A new chapter will be posted every other Saturday unless otherwise noted here.

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Saturday, June 13, 2015

XIX - The College of Winterhold

Gradually, she began to feel again.
Cold seeped into her fingers and toes, and she could feel fur on her cheek. She heard wind overhead and the whisper of snow drifting across the hills.

Everything came back at once – Karliah and Mercer in Snow Veil Sanctum, Mercer’s blade running through her stomach, her blood trailing on the stone as he walked away, leaving her for dead. But I’m not dead.
Merill slowly opened her eyes, squinting in the unexpected light. She was on her stomach on a bedroll, her head turned to one side with a thick pelt over her. Merill shifted slightly and pain stabbed through her head.
“Nngh,” she murmured, trying to sit up with setting fire to her pounding skull.
“Easy, easy,” someone said, and Merill felt hands on her arms. “Don’t get up so quickly.” She forced her eyes open and saw Karliah there, steadying her. “How are you feeling?” Merill looked past Karliah – it was dawn, the sky a pale grey with hints of stars that had not yet disappeared.
“You…” she managed to force out. “You shot me!” Merill scrambled, her hands searching frantically for a bow, a knife, anything. Karliah raised her gloved hands in a gesture of peace, reaching out.
“No,” Karliah told her, helping her sit up. “I saved your life. My arrow was tipped with a unique paralytic poison. It slowed your heart and kept you from bleeding out. Had I intended to kill you, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
“You think so, do you?” Merill retorted, wincing as pain pierced through her head again.
“My original intention was to use that arrow on Mercer, but I never had a clear shot. I made a split second decision to get you out of the way and it prevented your death.”
“Why the hell should I believe that?”
“Without the antidote I administered, you’d be still as a statue. I treated your wounds instead of leaving you for dead, didn’t I?” Merill touched her abdomen and realized the wound was healed and bandaged, the pain gone. “That poison took me a year to perfect. I only had enough for a single shot. All I had hoped was to capture Mercer alive.”
“Why?” Merill asked, accepting a heel of bread and a waterskin Karliah handed to her.
“Mercer must be brought before the Guild to answer for what he’s done. He needs to pay for Gallus’s murder.”
“How are you going to prove it now?” Merill asked, tearing off chunk of bread with her teeth.
“My purpose in using Snow Veil Sanctum to ambush Mercer wasn’t simply for irony’s sake,” Karliah told her. “Before both of you arrived, I recovered a journal from Gallus’s remains. I suspect the information we need is written inside.” She reached into a pocket of her armour and drew out a small, leather-bound book, which she handed to Merill. Merill put the bread down and flipped it open – the journal was scribed with odd, spiky characters on nearly every page.
“What the hell is this?”
“It’s written in some sort of language I’ve never seen before.”
“We’ll have to find someone who can translate it, then,” Merill said as the pain in her head began to subside. Karliah frowned, thinking.
“Enthir,” she said then, her violet eyes brightening. “Of course. Gallus’s friend at the College of Winterhold. It’s the only outsider Gallus trusted with the knowledge of his Nightingale identity.”
“There’s that word again,” Merill remarked, taking a swig from the waterskin. “‘Nightingale.’”
“There were three of us,” Karliah said, looking down at her gloved hands. “Myself, Gallus, and Mercer. We were an anonymous splinter of the Thieves Guild in Riften.” She stood, and grasped Merill’s hand, pulling her up. “Perhaps I’ll tell you more about it later. Right now, you need to head for Winterhold with the journal and get the translation.”
“You’re not coming?” Merill asked as Karliah kicked snow over the fire.
“No,” she replied, picking up her bow and slinging it over her back. “There are preparations to make and Gallus’s remains to lay to rest. I promise to join you there as soon as I can.”
“Can you tell me anything about Gallus?” Merill asked, watching Karliah bind up the bedroll in the snow.
“He was a scholar, a master thief, and a natural leader,” she said, her head down. “Everyone respected him without question. It was Gallus who inducted me into the Nightingales and honed my skills to a razor sharp point.” She paused, her face turned away from Merill. “I owe everything to him. We were…very close.”
“You were lovers?” Merill asked bluntly.
