Straag Rod: Book 1, Part 1, Chapter 7

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    Straag Rod, Book 1: Fate Goes Ever as it Must, Part 1

    Chapter 7: The Burning Sky

     

    Notes: The original title of Straag Rod, when it was posted in the Steam forums was "Of the Knight of the Crystal Tower" and an important aspect of Aelberon's past is shown in these next several chapters, which will take the reader back to the Oblivion Crisis that ended the Third Era. For this rewrite, I converted the formally omniscient PoV into standard third person limited, did research on siege defense, reread Rising Threat by Lathenil of Sunhold, and incorporated some lore introduced from ESO's Summerset chapter and other sources, with some minor adjustments to better fit my narrative vision (Bet, the cultural division between North and South, the Order of Auri-El...). These chapters are a sentimental favorite of mine and I hope you enjoy.

     

    Altmeri society is based on a sort of caste system, called echelons. The highest echelon belongs to scholars, teachers and priests, known collectively as The Wise. The bottom echelon consists of slave or indentured Nords (yes, that was a thing, though the Empire made it illegal) and goblins (gobliken) and just a bit above them are the workers, which is the echelon Aelberon's family belongs to. Nobility actually rank just below The Wise, though probably, many nobles are counted among them. Typically, you are bound to your echelon, once a carpenter, always a carpenter, so to speak, for many, many generations. As can be seen, Aelberon experiences quite a social climb in a relatively short amount of time. He overcomes his echelon, which is problematic to the status quo.

     

    A shout to Paws who created this marvelous build several years ago that encapsulates the feeling of the Crystal Tower extremely well. Aelberon is sort of their heavy armored cousin.

     

    Knight of the Crystal Tower

     

    Also, if you know the translation for Tamriel (Dawn's beauty), then you'll know that a Tam service just means a Dawn service. As he ages, Aelberon of Dusk will become particularly well-known in Summerset for his beautiful Tam service, he is a priest, after all. Lenya means mother and ata is father. Thanks for reading.

     

    Crystal-Like-Law, Summerset Isles, 433, 3E

     

    His etched silver plate armor caught the reflection of the sky while he crouched from the ledge of his post near the top of Crystal-Like-Law, the part of the Tower that held Transparent Law and the tombs of the great Aldmeri ancestors; the Tower’s “Heart”.  His hand braced against the white stone wall as he leaned precariously forward to get a better look at the horizon, his other hand resting lightly upon his bent knee. Master Lilandtar referred to the stance as his “gargoyle” pose and just imagining the old Altmer speaking the word made him smirk, but the Tower Mage was right. He could well use one of the many looking glasses scattered about the Tower’s many windows and ledges, but for this work, he would rather trust his own eyes. 

     

    The extreme heat no longer allowed the luxury of the flowing, priestly hair with a top-knot typically associated  with his Order, so instead, it was now bound, rather severely, in a series of thick braids, tight to his scalp.  His priest’s leather was interlaced between the largest central braid, safe and secure.  War braids in the tradition of the old Southern clans, brought by the Outsider from Skyrim so long ago.  Though some in the Tower Council objected to such an overtly ‘Southern’ style, a warrior needed to keep his bloody hair away from his face.  His tower cloak blew in the hot, arid breeze.  Upon his waist was sheathed a bastard sword of shining silver steel, the hilt made of joined Eagles’ wings and slung around his shoulder was a golden Elven bow and a quiver of golden arrows. He himself was as an eagle perched high in his aerie, his red-orange eyes surveying the distant horizon.  Or gargoyle, depending on the point of view. 

     

    And his keen eyes watched, squinting against the bright sky.

     

    Only it was not Magnus he was squinting against to see better. There was no sun. It was gone. Their daily shining joy to remind them of their time in the beginning, when God and Mer were nearly one. There had not been for days. Only the red flames, the churning, burning vortex of ominous clouds, dark, like burning embers upon a forge’s pit, and the searing heat.  Mocking and cruel.

     

    His hand moved slightly upon the stone wall, causing a cluster of dried leaves to burst into dust and be borne upon the torrid gust. He followed the particles as they swirled in the zephyr like a flock of birds evading a predator. They had once belonged to a living, green thing, its vines climbing the tower heights, using it as a trellis to reach Magnus, its large yellow blooms making his days on the watch pleasant with their light, crisp fragrance. They were no more, burned in the swelter, along with everything else as far as his eyes could see. The forest near the Tower where he spent many hours hidden under its dense, verdant canopy, wandering its damp, fern-covered floor when he wanted to feel soft leaves and mosses under his bare feet instead of cold hard marble was now a black, charred desolation. The many stumps now sticking up like sharp, jagged pikes. The little stream in that forest where he would fish, leaving the line idle as he lay propped against a rock or trunk reading, was now dry and cracked.  The rainbow-colored Canah birds no longer perched upon the ledge of his watch, waiting impatiently for him to offer the bread crumbs from his midday meal.

     

    Äelberon wondered if it was like this in other provinces?  Did they fare better? Or did their eyes also see nothing but burning skies and parched earth? He hoped not, not even on Summerset's worst enemies. No people deserved the sight that now greeted his eyes on a daily basis.

     

    How many days had it been? He knew not. Weeks? Months? Years? Did birthdays pass?  Were babies born into this chaos? Would burning skies be all that they would ever know? He hoped not. He prayed to Auri-El every day that it would not be this way.

     

    Time stops when you cannot see Magnus, Jone, and Jode travel the sky. When you cannot see the many jewels of the Magna-ge glisten in the velvet night.

     

    Everything just stops. 

     

    Even the great clock in the Tower, it stopped. Frozen, as if harnessed by some unknown dark power. The hands no longer moving, forever stuck on that infernal day. Twenty-seventh of Last Seed. A holiday, a holiday... the fruits of the harvest. A time to reap the land and enjoy its many blessings.

     

    Äelberon’s snow-pale face was flushed light pink with the heat and he licked his parched lips, trying in vain to wet the blisters that had formed on his lips from being at his post for too long, exposed to the hot air, but to no avail. He lacked the spit. Yet his dry, irritated eyes could not leave the multitudes of Refugees against the backdrop of the burning sky, would not leave them.  It was his duty to watch them. He watched them to make sure they arrived safely.

     

    They came in droves; some riding, some walking, some even crawling. From all parts of Summerset. The ancient cities, the tiny villages. From Cloudrest, perched upon Eton Nir, their highest peak, to Lillandril on the golden coast. From Shimmerene, Skywatch, Dusk, Firsthold, Sunhold; and even their beloved capital, Alinor, with its many delicate spires of glass and crystal. The cities were now mostly deserted, filled with piles of the dead. The great temples lay abandoned, broken. Some stalwart souls stubbornly remained to stand sentinel over what was left. 

     

    At first they tried to leave by sea for the Tamriel mainland, but the sea swallowed their ships, sending thousands more to a watery grave. But the Tower, the Tower was whole.

     

    To the North they came, or across the shallow sea if from Firsthold or Skywatch. The great Altmer migration to Crystal-Like-Law.  The last bastion of hope for their people. From all walks of life. Simple farmers, their meager possessions hoisted onto their livestock. To the grand, ancient nobles, the very Kinsmer of the great Aldmeri ancestors, who rode in horse-drawn carriages, sheltered from the blistering heat by the Nord and goblin servants who bore their great palm fans. He watched them all enter the Tower. And the Tower took them all in, like a sheltering mother and fierce father all at once, welcoming all that remained of the Sundered children of Anu. It was designed for this. It was designed to hold all their knowledge, magic, and to protect everything that was Altmer.  Including the People. And because he served the Tower, he would protect them too. With his bow, his sword, his magicks, and his life.

