Straag Rod: Book 1, Part 2, Chapter III: Hitting a Wall

  • They still had doubts, Äelberon thought dully as he followed Master Borri out the heavy metal doors of High Hrothgar towards a snow-covered courtyard. A blast of icy wind ruffled the fur of his bearskin and he sniffed to clear his nose, his watering eyes tracing the embroidered pattern on Master Borri’s robes, letting it distract him. He could feel Master Arngeir’s eyes on him. “We will perform your next trial in the courtyard.”


    Your next trial. More trials.  


    He wondered if Ulfric went through the same process. Judging by Master Einarth’s masked discontent, the answer was clearly “no”.  Äelberon understood Master Arngeir’s reservations, but he could feel his Altmer pride beginning to eclipse his priestly sense of humility, gnawing at him. He would need to pray on the matter, ask Auri-El forgiveness for his pride.  It was wrong, and though he was all nods and politeness on the outside, he could not help it, inside he was tired of the games and simmering like a pot of stew.  Who was Master Arngeir to make assumptions, it was quite clear he could shout? Because they thought you were Ulfric, Old Mer, that is whyThey wanted, deep down, for you to be Ulfric.


    Four times he demonstrated his Thu’um to Master Arngeir and yet still there were more trials. More tests. This would not be the last one either. He could feel that Arngeir had something big planned behind those stone-grey eyes and calm demeanor, the final trial, should Äelberon manage to jump through all these others, like a circus dog jumps through rings of fire. Ha! These Greybeards would fit right in with the Council of Elders back in Alinor. Why not add a year of fertility tests to this whole damn process, he thought, his lips twisting to form a smirk. You are being incredibly disrespectfulOld Mer, and he kicked a lump of frozen snow while he walked, dragging his feet like a stubborn child being made to do something he did not especially want to do.


    They descended the steps, their feet crunching upon the fresh snow and the flakes from a small storm settling on their cloaks. A silent party. He was never this way, never so disrespectful, but he felt like challenging.  He felt strange, a heaviness in his chest and in his being. A primitive feeling in his gut. Like they were not telling him everything. And he could keenly feel another presence, making the hairs on the back of his neck stand at attention. Observing him.


    His eyes left his study of Borri’s robes and finally took notice of his surroundings. A massive wrought iron gate was their destination. A gate that led nowhere, with no building attached to it, just a gate. But he found his eyes wandering towards a stone archway, built in the same style of High Hrothgar, in front of which stood a flame in a fire pit mounted upon a shallow stone platform. Burning despite the heavy snow. Did they maintain this fire? How in this perpetual snow? Beyond the flame, he could make out a path past the gate, obscured by heavy mists and his eyes lingered there while Arngeir spoke of his next test.


    “We will now see how you learn a completely new Shout.”


    He grunted an acknowledgement, still focusing on the archway. Carved it was, of ancient stone and the mists, the mists… Why were they there? ‘Twas not the weather. They looked to be a permanent fixture. What were they hiding?


    “Master Borri?” Gestured Master Arngeir. Out of the corner of his eye, Äelberon saw Master Borri approach the snowy ground near Äelberon and shout upon it, etching the ground with a different set of runes, seeping with the fire of life, just as Master Einarth’s runes were. He turned then, the spell of the mists temporarily broken when he felt the call of the runes. Felt the word form in his mouth. Äelberon marveled and approached the glowing runes, unable to resist their beckoning. He could hear Angeir continue to speak, but he was not paying much attention. He only heard the runes as they whispered a new word.


    Wuld.” He closed his eyes and imagined covering terrain at great speeds, his feet a blinding blur.  He then saw flashing images of two ruins. One embedded into a deep cavity near a waterfall where the tundras of Whiterun Hold mixed with a snowy wetland. The suffering of a dragon and the false rise of a king. Images of Dragonsreach and the skull over the Jarl’s throne. Before he could make any sense of the images, they morphed into a large ruin far to the Northwest, a labyrinth of walkways both above and below ground and above it all, keeping sentinel in a private mountain top, he saw, behind a mask, eyes of blue flame penetrating into his. His eyes fluttered open as if waking from a vivid dream and he gasped before the word escaped his lips.


    Wuld…” He whispered softly, almost overcome by the bombardment of images. He did not see such things with “Fus”.  This was new. Did he with “Yol”?  His thoughts traveled to Dustman’s Cairn and what had happened there. He mouthed “Yol”, losing himself in the word, trying to understand its meaning.  He knew it meant “fire”, but there was more, an action with the word. In his mind, he heard the faint clang of metal striking metal and his blood seemed to boil at the sound.  He probed deeper, desperate to see beyond, his brows furrowing with effort. But Äelberon only saw his eyes staring back at him upon a snow-capped mountain top, beyond a heavy mist.  The mists...


    They were the key. The mists of the archway again drew his attention and he studied them more closely, attempting to discern where the obscured path led, barely registering Master Arngeir’s next words. Like a distant echo in the cavern that was his mind.