“Gallus once said he felt comfortable around me; able to let his guard down. I can’t help but think that I’m responsible in some way for...what happened.” She stood up, finally facing Merill. “But that doesn’t matter. You should get to the College as quick as you can. Mercer has a head start, and we can’t let him beat us.”
“Why didn’t you kill him?” Merill asked, her annoyance leaking in. “I’d have put an arrow through the bastard’s eye in a second.”
“Mercer lied to the Guild, branded me a murderer and slandered my name across his network of contacts. For twenty-five years I ran, never sleeping in the same place twice and carefully covering my tracks.” Karliah rubbed her eyes exhaustedly. “Mercer doesn’t need to die…he needs to feel the cold sting of fate as his life crumbles in front of him and he’s hunted by the Guild.”
“You might not have a choice next time.”
“I can promise you that if it come to that, and my back’s to the wall, I won’t hesitate.” Karliah looked up at the brightening sky, still heavy with clouds but paler all the same. “Here,” she said, passing the journal to her. “Get Enthir to translate that as soon as you can. Merill, is it?”
“Aye.” Karliah smiled.
“I like your spirit, Merill. Most people are afraid to stand up to Mercer the way you did. And you’re a good shot as well.”
“How do you know that?” she asked suspiciously.
“I saw some of your handiwork as I was bringing you back out here. Clean and quick and silent, just how I like it. I think we could learn from each other someday, when this mess is over.”
“I love a good shooting match,” Merill replied lightly as Karliah picked up her bow and quiver and handed them to her. Karliah gave Merill a weary smile.
“Get that journal to the College. We’ll talk again soon.”
Merill had never been as far north as Winterhold – the city had been vast and sprawling in the years before she was born, but she had heard stories of how the mages there had conducted some twisted experiments that ended up exploding most of the city into the sea, leaving a minute village beside the College that barely got by. It was a grim hold, so grey and snow-covered that it was hard to discern the ground from the sky. Merill moved along the coast of the Sea of Ghosts, keeping the College within eyesight – a great structure rising out of the sea in the far distance.
She traveled for most of the morning, keeping off the roads and crunching through the snow on the cliffs that edged the sea. In this cold and silent northeastern bit of Skyrim, she felt safer hidden among the rocks and snow-covered brambles than exposed to ambush on the road.
Though Karliah’s potions had revived her physically, Merill couldn’t help but feel exhausted. She felt as if she’d barely had time to rest for months – everything had happened so very suddenly. Alduin’s Wall, Silronwe, speaking with Paarthurnax at the Throat of the World, learning of Mercer’s lies, her sharp words with Nalimir…
I know how much Nalimir cares for you.
What the hell is that supposed to mean? Merill thought stubbornly, lithely navigating her way around an icy ravine. We grew up together, Nalimir practically told him that. But it’s not like he hesitated to go off on me. Merill leapt over a crack in the snow, grabbing the roots of a hollyberry bush to pull herself up. Look what happened when I tried to cooperate like he told me. Mercer Frey ran me through and nearly killed me. Still, though…
I know how much Nalimir cares for you.
Merill supposed, for a moment, that she ought to feel lucky that there was anyone left to care for her. When she’d sat in Ivarstead’s inn two nights ago most of the patrons spoke about their sorrows than of triumphs – wives and children killed in dragon attacks, sisters slaughtered in the Civil War, parents gone missing while trying to flee the province. She thought of Brelin dying alone in the flames in their cabin, Nalimir fleeing to Riften, thinking her dead for all those years. Even Kiseen, bludgeoned by an Imperial as they tried to cross the border. Everyone she’d made the mistake of trusting, dead in the ground or close to it. And Nalimir…Silronwe’s image floated into her mind, beautiful and brilliant and golden-skinned. A sour taste filled Merill’s mouth and she shook the thoughts from her head, turning her gaze toward the nearing village of Winterhold.
It was truly a sad, tired little town – it only consisted of a few falling-apart wooden shacks and a cobbled road with most of the stones missing. She arrived around noon, stopped in the inn for a drink and to send a courier to Silronwe and Nalimir in Riften, then inquired about Enthir. The guards pointed her toward the College’s entrance, just north of the village.
