Goodbye Skyrim: Chapter 10

  • Balgruuf was stumbling through the dark, nearly tripping over several times as his sense of balance was somewhat drowned by the sweet sensations of the mead coursing through his blood. The reason though, why he was stumbling through the night, was that he was of a mind that he had too much mead - which seemed ridiculous since there was no such thing as too much mead, but his stomach and head were of a different opinion. But maybe it wasn’t the mead though, maybe it was the food - he was a true Nord after all, he could handle his mead.


    Tilma, however, was an excellent cook, so he didn’t understand what was happening to him.


    Right now he just felt like throwing up. He needed something cold and refreshing and that was water. He could hear the rapids ahead of him and frankly, he was only orienting himself by the sound, because he couldn’t see shit in the dark. Well, it wasn’t so dark, Masser and Secunda were very bright tonight, but they were casting these deceiving shadows over everything, making it very difficult for him to discern what was ahead of him.


    At least he managed to shake off Irileth, for the time being that is. She would sniff him out eventually, but until then, he was all alone. It was almost funny how strange that was, being really alone, just with his own thoughts. Which mostly hurt right now, probably because of the mead. What he really needed was to stuff his head into the cold water and let it cool him down.


    “Unless you drown,” he mumbled, again stumbling over another damn rock. “That would be a fitting death for a Jarl, no doubt.” He was fairly sure Irileth would fish him out, resurrect him and kill him again just for how stupid he was. But well...he needed to be stupid sometimes. It was healthy. It was a reminder that he was still human, still a Nord.


    With every step, the sound of the rapids were getting stronger and soon enough Balgruuf stood by the water’s edge. He got on his knees and plunged his hands into the ice cold water, splashing some of it on his face. The water was colder than he expected, but it didn’t have the effect he hoped for, his mind was still blurry and hazy.


    He leaned forward and stuck his whole head under the water. The cold immediately assaulted his senses and he tightly closed his eyes, letting it do its magic. The sound of the rapids was muffled under the water, in a way more relaxing than he would expect and part of him wished he could stay there, under the water, for an eternity. Everything seemed so distant…


    But sadly, he wasn’t a fish or an Argonian.  He had held his breath for too long, accumulating pressure in his head and he pulled his head out of the water, sputtering around, trying to get rid of the water in his mouth.


    For a moment, among all that sputtering, he would swear he heard a muffled scream. He looked around, his hair whipping around his head, clinging to his skin, waiting if he would hear it again, but nothing. It was probably just Irileth calling his name, looking for him, but he wasn’t done here yet.


    He could feel the blood pounding in his head, as if the cold was accelerating his body’s battle against the poison in its system - he always wondered if that was actually true or not, but he liked to believe it was really like that. That the cold water really made him sober up more quickly.


    Just when he was about to plunge his head into the water one more time, he heard the muffled scream again. He blinked several times before getting to  on his feet, now fairly sure he wasn’t imagining that.


    “Oh, Stendarr!”


    There it was! A woman’s voice, muffled! And praying to Stendarr!


    But where was it coming from? The damn rapids were making it very difficult to discern the direction. There could be someone that needed help and he wasn’t even capable of telling where, let alone walk straight. “Shor’s bones!” he muttered and then he heard the woman again, pretty sure now that it was coming from upstream.


    “Mercy! Stendarr’s mercy!”


    That’s what he was hearing as he was tripping over the rocks, trying to keep his balance and more importantly, not to fall into the water.


    “Oh! Be upon you!”


    He was almost there, it was coming from the behind the rock formation ahead.


    “For the - ah - Vigil -”


    Now that sounded really strange and Balgruuf tilted his head to the side in puzzlement.


    “Has none - yes! yes! - to spare!”


    He pretty much stopped in his tracks when the realization of what was happening struck him, but it was too late, of course, because he had already darted behind the rock formation. To be met with the sight of the naked back and buttocks of a man, with a pair of slender, light brown legs wrapped around his lower back, followed by the moans.


    The Redguard woman - Tavia was her name - suddenly noticed Balgruuf and let out a surprised gasp, covering her breasts.


    “What? I’m not -”


    “Erik!” she barked and pointed behind him and Erik looked over his shoulder, noticing Balgruuf standing there like a  gods damn idiot. “Oh shit,” the ginger groaned.


    “Uhm...I’m sorry. I didn’t see anything,” Balgruuf whispered, raising his hands,  but for some reason still standing there like a scarecrow in the field.


    “Ehm. With all due respect, my Jarl,” Erik murmured, still lying on top Tavia. “Would you fuck off?”


    “Ah, yes, of course. My apologies,” Balgruuf lowered his gaze and turned right on his heels to walk back to the ‘stead.  He then gave the duo one last look, suddenly grinning. “Here, here?” he offered and then he had to dodge a stone thrown his way.


    “Where have you been!” Irileth cried out.


    Serana turned her head reluctantly in the direction of the Housecarl’s voice. Of course, she was still on his lap, her head on his shoulder. Beron didn’t turn to the sound, he was busy eating, though not with the same enthusiasm as before. Well, it was his third plate of boar, his fourth bottle of milk, his second honey nut treat, in addition to an assortment of bowls that held his favorite berries and fruits.  There was also a half-eaten loaf of bread with butter next to the pile of septims what were his winnings. And next to his plate, well plates, already placed by an attentive Tilma, was his smoking pipe with a satchel of Elf’s Ears. Serana expected that water was boiling for his tea, should he want it.


    There were others gathered around their end of the table, close to where Beron sat. The Legate was also having a tankard and there was a small bowl of salted roasted pine nuts near the tankard that he could occasionally grab a handful of and stuff in his mouth, but those were currently set on the table. Instead, with his own smoking pipe sticking out of his mouth, he  had taken his knife out and was proceeding to whittle at a small oddly-shaped piece of wood he had brought back with him from his trip to the rocks.


    Trip to the rocks, Serana knew what that meant, the tense look on the Legate’s face very similar to Beron’s when he knew Nature was finally calling. He looked relieved afterwards, but his mood had been different. Still with his jokes that reminded her keenly of Decimus, but there was a thoughtfulness to his demeanor now. From the way the Legate was attacking the wood - ha, that sounds dirty, she smirked, he definitely had some skill with carpentry, which surprised her. He was a Legate, a soldier, and the rather domestic turn to craft was unexpected. Though, no, Beron crafted and they were relatives, so really it shouldn’t have been a surprise.


    Urag and Nelecar were more traditional party guests, the Orc was chewing on a piece of crispy boar fat while the more slender Altmer was favoring wine. Her wine was on the table next to Beron’s milk and she wanted it, she really did, but she didn’t feel like moving. She released a longing sigh and smiled when his large white hand paused from his meal to reach for her goblet. It was brought to her, the hand waiting patiently until she took the wine. A thumb affectionately rubbed her hand during the transfer and he then resumed eating.  


    No, it wasn’t all alright, he was still going away, the possibility of his death still loomed, but at least their remaining time together would be spent… together. It was the risk she took when she could no longer deny that she loved this Mer, knowing that he was Doom-Driven, the Last Dragonborn, knowing what him being that represented, she herself being an ancient creature. She knew the signs, from both the sky and from the earth and she accepted them. She swore then and there while he held her under the stars that she would indeed smile as he left. He had placed all his strength, all his stakes on her smile. Yes, Beron was weaker than her, yes, his body sometimes every bit its two hundred and forty-six years, but she knew of no creature who had such will to overcome.  


    “I needed some air.” The Jarl explained, bringing Serana attention back to the conversation. He was soaked, she raised her eyebrows as she sipped the deep burgundy liquid, at least his hair was, the thick blond strands clinging to his neck, his beard still dripping.