    After more words, explanations and whatnot, it was Master Borri who approached him, and Äelberon saw the lights emanate from the ancient Nord, bracing himself for the onslaught of sensations, filling that cavern of his with new memories. No lupines blowing in the sunset breeze this time.  No sleek, laughing child gleefully playing at his father’s knee. Borri was at home; a cramped farmhouse filled with brothers and sisters, filled with earthy sweat smells and the moldy dampness of a leaking thatch roof. An old and tired house. Of dull browns and weathered greys. Bleak and sad, the smell of death heavy in its brittle walls. He saw a mother and father bringing a thick gruel to their children. The evening meal, it seemed to Äelberon, and all were at the worn table save one.  A pale, reedy boy with a mess of dark brown hair was curled in a ball near the hearth, reading, obsessed. Curled up in a ball but wanting to run, run fast. Away, to be something else. He felt the mother, a kindly woman with brown eyes, like a deep pool, touch his shoulder with fat fingers, swollen with a pasty sickness. She understood him and wanted him to run, too. 


    “Borri.” She whispered, a frailty to her voice. “Supper's ready.”


    “Whirlwind…” His heart was now pounding. And metal again struck metal. A blast of air against his skin sent him back to the reality of the frozen mountaintop and Äelberon did a double take. They were at a snow-capped mountaintop. His eyes staring back at him.  Äelberon shook his head to clear his thoughts. He did not need her this time, though he still wanted her. Was he getting used to it? A chill passed over his back again followed by an unnirnly heat. He knew that heat. The clang of metal upon metal sounded for a third time in his mind. He knew that sound.  Who else was here?


    “Impressive.” Arngeir’s voice was like collected ice. “Now we will see how quickly you can master a new Shout. Follow us to the gates you see over there.”  


    Äelberon did not budge at first, still staring at the archway. It took the gentle hand of Master Einarth to lead him towards the “gate that led nowhere”. That was his name for it. More “school” words then came from Master Arngeir, but Äelberon found it terribly difficult to stay focused, his mind and eyes perpetually traveling back to the archway. It was a hammer. That was the sound, the way a hammer strikes the anvil of a forge. The dragon of the Western Watchtower, he was connected to Skyforge. It had to be. Einarth stood next to him, subtly giving his arm a shake.  Those storm-grey eyes seemed to want to speak, but remained silent, issuing only a faint warning. Pay attention.


    Bex!” Äelberon heard the dull, flinging creak of the iron gate open at Master Borri’s voice. That was impressive. So they could open gates and doors? Hmph.


    Wuld… nah kest!” A flash of grey robes out of the corner of his eye passed the gate to the other side, but Äelberon was continuing to ponder the archway. Another cold blast of air against his hot skin. It was brutally cold, but his skin was quite hot, almost burning, yet he knew it was not a fever, and he felt the rhythm of his steps as he plodded absently in the now heavy snow fall. They followed the rhythm of his pulsing heart. Like a pounding hammer; a pounding drum.  Doom Drum!


    “Wo nahkrop til…” He heard himself rumble darkly towards the archway. In a voice much deeper than he normally ever possessed.


    “Dragonborn?” He grunted at the Greybeard’s speaking of that word, still facing the archway, ignoring Master Arngeir. He was tired of “school words”. Hahsok rot…


    Wo iliis ko faal bruh vortii daar skuld…” He challenged, his face sporting a dark scowl.


    Zeymah…” A voice in his mind.  Probing into his thoughts. From the mists.


    Hi los nid spaan-zeymah.” Äelberon growled softly. “Wo los hi?”


    Zeymah...” The voice repeated.


    Hi nok!” His voice rose in anger and confusion.  “Ontzos Zu'u laan wo los hi? Tinvaak! Zu'u fusrot nii!!”


    A laugh in his mind, like a thunder clap in the tundra, before the voice spoke again. “Hi lost ni vuldak, zeymah, thraat pah, hi lost ni vuldak…"


    Wo los hi?” He bellowed towards the mists, his face hot with rage, making the Greybeards start. Only a frightened silence from the mists now and Äelberon pounded his fist against his thigh in annoyance. He had enough of these vague tricks from Hircine in his dream. Who was this new player? He excelled at his People’s mind games, though he himself did not like playing them. He was a warrior, his approach was far more direct.   


    Dovahkiin?” More words from Arngeir. Would he ever be left alone? Gods!


    What?” He snarled, whirling abruptly from the mists to face Arngeir. The Greybeard only smiled, a placid, satisfied smile that Äelberon did not like, his hands tucked under his robed sleeves. “Who is that?” Äelberon demanded, pointing at the archway, though he had to correct his hand, shifting it more sharply to the right to actually point there. He had moved and was now at the entrance of the iron gate; not entirely sure how he got there. Time distorting his perception again. Damn you, Auri-El.


    “I am not sure what you mean. We heard your outburst and were quite surprised by it. It is only us, Dragonborn.” He is lying, Äelberon thought through narrowed, accusing eyes. Who are you protecting?  


    “There was a voice speaking to me. Tell me you heard it too.” He explained, forcing himself to calm down.


    “We have heard nothing, Dragonborn. It is probably the wind howling upon the mountain face. It can play tricks, distort perception.”


    Aye, there are definitely tricks being played here. He wanted to finish already so he could research on his own. His thoughts clear. His eyes no longer distracted. But you are not going to get this Greybeard loaning you the books you need if you keep being an arse to him, Old Mer. He cleared his throat and did his best to soften his features. “My apologies for my disrespect, Master Arngeir. I am simply overwhelmed by all of this.” Ask now, before you forget. “When we finish here, I would like access to any books you have on the subject of dragons and the Thu’um. I think it is important to learn.” He thought quickly. “If I am to embrace the Way of the Voice and attain… ah…inner peace. To fully understand.”


