turning to Kodlak. “Am I being that obvious? That it did, that it did, but I cannot linger now, Brother. I only came by to leave a few things and to warm my hands. Will be a chilly, wet night tonight.” He gestured to the stone tablet that now peeked from one of the bearskins at the entrance. “And that Dragonstone is damn heavy.”


    “Oh?” Replied the Old Man, sounding disappointed. Äelberon crossed his arms over his chest.


    “I know, I know, I would much rather stay and tell all of you my adventures, for I am keen on celebrating tonight, but eh, I must first to Dragonsreach and drop it off. See Farengar. Have words. You know how that is. Should not take long, an hour at the most. You hear that old woman?!” Äelberon barked to Tilma loudly as she disappeared into the kitchen. “I will not be long! So keep a bowl of stew warm for me, and damn it! Make sure Torvar does not go through all the treats! I can smell them, plain as the nose on my face.”


    “If that’s the case, that beak of yours probably smelled them from the very Barrow!” Barked Torvar. More laughter.


    “So it is finished then?” Kodlak asked, tempering the joyous mood somewhat. He was happy for Snow Bear. Bleak Falls Barrow had been a thorn in the Old Mer’s side since he first woke up at Jorrvaskr. He had spent weeks preparing and Kodlak could see that a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders. But Bleak Falls Barrow was not the only thing the Elf had on his mind.


    “Aye, ‘tis finished.” Äelberon sighed, giving Kodlak a gentle shove.


    The grey litter mates then stood at the fireside, their fur grizzled and their battle scars deep. The Old Man’s pale eyes became weary, he knew what Snow Bear meant by “finished”. “You mean to leave then.” Kodlak asked, warming his hands by the fire, suddenly feeling the chill in his old bones.


    Äelberon nudged his grey litter mate again. He could sense the Old Man’s apprehension. “Not permanently, no, never. You are my family, but I…”  Äelberon became pensive and turned to face the Old Man. “I must resume the hunt, Kodlak. The trail… has now gone cold.” He bent his head and he regarded the fire, the warmth of this great hearth. His new home. His new life. A life he could not truly let himself enjoy until he finished. He had dishonored them with his lack of action long enough. The Nords did not understand. Such a young people.  “You have to understand. I must do this. You know what it is to have lost someone. To know that their killer is still free. Kodlak, I cannot live like that. The Monster has enjoyed his freedom for far too long. And what… what if by guile or cruel twist of fate, he learned of my new family? His evil knows no bounds. He would, Kodlak, and I cannot let that happen.”


    Äelberon shook his head suddenly to clear it of the darkness and managed a smile, though Kodlak knew. The smiles of the Elder always have the weight of sorrow. “But now is not the time for brooding and dark thoughts. I am here now, and tonight…” He patted Kodlak on the shoulder, his eyes merry again, “Tonight, we celebrate. So prepare the mead and prepare the milk. I will not be long.”


    Äelberon gave the Old Man’s strong shoulder a final squeeze and walked to the Dragonstone, hoisted it upon his shoulders and left the Mead Hall, his husky following close behind.



    The doors of Dragonsreach flung open very much as they did on the Second of Evening Star when Äelberon first set foot in the Jarl’s Palace, also carrying a bearskin.  Jarl Balgruuf the Greater looked up from his throne just as he did that first night, but by the Gods, the Elf that walked through the door tonight was a completely different Mer. Still noble, still pale, but he was no longer ravaged by illness and gone was the ill-fitting Imperial armor. The gleaming silver plate suited him, and he had the weapons of a Paladin. It was obvious he bore the Dragonstone of Bleak Falls Barrow upon his powerful shoulders.


    Just as he promised he would.