    “Since when is air wet?” Urag asked, raising his eyebrows in curiosity, but still enjoying his fat.


    That made Beron look up and his brow lowered. “Balgruuf did you fall in the river?”


    The Dunmer housecarl huffed, crossing her arms over her chest, looking at the Jarl of Whiterun like he was a naughty boy instead of a man who ruled over a large Hold. “That is precisely what I’m trying to determine.”


    “No, Irileth, I didn’t fall in the river!” The Nord blustered, taking a seat next to the Legate, who shifted a bit to avoid getting wet. “I dunked my head in the river, there is a difference.” The Jarl raised his eyebrows and eyed Beron. “Ysmir’s Beard! You’re still eating?”


    Serana felt Beron’s chuckle as much as she heard it. “Aye, still eating.”


    “How’s your hand?” The Jarl grinned. “Tired yet?”  Tilma had arrived very quickly, handing the Jarl a cloth so he could dry his hair.  Beron didn’t answer.


    “How ‘bout some warm milk, my Jarl.” The old woman soothed, doing her typical shoulder petting, fussing and such.”You’ll catch your death with your hair all wet like that.”


    “Shor’s Bones! I’m not that old yet, Tilma.”


    The old woman stomped her foot and her hands went to her hips. “Well, if you’re dunkin’ your head in the water after a night of mead, then yes, maybe you are that old and do need some warm milk.”


    “Take the cure Balgruuf and just admit it to yourself.” The Legate sighed resolutely, his eyes still on the wood.


    Balgruuf stopped drying his hair and leaned closer to the Legate, peering in his tankard. “Legate Fasendil! That’s-”


    “Warm milk.” Beron smirked, his eyes going back to his meal.

    “Alright, cuz, how is the hand?” Came the Legate’s snarky response. Serana looked up, waiting for Beron to answer. Aye, there was certainly more activity at the other side of the ‘stead, more jumping about, more laughing, and definitely more drinking, but the ‘warm milk’ table had its charm.


    Her Mer shook his head. “Still rubbing it in, eh? Remember I beat you.”


    “But ya did eventually lose.”


    “Lose? Surprised his arm didn’t fall off.” Urag added, his voice muffled as he licked the soft grease from the crunchy fat. He definitely wasn’t afraid of eating like an Orc. “The blood was impressive. You can take a lot of pain, old Mer.”


    Laughter, save from Beron and she smiled. You’re still sore, aren’t you. Don’t worry, old Mer, the Goldpact Knight won’t get what you’ll be getting later. Aye, she was in the mood for it again already, despite being a little tired. Didn’t help that he had cleaned himself up after their sex at the rocks and then later in their bed. The hardness from the weightloss would cling to his features for a few more weeks, but the most important weight was off his shoulders, his hair was down and he was at his most charming, the teasing half-smile while he arm wrestled dashing. As if fueled by the sex, he had done the whole damn thing to impress her, to show her he still had it, like a strutting rooster, or a cocky Dov. There was never a doubt, love. The spark to his spirit  had definitely returned and it would be one of those rare nights in their time together where his libido would possibly match his desire.


    “What happened?” The Jarl asked, nodding in appreciation when the old woman brought him a tankard of warm milk - she must have a pot ready for all these old drunk people. He took a sip, wrinkled his nose, but then took another and another, admitting defeat while Tilma prattled off back to the spit. Welcome to the ‘warm milk’ table, Balgruuf, Serana smirked to herself, letting her head fall back to her lover’s shoulder.  


    “He lost.” The Legate grinned.


    “Really?  But before I left, he had easily beat you, the twins, the female Orc, the archmage here, Honthjolf, and the young lad, Erik. It was unreal. Granted he’s an Elf and all, but definitely think there was strategy involved because, my friend,” the Jarl shook his head and looked at Beron, “you’re not young.”


    “There was.” Beron mumbled quietly, now sort of stabbing at his boar.  


    The Nord scratched his head. “Then he really lost to the Goldpact Knight?” The Jarl frowned as if remembering something. “Wait. Irileth, wasn’t he--”


    The Dunmer nodded dryly. “Yes, my Jarl, the one who ran a mammoth through Whiterun’s gates.”


    “And we didn’t arrest him?” The Jarl asked.


    “We did, he was released on bail.” She answered, annoyed. “Over a year ago.”


    The Jarl gave Beron and apologetic look, “Sorry friend. Could have spared you the defeat.”


    “Aye, sorry for yer loss.” The Legate chortled, very clearly trying to goad Beron.


    The Dragonborn finally looked up from his meal, the tiniest bit of irritation playing on his features. “I didn’t lose, Zahnirbildaar did.” Serana guffawed, which made him look down. “What?”


    She couldn’t help it. “So it’s not ‘we’ anymore, is it?”


    The irritation morphed into something wily at her words, he understood exactly what she was saying. He gave her a kiss. “Only when the other goes and downs an entire bottle of bloodwine.” He remembered that they were not alone at the table and looked up. “I let him know it wasn’t a good idea, but he wasn’t in the mood to listen. With him, I pick my battles.” He set down his fork to rub his right wrist - he still ate with a fork, all the years among Nords and he still ate with forks, spoons, and knives. “I lost that particular one and…” He raised his hand in the air, showing everyone the quickly healing puncture marks where the Argonian had dug in his claws. “And so did old Wuth Tu.” He picked up his fork and resumed his meal, though he was definitely picking at his plate. “Besides, Argonians have claws.” He complained.


    “And dragons have the thu’um. Saw you blowing smoke in his face, old Mer.” The archmage quipped.


    Beron then laughed, unable to continue his self-pity any longer. “Aye, that old dov is a cheater too. At any rate, he took it like a Dov--” He paused, shaking his head. “Well, no, actually he didn’t. He didn’t try to blast Teineeva off a cliff or fry him. Instead he gave him a name.”


    “Like Durnehviir gave you, I remember that.” Serana mused. “Vanquisher, Qahnaarin.”


    “So Teineeva is now Silonmulyen among the dragons, or will be at any rate. Silver, strong, arm. An honorable name.” The Mer nodded.


    “With the promise of a rematch next year.” Urag added.


    The Jarl raised his eyebrows. “A rematch? Hmm, should we make this an event in Whiterun? A festival? Perhaps something to consider when you return, Thane.”  


    “Well, the Dov wanted the rematch, so you can ask him if you want to make it public, my Jarl. It wasn’t that big of a deal. Just a friendly match.”


    “Friendly my fat arse." Fasendil grumbled. "Did you know the lad tried betting on the end of the world? Aela and I would have no part in it.”


    “Cousin, Teineeva would bet on how often I take a shit.” Beron laughed. “He means well though.”


    “No he doesn’t.” Frowned the Legate.


    “Give him time.” Spoken with a tone that immediately told the Legate to drop the subject. The death of the Shadowscale had affected Beron, he knew he was killing the last one in defending himself and while he knew it needed to be done, he seemed to understand the Archivist's position. He then groaned and Serana heard his stomach gurgle from discomfort. He pushed his plate away, sat back and rubbed his belly. “Gah, no more food for me, damn bloodwine. At least it skipped my heart and went right to my stomach. Going to be feeling that for a few days.”


    “I’m just surprised you're not dead, that was a whole damn bottle, Ronnie.” the Archmage observed.


    “I know. Zahnirbildaar gets all the benefits and I get all the consequences.” The old Mer winced, his stomach cramping.