    He saw a small smile form on the Old Nord’s face. You like that, eh? You like peace and non-involvement, don’t you? To sit on your little mountain and meditate. What was it Balgruuf said? "High Hrothgar is a very peaceful place. Very... disconnected from the troubles of this world." Hmph, Äelberon barely suppressed a chuckle. You will not find yourself so disconnected from the troubles of this world when a big, fat dragon perches on your doorstep, Old Greybeard.


    “Of course, Dragonborn, of course, we understand how confusing this must be to you. All is forgiven. And yes, you may have access to our library…”


    Yes! It was what he wanted from the very beginning, and Äelberon could feel the tension in his neck begin to ease. Books were his element. Not the confines of school, he thought, watching Arngeir’s mouth move in further explanation, but not processing anything the Greybeard was saying, so consumed he was with his own thoughts, nodding in agreement to absolutely nothing.  No, not school, but learning, direct from the source material. Now open to his interpretation…




    “Hmm, sorry. Yes? Test. How I do with a new Shout. Yes, yes… Go on. I am listening.” No, he was not. That was what Master Arngeir was saying, wasn’t it?  He wondered what books they had. Something on the nature of dragons would be ideal. A compendium of some type or a guide on how to kill them. Something practical.


    “It is your turn.” Master Arngeir interrupted his thoughts with a polite nod.  


    “What? Now?” Äelberon’s eyebrows shot up.


    The Greybeard turned to Master Borri. “Now, Master Borri.” “Bex!” The gate opened.


    Xarxes' Arse! Instinct took over. Without even thinking, his eyes giving the archway a final glance, watching the mists swirl in their dizzying haze, trying to make sense of the voice he had heard, Äelberon released his Thu’um, like a horse released at the shot of a rocket. They raced horses thusly in Cyrodiil. He loved the sport.




    He was now as fast as a horse in full gallop, faster even, and his mind wandered to those races, watching them thunder past him while he cheered, his fist in the air. Watching their muscles bulging, their legs a blur under them. He took up horseback riding not long after seeing his first race, a part of him wanting to feel that sensation. And now he felt it, the rush of speed.  The wind in his hair, its ice chill stringing his skin while he traversed past the gate, satisfied at his display of the Thu’um.


    Do not doubt me anymore, Master Arngeir, Äelberon thought smugly, letting his pride take over.  He then saw the bright light of pain as his body struck a small rock column with considerable force, his head feeling like it was going to split in two for a second before he was lost to the world.



    They were all gawking at him, even Wilhelm, attracted first by the strange noise coming from the 7,000 steps. The little Bosmer heard it first while he was finishing up an order of wood for Temba. Gwilin came breathlessly from the mill, quivering with excitement, bearing Temba’s order to come outside and see. Or rather hear. The sun had just dipped past the horizon, leaving a sky full of deep reds and golds against the deepening blue of night. Auroras were beginning to blaze fires of lavender and mint through the sky. A beautiful night really, considering the clouds that covered the Throat in the late afternoon. Wilhelm had thought that there would be snow, but no, the mountain snow never made it to the valley surrounding Lake Geir. 


    He, along with Lynly, Klimmek, and Fastred ventured from the Inn, following the little Bosmer to see what Temba wanted. They heard it as soon as they were outside. A strange noise, like someone shouting. A guttural cry, definitely male, coming from near the base of the 7,000 steps. They heard the noise and then saw the flutter of golden leaves blowing, as if a wind picked up a heavy gust. It’d then stop for a bit, only for it to repeat a short time later. They waited, the sound growing louder, closer, until they picked up a glimmer of silver heading along the path towards the bridge. They were all gathered at the mill by then, the drone of the saw not even blocking the sound. And aye, they were gawking at him. He was the one making the noise and then moving faster than a horse on skooma.


    Klimmek had been right. He was the one who had gone up the 7,000 steps, answering the cry of the Greybeards. An Elf. At first, Klimmek had kept real quiet, but he couldn’t hide why that giant of a black charger was tethered to his house for long. Temba pulled it out of him while both of them took their lunch and now all were wondering about the courier’s message. The bounty. Would he do it? The Dragonborn. Wilhelm had remembered him from earlier, when he sorted out the mess that was Klimmek, Fastred, and Bassianus. He looked different now, sporting a beard, the armor a much finer silver plate than the Ol’ Nordic steel he sported then.


    “What is he doing, Wilhelm?” Lynly asked, leaning closer to Wilhelm, teasing his nose with her lavender-scented hair. He nervously fiddled with his dishrag, tucking it more securely under his thick leather belt and then scratched the back of his closely-cropped balding head.


    “I have no idea. Do you know, Klimmek?” Wilhelm asked, shooting the Nord fisherman an inquisitive look. Klimmek only fiddled with his thick beard, his expression just as perplexed as everybody else’s.


    “Not a clue. But I think he delivered the supplies. He’s not carrying them now. That’s a different bag he’s sportin’. Say Temba, that bearskin?” Klimmek asked, gathering Fastred in his beefy arms when she shivered in the frosty evening air.