     

    His eyes then shifted to what lay beyond the flocks of Refugees.  That was his duty as well. To watch for Them. Their camps were just visible to his keen eyes; great portals of bright flame. The many Oblivion Gates. The demon hordes of Daedra.

     

    They were coming.

     

    Their commander was Molag Bal’s gift to Mehrunes Dagon for a successful campaign; sent to torment Summerset while Dagon’s eyes closely watched Cyrodiil. The Emperor and his heirs were dead, the Empire was in turmoil.  There would be no aid from the Mainland. The Tower’s Council of Mages and Sapiarchs, led by the Archmagister, in desperation, relinquished their authority over the Tower to the Thalmor on the promise that reinforcements would soon arrive. That was the final thing that he was dutifully watching for, for they all trusted his eyes. 

     

    And nothing...

     

    He bent his head slightly in frustration, just existing within the heat, closing his eyes and released a slow sigh before his eyes opened and found the horizon again. Not a single black and gold Thalmor banner was to be seen. Not for days. They were alone. Alone against such a horde. Alone against Molag Bal’s “gift”.

     

    Bet, the Beast.

     

    If the creature had another name, his people did not know. It did not need another name. It simply was.

     

    He had heard tales, horrible tales, from the Refugees of its vile deeds and the Beast was every bit the issue of the King of Rape. A great, hulking Dremora Lord with spiked armor like burning coals and horns on his head that spiraled like a goat. It bore a great axe that had the dark power of Coldharbour forged within its very metal. In its wake, only ash and death. Or even worse, undeath. Rumors, terrible rumors, for no one ever survived his onset. They simply fled or died or lived on to serve the Monster, mindless, soulless... 

     

    Bet… Äelberon set his jaw and bent his head, his eyes now on the masses of Altmer seeking refuge, waiting to be processed so they could be allowed into Crystal-Like-Law. 

     

    The Beast was coming.

     

    “There are more and more of them every day, Äelberon. The Tower cannot possibly hold them all...”

     

    Äelberon turned, still bracing himself on the ledge. Vingalmo had joined him, peering over it cautiously, his golden, Elven armor cast in an orange light. He looked troubled, his refined Altmeri features puffy from the excessive heat. 

     

    “Aye, they are, friend.” Äelberon nodded, resuming his watch. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught Vingalmo leaning over to peer over the edge again and he heard the tiny gust of air that came from the young Kinsmer’s nostrils. He could not help the smirk that found his features, the mischief already in his eyes. 

     

    Galmo was never fond of heights. Ironic being that his good friend hailed from Cloudrest, a city upon a tall mountain. He shook his head and smiled, ‘twould be like him fearing water. Ah, to swim the cool, crystal waters of Dusk now…

     

    There was, and would always be room in his heart for jest, no matter how dark the circumstance. To not smile anymore, aye, would be admitting defeat...

     

    “Don’t fall!” Äelberon called out suddenly, doing his best to sound alarmed.

     

    The Kinsmer stumbled and immediately backed away from the ledge, making Äelberon explode with laughter. 

     

    “Xarxes’ arse! Don’t fucking do that.”

     

    “I think yer heart is verily at yer throat, eh Caemal?” Slipping into his Dusken accent just for the fun of it. A reminder of their time at the Training Center. Better times.

     

    “I hate you.” Vingalmo frowned. 

     

    “Galmo, there’s a ledge, a high, sturdy ledge.” The Dusken pointed out, rolling his eyes. “Ya couldn’t fall, even if ya bloody tried.” 

     

    “How about I make you clean my chamber pot again?” The Kinsmer flashed his own perfect white teeth in a grin, a gesture unheard of for a Northerner of a noble house, his golden eyes narrowing with his own brand of mischief. And aye, one day, soon, you will be pranked, good and proper, Dusken.

     

    “Worth it for yer face alone. That was priceless.” The older Mer laughed, “Soil yerself?”

     

    Vingalmo checked quickly. A spontaneous reaction, which just made Äelberon laugh again, slapping his hand on his thigh. “Ya’re too easy, Galmo.” 

     

    The golden Mer shook his finger at him in a threat, raising his arched brow. “One day, I will get even.” 

     

    “Uh huh… sure, when pigs fly, friend...” 

     

    “Do you see them, Ronnie?” Vingalmo asked, approaching the ledge again, squinting, his tone now sober. “The Thalmor?”

     

    “No, Galmo.” He answered softly, leaning against the wall of the tower, trying to find a cool patch upon the stone. There was none. “They do not come.”

     

    “They’ll come. They promised.” Vingalmo assured. 

     

    “Hmm…perhaps, but they are not here now. I must report what I see, not was was hoped.” 

     

    “Aye…” Vingalmo’s voice trailed off. 

     

    Äelberon was not so sure the Thalmor would come. He was with Rynandor on this, on the matter of giving the Thalmor control of the Tower. He did not like it, not one bit. The Thalmor were a political, but vocal minority in Summerset politics. A group who primarily investigated incidents with the goal of safeguarding Altmeri heritage, but they were used to being the executors of law, the right hand of power. It was a rank denied them since his Homeland’s incorporation into Septim’s Empire and Äelberon’s gut told him that they wanted that back. 

     

    “And do you also see?” Vingalmo then whispered, bringing the Tower Knight out of his political musings.

     

    “Yes,” His tone grew serious, pointing to the distance. “There, Galmo. Do you see the very bright fires? Lighter than what burns the sky? Near the horizon? Those fires are not in the sky, but ground level. Those are the gates. That is where they are camping. It is closer than it was yesterday. They are headed this way.”

     

    The Kinsmer scanned the distance, but his shaking head told Äelberon that he did not see what was by now, so burned into his mind. “By the Gods you have the eyes of an eagle. I see nothing. It all looks like fire to me.

     

    “I wish I did not.” Äelberon replied, stepping down from the window’s ledge, his eyes finding the churning, burning sky. “I wish I could not see them.” He said quietly. “I wish I was blind and that all this was not happening…”

     

    “Aye. Under all this light and heat and yet, it is still such darkness.” Vingalmo sighed, putting his hands upon the ledge and leaning. Both were feeling the great heaviness of being alive at this time, both knew it would define them, haunt them for the rest of their days. The Knights of the Crystal Tower. Powerless. Vingalmo shifted position, leaning more on one hand than the other, his golden eyes far away. “Do you regret it?” he asked.

     

    The decision that had changed both their lives.

     

    “No.” He replied. 

     

    Vingalmo smiled warmly, putting a hand on his shoulder. “Ronnie?”

     

    “Aye?”

     

    “I only regret that you didn't take a proper shit that day.” Äelberon rolled his eyes, totally taken by surprise, which only made the Kinsmer sneer with glee. “Got you, got you good. You thought I was going to be all sentimental, eh?”

     

    “Ya better watch yer back, Caemal.” 

     

    “Not if I don’t get you first.” Vingalmo then gestured with his head toward the entryway of the Tower. “Go, Ronnie. You are blushing pinker than a matron on the hooka from all this heat and your lips are practically split. Inform the Tower Council and the Archmagister. Then take a rest and drink something cold. I will keep watch.” 

     

    ***

     

    Rynandor the Bold watched their frenzied discussion come to an abrupt end when his Tower Knight strode into their conference room.  No tiny Phynaster’s steps, all warrior, all priest. Though he bore the strain of the extreme heat upon his flushed and chapped face, the Mer, a good head taller than most Altmer, still cut an imposing image in his silver plate armor, the noble, beardless face made of harsh lines, his war braids on full display. The pride of Dusk.

     

    The Tower Knight bowed out of respect. “Archmagister.” If he was parched, the clear and low voice betrayed nothing.

     

    Rynandor turned away to face a window. Burning sky was all that greeted his eyes and he closed them in an attempt to block the image, but he could still see the cast of what he saw, the reflection. It was pointless, so he opened them, and again faced the burning sky.  