    “I’ve never seen you drink before, but that dragon in you, he sure can drink! Are you sure you’re going to be alright?” Nelecar asked. He was a funny one, very uptight for the entire evening, Serana observed. Only really enjoying himself because the Legate was working very hard to ensure he was enjoying himself.


    “Restoration is a valid school of magic.” Beron recited, doing a damn good imitation of Collette Marence’s voice. The Orc’s empty tankard flew past the table and Beron moved his head, dodging it just in time. “old Woman!” He called, a twinkle in his eye.  Mischief maker, Serana shook her head.  


    “What, old Mer?” Tilma barked from the spit.


    “The old Orc has thrown his tankard. He’s losing his coordination with all the drink.” The Mer flashed his white teeth in a grin. “A spot of warm milk, like the rest of us old farts, ought to do him some good.”


    At first, the Orc bared his tusks, but then his features grew thoughtful and he nodded. “You know what, not a bad idea. But cold and with--”


    “Here it comes.” Beron quipped. “Another stronghold recipe.”


    The Archmage raised his shoulders in a shrug of apology. “What can I say, she got me into it. Some of the stronghold stuff is actually very good. You should try it, Ronnie, a little blood in the milk hurts no one. Borgakh swears by it and well, you’ve seen her.” The Orc smirked lewdly, only for it to morph into a frown when he saw Nelecar’s face. “Oh, Nelecar, get the pole out of your arse.


    “I think I’m going to be sick, seriously? Blood in milk? Who does that?” Nelecar asked, going pale. Serana chuckled and felt Beron’s hand on her back, giving her a warning pat not to turn this into a conversation about the glories of blood.  She started rubbing his stomach in response. He made a tiny groan in the back of his throat and settled deeper in his old chair. You like that, eh?


    “Yeah, blood in milk, alright. I don’t bitch when you fill the Arcaneum with your cologne, do I? Damn Altmers stink up the place, but by Malacath’s tusks the Thalmor were the worst with their cologne. But enough of those awful memories” He turned to Tilma. “So bring the tankard and inside the ‘stead, my female should have some blood she keeps for the baby-” He noticed the looks and bared his tusks. “Dammit, it’s good for the runt! Have you seen how big he is already?” the Orc pointed at Beron. “Just ask that tusker over there.” All eyes honed in on her Mer and he shrugged.


    “Well, blood has certain nutrients.” He started.” An Orsimer’s stomach, according to-”


    “See, he says it’s alright,” Urag cut him off before Beron could explain with more detail, probably sparing the table a recitation of a long-forgotten treatise on Orc dietary requirements that he remembered from the Crystal Tower. Bless you forever, Urag. May Malacath save you from Dagon in the end just for that. “So if you’d be obliged, Tilma.”


    The old woman shrugged, making a face like Urag was perhaps a little crazy, but she turned to move towards the ‘stead.


    “And when you come back, old woman,” Beron started, grabbing Tilma’s skirt to make her stop. “Boar’s done, people are fed and content. You come sit with us, Eh? Join us old farts.” Beron asked, giving her an endearing smile that really no one could resist.  “Sit and relax with your Albee a spell, drink your tej.”


    She placed her hand on Beron’s shoulder, her eye going soft. “Alright.”


    “I’m surprised the baby isn’t out hunting and killing his own prey by now.”


    It seems Nelecar isn’t beyond sarcasm, Serana thought, it also seems that he’s probably more fascinated than he’s letting on. Or just really scared of blood. Ha! That would be one to show my fangs too, just for fun, but Beron would be pissed. Serana paused, and then shook her head, now snaking her hand under his shirt, raking her nails gently against the hairs on his sated stomach. He relaxed even more. Nah, he’d laugh his arse off.  


    “Give him a year or two.” Urag countered, flashing his tusks. “He already eats meat-”


    “So!” The Jarl suddenly spoke up, resting his finished tankard down with a sigh. I would be drinking that shit quickly too, Serana thought. He faced his Housecarl. “We should be off then, right Irileth?”


    It was probably the best news the Dunmer had heard all night and Serana could practically see the Jarl’s Nix-hound perk up. Well, as best as she could. She gave credit to the Bungler,  it was the best nickname this entire night so far. Her red eyes scanned the group opposite them, honing in specifically on the young guard that walked in with Beron. Honthjolf was his name and though his face was very red from the mead, he was still mostly upright. The Dunmer grunted in disapproval, but returned her gaze to the Jarl. “Honthjolf seems sober enough to provide escort, my Jarl.”


    “Well, there is a trap to set for tomorrow, so he better be sober.” The Jarl explained. He then laughed. “At least more so than me.” Balgruuf started to stand, a bit wobbly, facing Beron before making a polite bow. “Pleasant gathering, all of you. Give my regards to dear Tilma and Greir for the fine meal. Dragonborn, Dragonsreach will be ready for your use bright and earl-”


    “Sit back down, Balgruuf, please.” The Mer motioned the Jarl to sit, shaking his head. “I will not be testing the trap tomorrow.”


    All heads again turned to the Altmer and Serana could tell that he was debating closing off for a moment. Too much attention, sometimes, made the giant Mer want to shrink into nothing. He took a deep breath though and she felt his hand moving over her back, as if touching her helped. “I have different plans.” He admitted shyly. “Oh, I will go to Skuldafn and then on to Sovngarde, do not worry, and we will test the trap, but…” She found his hand and squeezed when he hesitated. You can do it, old Mer, it's alright to be selfish sometimes. “But not tomorrow. I have spent the past few weeks, really since I returned from Solstheim, and before, really...” He started, biting his lip in thought. “Training, obsessing, and I was surrounded by most of you, the Jarl, Farkas, Tilma, my family, Grulmar…” She felt a kiss on her head. “This beautiful woman using me as her favorite chair, and yet, I wasn’t living. I wasn’t being with them. All these celebrations, Dragonsreach, Jorrvaskr, all the warmth Whiterun has shown me, I was making myself cold to it and I understand that it was wrong. It is not the Nord way and it is not really my way. I let my desire to vanquish Alduin, my vengeance, cloud me celebrating why I was doing it in the first place. Forgive me. I will fulfill my duty as is expected of me, of course,” his eyes found the Jarl, “but I ask permission for some time first, to live. A few weeks.”  


    Serana laughed when his speech was met by hearty claps and cheers from the rest of old farts, making the younglings turn their heads, scratching their heads before returning to their more boisterous fun. The Jarl didn’t take his seat right away, but instead moved towards Beron, putting a hand on his shoulder. “Old Mer, you have no idea how relieved I am. I didn’t want to get my arse out of bed after tonight anyway.” More laughter and a look that shot daggers of disapproval from the Dunmer, but then the Jarl’s features softened and he nodded. “Dragonsreach will be ready when you are ready, my friend. And may it serve you well.” He gave Beron’s shoulder a good slap, and he paused, squinting his eyes as if trying to see something better. “She braid your beard?” he asked, pointing to Serana.


    “Aye.” Beron smiled with pride, though the tips of his ears were going red.


    “Fine work, Serana. Go get beads for that, old Mer, would look good. Like a proper Nord.”


    “That’s the very plan for tomorrow,” Beron’s gaze shot briefly towards the night sky, “eh, actually today. When we wake up. Or later...”


    With that, the Jarl gave him a final pat  and headed back to his seat. “Tilma! More mead!”


    “Balgruuf!” The nix-hound howled.


    He grabbed the Dunmer by the arm and forced her to sit. ‘And a sujamma for Nix!” Balgruuf pointed at her, shaking her finger. “And if you don’t get as drunk a me tonight, my dear, old friend, I will send you back to Vvardenfel.”


