Skyrim: The Unlikely Companions – Chapter 19

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Skyrim: The Unlikely Companions – Chapter 19


Summary:

Ganir nodded and looked at Ancano over his shoulder, who had patiently been waiting. He then looked back at Cirilonde and squeezed her hand, rubbing his thumb over the back of his hand. He leaned in and kissed her forehead. “Until the next dawn, Ciri.”
Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter 19

Ganir watched the flames engulf the hay and wood of the funeral pyre and the flowers that had been left as parting gifts withered away before they and Tolfdir’s body were devoured by the fire. They had bid their farewells to Mirabelle Ervine and Savos Aren not too long ago in a similar fashion, but it was so different all the same. He hadn’t known Tolfdir very well, but he had been a gentle and kind soul, even if he could be stubborn. He perhaps would have lived only a few more winters to die a natural death but Ganir wasn’t at peace with the Nord’s death, which had been unnecessary and cruel. It had not been without honor and dignity as some of Winterhold’s villagers and Jarl Korir himself were present to pay their respects to a son of Skyrim who had put a lot of effort in trying to improve the relation between Winterhold and its College.

“I hope that even though he has passed, we can still work towards what he aimed to achieve,” Faralda had said to the Jarl, who had shook her hand with a nod as a silent promise.

A cold block of ice slowly sank into his stomach as he dreaded what was to come once the flames had died down. He wasn’t ready to say goodbye yet, not to Cirilonde.

The Dragonborn looked over at Ancano, who stood with what remained of the College’s staff, clad in black, velvet robes with silver trimming. His long, silver-white hair had been bound back. Though the robes were thick and kept him warm, one could tell easily that a thick layer of bandages were wrapped around his chest underneath. The magical scars that had lit up during his fight against Taurmillan had long faded, but the silver lines remained and marred his otherwise perfect and golden skin. His face was set in a cold, harsh and unreadable expression and Ganir knew he would probably never see the High Elf’s loss of composure again. He wondered what went on in his mind as all of the College’s mages, one by one, let one of their Mage lights float up into the sky, briefly lighting the College grounds as the flames slowly died down at last and only embers remained.

It was a beautiful gesture that deeply moved Ganir. They briefly stood in silence before Faralda took the lead and lead the way to the Midden, which had been made more accessible by Jarl Korir’s men by raising a ramp and widening its opening.

It still was a dark and foreboding place, but the way to where Cirilonde had been laid to rest, had been polished up and restored the best they could. Each step grew heavier than words could describe as the labyrinth came into sight. The way was lit by candles and flowers had been laid down to the sides of the tunnel until they reached the room where the Staff of Magnus had been hidden away not too long ago.

He saw how Ancano swallowed and he too struggled to contain his emotions. In the center of the room, on an altar of ice, covered by a black, velvet burial cloth, lay Cirilonde. She wore a white, burial dress-robe and her long hair had been braided and laid over her shoulder. Her hands were folded on her chest, holding Savos Aren’s amulet. It was as though she were asleep and could wake any moment.

Colette had outdone herself to lay Cirilonde to rest in the fashion they had all known her to be; beautiful, serene and graceful. Colette stood with a straight back and silent tears rolled down her cheeks, clad in black and grey robes. The Augur of Dunlain hovered next to her.

One by one the College’s inhabitants approached Cirilonde, leaving a flower and a whisper of goodbye through their tears. Brelyna even left a charm she had made. She and Cirilonde had gotten along very well and would often discuss magical theories if not practice together when she had not been too occupied with helping Tolfdir out.

Ganir had gotten along well with most of the staff and students, but Cirilonde had been everything to him in the short time he’d gotten to know her so well. He felt his heart break as the memories of their short time together flooded him from. How she had looked terrified in the mud and snow after he slew the Thalmor assassins, how they had laughed at the little moments they had shared to the intense battle against Ancano and the dragon and how they had bickered over Ancano’s allegiances.

He looked at the High Elf who stood alone not too far away from him. He still couldn’t pinpoint the cold and aloof Altmer’s true thoughts or feelings, but he trusted him. He had morals. He had honor…And he was brilliant. Only they, Colette and the Augur remained in the room now and he knew that Ancano had purposely waited so he could be alone with Cirilonde.

You loved her as much as I.

With leaden feet, Ganir walked over to the altar and stroked Cirilonde’s cold cheek with the back of his hand, digging a sharp tooth in his lip. “I could not save them. In the end, it was all in vain.” The Augur had recovered over the course of days, but he was still weak and his light didn’t shine as bright. “I have failed you.”