    Wide-Arm crossed her arms over her chest and regarded the package the Altmer was carrying carefully. “Aye, it’s bearskin alright. Snow bear. Didn’t know snow bear lived up at the Throat. He didn’t have that this morning. You know before he found you at the bridge, Klimmek, he brought me four pelts. Four. Color me impressed.” She suddenly narrowed her eyes. “What the Oblivion is he doing now?”


    Wilhelm craned his neck to see, leaning his hands on the wood railing of the mill. The Altmer did not cross the bridge. Instead, he turned right, deftly crossing over several large, water-carved boulders heading towards Narfi’s old place, his war husky close behind. They watched him walk until he reached a spot on the opposite bank of the Darkwater River, a spot where the rapids were calmer, just past the beggar’s ruined home. Narfi was leaning against one of the few standing timbers of his old ‘stead, his normal ramblings cut short by curiosity.  The Altmer set down the bearskin carefully and then handed the beggar several septims. Wilhelm could tell that words were exchanged, but he couldn’t hear exactly what. He saw Narfi nod and step closer to the bearskin, followed by the large husky who then sat on his haunches waiting patiently, his tongue lolling.


    “What is he doing now?” Asked Gwilin.


    “Don’t be dumb, Gwilin, he’s putting that bag away.” Barked Temba. “And he’s unstringing his bow. What a beast of a weapon! Aye, that’s being set next to the bearskin. Alright now he’s walking to the bank—“


    “Temba, shh! He’ll hear.” Cautioned Wilhelm with a glare.


    “No, he won’t. With the racket from this saw?” Argued Temba, her face scrunching up.


    “Oh, he’s an Altmer, he can hear alright.” Chimed in Gwilin. Sure enough, all of them cringed when the Altmer suddenly looked up and eyed the mill, a serious expression on his face. They saw him shake his head and continue to the bank, stopping just short of the water. The dog stood and wagged his tail, only to be sent back to his position near Narfi with a raised hand. He then stood, facing the opposite bank, as if judging the distance, his expression determined. Wilhelm squinted, was there dirt on the left side of his face? Looked much darker to him, but it was hard to tell as the Mer was wearing a hood. The Mer then crouched, assuming a position one would assume when about to start a race.  His mouth opened and all gathered at the mill braced themselves.




    A loud splash and the dog began to bark and yowl while Narfi ran towards the river bank.


    “Quick, Temba! Stop the wheel. Shit!” Klimmek cried while he swung over the railing of the mill to dive into the water.  The great wheel was braked by a powerful pull from Temba, the saw going silent with it. The Elf, much to everyone’s surprise, broke the surface quickly, angrily sputtering water and curses from his lips. Wilhelm began to quickly herd the rest towards the Inn, giving Temba an extra nudge when she, at first, didn’t budge, which made the woman nearly push the Bosmer down the ramp when she collided with him. The Dragonborn would be heading there soon enough and he didn’t seem too pleased.




    The door to Vilemyr Inn opened with a creaky swing and Wilhelm reminded himself yet again to have Lynly fetch some oil for the door. He eyed his patrons while he wiped a tankard. They looked very obvious. Temba was pretending to speak to Gwilin, her forced laughter ringing in the Inn. That action, in and of itself was the stupidest thing the Nord miller could think to do and he shook his head. She never laughed and the Altmer who walked through the door with Klimmek bearing his supplies, both soaked to the bone and stinking faintly of Lake Geir, would pick up on it immediately. He seemed the observant type to Wilhelm, though he didn’t seem especially angry anymore, more like defeated, the shoulders stooped just a tad. Wilhelm was about to tell Temba to stop laughing when he felt a gentle tap on his shoulder and a feminine hand made him lower the tankard he was wiping. He was one to talk about Temba being obvious, he had been wiping that same damn tankard the entire time. Wilhelm gave Lynly a sheepish look and set it down.


    “You run a clean inn, Wilhelm, but it’s a bit much, no?”


    “Aye, a bit much.” He smiled back at her. She blushed and turned away, that sadness creeping back to her face. “Why don’t you play something?” He continued. She opened her mouth to speak, and he could see the argument forming on her lips. She didn’t think she was especially good. Truth be told, she wasn’t, but Wilhelm didn’t care.


    “He’s coming. Here.” Whispered Temba, quickly facing her mead again, her eyes shifting towards Gwilin to do the same. Wilhelm looked up.


    He was coming towards the counter and he was huge. Wilhelm knew High Elves were a tall people, but this was beyond tall. At least forty-two pertans. There were a few impact dents on the left side of his armor and it wasn’t dirt on the Elf’s face, but a large bruise covering parts of his left eye and cheek, swollen. One Oblivion of a shiner! The only three things that could do that to a Man’s face in Skyrim were trolls, walls, or a good Ol’ Nord fist, and the Greybeards didn’t seem like a fist-fighting group to Wilhelm. So that left trolls or a wall.


    “Want me to set your gear down, Äelberon?” Klimmek asked from one of the tables. The one at the far corner. “Here good?”


    The Elf paused and turned towards Klimmek, aware now that he was creating a pool of water where he stood. “No, I need to dry off, closer to the hearth if it is not too much trouble. Thank you Klimmek. I am sorry you dove in after me.”