    “Insides, they suck insides.” She warned, her eyes narrowing, but her corner of her mouth twitched and the Jarl only put his arm around her shoulder while Tilma returned with Urag’s blood milk.


    “What’s this yapping about more mead?" The old Woman asked. "None of you are in any condition for more mead.” The Jarl deflated at the words of Tilma the Daedric prince of cooking and cleaning, but she eyed Irileth with a scrutinizing glare, followed by a curt nod. “Well, maybe that one needs some sujamma pretty bad, so I’ll fetch that, but it’s milk for the rest of you. So mind.” and with that, she made off back to the counter near the spit, muttering as she walked. “old fools, think they can drink themselves stupid like they did when they were twenty.  There’s a reason why I’m still kickin’, one glass of tej a day, just one glass and not a drop more, discipline…”


    “Now I really feel like putting my head in my hands and sobbing.” The Jarl sulked, his elbows finding the table.


    “Oh accept it, Jarl Balgruuf, we are all old.” The Legate offered, not even pausing from his work. The Mer was working fast, the wood now definitely taking the shape of an old Nord boat. It was very impressive. .


    “What are you making, cuz?” Beron couldn’t see from his position.


    “A surprise.” The Mer answered, a puff of smoke escaping his nostrils.


    The Orc drank from his tankard, his face showing satisfaction. “Mmm, not a bad first mix. Borgakh must have showed her.” He grinned and shoved the tankard under Nelecar. “Want some, Blast?”


    “Xarxes’ Arse, Urag.” Nelecar cringed, wrinkling his nose.”I can smell it from here. It’s like that damned Jagga Enthir insists is delicious.” He shuddered. “I’ll stay with my wine, thank you.”


    Beron raised his hand slightly to speak. Just like he did when he was about to correct someone. Damn Mer, it’s a party.  “Uh, not quite, Le-Nelec-ah damn,” He quickly moved his hand, making it point to Nelecar and Fasendil “Just call those two Lecar and Sendil.” Then he gestured to everyone else like he was casting a spell. “There. You are all part of the family now, so might as well start calling each other by our proper names.”


    “Proper names? Sure you want to do that, cuz?” The Legate asked, his eyes briefly darting from his work to regard his cousin. “You sure you want to tell them how many names an Altmer really has?”


    “What? Wait? No, Sendil. We’re talking family names, not the official nomenclature traditions. Auri-El’s Bow, don’t make me think about Altmer wedding and Civil ceremonies now.” He crossed his eyes and shuddered. “Well, back to what I was saying before...Clear you need to brush up on your Bosmer history or read Waughin Jarth, Lecar. Jagga is actually  fermented--”


    “Shut up, Ronnie.” The entire table said in unison, cutting the Mer off.


    I love all of you, Serana grinned.


    “Well damn.”


    “You want to live, cuz, so live, that means not being such a bloody academic all the time.” Fasendil pointed out.


    “I was just tryi-” he needed more intervention, damn Altmer, so she quickly shifted position on his lap, straddling him - it’s not like that chair was a stranger to this.  It was one of their favorite places actually, a good strong chair to take their combined weight and well, their enthusiasm. She then grabbed his neck to bring his lips to hers for a kiss. More loud cheers from the ‘warm milk’ table, tankards were banged on the table in encouragement and when she was finally finished with the kiss, or rather several heavy ones, she slid back to her former position like a content cat, licking her lips, smirking at the hard bulge that had now formed in his trousers that the others couldn’t see.  The old Mer was practically sagging in his chair, faint wisps of smoke escaping his nostrils. The dragon had liked it too. “Point taken…” he managed breathlessly. “Ruth…”


    She rubbed his cock reassuringly, enjoying the public, yet private display. “We’ll take care of this later.” She whispered softly in his ear, before seductively blowing the old burn on his neck. He squirmed with pleasure,  trying to clear his throat to compose himself and she laughed quietly, her hand leaving his cock to find his belly again. Aye, love, now is a time to enjoy. I will tease you all night and you’ll be a bull in bed. Then, when we wake up, we’ll go get your beads.


    Tilma appeared with a second warm milk for the Jarl, Irileth’s sujamma, and sure enough, her daily cup of tej and then took her seat at Grulmar’s old place in the table, giggling and going faintly pink in the cheeks when she saw Beron’s state. Yes, Tilma, I had to subdue him. He was going to ruin the whole party. Again. But he’ll be behaving himself from now on.


    The Jarl raised his tankard to the air. “I can at least toast with it and pretend it’s mead. Here here, to Old farts! ”


    “Here here!” The table lustily echoed, raising their tankards or bottles to the air and then slamming them down hard, getting plenty of milk on the table in the process. Bet that was done on purpose, specifically by the reluctant milk-drinkers…  


    “So?” Nelecar asked, his fingers running nervously over his goblet. Serana narrowed her eyes. The behavior was not normal, even for an Altmer.  He either really has something up his arse, or he has something he needs say or do, but doesn't want to do it. “What now?”


    “We talk,” Beron chuckled. “Until we all start snoring in our chairs.”  She slid her hand under his shirt again, her hand teasing the waist of his trousers under his shirt. No, you don’t get to sleep. He shifted his position a tad so she had better access, the relatively high arms their favorite chair perfectly hiding what she was doing.  


    “Twenty  septims say Nix goes down first.” The Jarl grinned, poking his Housecarl in the ribs.


    The Dunmer took a large swig from the bottle. “If I recall our time in the Great War correctly…”  


    The Legate shook his head, while he still worked, the puffing of his pipe getting more agitated.  “No, no, no, no and a final ‘no’ to let ya know that I mean it.” He spoke out of the corner of his mouth. “No remembering the Great War. As the only active military sitting in this table, not counting Dragonborns, I ban all discussions on the military, this includes past or future battles in all provinces, and in all eras, so no Red Ring and shit like that. We were all there, it was a hot mess and we all hate the Thalmor, may Lord Naafarin be torn apart by all of Oblivion for all ages.” He spit on the floor to punctuate his point further. “So let’s move on to another subject.”


    “Presents then?” Nelecar offered, just blurting it out.


    The Orc rubbed his eyes and shook his head with a sigh. “Sometimes Nelecar…”


    “What? Presents are a totally legitimate subject to discuss.” The Altmer protested.  


    “Well seems we’ve all turned five if Lecar, here, wants to talk presents. I said avoid discussions on the military, not avoid adult conversation, Lecar.” The Legate snorted.


    “Maybe it’s the milk making us all younglings again.” The Jarl jeered. A mistake. Of course, Tilma heard  him because that dishrag lying on the table found the Jarl’s head faster than his housecarl could react. “Owww.” The Jarl whined, rubbing his head. “That hurt. Irileth?”


    No one is above the Daedric Prince of Cooking and Cleaning. Serana knew this. Even, she, a Volkihar princess, had felt the sting of her spoon, the smart of her dishrag. At least the spoon was destroyed in its battle against the twins, but all still needed to fear the other artifacts the old woman possessed.


    “You wanted me to enjoy the night.” The Dummer explained, giving Tilma a knowing nod after she took another swig of sujamma. “Well, I am enjoying my night.” And Serana saw it, the tiniest of smiles. 


    “I like you, Housecarl, ‘bout the only one with sense here, save me. Want another bottle?” Tilma offered, starting to stand, but the Dunmer motioned her to sit.


    “If you wish, but please, finish your tej first. I still have enough.”