“You came to Tolfdir’s rescue even though it nearly cost you,” Ganir said without tearing his gaze from Cirilonde. Whatever world would greet her, she would grace it like a radiant beacon of kindness and gentleness. “We all did what we could, Augur. You haven’t failed us once. Thank you for everything you’ve done and tried to do.”

The Augur hovered in silence, clearly moved by the genuine words. “And I thank you, Ganir the Dragonborn. Without the help of you and Ancano, we would not have prevailed.”

“And we will prevail no matter what they will throw against us. I will see to it that this place will be protected no matter what,” Ganir promised. He didn’t deserve to die. She didn’t deserve to die…

“As you have.” There was a hint of a small but bitter smile to the Augur’s voice. “For now, we shall part ways...”

Ganir nodded and looked at Ancano over his shoulder, who had patiently been waiting. He then looked back at Cirilonde and squeezed her hand, rubbing his thumb over the back of her hand. He leaned in and kissed her forehead. “Until the next dawn, Ciri.”

He pulled away and straightened himself. He didn’t want to leave but he knew he had too lest he never. The Dark Elf pulled his hood up as he turned to leave and made no eye-contact with the High Elf in passing, who then finally stepped forward. He waited until the Augur and Colette were gone.

Now that he was alone, Ancano didn’t know what to do or say. There had been a great, many people he had lost over the decades due to the Great War and its aftermath, but he’d never gotten close to anyone, until he met Elenwen. She had held a brilliance, ambition and cunning that initially annoyed him, until he found it challenging and alluring. They had been close. Intimate…And she betrayed him to rise in the Thalmor ranks over his back and that of the countless, innocent lives.

But you, not once…You were always there. He closed his eyes as he could so vividly remember holding her as they practiced Destruction magic. Whenever she had been close, the distinct scent of jasmine lingered. Her melodious, serene incanting resounded in his ears still like a lament. The way her green eyes had initially shot fire at him, but then softened over the course of time. He refused to acknowledge the salty droplets that escaped his eyes but his body betrayed him for his knuckles turned white as he clenched his hands into trembling fists. The life had been torn from her and there had been nothing he could do to stop it.

Knowledge is power. Power corrupts. It destroys. It is inevitable. Your path will lead you to a destruction that will tear away all you hold dear. The Augur’s words echoed in his mind when they had first met as he had so arrogantly sought him out to get answers about the Eye.

The Eye’s mark had humbled him. The Thalmor had humiliated and tortured him, maiming his body. But all the wounds he had sustained at the hands of the Eye of Magnus and the Thalmor paled in comparison to the pain he felt tearing away at his heart. Divines knew that if he could change anything, he would have kissed her one of those long evenings they would tend to the correspondence and inventory long after Tolfdir had retreated for the night. She had broken all the walls he had built up over the course of decades. The three words were there, but instead, he reprimanded himself, his whole body shaking with grief. I never should have come here… “It doesn’t matter.” He bit to himself in a sharp tone. She’s gone. She won’t come back no matter what you do, fool. What makes you even think…

But he had held her hand and did not want to leave her.


“I have good reason to believe that the target will be coming to Riften in the next few days. Discretion is preferred, but elimination of the target is of the highest priority. The usual restrictions on exposure are lifted—you will be reassigned outside Skyrim if necessary, without penalty.

Do not fail me.

--E.”

The contents of the note deeply troubled Ondolemar. Granted, they had eliminated the witnesses involved, but the fact that Elenwen knew ‘someone’ was coming for Esbern other than the Thalmor, made him worry for his safety. This didn’t seem to worry the two Blades that rode some distance behind him and caught up with each other.

The road from Riften to Winterhold had been long, but they had not once stopped to rest. Delphine and Esbern would take turns to hold the reins of the other’s horse as one of them slept. Though elves didn’t need sleep as much as the common mortal, Ondolemar was exhausted but he didn’t trust the two Blades enough to close his eyes for even a moment.

But finally as the sun was setting, they rode towards the College of Winterhold and when they reached the bridge, they were approached by a tall, Altmer female clad in red gold-trimmed robes and fur-lined boots. Ondolemar dismounted and shook the hand she held out. “You must be the Justiciar we’ve been waiting for,” she said. “I am Faralda, the instruction of the Destruction arts at the College.”

“Ondolemar,” he replied, returning the courtesy. “I see that you have prevailed against the crisis that held this College in its grasp.”