The mages’ sanctuary stood on a thin-spired island cliff jutting out of the sea, just off the coast of Skyrim, connected to the village by an enormous stone bridge that curved up and straight into the gate. As Merill mounted the stairs to the College, she was met by a sour-faced Altmer woman.
“Cross the bridge at your own peril,” she said, looking Merill up and down skeptically. “The way is dangerous, and the gates will not open. You shall not gain entry.”
“Here’s the problem with that,” Merill said shortly. She was tired, hungry, and low on patience. “I need to enter the College.”
“What is it you expect to find within?” the woman asked, and Merill remembered why most Nords disliked mages and their imperious air so much.
“Answers,” she snapped. “I need to talk to a mage here. It’s important.”
“Then the question now is, what can you offer the College? Not just anyone is allowed inside.” Merill sighed. She’d rather been hoping she wouldn’t have to play this card, but she was in a hurry.
“I’m Dragonborn,” she told the mage, and the Altmer’s eyebrows shot halfway up her face.
“You are the one they’ve been speaking of?” she said in disbelief, and Merill nodded. “Perhaps if you can prove your prowess as a child of dragons…” Merill pushed back the urge to just force her way through.
The mage flew backward, enveloped in Merill’s shout, and landed, hard, on the icy stone bridge behind her.
“You’ve – ah – more than proven yourself,” she gasped, gingerly picking herself up.
“You asked,” Merill retorted, and the woman gave a forced smile.
“I think we can learn much from you, Dragonborn,” she said. “You will be an excellent addition to the college.”
“Hang on,” Merill said as the woman turned and started to lead the way up to the great structure over the sea. “I’m not here to join your order. I just need to talk to a few people.”
“You’ve already joined, then!” she said brightly. “Consider yourself lucky. Few are given the priviledge of stepping inside our gates.”
“I’m not a mage!” Merill protested, but the woman kept on, drawing her hood over her face as they carefully moved across the icy stone bridge thousands of metres above the sea. They passed under an enormous gated arch and into a walled courtyard that stood mostly empty save for a few tired-looking berry bushes and trees.
“You should meet our dean,” the Altmer was saying. “She’ll be so thrilled to see a new recruit.”
“I’m not a new recruit,” Merill tried again. “I need to talk to Enthir and someone who can tell me about the Elder Scrolls.” As irked as she was, Merill couldn’t help but appreciate the ancient elegance of the College – great stained glass windows painted with eyes stared down at them, and a beam of magelight sent a purple glow over the snow-coated shrubbery.
“Merill?” She glanced up, relieved for a reprieve from the pushy Altmer woman, and somehow wasn’t surprised to see Silronwe crossing the yard, her arms full of books. She hurried over, tucking the books into a bag on her shoulder. “What are you doing here?”
“Long story,” Merill told her exhaustedly. “D’you go here?”
“I, er…work here. Nothing permanent, just give a few lectures every now and then to make some money.”
“Yes, Professor Silronwe is a marvelous addition to our very serious order,” the other woman said snidely, looking on Silronwe with great distaste.
“Get out of here, Faralda, before I singe your eyebrows off,” Silronwe shot back, and the woman gave Silronwe an affronted look before she turned and bustled away.
“Where’s Nalimir?” Merill asked, following Silronwe across the courtyard to a low door set into the curved stone walls.
“Went back to Whiterun,” Silronwe told her, slipping inside and barring the door, shaking snow out of her braids. “We were almost here when he heard from a contact there who might have something on an Elder Scroll. I only just arrived this morning, haven’t had a chance to check the library yet. But I imagine someone here will be able to point us in the right direction.”
“I need to talk to someone called Enthir too,” Merill told her, pulling down her hood and glancing around – the dormitory they’d entered was quiet, a tower of round stone lit by a curious fountain of glowing blue matter.
“Just upstairs here,” Silronwe told her, and Merill followed her up a round stone staircase to a second floor of dormitories, leading her to one with Enthir inscribed on the dusty nameplate by the door.
“Enthir?” Silronwe called, leaning against the door and knocking. There was a disgruntled noise, then the sound of a lock sliding out of place before the door cracked open.