     

    “Knight-Paladin Äelberon, what news?” Rynandor solemnly asked, not even bothering to turn from the window.  He had taken to calling Äelberon by his full rank within the Order since the skies began their burn. The People needed to be reminded of the true faith of the five, for many had turned to Daedra worship in the years preceding, turned to the weakness of the Imperial Eight, or worse, the Nine and the Archmagister wondered, at times, if this was what caused all the ill upon  their Homeland. Turning away from what was right, what was tradition. So he used young Äelberon’s rank as a constant reminder, a reminder that Auri-El’s way could still belong to their land. 

     

    And walk in Auri-El’s way the Knight-Paladin certainly did. 

     

    “Yes, Archmagister.” Äelberon nodded, now acknowledging the other gathered Mages and Sapiarchs of the Tower, his gauntleted hand on the gilded hilt of his bastard sword. Rynandor had watched the Dusken’s mother slave over the forge to make that weapon. It was so utterly beautiful, so exquisitely made that High Chancellor Ocato himself had asked for a copy, offering to pay the lady a full years’ wages to make him the sword’s brother.  

     

    She refused, declaring that only her son would ever wield its likeness. 

     

    The Chancellor was a kind Mer, very understanding of a mother’s devotion to her son. Another Mer would have punished her defiance, for she was not of high station. Rynandor, by then, was already used to the stubbornness of Duskens.

     

    “The Thalmor? They have arrived then?” Asked one of the Tower Mages, interrupting Rynandor’s thoughts.

     

    Rynandor stroked his long beard and pulled himself from the window to face the Knight-Paladin. Only forty-two, so young to have such a title, the youngest ever to have successfully walked the Chantry in his first attempt. The Knight-Paladin turned to address the Mage who had asked the question.

     

    “No, Master, no Thalmor banners.”

     

    The room erupted in commotion at the Knight-Paladin’s words. Angry outcries for putting their trust in another faction vied against rallies for continued Thalmor support. They were immediately silenced when the Archmagister waved his hand. He then tucked both hands within his bell sleeves, his face projecting the placid calm worthy of a Leader among the Wise.

     

    “There is more?” Rynandor pressed.

     

    Äelberon nodded. “Yes, there is more, Archmagister. The Oblivion gates are now visible from the South. And their camps are closer than they were yesterday. They are coming.”

     

    “Are you sure?” Asked another mage. “Perhaps the boy is mistaken.”

     

    Rynandor frowned. Only I get to call him ‘boy’ . “If my Tower Knight speaks it, then you should know by now that he is bound by his Holy Order to speak only in Truths.”  

     

    The mage bowed in apology. “I didn't mean to imply doubt, Archmagister,” a cursory glance at  Äelberon and another small bow, just with the head. “Knight-Paladin.” 

     

    “So, they are finally coming.” Rynandor repeated his Tower Guard’s words, betraying nothing of the frantic planning his mind was now embarking on to his fellow council members. 

     

    “Then we must fortify our defenses and devise escape routes for the citizens.” Spoke Master Lilandtar, holding his head high in defiance. “We have the best soldiers and Mages in all of Tamriel. We are Summerset. We are Altmer. We do not need the Thalmor wiping our noses.” There was some light laughter in the room at Lilandtar’s harsh words, but also grumbles of protest. 

     

    “You protest?” His apple green eyes suddenly narrowed in scrutiny. “They are clearly not here. Which means that they have been beaten.” 

     

    “We do not know that.” Argued another mage.

     

    “They may still come.” Said another.

     

    “I say, let the Daedra come, and let them know fear…” 

     

    Rynandor faced the window again, stroking his beard. “Master Lilandtar is correct in that we cannot rely on the Thalmor at this point. We must assume the worst, that they are gone. Knowing this, our thoughts must go to the People under our care, towards their preservation. The preservation of us.” He nodded. “You are dismissed, Knight-Paladin, leave us to discuss what is to be done.” 

     

    The young Mer bowed low. “Your command, Archmagister.” 

     

    ***

     

    He stood at the edge of the battlements at the base of the Tower with thousands upon thousands of his fellow Altmer soldiers. His silver plate armor a sharp contrast to the sea of golden Elven that stretched far and wide. They were joined by ranks of armored trolls, the trebuchet and catapults already positioned behind them. 

     

    A great wall, dotted by cylindrical parapets at regular intervals was now part of the Tower’s reinforced base, encircling it, providing the Tower with an extra measure of defense. Äelberon despised the how of it, however, that it was not built from the cooperation of those facing a common enemy, but from the labor of those who were not in a position to refuse the order. Southern and Slave alike broke backs over the brick and wood he now stood upon. And some had died. It made Äelberon feel hard his own echelon again, having hushed angry words with the Archmagister when private doors were closed. Would his family be next to give while others did nothing? Did the Tower Council so quickly forget what Dusk and Sunhold had given in blood and service to Summerset for eras, fought their wars? That the Nords and gobliken indentured to serve were not less than Man or Mer under the law of the Empire?

     

    The Archmagister assured him ‘no’ and then they apologized profusely to each other, the great mage, through uncustomary tears, begging him to call him “‘Nandor”, telling him that he could not bare that he had hurt the Mer he now considered kin. And they shared a smoke in silence, a new understanding between them.  The Archmagister was forgiven, because he was family now, but it did not stop Äelberon from thinking on what had been done. It did not stop him from vowing to fight harder for those who had given up so much. So he, though a member of the Wise, and therefore, to be protected, instead chose to stand with his fellow soldiers. 

     

    Waiting. 

     

    Watching. 

     

    For days. 

     

    For forever it seemed, to Äelberon, though without the sun there was no real way to measure the passage of time. It had to be days. The Daedric armies had been advancing steadily toward Crystal-Like-Law, an Oblivion army of smoke and inferno and Bet was among them, the one purple flame of Coldharbour.  As stark against Dagon’s red fire as Äelberon’s silver was against his people’s gold. Undeath within the fires of Oblivion. 

     

    Yet now they stopped. They stopped at the expanse of charred, black trunks and ventured no further. Cowards, just beyond his arrow's reach.  Profaning that once lovely forest with their filth.  Äelberon scanned the dense sea of burnt, broken stumps, squinting as the light from the fiery sky hit his eyes.  He needed a better view.

     

    “Fal!” He commanded.

     

    His battle troll lumbered to him, his white, shaggy coat contrasting with his sturdy plate armor.

     

    “Up!”

     

    Without hesitation, the troll offered the Mer its arm and in a fluid motion, Äelberon vaulted onto the troll’s shoulders, balancing. The added height gave him a better vantage point. The beast snorted beneath him, bearing the Dusken’s full weight upon one shoulder with ease. 

     

    They had fought together for the better part of two years, suppressing two attacks on the Tower by The Beautiful, a dissident group bent on seeing the Tower fall. And when they were joined by Archmagister Rynandor the Bold, the trio was deadly. It was the way they did battle. They had foot soldiers, pikemer and archers, siege weapons and even cavalry, but the most deadly were these such combinations. A troll for brute strength. A Tower Knight for close combat and marksmership, and finally a Master Mage or Sapiarch of Tower. Both troll and Tower Knight were to protect the mage at all costs. Rynandor was still at the top of the tower, watching the  battlements from one of its many balconies. Ready to magically recall to Äelberon’s side should the need arise.

     

    Äelberon scrutinized the charred, leafless trees nearest to the battlements and readied his bow with a single arrow imbued with frost magicks, catching the attention of his fellow soldiers. Some conjured bows in response, while others conjured swords. The flame atronach was so close, leaving a trail of flame in her wake. gliding gracefully through the blackened stumps, teasing him with her nearness. He could hit her if she just moved a bit closer. The bow was raised, but he had yet to draw, feeling the anticipation build in his comrades. Would he strike the first blow for his people, the Dusken?  The Pale Elf as some had taken to calling him. Would he do it? Äelberon could hear their whispers, feel their looks.