    Klimmek let out a hearty laugh as he shook his hands of excess water, “If I had known you could swim like that with armor on no less, would’ve saved myself the soaking. No harm done, friend. I’ll set your stuff down and be off to change. I’m a fisherman, not the first time I’ve taken an unexpected bath. Be back soon, Fastred.”


    “Of course, dear.” The young maid smiled, blushing while she watched Klimmek exit the Inn.


    An almost embarrassed smile formed on the Altmer’s lips and he again walked towards Wilhelm, his armor making sloshing noises, pulling several bits of waterweed from the grooves of his plating. Wilhelm smiled broadly, pretending to wipe the counter while he spoke the same line he spoke for all new customers. In his best “we are welcoming” voice, even though the Elf was leaving a trail of mud and waterweeds everywhere. "Welcome to the Vilemyr Inn. If there's anything I can get you, just let me know." He tried not to look at the Elf’s eyes, but it was hard. Normally he could look over a patron’s head, but the Elf’s height made that damn impossible. Wilhelm swallowed.


    “You are wiping an apple pie, friend.” The Elf spoke.


    Wilhelm stopped. “Huh?”


    “Look down.” The Elf pointed downwards and sure enough, he was buffing an apple pie. DammitThink of something to say, you moron.


    “We don’t get many visitors through here, unless they’re headed up to High Hrothgar of course—“


    Temba groaned, Gwilin giggled until Temba kicked him in the shin, making him squeak and Wilhelm felt his face go red as a tomato, while he broke out in a nervous sweat. Of course he’s just been to High Hrothgar, you just saw him shout himself down a mountain and into a lake. There was an awkward silence while Wilhelm set his dishrag down. “Need a room?” He managed.


    The Elf nodded and Wilhelm could see the faint traces of a smirk emerge. “Yes, I think I should stop for the night before I end up in a lake again. And before I scare away every fish in Lake Geir.” He gave Fastred a gracious nod. “After all, Klimmek needs to make a decent living if he is going to be a married man come Mid Year.” He chuckled, shaking his head, and it seemed to Wilhelm like he was trying to shake off a heavy burden with a smile. “How much for a night, friend?”


    “Fifty septims.”


    “Done.” He pulled from his belt a sopping wet coin purse, also with bits of waterweed clinging to it. He grumbled while he tediously plucked the plant bits sticking to the dripping leather. He brought the coin purse to his nose and wrinkled it in distaste. “Ah, what an awful smell. It is all I am smelling. Do you offer baths? The inns at Cyrrod often do.” He spoke strangely, the expressions were archaic and the ‘r’s rolled. Wilhelm gave Lynly a look and she shrugged while she swept absently, missing the accumulated sawdust, puddles of water, and fragments of weeds completely. At least she wasn’t sweeping apple pie. Temba hadn’t touched her mead and Gwilin’s tankard was bloody empty. The Bosmer was pretending to drink from an empty tankard. Gods, they were being a bunch of idiots in front of the—shit—the Dragonborn. Truth be told, Wilhelm was sweating bolts. First the barrow with its ghosts and now the bounty was on the back of his mind, it was in the backs of all their minds. All the poor soul wanted was a room and a bath and they were gonna give him a dragon.


    “Cyrrrod?” Repeated Wilhelm. “That Cyrodiil?”


    “Forgive me, yes, Cyrrodiil.” The Elf answered, his brows lowering a tad, still obsessively picking waterweed from his coin purse. “I am old, aye, definitely old, and Cyrod is an old name for the province. How much extra for a bath?”


    “A bath?”


    “A bath.”


    “That would be another 25 septims, uh, m’Lord?”


    A deep chuckle.


    “Äelberon of Dusk, and you flatter me, Publican, for I am no Lord. At least not here. At least not now…” His voice trailed off and Wilhelm could hear a tinge of sadness, those eyes remembering something faraway. He seemed to snap himself out of a memory and though the Elf still did not seem satisfied with the state of his coin purse, 75 in septims were carefully counted and laid upon the counter. “Done. Your name?”


    “Wilhelm. My name’s Wilhelm. Lynly, draw a bath for our guest. I’ll be out to help in a moment.” The Nord lass nodded, grabbed several buckets, and headed out the door to fetch water.


    “I will need to remove my armor and dry it at the hearth. Is that acceptable?”


    “Not a problem.” Wilhelm nodded. The Elf’s smirk then returned and his eyes flashed with what to Wilhelm looked like mischief. He chewed the inside of his lip and then nodded, as if he was finalizing a decision.


    “Do you allow smoking?”


    “Yes. So long as it’s not anything illegal.” The Elf’s features relaxed considerably and the smirk became a sincere smile.


    “Auri-El’s blessings. Thank you.”


    Wilhelm gulped.  He wasn’t going to be so relaxed when he heard about the dragon.




    He was finished with shouting for the evening, now relaxing at the back corner of the Vilemyr Inn, feeling much better after a warm bath and a change of clothes, his hair freshly plaited, the trace scent of the lake masked by the scent of the raw steak pressed against his eye. His armor was drying by the warm hearth. His back against the wall, one knee propped up to support the journal that now served as his work surface. The table he was at already filled to capacity with mortar and pestle, various dried ingredients ground to fine powders or pastes—charcoal, stone, snowberry, frost mirriam, and red mountain flowers—scattered egg shells, a wooden plate with fresh chicken eggs, sheets of paper, a second bowl of beef stew, half-eaten, two empty honey nut treat sticks, and four tankards; two empty, one filled with water to mix the tempera, and one full of freshly steeping canis root tea.