Enthir was a large-bellied Bosmer man, balding save for a strip of muddy-coloured hair down the middle of his head and skin like a sun-bleached raisin. He gazed at them narrowly, his dark eyes suspicious.
“What?” he asked shortly.
“Karliah sent me,” Merill said, and Enthir immediately opened the door wider.
“So she’s finally found it,” Enthir remarked, rubbing his chin.
“Why don’t we come in?” Silronwe asked pointedly, shouldering past Enthir into the room. Merill slipped in after her. The shelves in his room were lined with all manner of objects, from books to strange bottles to bowls of Atronach salts to what looked curiously like enormous male appendages. “Giant’s testicles,” Enthir told her gruffly as he shut the door, seeing where Merill’s eyes were trained. “You’d be surprised how much they sell for. Anyway, I’m assuming you’re here about the journal?”
“Yes,” Merill said, taking the small book from her armour and handing it over. “Can you translate it?” He turned over the cover, his brows furrowing as his narrow eyes scanned the pages of spidery text while Silronwe browsed the jars along the walls.
“This is just like Gallus,” Enthir said, flipping through the wrinkled pages. “A dear friend, but too clever for his own good. He’s written all of the text in the Falmer language, you see.”
“Can you translate it?”
“No. But the court wizard of Markarth – Calcelmo – he may have the materials you need to get this journal translated.”
“Markarth.” She hadn’t been back since she and Kiseen had fled. That felt like years ago. She held out her hand for the journal. Enthir closed it, but did not hand it back to her.
“A word of warning,” Enthir told her. “Calcelmo is a fierce guardian of his research. Getting the information won’t be easy.”
“Stodgy, too,” Silronwe commented from the side of the room, where she was studying a beating Daedra heart in a jar. “Most mages are happy to share their research with one another, but nobody can get a whisper out of Calcelmo.”
“Why would Gallus write his journal in Falmer?” Merill asked as Enthir handed the book back to her.
“There are only a handful of people in Tamriel that even recognize the language,” Enthir replied simply. “Besides that, I’m fairly certain he was planning some sort of heist that involved a deep understanding of the Falmer language. We never really had the opportunity to speak about the details.”
“Where did he learn it?”
“Ironically, I pointed him in the same direction I pointed you,” Enthir said, chuckling a bit. “To Markarth and Calcelmo. I’m only hoping whatever means he used to learn the language will still be available to you.”
“You knew Gallus well, I take it,” Merill said, tucking the journal away and turning toward the door.
“Yes,” Enthir replied, scratching his chin distractedly. “Yes, we studied together when we were young. That’s what made Gallus so different from other thieves. He was a scholar as well. Curious about the world around him.”
“Why didn’t he come here, then?” Silronwe wondered aloud.
“He loved the thrill of thievery,” Enthir chortled. “Wanted a more exciting life than staring at ink on a page for hours on end, I suppose. A good man. It was too bad to hear about his end.”
“We’ll be seeing you, Enthir,” Silronwe told him, and he only grunted in reply as they left, the door locking behind them. “Nalimir told me about Karliah,” she said as they ventured back outside, crossing the courtyard toward the College’s enormous main hall. “You mentioned she saved you?”
“Stuck me with a poison arrow, but I’d be dead otherwise,” Merill muttered, rubbing the bruise on her shoulder where Karliah’s arrow had struck. She explained the situation, briefly as she could, to Silronwe as they passed through the colossal wooden doors into the College’s main hall, where a great round chamber was barred by an ornately carved gate, beyond which Merill could see some sort of blue light filling a stone room.
“Eye of Magnus,” Silronwe whispered, peering through the bars at a massive sphere that seemed to float in the middle of the hall. “Some of the apprentices found it in a ruin a few days ago. No idea what it does yet.” Merill lingered a moment more to stare at the Eye before she quelled her curiosity and followed Silronwe up into the library.