    Jarl Balgruuf smiled when the Elf approached his throne and bowed slightly, acknowledging the Jarl. Able to bow even with that stone on his back. He could feel Proventus’ scowl behind him. The Imperial did not like the Elf. Thought him too brazen, too arrogant and disrespectful. What the steward failed to understand was that a warrior’s way was to be confident. If the Elf had come to a Nord throne like a cowering sycophant, he would not have had the respect he had now. The irony was not lost on the Jarl that an Altmer understood Nord culture better than an Imperial did.  “Seems, my friend, that you have a penchant for barging into my palace and bringing bearskins.”


    “’Twould seem so, my Jarl.” 


    Balgruuf laughed and gestured to the Wizard’s study. “Farengar is at his study, you have my leave to see him.”


    Äelberon nodded and crossed into Farengar’s cluttered study. The mage hovered over his grand desk with… Delphine?


    Delphine, the inn-keeper at Riverwood? That was puzzling, but the Altmer did not betray it in his face, instead choosing to observe the pair while he waited. Äelberon purchased the occasional meal at the Sleeping Giant and Orgnar was a source for bounties. It was Delphine, only she was now clad in a well-crafted set of leather armor and had at her waist an Elvish sword. Äelberon furrowed his brow. What was she doing with the Wizard? He listened in on their conversation, chuckling when Farengar said he actually wanted to see a dragon up close. One of these days, the wizard was going to end up dead.


    Delphine looked up when she heard the Elf’s baritone chuckle. He was the one they sent?


    The Altmer visited Riverwood frequently, mostly to purchase goods and trade with the local vendors and take bounties from Orgnar. At first, she avoided being seen by him, for she always thought Thalmor whenever she saw an Altmer and this was no ordinary Altmer by her knowledge of the race.  More than likely from Alinor’s Southern region, for he was powerfully built and of mixed ancestry. Her organization made it their business to study the Altmer carefully, especially with the establishment of the Third Aldmeri Dominion and the rise of the Thalmor. She remembered what Esbern had taught her all those years ago. More than likely, he was part Falmer and possibly even possessed traces of Ayleid blood. At any rate, he looked like he was deadly with both bow and blade and Delphine knew she was no match for him, on account of his brute strength alone. She needed to be cautious; it was how she survived as long as she did. Delphine could tell that he was quite old, definitely a survivor of the Oblivion Crisis.


    And, she learned later with great relief, that he was no friend of the Thalmor.


    She observed him by accident one day while checking on a shipment of ale from Solitude waiting to be loaded outside the Sleeping Giant. He was riding his Charger from the gate last month and that’s when she saw it. A Bearskin full of bloodied Elven gear, multiple uniforms, and his own sword was stained. Only the Justiciars sported Elven gear. When he passed Riverwood again, he wielded a brand new golden bow. A grand weapon, the craftsmanship unlike anything she had ever seen, no doubt made from their very armor. What kind of Altmer dared kill Thalmor? What kind of Altmer could kill them? He was uninjured when he rode past that day. Uninjured.


    “You have a visitor.” She interrupted Farengar’s musings on the First Era.


    Farengar looked up as Äelberon carefully laid the Dragonstone of Bleak Falls Barrow upon the Wizard’s work table and removed the bearskin and the linen, exposing the stone with its intricate carvings. Delphine raised her eyebrows and nodded in approval, the Altmer had the Dragonstone.


    Farengar looked at the Dragonstone and then looked up at Äelberon again. "Hmm? Ah, yes, the Jarl's protégé! Back from Bleak Falls Barrow? You didn't die, it seems."  Farengar winked.


    Äelberon shot Farengar a look and rolled his eyes. “No, it seems I did not.” He replied, crossing his arms over his chest. “Not for the Draugrs' lack of trying, though.”


    Military, Delphine thought, had to be military. The Training Center at Alinor for sure, but not Thalmor. Definitely not. Too old and too… Delphine couldn’t quite place it. Something Esbern told her about when she first started out. From a book he had read.  “You went into Bleak Falls Barrow and got that? Nice work.” She interrupted again. That got his attention and his red-orange eyes met hers. Studying her. Damn, they were a strange shade, but they were still Altmer eyes. Keenly observant. It was indeed impressive. Not many could delve into a Barrow and come out alive and relatively unscathed, save some minor cuts and bruises on his already scarred face. His weapons helped. He was practically oozing silver, and more than likely he was also a competent Restoration mage. A demon hunter? Possibly.