Faralda sighed, “At a price.” She then looked past him at the two Blades that made to dismount, narrowing her eyes. “The Arch-Mage does not permit for strangers to wander the perimeter of his grounds. I will have to request you stay at the Frozen Heart Inn until summoned.”

“Summoned?” Delphine repeated in disbelief. “The Dragonborn had us come all the way here to see him! We have information that is of the utmost importance!”

“And he has been tending to matters of utmost importance. We will send for one of our own to retrieve you when he and the Arch-Mage are ready to receive you.” Without another word, Faralda then gestured for Ondolemar to follow her and he couldn’t help but be smug as Delphine angrily gripped the reins of her horse and walked off with Esbern.

“Ganir took the liberty to inform us of everything that has transpired in Solitude and how you have helped us,” she said as they crossed the bridge. “If you wish, we’ve prepared a room for you where you can refresh yourself and get a change of attire.”

“That would be desirable.” Ondolemar beheld the College grounds and though the building was ancient and crude, he had to admit it looked rather impressive. The College’s inhabitants worked together with the villagers to mend the damage the building had sustained in the course of the battle. Doors and windows were being replaced and in the center of the courtyard, near the large font, stood a rather large rock that was currently being carved into shape by a stone mason. Despite their intentions to repair the College, the stones were forever marked by the deep gashes and scorch marks the blades and spells had left upon collision

A great battle had taken place here and Ondolemar worried for Ancano’s well-being. Where in Oblivion was he? Normally, he would’ve greeted him with some sarcastic sneer… Faralda noticed how the Thalmor’s eyes sought the grounds, scanning the countless, strange faces. “He is well as far as the circumstances allow,” Faralda reassured him as she led him into the Hall of Countenance. “I’ll inform them that you’ve arrived while you prepare yourself. If there’s anything you need, just ask.”

“I thank you,” Ondolemar bowed his head to the other Altmer who then left. Now that he was alone, he wasn’t just thankful that he could wash himself, but he was also glad to see that there indeed was a spare set of robes which had been laid out for him on the bed.

As he washed the grime and filth off his body, his mind wandered. It had only been a week ago that Ancano and Ganir had appeared on his doorstep in Markarth. He hadn’t known what to expect in Riften when he went to retrieve the Blades’ lore master, but he had been most uncertain of what would await him in Winterhold.

It all came rather close now and he wondered what consequences this chain of events would have for him, but given that no Thalmor had survived the skirmish in the Ratway, he figured he was safe for now. But at the same time, he wondered where his allegiances now lay.

The ideals of High Elven supremacy that had been instilled on him from a young age on seemed to have drastically turned for the worse over the course of the past decades. Rather than the Altmer people to be the divine beacons of wisdom and supremacy, the Thalmor seemed to have grown twisted and corrupted, focusing their intent on eradicating all mortal races and purging the impurities amongst even their own blood lines.

This had only strengthened the dissent amongst his own people who began to question the Thalmor and the cultural structure of hierarchy that had been the pillars of Altmer society for so many centuries. In his eyes, what use was supremacy if there was no one to bask in the awe of it all?

There was no doubt about it that the Dragonborn would tear all this asunder, but Ondolemar didn’t know what to think or how to feel about this.

Elenwen knew absolutely nothing about the whole Dragon crisis, as he referred to it and though she was outranked, she had neglected her duty as the First Emissary to not put a halt to the Lord Exarch’s pursuits of a far too dangerous artefact. To him, it proved that the Thalmor were growing desperate and eager for power.

A knock came at his door, tearing him from his line of thoughts. “Who goes?”

“Ganir,” replied the Dark Elf. “I’d appreciate a moment of your time.”

“Enter.” Ondolemar fastened the sash of his new robes around his waist and turned to face the Dark Elf. He had expected the handsome, rogue-ish grin and the spark in those cold, red eyes, but instead, he found that the Dark Elf’s eyes looked hollow and dull. His sunken cheeks made him look far more gaunt and so much older than he already was.

“I understood from Faralda that your prevalence against the Lord Exarch cost you dearly, though she wouldn’t elaborate on it.” Ondolemar said. If he looked as terrible as he did, he wondered what state Ancano was in.

“I asked her not too because I wanted to do so myself. Hence why I’m here before we all meet in the Arch-Mage’s Quarters with the Blades.” Ganir’s thick, dark hair shimmered in the feint light as he ran his fingers through it, contemplating where to begin. “To get it out of the way, Ancano is injured, but…all right, given the circumstances. The Lord Exarch besieged the College like we had feared and though we stopped him, we could not prevent the deaths of our Arch-Mage, Tolfdir or the death of our advisor and dear friend, Cirilonde.”