Merill had had little patience with books as a girl, despite Nalimir’s knack for them. She loved the adventure stories of fantastical journeys and battles all over Mundus (her favourite had been a set of dark blue volumes stamped with a dusky rose Moon-and-Star, a series called Out of Mournhold that had chronicled the adventures of a Dunmer heroine hundreds of years ago), but Nalimir tended to prefer the dull tomes filled with tiny print that described Tamriel’s most mundane history in mind-numbing detail over Merill’s exciting stories. As they grew older, Merill spent more of her time wandering the pines in the woods while Nalimir perched on their cabin’s porch with a book in his lap.
The College of Winterhold’s library was vast, though, and Merill could easily see why so many mages flocked to it. It was a great round room, at least three stories high, and every available surface was heaped with books. They covered the rounded shelves on the walls, looking down from between sliding ladders that stood propped near each shelf, spines of varying colour and shape and size piled up on the stone. The centre of the library featured a circular depression where cushioned chairs were grouped around rounded tables so covered with books that they were almost impossible to see. Cutouts in the stone parapet surrounding the depression held even more books, so many that they spilled off the ledges and onto the carpeted floor. Orbs of twinkling magelight at varying heights threw a deep blue shimmer over the library, and through the tall, narrow windows a blizzard had begun to rage. There were a number of mages taking refuge in the library – some were scanning the shelves around the room, but most of them were curled comfortably in the cushioned chairs, deeply engrossed in the dusty tomes they pored over.
“Urag ought to be able to help us with this Elder Scroll business,” Silronwe whispered, and Merill followed her to the back of the library, keenly aware of how boldly she stood out among the quiet, pensive mages. Silronwe led her to a wooden counter at the back of the library, where a heavyset Orc man stood behind a wooden counter, bent over a book that was larger than Merill’s torso.
“Afternoon, Urag,” Silronwe remarked, and the man looked up slowly, his eyes sharp beneath thick white brows. Merill saw he held a threaded needle in one hand and a small glass bottle of binding glue in the other. His eyes trailed over to Merill, and narrowed.
“You’re not allowed to bring visitors in here, Silronwe,” he growled, looking back down to his book.
“It’s important,” Silronwe told him stiffly, and he grunted in disbelief.
“I know you’ve only been here for a few years, but even you should know how important secrecy is here.”
“Gods’ sakes, Urag,” Silronwe complained, crossing her arms, and Merill slammed her hands on the wooden counter, grown impatient.
“I’m here, all right?” she hissed, suddenly keenly aware that the little noise in the library was gone. She felt her cheeks grow hot, sure that every eye was upon her. Urag gave her a cold look. “I’m looking for an Elder Scroll,” Merill told him, dropping her voice. The Orc didn’t look up again, but continued his work, carefully pulling the needle through the book’s yellowed pages and dabbing glue into its spine.
“And what do you plan to do with it?” he asked eventually. Do you even know what you’re asking about, or are you just someone’s errand girl?”
“I know what I’m doing,” Merill snapped, but he still did not look up. “Do you have one here?”
“You think that even if I did have one here, I would let you see it?” Urag replied, giving a humourless laugh as his needled pricked through the bottom of the book’s spine. “It would be kept under the highest security. The greatest thief in the world wouldn’t be able to lay a finger on it.” I’d be the judge of that, Merill wanted to say, but she held her tongue.
“What about the Dragonborn?” Silronwe asked, and Urag released the needle, tying off the last bit of thread and picking up a rag to dry up extra binding glue.
“So you’re the one the Greybeards were calling?” he asked, still not looking at her.
“Aye.” He set the rag aside, turning away and heading toward one of the shelves, with a gesture that told her to follow.
“I’ll bring you everything we have on them,” he said, taking a ladder and rolling it around to a new shelf before starting the climb up. “But it’s not much.”
“‘Not much?’” Silronwe repeated indignantly as he pulled out a book and levitated it down to them with a wave.
“I thought this was the most extensive library in Skyrim.” Merill caught the book that floated from the shelves and blew dust off its battered, faded green cover. Effects of the Elder Scrolls.
“It is,” the librarian called down to her, waving his hand and sending the ladder careening around to another shelf with a spell. “But no-one’s seen an Elder Scroll in hundreds of years.” He pulled out another book, studying its cover for a moment. “Records say that there used to be one in the Imperial Library in Cyrodiil, years and years ago. But it just vanished without a trace. No one knows where.” He tucked the book under his arm and climbed down, crossing the library to her and handing over the book. “We just don’t have much information.”