    “Yes, it seems he’s a cut above the usual brutes the Jarl sends my way.” Farengar teased.


    Was Farengar joking with him, thought Delphine. Joking? Farengar never joked.


    “Simplicity itself.” Retorted the Elf, a smirk emerging from his lips. Delivered with enough sarcasm that it was Delphine’s turn to take notice and Farengar Secret-Fire then laughed, remembering his own words to the Altmer that now triumphantly stood before him. It was clear to Delphine that the Altmer was friends with the court wizard. “Did I disappoint?” The Altmer then asked.


    “That remains to be seen.” Replied Farengar. “Depends on what else you brought back.”


    The Elf only whistled and his smirk became a full-blown grin. “Ran out of paper!”


    “You don’t say?” Farengar’s eyes widened. Äelberon ran out of paper! He said he was going to pack even more than he did for Dustman’s Cairn. Oh, this was going to be exciting. Farengar needed to get rid of Delphine. That was easy, all he had to do was keep talking and she should lose patience.


    Paper, thought Delphine, her brow furrowing. What were these two jabbering on about? Damn mages.


    “Aye, verily. So, what is to be done next?” The Elf asked.


    “Ah yes, here is where your work ends and mine begins, the work of the mind. Sadly underrated in Skyrim.”


    “I know, I know.” The Elf sighed. “We would be completely lost without you, Farengar.”


    Delphine was lost in her thoughts, staring at an open book, the words unimportant while the two continued their banter, but she was itching to leave. If dragons were returning, she needed to find the Dragonborn, and he definitely wasn’t in this room. Unless it was Farengar? Delphine shook her head at the very notion. She definitely needed sleep if she was starting to think that nonsense! It didn’t technically have to be a Nord, but it needed to be of the races of Men. That had been the established precedent.  Young man, military background, which in Skyrim was going to be like sifting through sands on a beach. She had her work cut out for her.  She interrupted curtly before Farengar could speak again. “Just send me a copy when you’ve deciphered it. I need to be on my way.”

    She turned to Äelberon and politely nodded, and he nodded back as she began to make her way out of the Wizard’s study, leaving Farengar flustered by her brusque manner and also relieved for he could now focus his attention on why Äelberon had run out of paper. Aye, Äelberon thought, there was more to this inn-keeper than met the eye. Military, yes definitely, yet not Legion, no, not Legion. So he retrieved the stone so that Farengar could decipher it for her? Why would she be so concerned about Dragon burial sites?   


    Äelberon played through all of his encounters with Delphine in his mind. At first, she avoided him whenever he visited Riverwood, retreating to a room in the Sleeping Giant Inn.


    Avoided him…


    That was a clue. She clearly shunned Altmer, only speaking to him officially after the twenty-six of Evening Star. After that day, while never especially friendly, she was far more cordial to him and he had thought that odd. What did he do that day and his mind traveled back. He was headed back from the Rift on his way home from his first series of travels. There was that squall on the mountain pass towards Helgen. The squall and he remembered. The Thalmor encounter with the Stormcloak camp and the bandits. Gods! Did she see the Elven armor? She was not a Nord, Talos was not an issue. Something else was. Something else in her past made her distrustful of Altmer. Then it dawned on him.


    A Blade?


    No… she was but a child! Everyone is a child to you, you Old Fool. Think, was she old enough? It would explain much; the secrecy, the life as an unassuming inn-keeper; her initial avoidance of him. He pictured her face carefully. A Breton, that made it hard to guess, they were so small and therefore all looked rather young to him. If perhaps she was recruited when she was very young. Just before the Great War. The Thalmor hunted them as ruthlessly as they hunted him. Not an easy life for such a youngling and she must have been talented, for the Blades did not recruit fools. Not for the work they did. Äelberon watched Farengar study the Dragonstone, connecting the various locations with his fingers.   