    “Well, hmm.” The Legate mused and Serana noticed he had stopped his whittling, setting his knife down on the table and taking a reluctant gulp of his own milk. “Perhaps Nelecar has the right idea, after all. Presents…” He stood and walked towards Beron, making Serana straighten on his lap, her hand paused her stroking and now moved to be over his shirt on his stomach, nice and respectable. A little groan of protest from Beron, but she would make it up to him later. When the Legate was next to him, he produced the carving and set it at Beron’s place. “Here you go, cuz.” All at the table leaned forward to get a better look and Serana couldn’t help the smirk, all were squinting.  Old Farts indeed.


    A Nordic Longboat, carved with great attention to detail considering how drunk the Legate had been. And at its prow, the head of a dragon.


    “For me?” Beron raised his eyebrows.


    For a second, Serana thought that the Legate would say something sarcastic, it looked like it was even dying to come out of his mouth, because Beron had said something stupid, but no, his expression turned into something thoughtful. He put his hand on Beron’s shoulder. “Our boatman needs a boat.” He said and Serana heard the affection in his voice. Separated for over one hundred years and still as close as ever.


    “So you fancy me the next Topal, eh? Beron laughed.


    “Aye.” The Legate nodded. “Plot your own course, cuz.”


    Beron noticed his cousin’s change in mood and gave him a concerned look. “Sendil, are you alright?”


    The Legate bit his lip and cleared his throat, shaking off the emotion. “Yeah. I hate milk, you know that, and I’m old too. You’re seeing the gas making my stomach do twists.” The squeeze of Beron’s shoulder said something different, however. “You just take care of yourself out there, alright.” He pointed to the ship. “Don’t let it sink. Keep it going, afloat, no matter how rough the waters of the river get, you understand?”


    “I understand.”


    “Give me a grand story for me great great great great-”


    “Ah stop with the greats, you old shit.” Beron laughed, slapping the legate in the gut. “Makes me think you fancy that you gave birth to them all. Should tell your wife.”


    “And that's the second thing on my mind. It's exactly what I want, cuz. When this is all done, you come see our family in Anvil.” The Legate quickly spoke. He had everyone’s attention now, Serana noticed. Beron leaving Skyrim, where he was protected, for Cyrodiil? She wasn’t sure if Fasendil was being foolhardy or defiant.


    “I don’t know, Sendil…”


    “I don’t give a shit, I’m sick of you not able to show your face to my family.  The Greatest of my clan has to bloody hide? No. I don’t accept it. Thalmor can rot and you’ll have a whole cohort of angry Duskens by your side to fight them off.”


    Beron gave his cousin a look, cocking his eyebrow. “A whole cohort, Sendil?”


    “Well, I dunno! Can’t keep track of them all! Who the fuck knows, I’m always tripping over children whenever I’m home. And puppies. At any rate, come, I’m serious. Promise me. Next leave I have, next chance I get, you are coming with me. Even if I need to strap you to Olaf.”


    “I promise you.” The Dragonborn spoke and the two elves locked eyes and clasped hands, defiance and pride written all over their faces while the ‘warm milk’ table cheered.  


    He was taking a risk, a huge risk and she knew by the tone of his promise that he wasn't sure if it would be one he could fulfill. There would be a point where Beron would need to assert his freedom, defy that he was wanted by the Thalmor. He had already stopped running in Skyrim, this was simply the next step, travel to Cyrodiil, flipping his middle finger right in the Thalmor’s faces as the Dragonborn, slayer of Alduin, rode past them. A challenge. And they'd have to respond to the challenge. Yes, he would be the slayer of Alduin, but the Empire was under the restrictions of the White Gold Concordat and Beron... well what Beron symbolized, presented a complex twist to its terms. He loved his family and Serana understood Fasendil's pain. Would the Legate understand if this could not happen? She didn't know.  


    Serana made to move off Beron’s lap. She couldn't tell for sure, they looked like maybe they would stand and clasp necks - the Nord's hug, but Fasendil put a hand on her shoulder to stop her from moving and she noticed that the Mer had a very similar smile to Beron’s. Definitely a family trait. “No, lass, stay right where  you are. Ships always need a first mate and I can tell you’re a sound one.”


    She put her hand on his and squeezed. “Thank you.”


    “Invitation extends to you too, you know. You would love Anvil. Can already picture you sipping wine at my villa like a queen. And when summer rolls around?  The Gold Coast lives up to her name, golden sandy beaches, sun-baked fish and honey mead straight from my own apiaries...” His voice trailed off and he shook his head.


    Beron let go of his cousin’s arm and picked up the boat, partly to admit it and partly to distract his cousin from his homesickness. “She is a fine ship, Sendil, I promise, she won’t go down.”


    The Jarl leaned forward and reached out his hand. “May I?”


    Beron nodded. “Of course, Balgruuf.”


    Balgruuf took the boat in his hands and slowly turned it to get a better look before setting it back carefully at Beron’s place. “Well, Legate-uh Sendil, that’s clever. Looks just like Jorrvaskr, minus the dragon head.” The Jarl complimented. Nods of agreement. “Didn’t know you practiced wood-working?”


    The Altmer Legionnaire took his seat again and sighed, dropping a handful of pine nuts in his mouth. “It was expected.” He explained while he chewed, “Ronnie and I been wood-working and fishing since we could walk, eh cuz?”


    “Aye.” Beron agreed, nodding his head. “Hand me my pipe, love.” Serana shifted her position grabbed the pipe and to Beron’s surprise, started filling the bowl herself. “Best thing in life is when your woman knows how to fix your pipe."  She gave him a dirty smile that made him flirt back before continuing with his prior chain of thought. “Not bad skills to pick up, though. Fishing definitely feeds you if there’s water around and when I first settled in Bruma, jobs for the Fighter’s Guild would sometimes be scarce, so I made furniture, smithed, whatever earned coin.” He winked. “I was not always the glorious Auri-El up his arse Dragonborn that you see here today…” Looks from his guests. “I know, I know, hard to believe.”  They all shared a laugh.


    “Nords are different,” interjected Nelecar. “Yes, you have your family traditions, but children, say for example, that young man Erik…”


    “What about Erik?” The Jarl asked.


    Serana handed Beron back his pipe. He held it by the bowl and then the faintest whispered “yol” escaped his lips. It resulted in a tiny gust of flame, just enough to light the pipe. He stuck the bit in the corner of his mouth, gave a few deep puffs to get the Elves Ears burning and then relaxed back into his chair, like a proper old Dov, while Nelcar spoke.


    “When we were getting acquainted earlier, he told me that his father is a farmer in Rorikstead so I naturally asked him if he was a farmer too, what he grew and all that, and he told me he used to be, but that he was now a member of the Goldpact Order.” He looked down, his brow furrowing. “In Alinor, he would’ve remained a farmer. It goes back, often for many generations.”


    “Well, we have that too.” The Jarl explained. “Take the Grey-Manes, they have been smithing Skyforge since-” He pointed to Beron, “well apparently since that dragon inside you gave them all white hair and took the originals as apprentices. What a story, still can’t believe it.” He shrugged and looked at Nelecar.  “So similar.”


    “Is it?” The Altmer asked, but Serana could hear the trace of bitterness in the question.


    Urag slapped the Altmer’s back, “Alright, Nelecar, I’m going to address the mammoth in the room. You have had a pole up your arse all evening, what’s wrong?”


    Leave it to the Orc to be blunt, but Serana was curious. She had noticed the guarded behavior and it was clear others had as well.


    “There’s nothing wrong.” the Altmer said quietly, taking another nervous sip of wine and she could definitely see now that one hand was under his place in the table and she knew the Mer, he wasn’t playing with his cock. He had something.