“So this is it?” Merill asked in disbelief, accepting the second book. The orc’s brow furrowed irritatedly.
“That’s it,” he replied shortly. “Those aren’t to leave the library. I’ll be at the desk if you need anything else.” Merill realized, as she turned away, that the eye of every mage in the room had been on her.
“Come off it,” Silronwe snapped, and they quickly busied themselves with their own studies. Merill and Silronwe found an empty table in the darker edges of the room, lit by a carved silver lantern trapping a sphere of blue magelight inside.
Merill pushed away the books that cluttered the table and sat down on the cushioned chair, laying the yellowed tomes before her. She started with the thicker one, Effects of the Elder Scrolls, while Silronwe reached for the second, and, not used to devoting much time to deep study, began flipping through the pages, scanning each line of tidy print for some hint of where a Scroll might be hidden. There was plenty of information concerning the dangers of reading Elder Scrolls and long, winding histories on events that they had foretold, but Merill was hard-pressed to locate any information about where they were actually hidden. She continued searching the volume for nearly an hour before she grew annoyed and slammed it shut. The sound echoed loudly along the high stone walls, and a hush came down over the library as every mage looked up at her. Merill gave them a cross glance before turning away continuing to skim through the pages before her.
“This doesn’t make any sense,” Silronwe muttered, a deep line between her brows. Merill peered over at the long pages of spidery text in the other book, thinner than her smallest finger. “Look at this, I’ve been trying to figure out just this paragraph for nearly twenty minutes.” She turned the book around and pushed it over to Merill, who leaned in close to read the tiny words scratched upon the page.
Imagine living beneath the waves with a strong-sighted blessing of most excellent fabric. Holding the fabric over your gills, you would begin to breathe-drink its warp and weft. Though the plantmatter fibers imbue your soul, the wretched plankton would pollute the cloth until it stank to the heavens of prophecy. This is one manner –
“I hope for your sake you’re treating those books well.” Merill looked up to see Urag before her, a deep line between his furrowed brows.
“This book doesn’t make any sense,” Silronwe told him, as Merill flipped through the pages. The rest of it was the same; mad, incomprehensible ramblings.
“Aye, that’s the work of Septimus Signus,” Urag said, taking the book from her to look at the cover. “He’s the world’s master of the nature of the Elder Scrolls, but…well…”
“If he’s the master then he’s who I need to talk to,” Merill said, standing and shouldering her bow.
“He’s been gone for a while,” Silronwe said softly.
“Too long,” Urag agreed.
“Where did he go, then?” Merill pressed, growing impatient.
“Somewhere up north, in the ice fields. He said he found some old Dwemer artifact, but…well, that was years ago.” Urag shook his head as he handed the book back to her. “Haven’t heard from him since.”
“You know where in the ice fields?” Merill asked, slinging her quiver over her back and reaching for her gloves.
“No, but the area’s not that big and there aren’t a lot of caves up there. Shouldn’t be too hard to track him down.” He picked up the two books Merill had left on the table. “Tell you what, you can even take my horse.”
“Why would you give me your horse?” Merill asked, puzzled, as she pulled on her gloves.
“I’ve been meaning to get rid of it,” he told her wearily. “I never ride the thing, and it’s a good beast, fast and quiet. Can swim all right, too. He’s the only one in the stable out there, I call him Thelred.”
“All right,” Merill replied, a little taken aback by this sudden generosity. “Thanks, then.”
“I know we all seem like sullen mages lurking up at the top of the world here,” Urag went on, fixing his dark stare on her. “But we want this madness to be over with just as much as you. Good luck to you, Dragonborn.”
“Do you have a minute?” Silronwe asked as they headed for the library’s doors. “I’ve been meaning to talk to you.” She held the door ajar for Merill, then swept down the curving stairs ahead of her.
“Sure,” Merill told her, and Silronwe stopped on the landing, peering up and down the stairs to be sure they were alone.
“I just…I needed to tell you something,” she said finally, and Merill frowned. Silronwe stared out the landing’s narrow window at the snow swirling past outside. “Nalimir and I were talking on the way up here, and he was telling me about his family.”