     

    He certainly wanted to. 

     

    For his People, for his Homeland. She came closer and he drew his golden bow, hearing gasps from his fellow soldiers. 

     

    Let me strike the first blow, my Lord , he prayed, taking aim, let this war be over, for good or for ill. 

     

    As if she knew what he most deeply wanted, the atronach retreated back to the shadows of the skeletal forest, back to her Demon Master lurking his burnt refuge. Back to Bet. Äelberon relaxed his bow, his face darkening with anger, hardening the angles of his face.

     

    Äelberon  cursed, leaping off Fal to storm back into the Tower. He was angry and angry Mer made poor fighters, his old Master, Kahlailas, used to always say when his temper would get the better of him. Go cool off. Go do something other than stand and wait. 

     

    He was greeted with the fear and despair that permeated the air of the Tower.  Refugees waited in terror, dirty, eyes wide, flinching as he approached and that softened him immediately. You are their protector, their advocate, not someone to fear. It was as if all the beauty of the Tower, all the goodness of Her Knights, all the goodness of the building itself, with its white marble and crystal walls, carved, seamless, were now a mockery of the ugliness that was the predicament of the People Crystal-Like-Law sheltered. He stopped and just looked around, taking the sight in, reminding himself of his duty to them, the duty as outlined in his Tenets. 

     

    Refugees were everywhere, huddled against each other for protection and comfort, and their eyes spoke such volumes to Äelberon. Some eyes were wide with fear, some eyes barely contained anger, and some eyes… some eyes were just glazed over and empty, they had given up. 

     

    “Walk always in the light of Mercy and Compassion, so that all may bear witness to His true goodness.” Äelberon murmured, remembering his favorite Tenet of his Order.

     

    Walk the words of this Tenet most, my boy, and all the rest will come together. Said with an easy smile from Master Kahlailas.  Life lessons learned, not within the walls of a formal temple, but fishing side by side in the early morning hours before Tam service, feet bare, humble with the world. 

     

    Äelberon eyes focused on a Mer in the corner, face grimy, blond hair matted, clutching his bleeding arm. He leaned against the cold marble wall, trembling in shock, for he had no one, though he wore the colors of a noble house. He looked to be around Äelberon’s age, but it was clear that he knew nothing of hunger and struggle, never knew the pain of summers where the fish refused to bite, when all there was to eat was rice flavored with dried wisteria blossoms. Until now. 

     

    He approached the Mer and knelt beside him only for the Mer to cower away from him, fearful of his touch. The wound was not from a Daedra, which meant only one thing. 

     

    Xarxes’ arse, Äelberon shook his head in disappointment, he would have to discuss this yet again with Rynandor. Morale was so low that skirmishes between the soldiers and the Refugees were now commonplace. He had been doing much in the way of crowd control in these last days, but even his rank as Knight-Paladin within the Order was being tested by insubordinates. 

    “Who struck you?”

     

    The Mer only shook his head, unwilling to answer, and the Knight-Paladin sighed. Not all kept his Tenets and that was a grave disappointment. Aye, he would need to bring this up with the Archmagister. It made everyone’s jobs far more difficult. He raised his hand slowly and moved the bloodied hair from the Mer’s face, exposing a gash on his forehead. The Mer was shaking now, with tears in his eyes. Äelberon’s face became grim, what had been done to make a grown Mer tremble so? What had been done by his own people? The enemy was out there, under the burning sky, not the innocents seeking refuge in the Tower.

     

    “You need not fear me.” Äelberon whispered gently. “I will speak to the Archmagister about what has happened, but first, you need help. I will be right back.”

     

    He got up to fetch a large bowl of water and some rags and knelt again near the Mer, seeing the Mer’s eyes go wide with recognition and dammit, he could feel his ears start to turn pink.

     

    “You are the Pale Elf.” The Mer gasped. 

     

    Äelberon gave the Mer an uncomfortable nod of acknowledgment and set himself to the task at hand, removing his gauntlets to make things easier, to give the Mer the benefit of his direct touch.

     

    “You are the Eagle. I saw you when I came. Perched above, so high.” 

     

    “That is my post, and…” He chuckled while he dipped a rag in the bowl of water. “It is nothing so fancy. I am nothing like the great birds that circle our Tower. Where are you from, friend?”  Äelberon asked, ringing the cool water from the rag. He then applied it to the head wound.

     

    “Sunhold.” He managed, wincing when the rag touched his head. Good, he knows where he is from , Äelberon thought, the damage is not too bad. He decided to continue the conversation, however, to further assess the injured Mer. Head injuries were never to be taken lightly.

     

    Äelberon flashed his teeth in a hearty grin that betrayed his own heritage, very satisfied that the young Mer was not so stuffy to acknowledge a true southern smile. “Ah, a fellow Southerner. A beautiful city, Sunhold. My ancestors hailed from there, many, many years ago, and I have stopped there many times on journeys home when I was training at Alinor. Give praise at its fine temple. I am from  its younger sister.” 

     

    “Dusk.” The noble nodded, understanding. 

     

    “We are a long way from home, eh?”

     

    A melancholy smile passed through the young Mer’s features. “I miss it so much.”

     

    Äelberon paused from cleaning the wound. “You know what I miss?”

     

    “What?”

     

    “The Sea. I miss the blue, blue Sea.” He resumed cleaning the wound, the tone of his voice turning wistful as he spoke. “I miss the Sea at sunset as my father and I hoisted in the day’s catch onto the boat. Aye, she was a fine boat, yar. And the Sea was so cool. We always indulged in a swim after a hard day’s toil.” His tone then changed, becoming more playful, “And… I also miss honey nut treats. Have not had those in weeks. I do not much care for sweetrolls, which is all they have here now.” Ah, now there’s a true southern boy, ya made a face too, eh? “’Tis a Northern thing, this fondness for sweetrolls…” He grumbled, feeling his eyes twinkle with mischief.

     

    “I wish I could go home.” The young noble sighed as Äelberon finished cleaning the gash on his head.

     

    “You will return, I promise. What is your name, friend?”

     

    “Lathenil.”

     

    “Well Lathenil of Sunhold, friend from the South, I am Äelberon of Dusk. Give me your arm, Lathenil, I need to cleanse here too,” he decided to lighten the mood. “Canna go healin’ that with bits of dirt inside, now can I?” Lathenil laughed at the accent. “Aye, ‘tis a thick Dusken speech I’ve got.” 

     

    “It was barely noticeable.” The noble remarked. “Especially in the beginning.” 

     

    “They nearly beat it out of me.” Äelberon joked. “Nearly.” He added with a wink.

     

    Äelberon gently took Lathenil’s arm and cleaned it with water, drying it carefully with another clean rag. When he finished, he put the bowl with the bloody rags down and looked into Lathenil’s amber eyes.

     

    “Now, Lathenil, I need you to hold still for me.” Another grin, perhaps a bit thick on the fun, but that was always his bedside manner, much to the chagrin of some of the other healing Masters. Worked wonders on children, but adults with a good sense of humor appreciated it as well. “Need ta make sure things heal in the right spot,eh? Don’t  want a wee arm growing where it shouldn’t”  There was a brief flicker of literal dread in Lathenil’s eyes, that Äelberon admitted was sort of fun to witness,  before the noble finally understood the joke and laughed aloud, resulting in the body relaxing, which is exactly what Äelberon wanted to happen. He could feel the tension escape the Mer and the Priest of Auri-El then set to work, his left hand beginning to glow, his magicks searching through the torn flesh on both head and arm, finding the best ways to reconnect and heal, rebuilding tissue and blood. While he worked, he offered Auri-El prayers, moving his lips silently. The young Mer was staring at the wound on his arm, watching it close before his eyes, the exposed bone covered again. With a final flare of magicks, both wounds were completely sealed and Äelberon released a content sigh, thanking his Lord for giving him strength and the opportunity to do his work. 