    The Blades hunted dragons.


    That was their function before they protected the emperors and conducted what they had thought to be secret espionage against the Aldmeri Dominion. They hunted dragons. Was she the Dragonborn? There was literature that backed Tiber Septim being a Breton, suggesting a birthplace of Alcaire, though it was not what the Nords believed.  Äelberon furrowed his brow while he thought, scratching his beard, remembering the particular book. He was chatting with Severio Pelagia at the Temple. The fifteenth of Evening Star. The farmer came in with a boil that needed lancing. That was it! And they ended up sharing a meal when their conversation turned to Cyrodiil. The book was in a bookshelf to the right of the first room of the Imperial’s farm.


    The Arcturian Heresy…


    The Blades did protect and serve the Dragonborn. Perhaps that was why she was recruited at such a young age?  He was not sure. At this point, he was speculating on extremely limited evidence and more than likely she was not. Asking her directly would potentially blow her cover if she was a Blade and he knew what it was like to be hunted by the Thalmor. If she was enjoying some measure of security, some measure of peace with her new identity, Äelberon was not one to take that from her.


    “Äelberon, the rubbings?”


    “Hmm?” Äelberon grunted absently, still lost in thought.


    “Well confounded, friend! She’s finally gone. I never thought she’d leave. Now, show me what you have.” Farengar rubbed his hands together in anticipation. “Running out of paper! This will be exciting.”


    “Oh! My apologies, Farengar.” Äelberon replied, removing his pack from his shoulders and setting it upon the table. He would think more on the Blade later.



    Äelberon turned briefly when he heard the doors of Dragonsreach swing open, followed by hurried footsteps, and then the clanking of Irileth’s ebony armor while she briskly walked towards the open doors. It was raining now, he had heard it pelt upon the roof, and he saw the flash of lightning out of the corner of his eye when the door opened. Farengar had not heard, but he was an Elf and had more sensitive ears. He was about to leave the study to see why Irileth was rushing so, but Farengar’s voice brought him back. “So what do you make of these markings?” 


    Brought back to the organized mess of rubbings that now graced the wizard’s work table and Äelberon was more than willing to return. “Which ones?”


    Farengar’s charcoal-stained hand traced a series of two runes, taking a large bite from a sweetroll, leaving crumbs upon the only space on the table that did not have paper on it. “Here.”


    Or at least the wizard was attempting to say the word, the sweetroll in his mouth muffled his speech considerably.  Äelberon leaned over the stooped mage and scrutinized the runes, his eyes narrowing. Farengar chewed very loudly, the Altmer thought with a scowl, trying to focus. He could barely think. Bet it was with an open mouth too. Bah! Disgusting!


    Food! Venison stew! Honey nut treats! Damn Torvar! 


    Xarxes’ arse! He knew he was forgetting something. Can bloody remember what you read on Tirdas last week, Old Mer, but you cannot remember to come home for the evening meal... Kodlak was going to kill him. He had lost track of time and it had been more than an hour. Not much more, but he would need to leave Farengar’s company soon. Reluctantly, because Äelberon was having a grand time studying these runes, discussing what their significance could be. He really needed to take the Wizard and Vilkas to Bleak Falls Barrow and Dustman’s Cairn. Conduct a proper survey of the sites. Catalog artifacts.  


    “I think, that may well be the same word.” Äelberon concluded. Äelberon slid one of the rubbings from Dustman’s Cairn next to the rubbing Farengar was studying. “See? Here. The same set of runes appear here as well, though not with as much frequency. But, look. This is even more interesting…”  


    “What?” Äelberon wiped sweetroll crumbs from the table onto the floor. That had been close. Damn chewing! The Altmer then reached for the Dragonstone and turned it over to reveal the inscription before bringing one of the rubbings from Bleak Falls Barrow close to it. More crumbs.