“Brelin,” Merill said at once, and Silronwe smiled slightly.
“Yes, he told me how well his father took to you. He sounded like a wonderful man.”
“He was,” Merill affirmed, crossing her arms. “What’s the problem?”
“He also told me about his mother. Cirwen.” Merill blinked. Cirwen had died years ago as Nalimir’s family fled Valenwood, killed on the journey north to Skyrim when Nalimir was only a few years old. He didn’t even remember what she looked like.
“We never knew much about her,” she said skeptically. “Brelin didn’t talk about her much.”
“That’s what he said,” Silronwe replied nervously. “But the name was enough.” She dug into her robes, fishing out an old, tattered bit of parchment and worrying it in her hands. “When I was in the Healing Corps, a few years into the Great War, we were stationed near the southern border of Cyrodiil. The Thalmor were making the push toward the Imperial City and we were running out of supplies…” She bit her lip. “I was sent back to the base in Valenwood to get more potions, and they told me to take a few documents with me to deliver. I was curious, and I read them on the way, and…I think Nalimir’s mother was involved in the Bosmer resistance.” Merill raised her eyebrows.
“I think Nalimir would’ve known,” she replied.
“I don’t know, but the documents I was given were damning for one of the resistance leaders named Cirwen. And a few years later, they sent me this.” She held out the old bit of parchment, and Merill took it gingerly, turning it to read the faded ink.

Former Retainer Silronwe of Sunhold,

This message is to thank you for your service to the Thalmor Embassy at Arenthia, Valenwood Province. A number of years ago, you were tasked with delivering information concerning rebel troop movements to the Embassy in Arenthia, and doing so recently allowed our soldiers to stamp out the remains of the Bosmer resistance, including the traitor Cirwen, the leader of said rebellion.
We understand that your Thalmor status has been revoked and you are no longer in the employ of the Healing Corps, but we are not without honor. Enclosed you will find a small sum of gold given as thanks for your assistance in this matter. The Council in Sunhold has asked me to remind you that you would be welcomed back into the Thalmor ranks with open arms if you were to make a public apology before them and the city of Sunhold. Until then, accept our gifts in thanks.

Most sincerely,
Erissare, Steward
13 Sun’s Dusk, 4E 180

Merill looked slowly back up at Silronwe, who stood watching her nervously. Silronwe had told her a little of her life as a Thalmor, spent as a healer in the Great War until she led a movement to heal wounded enemy soldiers as well as their own. The movement ended with her being ejected from Thalmor ranks and disowned by her disgraced parents.
“4E 180,” she said, glancing back down at the date that closed the letter. Two years before she was born. “That would’ve been the year Brelin and Nalimir left Valenwood.”
“I think I had a hand in it,” Silronwe told her in a whisper. “Merill, I think the Thalmor killed her when they were trying to leave Valenwood. And I think it’s my fault.” Merill stared back down at the old bit of paper, reading the words over and over again. It would make sense, she supposed. Nalimir’s sister, Menelri, had been involved with the Bosmer resistance and had been much older than Nalimir. It may have been possible for her to have followed in her mother’s footsteps.
“Why do you still have this?” Merill asked finally.
“As a reminder,” Silronwe told her, her voice firmer now, “of what the Thalmor will do to win their twisted conquest. I’ve kept it to keep myself from going back to them. I spent half my life as a healer, making sure dying people lived to see the sun rise again. But this time someone died because of me.” Her brows knotted. “And I…I think it was Nalimir’s mother.”
“Did you tell him this?” Silronwe shook her head.
“I…I didn’t know how.” She bit her lip, looking at Merill imploringly. “Are you going to tell him?”
“No,” she said at once, handing the parchment back to Silronwe. “No, that’s for you to do. When you think he needs to know.” Silronwe’s shoulders relaxed.
“Thank you,” she said gratefully, tucking the parchment away. “I needed to tell…someone. And I trust you.” Merill grudgingly offered her a small smile.

“Come on, then,” she said finally, unsure of how to respond, and Silronwe nodded, continuing down the sweeping stairs.

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