    Nelecar sighed, letting his shoulders droop while he took a large swig of wine. “Ever wanted to give something to someone, but at the same time, you see that they are happy, very happy, finally moving forward, and now you are not sure whether to give the gift or not?. See, I had a task to do, and I don’t know if I should see it through. Because, first, I’m not sure myself what the gift means and second,” his eyes found Beron’s. “I’m not sure if it is even needed.”  


    Serana saw Beron’s nostrils flare and something terribly old suddenly washed over her mer’s eyes. “Anwe.” He whispered, blinking. His smile vanished and he became almost a different person then, impossibly sad.


    The slender Altmer’s face flashed with frustration mixed with guilt and he gestured towards Beron, looking at the other guests. “And see, there you have it, I shouldn’t have said anything, because look at his face when he speaks her name. He was happy, joking with us and I loved seeing that. My dear friend, happy for the first time really in so many years, too many to count.” Nelecar shook his head. “I’m very sorry, Ronnie.” Beron swallowed hard, bending his head, almost overwhelmed with a silent despair, and Nelecar quickly shook his head, putting his hand out towards Beron. “Oh no, no, no, she’s not dead.”  He huffed and took another big gulp of wine. “Auri-El's Bow! See, I’m sorry, I really should be less dramatic.”


    Nelecar barely dodged the stick from one of Beron’s honey nut treats. “Dammit, Lecar, you nearly made my heart give out, you dumbarse!” he yelled in jest, but Serana heard the hoarse emotion in his voice.


    “Sorry! I know!” Nelecar took another large gulp of wine. "I need to get more drunk." He grumbled, rubbing his face.


    “So she received my last message?” Beron asked, still blinking his prior emotion away.


    Of all the names he goes and mentions, Serana furrowed her brow, trying hard to prevent her face from scowling while the others laughed and Nelecar proceeded to relay that the Queen had received Beron’s message. She had nothing against the Queen of Cloudrest, Calianwe of the whatever hair, but she knew Beron. The Queen, to Beron, represented all things good about Summerset and he loved the ‘dearest sister of his Order’ a great deal. She represented to him the way things were before the Crystal Tower fell, before the Thalmor took over. Thinking of her made him homesick and it made him ashamed in the back of his mind. A deep-seeded shame. That he, among his clan, had survived.  It was a shame that was not warranted, yet she could see him answering the call to serve again, thinking his debt was somehow still not paid. He had already done that with the Vampire Symposium and in Serana’s eyes, the debt he owed for them rescuing him from the Thalmor’s version of ‘exile’ was more than repaid. Beron owed them nothing. In her mind, they actually owed him.


    With Vingalmo’s and Ondolemar’s death, and since his confrontation with the First Emissary, his thoughts had turned less to home and that was a good, good thing. Skyrim was his home, Skyrim had accepted him, at least more than his own people.  He belonged here, not among a people who hated him, who wanted to put him perpetually in his place. The dragon in him would no longer concede to such treatment. This Dov was no slave, no follower of Miraak or Alduin. Not even the Greybeards or Blades could hold his sway. Fiercely independent and that was the core of Beron’s spirit.


    And yet, not all Altmer had been cruel to him and it was those people that Beron still had strong ties too, and he would see them in his mind through the heavy veil of nostalgia. People who had, in her opinion, taken advantage of those intense feelings while they continued to enjoy their lives of luxury and privilege. Fasendil was different and Serana saw him as a positive influence on Beron, almost filling the void left by his beloved parents and Decimus. A living assertion that moving forward and building new traditions was the right path. But Summerset? Summerset was stuck and Beron didn’t need that anymore.  Beron was a creature moving forward on a clear trajectory and his people held him back. They were stagnant, Beron was change and it was something she wasn’t sure his people would ever embrace.


    “So, what is it then?” She suddenly asked and she knew it, it was impossible to hide her tone. “What does she want?” Serana could feel Beron tense up, but she immediately took the hand that hung over her body and intertwined his fingers with hers.


    “Serana…” He said quietly, chiding her.


    She tightened her hold on him and frowned. “I’m sorry, but I’m concerned. That you’re going to be pulled in yet another direction and that you’ll emerge from it further weakened. You delivered your message, she knows what you face.”   


    The Orc shifted his position and grumbled. “Aye, Lecar, out with it. Because you’ve seen her, and I agree with Serana, she has to know that Ronnie is occupied. Not with how he’s going to braid his hair today, or what pretty robes he should wear, but you know, with the end of the tusking world.”


    Serana gave Urag a look and he nodded, his eyes briefly shifting to Beron, defensive. I could kiss you, Orc. Sick of this shit too, eh?


    “No, Urag, there is no box of Larethian armor under my place in the table.” Nelecar replied, setting down his wine. He then snorted. “You know what’s funny? I thought the same damn thing when she asked to see to me. And all I could think was ‘oh shit, not again’, ‘don’t do this to Ronnie again’. Oh, how I hated the day I gave you that letter in Bruma.” His eyes found Beron, noting the Mer’s horrified expression. “Don’t be so shocked, my dear friend. Urag and I, and now I see Sendil, Serana, and all the people here, we’re tired of seeing you suffer to be honest.  We love you, you are part of our family and we think there is no longer a debt to be repaid. You are not obligated to her and you are not her servant.”


    “Servant? You dare say this? She is like a sister to me.” Beron protested, raising his voice.


    “And we get that, we do.” Urag responded. “But you were just putting your life back together in Bruma after the Great War had nearly destroyed you, after all the shit the Thalmor had put you through, all the fighting you did in Hammerfell. You came back from all that  with a sense of peace I have never seen in you before, old friend. And she destroyed that.”


    “Urag, she didn’t destroy it. She wasn’t the one who chased me.” He was getting angry and it was what Serana wanted. He needed to not close off but to be angry and listen.  


    “But she was the one who called you back, am I right?” Urag argued back. “She’s a powerful mage, she’s related to Rynandor the Bold, one of, if not the greatest mage in all of Tamriel, she couldn’t have handled it her damn self?” Beron scowled and she could feel the heat from his face, but Urag was undaunted. The mark of a true friend. “Yeah, you may not like me saying that, Ronnie, but it’s true. At least that’s how I see it, because I'm sorry, I don’t see the things you see when you see her, but Lecar and I certainly saw all the shit you went through when you returned to Cyrodiil. The running, stuck in the shithole that is Bravil, all the damn weight you lost, how filthy you were, no horse, no money, nothing. Bumph told me you looked just like how you looked when she first found you at Diverock. It was that bad.  All that, while she kept her happiness and you had to wait even longer for yours, not even lifting a finger to help you. She had the means to send you a message, but no means to send you food, money to survive? She couldn't speak for you?”


    “She has lost her husband.”


    “And she was married to him for over two hundred years, Ronnie, bore four children.” The Legate shrugged. “She’s lived a life any one of us could only wish for and she has you to thank for it.” Beron shook his head. “Yes, you, Ronnie. You are the reason she has everything in her life, while you, on the other hand, gave up everything. I’m not sayin’ she’s not a fine Elf, she is, but you are just as deservin’, cuz, more so, in my humble opinion, because not once have you used someone for your own gain. Not fucking once.”


    Serana felt him want to close off at his friends’ strong words and she didn’t want that. “Where is home for you, old Mer?” She suddenly asked, looking up at him.


    There was no hesitation in his answer and his eyes flickered with life’s flame. “Here, with you.”


    She gave his scarred cheek a tender kiss. “So you understand why your friends are like this? I know it is hard because you love her like family, but you have built a life here and you deserve to live it, this is why I am so defensive.”