    “First, stop chewing.” He commanded, his eyes still on the Dragonstone. The tone was enough for the two mages to lock eyes and Farengar stopped mid-chew, making a black mutton chop go askew and his lips purse in a most comical manner. “It is very noisy and you are making a mess.” Almost impossible to say with a straight face.


    The Nord mage swallowed with a loud gulping sound. Sweetrolls were so dry.


    “Take a look.” Äelberon continued, “they begin in exactly the same way, sharing no less than six runes, divided into two groups of three. I think they say the same thing. At least that would be my guess.”


    “Fascinating, fascinating! I definitely agree with your assessment, my friend. I will also venture that these two are inscriptions. Perhaps even epitaphs? All three items were found in tombs.”


    Äelberon patted Farengar on the shoulder and nodded. “Could well be. We will need to begin the process of transcribing the runes, before we begin to organize a research expedition to both burial sites. It is the translation, however, that shall prove difficult. There is something to me that is vaguely familiar about this writing…” He chuckled. “But I am tired, hungry, and I have seen so many different languages in my day—“ 


    “Farengar, Farengar!” It was Irileth, the tone of her voice making both mages look up from the rubbings.  Farengar was visibly annoyed at his research being interrupted, grumbling angrily while he began to shuffle pages about. The Dunmer looked uncharacteristically agitated and Äelberon narrowed his eyes. Annoyance was not the emotion he was feeling.


    Something was wrong.


    “Come quickly. A dragon has been sighted at the Western Watch tower.” 


    Äelberon’s eyes widened. Alduin… no.


    “A dragon? How exciting!” Beamed the wizard, already ignoring the rubbings and heading towards Irileth.


    The Housecarl turned to Äelberon, her tone gravely serious, “You better come too.”


    Äelberon nodded silently and followed the Dunmer up the steps to the Jarl’s War Room. Barring some shelving to store tactical books and display cases to show-off some of the Jarl’s favorite weapons from his personal armory, the room was dominated by a large table in the noble design with a map of Skyrim, displaying the various holds and their allegiances in the Civil War. It was then that Äelberon noticed the Whiterun guard in the room, his breathing rapid. His limbs shaking as if he had been running for his very life. The poor boy was soaked to the bone and the distinct golden-yellow of his cuirass was smeared with a layer of mud. Fresh blood still oozed from a gash on his knee. It was a strong, young face with chiseled features, clean-shaven, with the fairness of his people. Their ice-blue eyes. And aye, those young, young eyes had seen a dragon.


    "So, Irileth tells me you came from the Western Watchtower?" The Jarl began, his tone authoritative but not angry. A seasoned warrior in his own right, he knew better than to yell at the lad. Judging by the look on the lad’s face, he had been witness to enough.


    Irileth nudged the shocked guard forward, toward the Jarl. He was so very young. "Tell him what you told me. About the dragon." The young lad only stared and Äelberon could see that he was struggling to find words.


    “Go on.” The Jarl encouraged. The Whiterun guard shook his head, still trying to determine how to tell his tale.


    “Well?! Get on with it!” Snapped Proventus impatiently, crossing his arms over his slender chest. He noticed the Altmer glare at him. Who was he to do that?


    "Uh... that's right.” The Hold guard finally began, taking a deep breath. “We saw it coming from the south. It was fast... faster than anything I've ever seen."


    Balgruuf the Greater narrowed his eyes. "What did it do? Is it attacking the Watchtower?"


    "No, my Lord. Well, I don't know...” The lad shook his head as he remove his scaled helmet, revealing a tousled mass of sun-bleached hair, “It was just circling overhead when I left. I never ran so fast in my life... I thought it would come after me for sure. I can't say what has happened now."


    The Jarl patted the young Nord on the shoulder, the gesture instantly a relief to the young Hold Guard. "Good work, son. We'll take it from here. Head down to the barracks for some food and rest. You've earned it. Irileth, you'd better gather some guardsmen and get down there."