    Äelberon let the smoke of the pipe seep deep into is lungs, allowing the Elf’s Ears to work their magicks, calming his thoughts, the rhythmic strokes of his improvised paintbrush helping as well.  Made by stripping a quill and binding it with some fine fox hairs from Allie’s saddle and twine borrowed from a sack of potatoes. Across the Inn, he could hear the pleasant—if slightly out of tune—lute playing. Child did not know that the fourth string was flat by a quarter tone and neither did the rest of the patrons of the Inn. In Summerset, the maid would have never played in public, but he was rather enjoying the jarring dissonance and had not the heart to retune her instrument. An awful eight-course monster of a lute. Pshaw! Who makes a lute with bloody eight courses?  You only need four.  At least her trembling had calmed somewhat. The first set of songs she played were barely recognizable. Lynly—that was her name—had returned from fetching his bathwater with her face as white as his hair, claiming to have seen a ghost… again from what he could discern of her hushed conversation with Wilhelm.  Over by the barrow, just a few paces north of the Inn. You know that has peaked your interest, Old Mer, he thought with a tiny grin, wincing at the tightness around his eye. He’d have to turn over the steak that was strapped to his eye soon. He paused from his work and took another long puff of his pipe, frowning at his choice of color. It did not quite capture his eyes.


    Alduin’s eyes. The intense, burning red of their glare, like molten lava. But it was the best he could do with such primitive equipment. Species two’s eyes, the dragon from the Western Watchtower, were far easier to capture, the Frost Mirrium an inspired choice, though the orange of the scales were wrong. Both would need repainting and the notes cleaned up significantly. Perhaps add images of them in flight for reference. The tomes actually about dragons in the Greybeards’ library yielded little, save generic information about the Blades, a vague account of the Dragon War, and an interesting book on the Dichotomy between Alduin and Akatosh, but nothing on how to actually kill them, nothing on their morphology or origins.  He did find his Remanda quote, which relieved him to no end.  At least it confirmed that that hallucination from the dragon at the Western Watchtower was from a book. The lack of information on dragons only added insult to injury, literally, he mused, moving his stiffening jaw in an attempt to keep the muscles limber. His left eye still smarted and watered from the blow and the intense cold of the steak, making his current work difficult, the swelling only beginning to go down. He should have healed it, but he didn’t want to. He wanted it to serve as a badge of his folly and arrogance.


    He struck the stone column and when he came to in the snow, the look on Arngeir’s face said it all.


    You are no Dovahkiin.


    The Greybeards then left him to his books while they went off to meditate, Master Einarth’s look at least conveying some semblance of sympathy, but Äelberon found himself unable to focus within the walls of dark stone, dwelling on Arngeir’s parting words. What was to be his final trial.


    “Retrieve the Horn of Jurgen Windcaller, our founder, from his tomb in the ancient fane of Ustengrav, in the marshes of Hjaalmarch.”


    The vagueness of the request and location was not what bothered Äelberon the most. He had found tombs and retrieved artifacts with far less information than that in the past. It was what Arngeir said afterwards that bothered him.


    “Remain true to the Way of the Voice, and you will return.”


    How was he supposed to succeed, let alone return if he was hitting bloody walls and falling into lakes?  When every time he said “Fus” or “Fus ro”, chaos ensued? 


    Tombs were easy enough, now that he was prepared properly, but from what he could glean from Arngeir’s comments, he would need the Thu’um for Ustengrav and while he learned words and shouts in a way that he could tell made Arngeir extremely uncomfortable, his execution of them was another matter entirely. The Greybeards had offered him very little in the way of assistance, helping him understand what he was, or even guidance on how he should go about improving his Thu’um. It was like Destruction magicks all over again at Crystal-Like-Law, watching the other Knights of the Crystal Tower wield fireballs, spears of ice, bolts of lightning while he could not even heat up a cup of tea with his little finger. ‘Twas that way with all the schools of magic and him, save his priestly magicks. But what was he going to do, heal Alduin to death?  Make him blind with sun magicks?  


    Äelberon released the smoke from his inhale with a heavy sigh and watched it swirl around Alduin’s head, watching the paint dry, vivid memories from Helgen flashing before his eyes. The eyes were wrong and he swirled the paintbrush in a tankard of water to cleanse it of its color before setting it down to retrieve his quill, dipping it into black ink to write notes along the margin of the journal he was now painting upon. It was the snowberries, he needed to increase the ratio of pigment versus egg and water…


    Hushed, agitated whispers from the Inn’s counter and a high-pitched yelp from the Bosmer followed by a snarl from the Nord called Temba caused him to gaze from his work and eye the patrons. They were still there, silently drinking their mead with longish faces, watching him from their seats. Itching to ask him something, he knew it.  It was their sixth such interruption. Probably something regarding the barrow. He didn’t understand—didn’t, already with contractions, Old Mer—why they didn’t just up and ask him already. Ivarstead had been a warm and welcoming little hamlet, investigating a barrow for ghostly activity was the least he could do to repay their kindness. He paused from his work to take a slow sip of tea, another bite of the now cold stew, and to reward his artistic efforts with another lengthy puff.