    His eyes searched her, but she saw the change in them. “Yes, I do.” Beron touched her cheek and the look he gave her let her know that he really understood. She turned to Nelecar. “Alright, he has his head on straight, so take your hand out of your lap and show us what the Queen has for our old Dov, before we start thinking that you’ve been playing with yourself this entire time, Nelecar. Because I did wonder and I’m sure the Orc did too.” She gave Tilma a sidelong glance. “And definitely Tilma was thinking it.”


    The thin Altmer guffawed, causing almost everyone else in the table to erupt in laughter, knowing now that whatever pole in Nelecar’s arse had now been removed. Only Beron was not laughing, he was thinking, and Serana was glad on it. She wanted him to think, think like how he did after the Aetherium Forge, where he learned that he had to be selfish to survive. In her opinion, his feelings towards Summerset were the last of his shackles to break. It’s not that she didn’t want him to love that land, but not to the point where it prevented him from being his own path. The love also had to be returned, and not just with little words and gifts, but with action.


    Nelecar then relaxed in his chair, fingering the stem of his goblet while he spoke. “Your answer, Ronnie, to ‘where home is’ is ironic, so ironic. For Altmer, home is tied into acceptance, to something we have held so incredible dear for so long. And yet I see you, how your eyes shone when you gave Serana your answer, and it makes me wonder, what the world would’ve been denied if you had fallen into the station set before you by our ancestors? If you had lived your life the way the People wanted you to? Or worse, tossed aside as a Hulkynd?” Nelecar reflected, removing from under his place a worn wooden box, looking as if it was made from wood that had been weathered, smoothed, and greyed by many years of pounding surf. Wood she had seen along the coast of Castle Volkihar, driftwood. The box was inlaid with panels carved in motives of gulls, shells, and a flower that looked like the golden blossoms in Beron’s garden. The corners of the box were slightly mismatched, as if a young and unpracticed hand had perhaps made it. There was even a tiny crack in one corner and several chips in the wood, from it being perhaps bumped or lodged repeatedly into a very tight space.


    And she could have sworn Beron’s heart skipped a beat. She looked up to check him, but his face didn’t read sadness only surprise, his jaw slightly dropped.


    Nelecar stood from his seat and walked to Beron’s place, setting the box down gently. “Like I said, I don’t know what this gift means, Ronnie, because we know you can never go back and frankly, I don’t even think you want to anymore. I don’t think you even need this, but she bade me give this to you and I am not yet in a position where I can tell her ‘no’ either.” He smiled a small, sad smile. He’s a creature of nostalgia too, Serana guessed.


    “A group of our people,” he continued, “and we know who they are, will always think of you in only one way, a wrong way, but know that for whatever reason, the gods decided not to let the Thalmor carry out their full sentence for you.”


    “What? I don’t understand you, Lecar.” Beron’s eyes narrowed.


    “Just open the box, because I sure as Oblivion don’t want to try tackling that again.”


    “You opened it?” Beron’s eyebrows raised.


    “Aye, took me hours, a marvel, haven’t seen one of these so well-made in years.” Nelecar giggled. “And I’ve drunk far too much to even try today.” His face then became deadly serious and he bowed his head. “But I had to see. Forgive me?”  


    “You are forgiven.” Beron let go of the bowl of his pipe, holding it only by the bit in his mouth. He was silent when he rotated the box and then turned one of the gull motifs counter-clockwise ninety degrees. Serana heard a faint click and then like a puzzle, Beron began rotating the various motives either clockwise or counterclockwise at certain angles, all the while hearing more clicks that seemed to unlock more combinations for the Mer to turn. It didn’t take him very long before there was a final click and with a tiny puff of dust, the box unlocked, yielded its secret.


    “You never forget, do you?” Nelecar marveled.  


    “Never.” Beron replied, his hand on the lid of the box, poised to open it. “I will never forget.”


    “How old were you?”




    “When you joined the Order then?”






    “And yet, unfitting…” Beron reflected, a steely glint appearing in his eyes. "I was supposed to be something else."


    The secret  was a handkerchief that was clearly being used to wrap something in it. It was a of a silver-grey cloth, with a faint sheen, silk probably, but Serana could make out a touches of a deep red pattern.  At the edge of the fabric was a lace trim of a pale silver-gold. Like the color of Auri-El’s statue at the chantry at the Forgotten Vale. The pattern consisted of a rising sun with rays nestled by eagle wings.  


    “I remember this cloth.” Beron blurted out suddenly, laughing, though Serana saw the tears beginning to well in his eyes. She liked it, his emotions were playing today. Love, hate, lust, anger, sadness. It was far better than him being distant and aloof because it meant release and release was something he sorely needed. “My Lenya saw me making this box,” he paused, touching the fabric again, lovingly. “And she gave her handkerchief to me. Aye, the nicest thing she ever had. Silk.” Beron replied, biting his lip. He cleared his throat, but his nose was beginning to redden, as were his eyes, the tears unable to stop themselves from flowing. “She wanted it to be in something special. We didn’t have the money to buy something from the shops to hold something so precious, so I made a box for mine, on my own.  This box. It took me forever, all bloody summer, didn’t know what I know now, I was so young. It still works! She wanted it to be wrapped in something special. Special to us.” He chuckled. “And I’m bloody repeating myself.” He looked a Lecar, his expression one of pure disbelief, his voice raw. “This is impossible. I am what I am to the Thalmor, there’s no way.”


    “I know, that’s why I had to open it. I had to see for myself. I couldn’t believe it either, but it is. It is.” The slender Altmer’s eyes were also going red, though the thin lips were smiling and Serana saw how the Legate’s attention was drawn to that box. Everyone else looked puzzled, but she noticed a flash of curiosity in the Orc’s eyes. “Just unwrap it, Ronnie.” Nelecar insisted.  


    He began to peel away the fabric, handling it gently, as if it he didn’t want it to disintegrate with his touch.  


    “Oh Albee! It’s so beautiful!” Tilma gasped, closing her mouth with her hands in awe when the Mer held up between his forefinger and thumb for all to see what looked like a crystal sphere to Serana. But it was unlike any crystal she has ever seen. It was molded from glass and perhaps something else, no stone she ever knew from Skyrim. She narrowed her eyes, studying the crystal. Well, no, actually, it was similar in style to her mother’s moon dial, but applied in a different way, so she knew it was Merish craftsmanship. It also seemed to glow, or perhaps it was the light from the spit playing tricks with her eyes. A beautiful mixture of a silvery and reddish fire, as if something was burning from deep within it. A curious luminescence.  It was like a great crystal pearl to her, perfectly smooth, perfectly round.


    “‘Welcome back, lost son of Aldmeris’.” Beron murmured, a hint of bitterness in his voice, still gazing at the sphere. “But why?” He eyed Nelecar. “This should have been shattered. The Thalmor have clearly told me what I am now.”


    “Yeah…” The Orc muttered, raising his brow. “If this is what I think it is.”


    “And if the Thalmor had shattered it, what would the people have said?” Nelecar countered. “That you shatter that which belonged to the Slayer of Bet, the Hero of our children’s stories? I think they would’ve have been stuck, Ronnie.”


    “They would have shattered it regardless, without remorse.” Beron said flatly though his eyes became two hard points of dragonfire in the night as his hand found the place on his chest where Ondolemar stabbed him, unconsciously rubbing it over his shirt. “Just as they have tried to shatter everything else of mine. Then they would have told the People whatever they bloody wanted. Do not be so naive, Lecar.”


    The Beron from before the Forge would have reacted very differently, Serana thought, he would have been naive too.  