    "I've already ordered my men to muster near the main gate." Irileth nodded.


    "Good. Don't fail me." The Jarl replied as the young guard began his descent down the stairs.


    “One moment.” Spoke Äelberon, extending his hand to stop the guard. All eyes turned to him, he had been silent the entire time, but now he walked towards the guard in earnest. “What is your name, son?” He began, before gesturing to the guard’s knee, his left hand beginning to glow, “Do you need that treated?”


    “Torbar, my name is Torbar.” Äelberon watched the young Nord’s back straighten and his eyes grow fierce. What the lad said next made him smile. “No, ‘twas earned doing my duty. I can stand the pain, and I'll live. Scars are glory.”


    The Altmer nodded in approval, the magicks instantly disappearing from his hand.  “You are of your People then, friend. You have my respect and my thanks, from one scarred warrior to another.” Äelberon offered his hand.


    Ysmir’s Beard! The newest Companion! The one the little ones called “Snow Bear.” Damn, no wonder. Torbar stopped in his tracks and regarded the Elf that offered his beast of a hand, a bit annoyed that he had to look up. He was the tallest in his family, the wielder of a warhammer. Shit. The High Elf had to be forty-two pertans… at least. He should be thinking on that beast flying over the Western Watchtower, on what it could be doing to Throki, Rolf, and the others, but Torbar’s mind instead wandered. Was better than feeling what he didn’t want to feel. Fear. That wasn’t the Nord way, but he was feeling it. So he thought on something else for a moment.


    He lost, but at least Honthjolf was gonna lose too. He bet forty-one and a half pertans. Torbar bet forty-two exactly. It was up to Jurgen and Morgen now, those two were the only ones among the guards who bet above forty-two. The Gildergreen. The Elf was the one who brought the sapling. The one who healed soldiers at the Temple. The one who worked with them to bring the bandits that plagued the hold to justice. No, among the guards what had initially started with distrust had turned into respect and Torbar had no qualms about clasping hands with this High Elf. “Our respect too, Companion.”


    “Before you go, my son. An important question.” The Altmer began, releasing his grasp on Torbar’s forearm. His armor was beautiful, etched, pure silver.




    “What color was the dragon?”


    Farengar narrowed his eyes, why was the Elf preoccupied with the dragon’s color? Did it matter?


    “Color, Companion?” Torbar shook his head, he didn’t understand.


    Äelberon’s eyes intensified as he clasped the shoulders of the guard and stared at him. “Yes friend, the color, the color of the scales. Tell me. Were they black… like the night?”


    “Black?” Torbar didn’t understand. They weren’t black. Shor’s Bones! Was there another one? No amount of thinking on bets in the barracks were going to alleviate his fears now.


    “Yes, were they black?!” Äelberon pressed, his own anxiety rising. Why was the youngling taking so long to answer?


    “No, Companion, they were orange and brown. I was running, but no, not all black like you say.”


    Äelberon narrowed his eyes. “Are you sure? They were not black?”


    “I’m sure. They were not black.”


    Gods, thought Äelberon, finding the youngling’s now wide eyes. There was more than one? It was not just Alduin? Äelberon looked away from the guard for a moment, still clasping his shoulders in an attempt to compose himself, remembering Helgen. Remembering how ineffective everything was against that beast. He then turned to the guard again, drawing from his knowledge as a demon hunter. It had to be bound by the same principles as all other magical beings. It had to be. Alduin issued fire, though he issued other things as well, even more terrible. The Imperial mages used fire. Perhaps that is why they were so ineffective? “What issued forth from its mouth?”




    Äelberon let his own building nerves get the better of him and he could hear his voice blurt out the next question, his voice now raised, before he remembered what the lad had said. “Man think! Whiterun is counting on you. Fire or Frost? Or something else? Did it speak?”


    “Speak?” Torbar stammered. “Nothing, it did not attack, it was just circling.”