    When he failed at High Hrothgar—aye, ‘twas failure—he attempted to rectify the matter by practicing. After all, he practiced his spells under the tutelage of the High Priest of Dusk and then Rynandor the Bold. Magicks take practice, why would the Thu’um be any different?  The incident at the lake only cemented his fear that this was going to take much longer than anticipated. At any rate, if he could not use the Shout the Greybeards called Whirlwind Sprint to cross a narrow bend where the Darkwater River met Lake Geir without falling in, he did not possess the skills he needed to be successful at Ustengrav.  The only problem was that Skyrim—nay Tamriel—did not have the luxury for him to spend the time on the Thu’um the way that he had spent time honing his magicks, his skills with weapons, his music, his painting. He released a chuckle, so now in the Vilemyr Inn, he took out his frustrations the only way any self-respecting Altmer could. He did something he was good at.


    He was not an artist, no, but he knew his physiology and remembered enough of Helgen and the events of the Western Watchtower to begin accumulating notes on dragons. Their appearance, the Thu’um they used, and what armor, weapons or magicks were most effective to use against them. Practical information, to be passed on to the villages and cities of the province. Of course, he remembered what they looked like, but painting their images onto the journal had been a cathartic process, the physical process and the procedure involved in painting and note-taking… relaxing. Mixing the paints again, assembling the palettes to be used, measuring his margins to ensure a proper journal layout. He had not done something so therapeutic in decades. For now, it would remain in journal form, easily memorized, and easily destroyed. He was careful not to reference anyone he knew, or to give away clues of his identity save his initials. He would not risk anyone else’s safety should the Thalmor capture him again.


    A curse from Wilhelm brought him out of his thoughts and Äelberon righted himself on the bench, setting down the journal, open to Alduin’s image to let the paint dry. His eyes shot up inquisitively to see what was bothering the Nord innkeeper now. The lot of them were holding straws. Straws? He chortled to himself. Ah, the damn barrow.  Did they draw straws to see who would ask him about the barrow?  Bless them, he would solve their dilemma for them and volunteer.  He rose from his seat, taking a final sip of tea before making his way to the counter, a twinkle in his eye. What better way to get your mind off your failure with the Thu’um than to do a good, old-fashioned exploration of a burial crypt? Äelberon couldn’t lie to himself, he found the Nordic ones fascinating.  He reached the counter and greeted everyone with a nod and then leaned upon it casually, propping his chin on his fist, ignoring the steak on his left eye.


    “What did I miss while I was away in my own little plane of Oblivion back there?” He asked, puffing his pipe. “The latest gossip?”


    “Everything alright, Master Äelberon?” Asked Wilhelm. “You… uh, need a new steak?”


    He chuckled and shook his head. “Nay, friend Wilhelm, I am master of absolutely nothing. If you must call me something, call me Brother Äelberon, for I am a priest.”


    “You need a new steak, Brother Äelberon?” repeated Wilhelm, fingering the straw. The short one, and Äelberon grinned, his teeth flashing. He’d help poor Wilhelm out.


    “No, friend Wilhelm. Other side’s still quite frozen and I’ll simply switch it out.” The grin broadened and he felt his laugh lines wrinkle, bringing a sharp sting to his left eye, “But that’s not what you want to ask me, is it? Tell me, did ya draw straws?” The nods were slow and hesitant and he released a low chuckle as he slapped the counter with his other hand. “Oh, come now, I am not so unapproachable, am I?”


    “No, sir, you’re not.”


    He patted Wilhelm on the shoulder. “I am no sir, either. In fact, was a fishermer like Klimmek here before I took to my Holy Orders. Brother, friend, brother.” He reminded. “Well, I’ll ease your minds then and you can go back to your drink with smiles on your faces. That ghost in the barrow that made poor Lynly as white as my whiskers?  I will investigate it early on the morrow. A Knight-Paladin’s oath I swear to you,” he winked, taking a deep puff of his pipe, “Or as Auri-El is my witness, I’ll never smoke a pipe again.” Blanks stares. Dammit, was he becoming so blazed that the Nords were not understanding him? He shot a glance at the Bosmer. The youngling was trembling.  “Means ‘twill be done. You have my word.” Their faces remained long and his brow lowered, hooding his eyes. “Well, now why the long faces still? Isn’t that what you were drawing straws for? Who was going to tell me about the barrow? Scamp’s blood, I could hear you whispering the entire time!”


    The innkeeper cleared his throat and nervously fiddled with a dishrag. “While we’re appreciative of your kind gesture, Brother Äelberon, on the matter of the barrow, that’s not what we were drawing straws for. Ivarstead… we don’t.” The Nord hesitated, swallowing hard.


    “Out with it man, what is it? Bandits? Vampires? I’m a hunter of such things, I can help you.”