    “Then the gods only know why it was spared.” Nelecar sighed.


    “What is it?” the Jarl scratched his beard.


    “This, my Jarl…” Beron started, his eyes on the sphere as he rotated it, “is acceptance. It is Äelberon of Dusk. Son of a blacksmith, son of a fishermer, Knight-Paladin, Priest of the Order of Auri-El, Captain of the Guard for House Larethian. A Mer who rose high above his station in life and then was constantly reminded of where he should have belonged once he got there. It is Altmer, but…” He sighed, “is that simple thing all that really defines me anymore?” He rested the sphere back on the cloth. “I know that perhaps I speak out of turn and that I am a little bitter, Nelecar, because the People clearly still believe, and for that, I am sorry.”


    “No, I understand you, Ronnie.”


    “Then it is what I think it is.” The Orc grumbled. “Malacath’s tusk, Nelecar, of all the times, why now? What does she want?”


    The Altmer mage shrugged, reaching for his wine again. “And here lies the puzzlement of it all, Urag. I don’t know. She would tell me so little. Only that she had found it, kept it hidden, secret all these years and that now she wanted me to see it to Ronnie safe.” Nelecar sighed and faced Beron. “Like I said, I don’t know what it means, because we all know, including she, that  you can’t go back, especially now that they know you are Dragonborn, so it’s traditional meaning is utterly lost on me.”


    With a taciturn grunt, Beron began wrapping the sphere in the handkerchief. Serana finally saw the pattern in the cloth, a red diamond or crystal with eagle’s wings embroidered around them in the same pale metallic lace and her eyes narrowed. Something from her mother’s stories of the Tower bubbled to the surface of her mind, but she couldn’t quite place it. He nestled the wrapped sphere back in the box, his fingers lingering a bit on the cloth before sealing it by turning the motives in probably the opposite order he turned them in to open it, but she wasn’t concentrating enough on the process to confirm that was what he was actually doing. He struggled with the final gull, his ears going slightly red. “If I had gotten the bloody edges straight, this final lock would be much easier…” A grunt. “There.”


    It was a box that was over two hundred years old, its mechanism still bloody worked,and yet there he was, dismissing his skill. Serana shook her head and gave her old Mer another kiss on the cheek. Altmers.


    He kissed her back and smiled, though his eyes still looked extremely old to her.


    “You alright?” She whispered, brushing that old stray lock from his forehead.


    Beron took a deep breath and wiped any remnants of tears from his eyes and cheeks before kissing her again. “Aye, I am. More pleased with the box and the cloth than the reminder that lay wrapped within. I have already planted the seed and home is here, with you. Receiving her gift changes nothing. I will still move forward. I will still grow.”  He turned to Lecar, placing a hand on the box. “Did she bear a message with this gift? She always does. The sown seed of two year’s past has become a plant, sun upon the snow, its blossoms sweet, feeding the mead. She told me then to ‘let it grow’ and I did.”


    “It begins…” Nelecar said. “That was her message.”


    “Is that all?” Beron asked, raising an eyebrow, a funny half-smile forming on his face. “Well, Calianwe Laurenayne, my dear sister, that’s certainly obtuse.”


    “It would seem that our High Kinlady has grown more like her grand uncle over the years. I found it an enigmatic message as well. Been pondering it for the entire month I was on that ship bound for Skyrim.” Nelecar returned to his seat and finished his wine. He shrugged. “Any idea what it could possibly mean, Ronnie?”


    Beron shook his head slowly, his brow lowering in deep thought. “No, I do not know.” He finally offered after some time.


    “Ya know what I think will help us figure it out, cuz?” Fasendil asked, the most obvious smirk on his face.


    “Xarxes’ arse, cousin, seriously?”


    Tilma winked. “I’ll fetch some more warm milk--”


    Jarl Balgruuf reached for the old woman, bringing her back down to her seat, laughing at her squeal of surprise as he held her. “You’re not fetching anything, old Woman. You stay here and we’ll do the fetching.” The Jarl rose, almost falling over until Fasendil secured him with a heavy arm around his shoulder. “The Legate and I are going to fetch some mead! A lot more mead, sujamma and wine too. And then, as we drink, we shall ponder this strange Elven message and try unlock its secrets.” They began to totter off towards the bar, using each other for support.


    “Aye, if anything can drive an Orc to drink, it’s tusking Altmeri riddles.” The archmage flashed his tusks a Beron, but the grey Orc eyes were warm as he looked at his friend.


    Nelecar smiled, far more relaxed than he had been during the entire party. “I have never used alcohol as a means for enhancing intelligence. This should be interesting.”


    “Progress requires experimentation, Lecar.” Beron smirked and Serana slapped his chest. “Owww,  woman, what now?”


    “You are quoting Galar again.” She smirked.


    Beron tightened his hold on her and  Serana felt a kiss on her head. “My apologies, love.” He rumbled, and she felt his smile against her head. For a moment, Serana lazily watched as Balgruuf and the Legate returned, distributing drinks, even handing Tilma - gods help us - a second glass of tej.  A pale hand brought her a freshly filled goblet of wine. “What do you think of the message?” Beron suddenly asked, leaning closer to her so their words were only for them.


    “Really want my opinion?”


    “Deep down, even as stubborn as the Dov and the Mer can be, I always do, you know that.”


    She did, he always trusted her. Even when the dragon lashed out, there was always conflict because the dragon knew what she would recommend was sound, not clouded by his past, by what was expected him. Her goal was always simple.  Keep him alive because you love him. Serana gave it some thought, the memories of all that had happened since she met Beron passing through her mind. All that he symbolized, all that he truly was, and all that he still didn’t know.  She felt old then, but not old in a bad way. She felt connected to the earth and the ancient ways, like how she knew he could sometimes feel. He’s older than you, you know, she thought with a smile, far older. Then it came to her, an explanation, a counsel. “You told me once that she is a daughter of House Stormwatch.”




    “Well, you, my love, are a great storm brewing in the North and the Stormwatcher watches  you. All are watching you. Watching what path you’ll take and what will happen in your wake.” He opened his mouth to speak, his brow beginning to crease with his perpetual ancient sadness, but she put her finger gently on his lips to silence him. “No, don’t think damage, don’t think on the literal which are lies. Think like the old creatures that you and I are. Of course, not counting all the tomb years.” She added with a smirk, giving him a playful tug to his beard, which made him crack a smile. “All a storm really is, Beron, is change. A change in the tune. A shift in its key. Do you understand?”


    “I understand.”


    “Good Mer.” Serana pulled gently on his beard, bringing his lips to hers for a soft kiss. Her kiss. A moment of calm quiet away from the rowdy laughter of their guests talking secret Thalmor conspiracies and other such nonsense, getting even more drunk. Serana broke the kiss and took a sip of wine. They then watched their guests, he holding her close, both content, her vampire eyes growing heavy from the steadiness of his heartbeat.  


    “So don’t think about it, Beron,” she continued after taking another sip of wine, “don’t speculate, simply let the winds carry your dragon storm and she will continue to watch you, like a silent eagle upon her perch, or perhaps one day, she will actually do something different and the meaning of her gift will reveal itself to you.”   


2 Comments   |   Meli and 7 others like this.
  • Caladran
    Caladran   ·  July 4, 2018
    Lovely chapter!
  • The Sunflower Manual
    The Sunflower Manual   ·  June 28, 2018
    Wow, Tavia, not even a little teeny bit of restraint? I guess that's
    what drink does to you, heheh. Speaking of drink, now I'm really curious
    about Argonian Bloodwine. Probably not the same if you can't get drunk,
    though... and gifts!...  more