    “Äelberon,” The Jarl interrupted, crossing his arms over his chest, noticing the scowl on his Steward’s face. “This poor lad’s had enough questions, don’t you think?”


    Äelberon turned to the Jarl, feeling the heat upon his face. “One more, my Jarl, please, it is extremely important.” Äelberon did not care if the Jarl indicated approval or not, he turned again to the boy and softened his features, for he knew that he was now frightening the lad, he could just hear the heartbeat. He could smell the fresh sweat. “My child, what did you smell? Think on this, what did you smell when the dragon came?”


    Torbar stared deep into the Altmer’s red-orange eyes, his grasp on his shoulders had relaxed a bit, and then the answer came to Torbar. “Sulfur, Companion.” He whispered, “I smelled sulfur.”


    Äelberon nodded and slowly patted the guard on the shoulder. His actions were slow, a deliberate attempt to comfort, but his mind, his mind was racing. There was more than one… “Forgive me my intensity, my son. I did not intend… thank you again. That… that is what I needed to know. Go, rest up, and may the Gods smile upon your bravery today.”


    Torbar continued down the steps towards the barracks, not sure if he wanted to stay and muster with the Housecarl’s men or go into the barracks, conflicted and ashamed that he feared. They expected nothing more from him, but the others were still on duty and he… he didn’t want them to die. He gave one last look to Irileth, seeking her approval.


    N’chow, the boy was actually thinking of volunteering, thought Irileth with a sigh. A curt gesture to the barracks with her head set him straight and she watched Torbar descend the steps. Nords.


    The Jarl approached Äelberon who had, by now, crossed towards the table, strangely quiet after his intense encounter with the young guard. What was his name, ah, Torbar. The Elf had asked the name first, over everything else.  “There's no time to stand on ceremony, my friend, we will address Bleak Falls Barrow and your reward another time. I hope you can understand.”


    Äelberon nodded in agreement. “Of course, my Jarl. This supersedes anything else right now, Whiterun is in grave danger.”


    “I am glad that I have your support.” The Jarl sighed and studied the Altmer warrior, dare he ask? He had already done so much for Whiterun. The bandits, the Gildergreen, now Bleak Falls Barrow. Gods, would he help with a dragon, or would he walk away? The Elf was now leaning against the table, his arms crossed over his chest, deep in thought. He looked a sad to the Jarl. Almost conflicted. “My friend from Dusk, I need your help again. Whiterun needs your help.”


    Äelberon let out a sad sigh, closing his eyes. He knew what was coming. He was needed…


    “I want you to go with Irileth and help her fight this Dragon. You survived Helgen, so you have more experience with dragons than anyone else here.”


    Äelberon opened his eyes and turned to Balgruuf; his face extremely grim when he spoke. “My Jarl, I only survived Helgen because I fled into the Keep and then battled my way out, so my experience is limited. I do not want to frighten you, but nothing stopped the dragon that flew over Helgen that day. No spells, no arrows, no swords or axes. Nothing. I do not know about this one. I had thought there was only one.”


    Äelberon glanced at them, they looked worried and the Steward was as white as a sheet. Bah! Not so much gloom and doom, Old Mer, these younglings cannot handle it.  They need hope, not despair. He had faced far worse before. Armies under the banner of a Daedric Prince. This dragon was not Alduin and dragons could be killed in the past. So, why not now? He needed to think. He furrowed his brow while he thought for a few moments, crossing one leg over another, continuing to lean against the table.


    “I may not know much about dragons, but as a demon hunter and Priest of Auri-El, I do know about magical beings and dragons are counted among their ranks, therefore subject to their laws, like any other. Torbar mentioned a sulfur smell. Sulfur means fire. Usually when a being is based on fire, it is weak to frost. And all magical beings are weak to shock.”  Äelberon turned to Irileth. “Do you cast?” He asked.


    “Yes, shock spells, but they are not very strong. I am far better with a blade.” She replied, drawing a fine ebony blade. The Altmer frowned and shook his head.