    “We don’t have stone walls protecting us… and then the courier from Riften came. We don’t have walls like Riften. Ivarstead’s so small, we heard about what happened to…”


    Äelberon’s eyes locked with Wilhelm’s and he completed the Nord’s sentence. “Helgen.”  The Nord reached under his counter and retrieved a parchment bearing the plum-colored seal of Riften’s crossed daggers. It looked like a bounty to Äelberon, but it was no ordinary bounty. The innkeeper placed the parchment on the counter and no one made a sound when Äelberon broke the seal with a swipe of his paint-stained fingers. He read the bounty carefully, set it down on the counter again, and then walked back to his table to retrieve his map from his pack, chewing the inside of his lip.  When he returned, he opened his worn, canis root tea stained map of Skyrim and spread it out on the countertop. “This place, Lost Tongue Overlook. Show me where it is.” He watched as Wilhelm pointed to the east of the Province, close to the border with Morrowind.


    “You know Stendarr’s Beacon?”


    “Aye.” Äelberon nodded solemnly, his pipe puffing away, sending wisps of smoke to the Inn’s ceiling. “I have been there.”


    “Lost Tongue is nearby.” Wilhelm explained.


    “Be careful, Brother Äelberon, please.” Fastred said softly, holding Klimmek’s hand, her face wrought with concern.


    “I will be.” He then cleared his throat and smiled. “But first, I did swear an oath. A Knight-Paladin’s promise, I will investigate the barrow tomorrow.” He put his hand on Wilhelm’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze. “My word.”


    He released his grip on the Nord and headed back to his table, doing his best not to show any of his own concern as he sat down, pausing to switch the steak around before resuming his painting. They seemed to relax after a while, the stress dissipating from the room as soon as the bounty was delivered. Klimmek left soon after to escort Fastred home while Gwilin retired to his own room at the inn, leaving Temba to drink, her expression taciturn. Äelberon looked up from painting Alduin’s maw to study the scene and his eyes fell on Lynly sitting alone on a bench, her broom idle. She was biting her lower lip.


    “Maid Lynly?” He asked softly.


    “Yes, m’Lord?” she looked up.


    “Would you play something, please?”


    “You like music, m’Lord?”


    “I love music a great deal. It soothes the troubled spirit.”


    “That it does.” She agreed with a sad, knowing nod, fetching her lute. “If it pleases you, m’Lord.”


    “It pleases me, Lynly Star-Sung.” Äelberon smiled when he heard the familiar clash of the quarter tone, relishing in its tiny discordance within the context of perfect harmony and resumed his work on Alduin’s maw, his brushstrokes detailed and small. The Greybeards may not think him Dovahkiin, but the Greybeards did not fear for their lives in unprotected villages. They did not have their High Hrothgar leveled to the ground by Alduin’s fury. He paused his painting and stared deep into the dragon’s eyes, releasing another smoky exhale.


    I am the tiny discord in the harmony of your perfect world, World-Eater.




    Be advised, I am using the legacy translator for While I admire the effort and respect the lore of the current translator, Straag Rod utilizes Dovahzul as a sophisticated language with poetry, songs, and an extended vocabulary. Yes, some of the words present in the legacy translator are non-canonical, but the vocabulary is much larger.


    “Wo nahkrop til…”

    Who lurks there…


    Wo iliis ko faal bruh vortii daar skuld…”

    Who hides in the mists beyond this gate?”


    Hi los nid spaan-zeymah.” “Wo los hi?”

    You are no shield-brother. Who are you?


    Hi nok!” “Ontzos Zu'u laan wo los hi? Tinvaak! Zu'u fusrot nii!!”

    You lie. Again I ask who are you? Speak! I demand it!


    Hi lost ni vuldak, zeymah, thraat pah, hi lost ni vuldak… “

    You have not changed, brother, despite all, you have not changed.


    Straag Rod ToC

    Part 2, Chapter IIPart 2, Chapter IV 



5 Comments   |   Ben W and 7 others like this.
  • Solias
    Solias   ·  January 5, 2018
    "He then saw the bright light of pain as his body struck a small rock column with considerable force..."  HAHAHA!  That'll teach you for not paying attention Albee!
  • The Sunflower Manual
    The Sunflower Manual   ·  January 10, 2017
    I like how you're giving Aelberon some trouble while learning the Thu'um, Lissette-ko. It shows how he's struggling to fit into his new role.
    • The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      The Sunflower Manual
      The Sunflower Manual
      The Sunflower Manual
      I like how you're giving Aelberon some trouble while learning the Thu'um, Lissette-ko. It shows how he's struggling to fit into his new role.
        ·  January 10, 2017
      He's mentioned that he's struggled with school on several occasions, depending on the subject, the environment, and his interest, and I see the thu'um as being no different. Just because you can learn something quickly, just because you are given a gift, ...  more
  • Karver the Lorc
    Karver the Lorc   ·  January 10, 2017
    The image of Albee hitting the stone column is absolutely priceless! :D Also I´m really amazed by the artwork, the field notes. Albee certainly has the artistic talent, as well as sense for detail. Awesome, Lis! :)
    • The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      Karver the Lorc
      Karver the Lorc
      Karver the Lorc
      The image of Albee hitting the stone column is absolutely priceless! :D Also I´m really amazed by the artwork, the field notes. Albee certainly has the artistic talent, as well as sense for detail. Awesome, Lis! :)
        ·  January 10, 2017
      Thanks Karves. It was just important to me that Albee isn't good at this and that he struggles with the thu'um.  The seeds are set for the progression that we see in Chasing Aetherius.