     

    “Better?” Äelberon raised his eyebrows while he fastened his gauntlets.

     

    Lathenil nodded and Äelberon could see the awe in the noble’s eyes. The respect. He shook his head, dismissing it almost shyly. “Nah, don’t think it’s anything special, friend. I’m just His servant. He’s the real master, the great power that makes me possible. He’s the law of this Tower. Trust in his path, Lathenil of Sunhold, and anyone can walk the world right.”  Äelberon then stood tall and offered Lathenil his hand. Noble clasped the hand of a fishermer and was lifted up by it. The clasp morphed into a sound shake, a Southern shake and both Mer smiled because the touch was certainly observed.  

     

    “May the Southern skies always be welcoming, friend. May the honey nut treats always be warm and sticky,” Lathenil offered, still clasping Äelberon’s hand. 

     

    They both laughed and Äelberon released first, making his way towards the steps that led deeper into the Tower. 

     

    “And may Auri-El forever guide you.”

     

    ***

     

    He’s not aware of you yet, Rynandor smiled, watching the boy who knelt before the shrine to Auri-El near the Ancestors’ tombs and his study. Praying. So the Archmagister approached silently and knelt next to the youngling. Always good to pray. 

     

    Rynandor saw the fatigue on the youngling’s face as he recited the tenets of his Holy Order under his breath, the keen red-orange eyes almost doggedly unwavering upon the shrine’s form. He’s completely aware of you now, he’s just not letting it disturb his prayers, Rynandor smirked. When the boy did not fight, he prayed. And when he did not pray, he read. 

     

    Xarxes’ arse, a voracious reader indeed. From the moment he set foot in Crystal-Like-Law, Äelberon of Dusk read.  And they had called the Dusken dumb. You did too . The youngling spent more time in the Great Library than Rynandor did and he was Archmagister. Rynandor’s gaze turned tender when he saw that the youngling had finished his tenets. The boy was tired.  All day at the battlements and now healing. Being both a soldier and a priest was no simple task, he was being pulled in two directions. And in the evening, aye, he would then go to the Great Library, spend his nights under the burning sky reading, learning. 

     

    “You’ve been healing again.” The Old Mage questioned, thoughtfully stroking his long, light blond beard.

     

    The boy sighed, his forehead creasing with concern. If he didn’t stop that habit, his face would become well-lined before sixty and while lines were a mark of respect in Altmer in their eighth century, they marked a Mer of the lower echelons if they appeared within the first century.  Rynandor could already see the beginnings of a permanent line starting to form on the Elf’s pale forehead. The skin, though far too fair, was of excellent quality, healthy and smooth. The boy did not need lines marring it. It would not help him later.

     

    “I cannot help it, they are desperate. Both the refugees and the soldiers.” 

     

    “Another incident?” 

     

    The Knight-Paladin nodded, blowing out a gust of air. “I counsel against it. The Refugees are under our care, our protection, but some say the stress is too great, that they need release. I tell them ‘no’, that they are not the enemy, not to be treated that way, neither are the slave Nords and gobliken that Auri-El only knows why, still serve some of them. The enemy is what lies at the horizon,” Äelberon chewed the inside of his lip, betraying his frustration. “I just do not understand, Archmagister. I thought…”

     

    “That this crisis would unite us, son?” 

     

    Äelberon looked so incredibly tired then,  his youthful brow gaining yet another line. “Aye. I thought.” He replied, unconsciously running his fingers through his hair, finding his priestly leather intertwined within a braid, his long white fingers lingering on the worn lacing. The action made Rynandor think of his grand niece, how she did the same action, trying to find comfort. “It hurts. They are my people, it hurts to see them cause pain against each other.” 

     

    It was the old Mage’s turn to bend his head. “It does, son, but even we have had to overcome our own difficulties in this Great Crisis, have we not?” 

     

    “Ah, Archmagister, you do not need to bring that up. It is long forgiven.”

     

    “But it should never be forgotten, lest we repeat the ill.” 

     

    “I understand.” 

     

    “Good.” 

     

    The Knight-Paladin’s fingers left the lacing and then moved to rub his forehead and Rynandor could sense the pressure building behind the boy’s skull. The Archmagister put a hand on his Tower Knight’s shoulder. “Ronnie, come inside my study. Share a spot of tea with me.” 

     

    The boy’s instinct was to fight it and say he was fine, to return to his post, but the young Altmer let his broad shoulders stoop and with a final kiss to the shrine, he rose with Rynandor, following the old Sapiarch to his study. 

     

    Rynandor the Bold was Archmagister of Crystal-Like-Law, but his study was not the most elaborate there. That honor belonged to Lilandtar of Cloudrest, Lord of House Larethian, whose study was covered in gilded artifacts and silken tapestries. Satin pillows, satin sheets, and ornately carved furniture from the exotic Easter provinces. In strange, vivid shades of gold, purple, green, and orange. In contrast, Ryandor the Bold’s study was austere by Altmeri standards, just simple wooden furniture and walls of bookshelves in a dark finish. But it was a typical mage’s study nevertheless in that it was a sea of scrolls, books, papers, and drying ink wells that were never quite closed properly. Äelberon, of course, because he was just as much of an Altmer as could be expected, closed a half-full inkwell absently, making the old mage smile. 

     

    And when young Äelberon of Dusk was not at the Great Library, he was in Rynandor’s study. Learning, despite telling Rynandor on many occasions that he had loathed school. Yet he loved learning. Rynandor smiled again, learning was not school and he knew Altmeri schools well enough to know why the boy had despised it. A mind like Äelberon’s would have been stifled, for it did not quite work in the same fashion. 

     

    They learned quickly when they arrived at the Tower of the boy’s ‘affliction’. He had earned poor marks in school, not for a lack of intelligence, but for the great font that was his memory. The lad remembered everything, every book he read, every day of his life, every meal he consumed, on what day it was consumed even. Now, Altmer were well-known for their memories, but the boy’s level of recollection was unheard of. To some, the affliction would have been a permanent burden, a permanent fog of jumbled memories, never knowing when a memory would surface and hinder daily function. He told Rynandor of hours spent at school just remembering, uncontrolled, closed off to the rest of the world. But with hard work and Curate Kahlailas’ guidance, and now Rynandor’s, young Äelberon had taken the affliction and turned it on its head, using it to his advantage. 

     

    So he read. Everything he could get his hands on, sometimes seeming more mage than warrior in his habits, not sleeping, forgetting to eat, so he could read more.  A warrior with a mage’s disposition. A terrible combination, thought Rynandor and likely the cause for the boy’s severe headaches. But Äelberon was undaunted, working through the pain, continuing to read, as if he wanted it all to sink in ‘before it was too late’. Before it was too late, a strange phrase for the boy to utter and Rynandor wondered sometimes if some gift of foresight was also coming into play. 

     

    Rynandor the Bold struggled with his own curse of foresight. He was a seer-mage, and it was something he would not wish on any other, for it was entirely too cruel. The visions, the premonitions often kept him up at night. It prevented remarriage, the promise of a lasting legacy, because why himself through that again? Their deaths, deaths that he knew would come to pass and yet could do nothing to prevent. He slammed the door to those dark thoughts. Tea, it was time for tea. 

