14. A Sour Lesson

14. A Sour Lesson

Oct 28, 2022

The story so far: Skavild has decided to help a peculiar woman in Riverwood by finding an ancient stone tablet. In Bleak Falls Barrow, a strange figure stands before him. Down the road in Whiterun, Eldaline, a Thalmor officer hiding from a dragon, tries to earn honest money.

The person staring at the sky was female in form, and at first Skavild thought that the innkeeper had arrived before him. But this woman was too tall.

"Eldaline?" called Skavild, without thought. Then he was embarrassed. Why would every tall female figure be Eldaline? Eldaline was on her way back to the Summerset Isles. Whatever the woman's name might have been, she did not hear him, or else did not appreciate being given the wrong name, for she did not look around.

Skavild felt that there was something wrong with the way she stood so still. She did not sway and breathe like a living person. "Hello!" he cried.

And she did not droop like a draugr. Skavild might have settled on 'statue' if it had not been for the thin clouds surrounding her.

"You can't hear me, can you? I'm looking for something called a Dragonstone, can you help?"

Skavild rather gingerly climbed the stone steps to her perching ledge. "Right, I'll just come up, then. My name's S... Ysgald! and I'm..."

"The end draws near.

As I once failed, so shall the world be failed again.

Your doom is assured. No mortal can best him."

Skavild said, "Best who? Are you a spirit?"

"He was made from the beginning, and is the end."

The spirit landed again. "Hope must be struck down. That which never falls can never rise.

He knows that I have come here."

"Who?" demanded Skavild.

The spirit exploded.

"Oh, gods! Oh gods! That's horrible! Shor's head, who did that?"

"Hope is lost!"

"I'm sorry!" cried Skavild. "I'm sorry! I don't know what you want me to do!"

The singing continued. An open, and otherwise unoccupied, stone sarcophagus yielded a stone tablet. Skavild decided that this was definitely the one he was looking for, and left the chamber as fast as his legs would allow.

Riverwood lay in utter darkness that night, with no moon or stars. Only the lanterns of the trade post marked the distant bridge. Skavild could see them from the hill above.

As he was scurrying through the woods, unable to see two paces ahead of him, he heard a gruff voice from the shrubbery say: "Now, who's this?"

And another voice, an old woman's, came from directly in front: "Get down!"

Skavild felt that the order conveyed better urgency, and threw himself on the ground in time to heard a blade sweep over his head.

The next thing that he felt over his head was a spurt of unforgiving flame, and the gruff voice he had heard a moment before screamed horribly and ungruffly.

"Don't worry, dear." said the old lady. "He was probably a very bad man. Have you had a nice time in the barrow?"

"What... did he want?" wheezed Skavild, trying to ignore a worsening burning smell and crackling sound nearby. "Er, thank you very much, as well."

"To harass and steal from a lonesome old woman, and to waylay nice young men carrying uncovered treasures. How is your dear old father? He hasn't been by to see me in years."

"I think you're mixing me up with somebody from the village." Skavild said. "I've never had a Da, dear or otherwise."

"Silly me, I'm thinking of things that still haven't happened. I get so confused up here."

"I'm sorry, can I come back later and ask you what you're talking about?"

"Come back any time, dear, even times you've been before."

"I have some wonderful news, children." said Mistress Gray-Mane, early the next morning in Whiterun. "School today will not be cancelled, as we feared."

"You may have heard that a very special person is visiting Whiterun. While I am attending cousin Eorlund's birthday party, Second Archivist Eldaline of the Thalmor will be teaching this morning's classes."

Mistress Gray-Mane took approving note of the children's quiet attention, nodded once at Eldaline, and went away to do something more fun.

"Hello, human children." said Eldaline.

"Help! Second Alchemist Eldaline! Braith is throwing balls of paper at my head!" shouted a child.

Eldaline's mind was returned to her office in Solitude and she was briefly overwhelmed by homesickness. "What?" she demanded. "I mean, what, have you been learning this week?"

"Aargh! She's doing it to me too, Second Arsonist Eldaline!" cried another child. "And she says she won't stop."

"The forty-seventh diplomatic protocol: If you are going to tell tales, do it out of earshot, you blockhead." Eldaline nervously paced about. "I do not suppose you learn the four-hundred diplomatic protocols at your age. What do you learn?"

"We have been learning about plants and flowers, Second Accordionist!"

"Good. Would you eat that plant?"

"No, Second Antagonist."

"Well, then I don't think you have any more to learn about plants and flowers. We can move on."

She gave up trying to discover inspiration in the colourful pictures on the walls. "I have never been in a human schoolroom. This is a very interesting place."

She strode to the other wall. "Common Elflets will learn arithmetic, joined-up writing, rough history and basic spellcraft, their well-born betters, statecraft, deportment, and different history.

I myself left school to catch shellfish with my parents once I had learned to write and summon a clannfear.

Actually, I only did that once. It was quite an alarming experience. It was twice the height of me and the teacher had to beat it to death with a chair.

I suppose we will continue with this geography book, but I really do not see the point. There is nothing in it beyond the Boralis Coast, and nothing about the Speculative Geology of the Kingdom of Thras and the Pillar of Sacrifice's Selective Portal to a Random Plane of Oblivion. That is better geography than these stupid escarpments."

A child offered: "My mother was once chased all the way from Stonehills by Molag Grunda, the Daedra, because she thought my mother would steal her boy friend the frost monster."

"Nomeg Gwai the frost atronach?" said Eldaline, truly bewildered. "But I spoke to him very recently, and he never mentioned a thing about it. He is usually so forthcoming about his private life. How did your mother know Nomeg Gwai?"

"Oh, she doesn't know him! But Molag Grunda just knew, if he ever looked at my mother, he'd probably fall in love with her."

"An odd assumption for someone to make about a perfect stranger. My husband is a big purple Xivilai from the Deadlands. Well, lilac, anyway. We often have dinner with Molag Grunda and Nomeg Gwai." said Eldaline. "The next time I am in Coldharbour, I will tell them both to stop being so foolish."

"Meaning no offence, in the market I told my mother you were probably a lady whose husband has run away and she said yes, she thinks so too. My mother taught me to recognise women whose husbands have run away and might be jealous of her."

"Braith! Are you paying attention there at the back? Do you need some more paper?"


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