    “No, Housecarl.  Ranged attacks will be far better and 'tis very good that you know shock spells. And that you are Dunmeri, all the better.” Äelberon then met their stares, his face reassuring. As reassuring as he could manage. He had faced many foes in his long life. Armies of Daedra, Bet, vampires, but this was so very different.  “I have a plan. Irileth, we will speak as we walk. We need to make one stop first. My horse has something stowed away that will be invaluable to us.” He faced Jarl Balgruuf, “We have your leave then, my Jarl, to plan our strategy?”


    Aye, a fine strategy, Old Mer, fetching bolts and arrows from your horse! He was going to make so many mistakes tonight, he could feel it as his head began to pound.  He needed to think and it did not seem that they would give him much time to do so. Irileth was already rushing. He needed to think.


    “Yes,” the Jarl nodded, but then called out to Irileth just when she and Äelberon reached the top of the steps, “One last thing, Irileth. This isn't a death or glory mission. I need to know what we're dealing with. I need you to come back."


    The Dunmer stared hard at her Jarl, her angular features steeling up and Jarl Balgruuf grinned. No one intimidated her.  “I am the very soul of caution, my Lord.”


    Äelberon turned to her, his voice laced with warning as he followed her down the steps. “That is a good thing, Irileth. Let us go.”


    The trail would go cold and again they would have to wait. For justice. For peace... For over a hundred years they have waited, their deaths crying for vengeance.


    Auri-El... I am a horrible son.



    Straag Rod Book 1 ToC

    Chapter XXXVI    Chapter XXXVIII


16 Comments   |   Paws likes this.
  • Paws
    Paws   ·  February 14, 2017
    The Delphine is a thinking man's (mer's) woman. That's why most mouthbreathers hate her. Yep, them's fightin' words. Bring it 8-|  I like how you have portrayed her and the way she and Albee Sherlocked the shit out of each other. Cool stuff there. A...  more
    • The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      The Delphine is a thinking man's (mer's) woman. That's why most mouthbreathers hate her. Yep, them's fightin' words. Bring it 8-|  I like how you have portrayed her and the way she and Albee Sherlocked the shit out of each other. Cool stuff there. A...  more
        ·  February 14, 2017
      Aelberon being a total troll are some of my favorite parts to write. Glad you liked Delphine. I had some issues to solve with her, like why in game she is usually like right within earshot of Irileth when Irileth comes to warn about the dragon. 
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  November 23, 2015
    Well, you've come this far... 
  • Ebonslayer
    Ebonslayer   ·  November 23, 2015
    Do not tell me that it will take two of YOUR chapters to kill a dragon! These things are long enough as they are.
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  November 23, 2015
    Hehehe, yeah, one more chapter... sure. 
  • Ebonslayer
    Ebonslayer   ·  November 23, 2015
    I can't wait to read about Albee's reaction when he figures out that he's Dragonborn... Just one more chapter.
  • Rhoth
    Rhoth   ·  November 4, 2015
    Enter the dragon...
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  October 16, 2015
    Oh, yes, Albee will say this on several occasions. Tilma would be a way better choice. 
    Not so fast about part 1 though. 
  • Exuro
    Exuro   ·  October 15, 2015
    We all know Tilma is the True Dragonborn. That would be a funny character build, just need a mod for a mop weapon to beat Alduin with.
    No rest for the weary, or honey nut treats it looks like. 
    The great thing about writing your own story is y...  more
  • The Long-Chapper
    The Long-Chapper   ·  September 20, 2015
    @A Gloom - Albee's a naughty little priest. Likes playing pranks. I'm glad, though, that he reminds my readers of people they know and care about. I'd like to think that people care about what happens to him. 
  • Accursed
    Accursed   ·  September 20, 2015
    I still like Albee more, all around anyway. In fact, he reminds me of my dad. Especially with the golden claw part; my dad does stuff like that all the time, not to mention the Old Farty-ness reminds me of my grandfather.
    I guess he just reminds me ...  more