     

    The Archmagister reached for his trusty tea pot, pushing aside a sea of paperwork to get to it. He smiled when he noticed that it was already filled with fresh water. The boy’s doing, no doubt. How many pots today for you already today, Rynandor? Eh? It was pot four. He let the heat build in his hands as he held the teapot between his palms. Moments later, water boiled, though he felt nothing, his hands shielded against the build up of heat. The neat little tricks of an old Tower Sapiarch. His golden eyes spied the two satchels and the two cups already on the table, ready for the water. Boy was quick and yet, Rynandor saw no steel-plated hands place the items there. He knew how it was accomplished and nodded in approval. Very well done, Ronnie, very well done. What had started as simple parlor tricks were quickly becoming utility. One day, you will verily move mountains, boy . The mage’s eyes glanced towards the shelves, seeing the silver plate of his armor. 

     

    There you are .

     

    He did not want to get to the point of the conversation and the point of Äelberon being in his study. Not quite yet. He was enjoying this little moment of ‘normal’ in their lives, so the Archmagister decided to begin with Altmeri small talk. 

     

    “I saw you at the Library yesterday.”

     

    The old mage immediately saw a sly smile pass through the young Mer’s features. The boy was tracing the leather spine of a book with his finger, noting its title. No doubt reading the book once more in his mind, every word memorized. 

     

    “I am at the Great Library every day, Master.” 

     

    Rynandor the Bold chuckled.

     

    It had been a running joke among Master Mages and Soldiers of the Tower alike. How long would it take the poor, simple Dusken to read every book in the Great Library? A thousand years? Two thousand? Money was even collected, bets struck. Rynandor, in the beginning, had even put his own wager in, for he also thought it was a silly undertaking. Dubbed the folly of a Country Elf who didn’t know any better. But two years later, Rynandor now saw the value of it and he could sense the ‘Country Elf’ was nearly done with such a monumental feat. Not the simple warrior they had originally thought him to be, but instead possessing of a most brilliant, if unconventional, mind.  

     

    Rynandor sat heavily at his desk, his thin shoulders stooped and Äelberon leaned against its edge casually, crossing his arms over his chest. The two cups of steeping tea then moved towards them, the boy biting his lower lip in concentration. A cup stopped just in front of the Archmagister. Another cup ended its journey near Äelberon’s hip, where it was promptly picked up. Rynandor held the steeping tea and took a long sip, savoring a job well done. 

     

    “You’re a proper mage now, Ronnie, you can make a spot of tea.” 

     

    The boy laughed. “I guess so, though I think the Tower Guard will not appreciate me going mage. And I still cannot heat it up. Fire still alludes me, though I will still read the tome on occasion.” 

     

    “Even I struggle at times to figure out where you will fit best, boy.” Rynandor took another sip. “And I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing. Cannot deny the skills of both body and mind. However, I think this phase of your training is important and we should continue our lessons, the burning sky be damned.” The Archmagister grinned and took another sip. With a nod of pride, he set the cup down. “Besides, you make a fine tea, and there is nothing wrong with preparing a fire the conventional way to heat the water.” 

     

    Another laugh from the warrior-mage and they enjoyed their comfortable silence. It was difficult to place Ronnie from a magical perspective. The boy showed an almost comical lack of aptitude in some schools, skills his fellow soldiers often took for granted; Destruction, Conjuration, Illusion, Alteration. On the other hand, besides the healing and priestly magicks passed down from Curate, Kahlailas, Äelberon was proving to be a rather potent Mystic, an unpopular and dying school, possessing an almost uncanny ability to see patterns in the magical chaos. As if he understood the chaos, or, Rynandor lowered his brow, related to it in some way. 

     

    “Master?”

    “Hmm?”  Rynandor glanced in the youth’s direction and then shook his head, dismissing his title with a wave of his hand. “We are alone, Ronnie, no Master here. Remember, we are kin now.” 

     

    “Alright, Nandor. You need a smoke?” The young Mer raised his eyebrows in question. 

     

    Duskens are a bloody blunt bunch. Boy perceived his weariness already and Rynandor the Bold sank back in his chair, closing his eyes, allowing his stoic facade to crumble. “Aye, as much as you do probably. It was a difficult meeting today.”

     

    “Do they have a plan?” 

     

    “They have several possible scenarios.”

     

    “And will the families be compensated? For the battlements?” 

     

    The other pressing question and the one that nagged the most on young Ronnie’s mind.

     

    “Yes, there will be compensation. A majority was achieved.” Just barely , sighed Rynandor, but the youth didn’t need to know that. It was curious that Lilandtar ended up footing most of the funds to compensate the families of the workers who had died and, of course, not wanting to be outdone by Lord Larethian, others in the Council followed suit. The people who sacrificed for the battlements were not being honored for their sacrifice, but because the Wise would not dare risk the wound to their pride.

     

    “Thank you, ‘Nandor. That means a great deal to me.” 

     

    “Then aye, reward this old Mage with a proper smoke, and take one for yourself. My apologies for introducing you to the disgusting habit. Your poor Ata too.” He chortled. 

     

    “No one put a sword to our heads, Nandor.” 

     

    “True, but I can tell she doesn’t approve.” 

     

    “She thinks it smells atrocious. Especially the skooma.” 

     

    “Well, she’s not wrong. Lenyas seldom are.” Rynandor straightened in his chair, realizing that he would have to get to the point of the boy’s visit. “Did she bring her trade tools? Your Lenya? How is she liking the stove? Are the quarters now too cramped? I did not want her staying at the lower levels. I know you would worry. And so would I, especially with the increased skirmishes, bad business, that.” 

     

    Something a little hard flashed in the boy’s expression and Rynandor wondered if he had again made a mistake with his wording. But the hardness quickly passed and the boy bowed his head in appreciation, though he did not make eye contact. “Master. We are comfortable. Thank you. And yes, she brought her tools.”  

     

    They were indeed cramped in those tiny quarters, but neither Dusken would ever admit it. But at least they were away from the rabble down below, the fighting and on that, Rynandor was relieved. They would make due for now and when the Crisis was over, he would reward Ronnie with his own quarters in the Tower’s upper floors as befitting his current echelon, not the converted closet of Rynandor’s own study that the young Mer was in now.  

     

    “She will make me fish?” It suddenly came out, but Rynandor could not help it. His own pressing question for the day, so to speak.

     

    Äelberon burst out laughing as he sluggishly slid from the desk to fetch the pipes. “You must really need smokes, Nandor, if you are even asking that question. Of course she will cook for you. Silly to even ask.”

     

    “I had missed it.” 

     

    “So did I. I am happy she, at least, is here.” 

     

    “You are eating well, then?” 

     

    “Aye, I am eating well. She brought much from the south in her wagon, Southern comforts, at least in my eyes, though I think the oxen used to drive it were later slaughtered for food. A gift to the Tower.”

     

    The mage’s brow raised in surprise.  “ That was generous of her.” 

     

    “Generous of Dusk , it was the city’s gift to the Tower. Oxen are oxen, they feed many, fresh meat is rare, and the Tower’s resources are beginning to dwindle.” He replied.

     

    The Archmagister nodded and he was again blown away by the simple, yet direct generosity of Summerset’s poorest city. “Do not fret, son, we can still access the menagerie, if food stores dip too low.” He smirked. “How do you like your indrik?”

    “I have not tried indrik.” 

     

    “For all their grace in appearance, they are tough, bloody tough.” 

     

    “Surely, we will not eat the eagles and gryphons? They are sacred.” The boy’s look of concern was genuine.

     

    “What was it your family used to eat? When the fish wouldn’t bite?” Rynandor asked absently, avoiding answering Ronnie’s question, because it weighed too heavily upon him. If this dragged out for much longer, the Altmer would be forced to do many things.

     

    “Rice with dried wisteria.” 

     

    The old mage’s expression grew thoughtful. “That doesn’t sound half bad. Has a very pleasant smell, if I recall. I wouldn’t mind if we were reduced to that, but I think we will be eating far worse before it’s over, skeever, maybe rats. Best we enjoy what we have now, Ronnie.” He gave the youth a nod and a wink. “And that includes the smokes.” 

     

    Their pipes were set on the Archmagister’s desk along with a vial of strong Corinthian skooma, and a look of expectation from the boy, making Rynandor’s thin shoulders shake with a silent chuckle. 

     

    “Needing the strong stuff today, eh?” 

     

    “My apologies, Master, I was thinking that you perhaps did. Would you like Elves ears instead?” He replied, reaching for the vial to put it away. Rynandor stopped the hand with a look and grabbed the vial, along with Äelberon’s pipe. I will prepare your pipe first, boy.

     

    “I would prefer you slept soundly tonight, Ronnie. And I could stand to rest myself. She will smell it. Hmm, the outside may cover it up. I think we will be fine.” 

     

    “Perhaps.”  

     

    Rynandor was allowed into their family when the youngling took his Holy Orders, walking the Chantry just last year, and he remembered fondly the time spent with Ronnie’s family in their home near Dusk. 

     

    The Point, a large rocky grotto that was the southernmost tip of the Isles. An ugly, dirty cave to those who chose not to venture inside, to those who chose to judge before knowing, but to Rynandor, it was a place verily touched by Nirn’s grace. Under filtered sunshine, the interior of the grotto consisted of several tiny, tiny islands, interconnected by flexible bridges of wood and rope, and covered in clinging wisteria, windswept myrtle, mosses, ferns, all growing with an unrestrained, wild balance. Upon the largest central island, stood a great golden wisteria tree, its blossoms raining perpetual showers, the nightly roosting place of many preening canah birds. Nestled under the tree’s great canopy was a humble home, a miniature reflection of Dusk’s quaint architecture with its rustic wood and shingled roofs. And within that home? The most welcoming hearth Rynandor had ever seen in all his seven hundred and twenty-nine years. There, he ate, drank, enjoyed himself, and Introduced the lovely, gods-fearing family that dwelled inside to all of his despicable mage’s habits. Ata and son took to them like Khajiits take to sugar. The lenya did not. Always the bloody lenyas.  He saw the youngling’s face grow serious again as he handed the lit pipe to the boy. A weary gust of smoke escaped the young Mer’s lips and nostrils.

     

    “Better?” Ryandnor asked, now preparing his own pipe.

     

    The boy only nodded, closing his eyes, taking another deep inhale. 

     

    “The pressure should decrease soon. Be sure to meditate tonight, alright?  I worry about the headaches, Ronnie. They are more frequent.” 

     

    “I will manage.” 

     

    “Fortitude doesn’t mean being stupid about it, care for others begins with care of your person, do not forget that, son.” 

     

    “I know, I know. Curate Kahlailais would say the very same thing.”

     

    “Some lessons taking you far longer to learn?” Rynandor quipped. 

     

    The puff of smoke that came from the young Mer’s nostrils was an annoyed one, making Rynandor’s eyes crinkle with humor, enjoying the boy’s occasional displays of haughty spirit.  “You were asking about my lenya?” Changing the subject , Rynandor was practically grinning now. “How are we hiding our smoking from her?” The youngling asked, blinking away the fumes, his eyes watering.

     

    Rynandor blew out a gust of smoke and chortled, because he knew the skooma was already affecting the boy and himself as well. “I wish that was the reason. One angry lenya would be a lot less to deal with right now.” 

     

    “Nandor, we are talking my lenya.” The boy gave him a look, his white cheeks already starting to blush the faintest of pinks from the effects of the skooma surging through his system, raising an eyebrow. “You have seen her angry.” He made a walking motion with two fingers towards the fiery view from Rynandor’s window, a mischievous grin dancing across his face. “I say we just walk her through tha gates!” 

     

    “The Daedra would surrender immediately. A fine idea, boy. I shall bring it up in the next council meeting. Probably the best battle strategy I have heard this whole bloody time.” 

     

    They laughed together and enjoyed the few more moments of smoking and comfortable calm that can only be had with true friends before Rynandor spoke again, the bit of his pipe still in his mouth. “I have a favor to ask of her, Ronnie.”

     

    The flash of deep worry in the young Mer’s eyes was enough to let Rynandor know what was on his mind.

     

    Aye, I lied to you, I will ask of your family, demand of them, because I must protect the Tower, boy. It must endure. Forgive me.  

     

    A final slow gust of smoke was blown before Ronnie extinguished and set down his pipe, the Knight-Paladin’s demeanor returning faster than one could say ‘Auri-El’s bow’. 

     

    “Yes, Master.” Said with a sense of resigned duty that left the Archmagister’s heart suddenly quite heavy.

     

    “Tell her to report to me, I will need her skill at the forge. I have asked that all the smiths report to me. And the forges in the depths of the Tower have been lit.”

     

    Rynandor could see the creases to the young brow form anew, his red-orange eyes, now a smidgen bloodshot from the heavy smoke, searching the old Mer’s for an explanation for the strange request. Rynandor remained seated at his desk, offering none.  

     

    “Go,” Rynandor ordered before returning to his pipe, to brood. “That is an order.” 

     

    “At once, Archmagister.” Äelberon bowed, taking the time to put his pipe away before he left. 

     

    ***

     

    His ata had selflessly remained at Dusk with a band of retired soldiers and Curate Kahlailas, the Vestige, to aid in the city’s evacuation, warding off the Daedra while the citizens fled to The Point. They had offered their home, an isolated grotto, to their people. The cave entrance, easily defendable by the warriors who remained. And Äelberon knew they would defend The Point to their last breath, honored to die so that the People would live. Though the soldiers were blessed by the Vestige’s fighting presence, wife had not heard from husband, and son had not heard from ata in many days and both now assumed the worst. 

     

    Äelberon hoped they had died with honor, weapons in hand, reflections of the Outsider and his ancient ways.

     

    Ever industrious, his lenya had not let the impending terror or her own deep grief fill her with despair. When he found her at the Tower Barracks, she was calmly fastening a young warrior’s cuirass while the Mer waited patiently. No doubt, she had just repaired it. He stood, smiling, observing her work, the action taking him back to his days as a boy, watching her at her forge, his ever scuffed up elbows propped upon the weathered wooden railing, his little fists holding up his chin, his eyes squinting against the sting of the smoke. 

     

    She wore the simple rough-hewn dress of a smith and a thick leather apron. Her long silver-white hair was bound in two great braids that extended beyond her waist, but he could see that many, many little wisps had already escaped to frame what he thought as a boy was the most beautiful face in all of Tamriel, what he still believed. That he learned later that she was considered very ugly by his People, with her long, flat features and prominent chin, did nothing to sway his opinion of her face, her warm smile, her twinkling eye. That beautiful face now sported several large grease stains, which only broadened his smile and he leaned against the Tower’s wall, just watching her. Proud that she was his lenya. It was clear from the grease stains and the honest sweat on both brow and clothing that she had done far more than fix the young soldier’s armor today. Her long, pale fingers worked deftly, fasting the armor quicker than the young lad could probably do on his own.  

     

    Äelberon had his father’s size, his nose, and all of his vices, he thought with a wicked smile, but he had his mother’s look and countenance. Save the eyes. His eyes were his own, for her eyes were the eyes of a Snow Elf, that strange light blue, like crystal to him, though she herself called herself Altmer. And his father had the deep golden eyes of a more typical Altmeri shade. No, Äelberon's eyes, they were his own. She looked up and caught his proud gaze, and aye, she had his shyness, for she blushed light pink, around the cheeks and the tips of her pointed ears. Just like him. She had aged a bit since the sky began to burn, the fine lines around her eyes and mouth more prominent, her face more drawn, but those crystal blue eyes of hers were still warm and merry when she saw her son. Because, of course, he was sporting his father’s silly grin. 

     

    The little aican nut did not fall far from the tree.

     

    “There ya are, Kinsmer.” She nodded, finished. 

     

    The soldier, probably from a minor noble house, took a moment to inspect her work, his nostrils flaring, which threatened to morph Äelberon’s grin into a frown, but the Mer then smiled, said his ‘thank you’s and walked away, saving himself from a sound smack to the side of the head if he had dared cause his lenya grief.  She wiped the sweat from her brow and aye, another grease stain was born. 

     

    Äelberon’s lenya rose from the stone bench she had been sitting on and managed a small curtsy.  

     

    “Knight-Paladin.” 

     

    Oh no, not with me, you don’t.  I don’t care if I’m Auri-El himself!  

     

    He grabbed her hand and pulled her into his great arms, lifting her in an embrace, kissing her forehead tenderly, not caring about grease, or anything because she was simply his lenya and he loved her. He could feel the shock at his public display of affection, feel and see, out of the corner of his eye, their noses lift to the air in disdain. To them, touching in public was inappropriate. 

     

    Well fuck you, I am from the South, and I will hold my lenya.  

     

    “They’re starin’.” She whispered softly in his ear while he held her, her feet not even touching the ground. Like his ata, he could lift her clear off the ground with one of his hugs. It made her giggle and he loved the sound of her laugh, because, for a spell, it took him away from the burning skies. There was no more smoke, no Daedra, no more blood, no more cries of anguish, only her laughter and her smell.  And it felt good. 

     

    “Let ‘em.” He replied in her ear, mirroring her accent. “Maybe it’ll make ‘em take tha poles out of their arses.” 

     

    She slapped his back. Hard. Making him grunt.

     

    “No swearin’” She warned.

     

    He put her down and grinned, taking a seat on the bench where she had been before. “Ya smell of grease. Oilin’ armor? Last time I checked, tha oil goes on tha armor, lenya.”  

     

    “Very funny, ya little nut.” She gave his central braid a playful tug.

     

    He could be the grandest warrior Mer of legend, and he would still be her little nut, her little aican nut, on account of him being so small and pale when he was young, and perhaps a little bit crazy, he admitted. 

     

    Äelberon reached for one of her braids and began to play nervously with it, unbinding and rebinding the lace that secured it, a habit of his youth that he never really broke away from. She leaned forward and he felt the kiss to the top of his own plaited hair. Another kiss and then he felt her wrinkle her nose. 

     

    Well, shit, he thought the smoke from outside would have covered that up. He would have to tell Rynandor that that did not work and they would have to come up with something different for next time.

     

    “Ya smell, boy.” She said, bringing her hand down to lift his chin so he could look at her. “And don’t go saying that it’s because ya were outside. I can smell tha difference. You’ve been at it again.” She shook her head. “Bloody Oblivion, just like yer father...” 

     

    She stopped herself immediately, knowing that she had mentioned his ata and he just swallowed, knowing that his face was no longer communicating humor, but rather indecision and a certain sadness. He desperately wanted the banter, for her to bitch forever about all his naughty habits. He wanted to just sit by the fire, have honey nut treats. He wanted to be home, with both of them, and he  wanted the skies to be blue again, the stars to shine in the night sky, to smell something other than smoke and blood. To see something besides the daedra gathering and his people fleeing. He felt himself bite his lower lip, looking away from her and he could not help it when his head rested against her side, releasing a ragged sigh. It was too much emotion on display, considering the public setting and his status, but he did not care. 

     

    Äelberon first felt her hands on his shoulders, felt her fingers trace the etching on the pauldrons of his plate armor that she herself had made him. But she knew exactly what he needed and the hand that had traced the etching soon found the back of his neck, close to the scalp. Her fingers applied a soothing delicate pressure that only she was capable of. Since he was tiny, she did this. 

     

    “What is it, my little nut?

     

    “Everything...” The Tower Knight managed, perfectly fine with her calling him ‘little nut’, in front of people he knew were staring. He did not care. It was her hand that finally eased the pressure building in his head since the morning. After a few moments of her precious peace, he removed her hand and straightened his back, though he still held the white hand that had so easily renewed his strength when everything else failed. “The Archmagister Rynandor wishes that you report to him.”

     

    It was her turn to play with her braids and that gave him reason to flash her a tired smile. “I am surprised those braids aren’t wee stubs by now, lenya.” 

     

    “I know, I know.” she shrugged, giving him a knowing nod. She then grew shy, turning her face away from him, a gesture that was the mirror of his own at times, her crystal eyes downcast. “And what would tha Archmagister of Crystal-Like-Law want with a mere smith like me?”

     

    Äelberon rose to his full height, but aye, he would still hold her dear hand, instinctively  rubbing the now sometimes arthritic joints. “He has requested that all smiths report to him.” He explained, returning to his more formal speech. “ I do not know why.” He gestured with his head towards the doorway to the barracks. “Come, lenya, I will escort you.” He said as formally as he could, though he could not stop the reassuring squeeze of her hand. Together, they left the barracks, crossing towards the Tower steps. They climbed, higher and higher and he knew her eyes were on the tree line. She was once a bowmer too.

     

    “They’re closer. I can see the gates, the paler flame.”  She remarked, her crystal eyes narrowing at the forest. 

     

    “Aye, they are now among the trees, taunting us everyday," Äelberon nodded in the direction of her gaze, “but they have stopped and will not go further. Beyond our reach. We do not know why. At the best, it gives us time to plan more battle scenarios. The mages have worked nonstop.”

     

    “And the Thalmor?” 

     

    “They do not come, lenya. We are on our own.” 

     

    He looked away from the treeline and they continued their climb up the Tower when Äelberon suddenly stopped, hearing loud noises from below. Screaming and shouting, the clang of weapons. Another skirmish. He squeezed his mother’s hand.

     

    “Lenya, I must go.” 

     

    “Fightin’? Again?” 

     

    “Aye.” He pointed at the steps, his other hand on her shoulder. “Continue up the stairs. Near the top, close to the tombs, you will find a shrine to Auri-El. Opposite the shrine is a modest room, sealed with double doors.  That is Archmagister Rynandor’s study. I cannot come with you. I need to get back down there. There is trouble.”

     

    She brought his hand to her cheek and kissed it before letting go to continue up the stairs. "Be careful, little nut."

     

    He drew his sword and began to quickly descend. 

     

    ***

    Chapter 6 * ToC * Chapter 8

Comments

4 Comments   |   A-Pocky-Hah! and 1 other like this.
  • The Sunflower Manual
    The Sunflower Manual   ·  August 5
    Okay, woah, the imagery in the beginning was nuuuts, and
    still so rich and laden with the iconography of Straag! The importance of Crystal-Like-Law
    comes through much better in this iteration of the story, just from the much
    more polishe...  more
    • The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      The Sunflower Manual
      The Sunflower Manual
      The Sunflower Manual
      Okay, woah, the imagery in the beginning was nuuuts, and
      still so rich and laden with the iconography of Straag! The importance of Crystal-Like-Law
      comes through much better in this iteration of the story, just from the much
      more polished language employe...  more
        ·  August 7
      Thank you! I feel like it works much better now too.
  • A-Pocky-Hah!
    A-Pocky-Hah!   ·  August 3
    The Crystal Tower chapters have always been one of my favorite parts of Straag Rod, along with the Vampire Symposium. Can't wait to see what changes you've brought to this rewrite. I'm sure it'll be just as epic as the first time I read it.
    • The Long-Chapper
      The Long-Chapper
      A-Pocky-Hah!
      A-Pocky-Hah!
      A-Pocky-Hah!
      The Crystal Tower chapters have always been one of my favorite parts of Straag Rod, along with the Vampire Symposium. Can't wait to see what changes you've brought to this rewrite. I'm sure it'll be just as epic as the first time I read it.
        ·  August 4
      Thanks. It was a pleasure to revisit them and to try to do better by them. Let me know if you pick up the differences and thanks for your support. :D