Ondolemar furrowed his brow as countless questions arose. Had Faralda not mentioned that there was an Arch-Mage? And this Cirilonde…A dark suspicion began to form in his mind as to why he hadn’t seen his friend yet.

“If your Arch-Mage perished, then who is now?” he asked.

“Ancano,” Ganir replied. “Tolfdir’s death was devastating in its own right and though Ancano was reluctant to take up the mantle of Arch-Mage, he knew that the College needs him and it’s what Cirilonde would have wanted…She died trying to save him.”

The pieces of the puzzle flawlessly fell into place for Ondolemar and it explained why Ancano had refused to discuss Cirilonde with him, but now she was gone.

“It will do him good to see a familiar face such as yours, so I was hoping you could stay a while,” Ganir concluded.

“But of course,” he said. “However, even if that wasn’t the case, I might have to.” The Justiciar handed the Dark Elf the note he had found on Shavari’s body.

Ganir’s brow furrowed, troubled. “Were you compromised?”

Ondolemar shook his head. “Not as far as I know, but we are to be cautious if our cooperation is to continue.”

“I never meant for anyone to get dragged into all this. I’m sorry.” Frustrated, Ganir crumpled up the note. Just when they had overcome one hurdle, another one reared its ugly head. Granted, the Thalmor from the Ratway had been eliminated, but they had no idea if the Thalmor were aware of Ondolemar’s involvement in any of it. He could very well be in danger. “I owe you a great deal for helping me out even though you had all reason not to. If there’s anything you need, just ask. The people here won’t harm you. They know who you are and why you are here. Stay as long as you need and like.”

The relief was clear on Ondolemar’s face. At least he would be safe somewhere, should it come to that. “I thank you.”

The Dark Elf had turned to walk away, but then stopped to look at him over his shoulder. “Ancano is either with her now, or he’s locked himself away in his quarters. Perhaps it would lighten his mood if he were to see you before we meet with the Blades later tonight. As your lot says ‘the Thalmor’s memory is long’ and he certainly hasn’t forgotten about Solitude.”


Later that night, the Dragonborn led the Blades and Justiciar up to the Arch-Mage’s Quarters. Even though Ganir had warned him beforehand, Ondolemar’s face showed clear concern for Ancano when he laid eyes on him. Ancano no longer donned the Thalmor robes they both were so accustomed too. Instead, Ancano wore dark-brown, velvet and fur-lined robes with golden trimmings. He would’ve looked quite imposing if he didn’t look as though he hadn’t slept or eaten in days. His eyes held a harsh coldness that was very unlike him.

Then again, it most likely had to do with Delphine, who shifted uncomfortably under the intense, cold glare of the Arch-Mage. She felt as though he was burning holes into her very being. As satisfying as it was to see her discomfort, Ondolemar hoped the Breton was wise enough to not provoke him. Finally, Ancano’s eyes shot to Esbern, who had politely introduced himself and seemed oblivious to the fact that Ancano was a former Thalmor.

“From what I understood, you possess the required knowledge on how to stop this…dragon crisis?” Ancano asked the old Nord after he had regarded him with a disdainful indifference.

“Yes…Yes,” Esbern seemed a bit distracted as he had occupied himself with taking in his surroundings, eyeing the odd trinkets and ends that lined the shelves and desk. “It has been such a long time since we last had any glimmer of hope, but now that a Dragonborn has appeared, this logically changes everything. But there’s no time to lose while Alduin is still out there. We must locate…Hold on, let me show you something…” The old Nord rummaged through the bag he had slung over his shoulder. “I know I had it here, somewhere…”

“Esbern…what are you doing?” Delphine suppressed the urge to roll her eyes. Though they’d been able to eat at the Frozen Hearth, she was exhausted. Sleeping on horseback wasn’t exactly comfortable. And she really didn’t want to stay here any longer than needed. Ondolemar was intimidating in his own right, but Ancano was another story. If looks could kill, she would’ve been dead and buried at this point…if not disintegrated on the spot and he seemed most capable of both.

“Ah, here it is. Let me show you…” Esbern produced a moldy, leather bound book from his bag and laid it on the Arch-Mage’s desk, opening it on a particular page. “You see this right here? Sky Haven Temple. Constructed around one of the main Akaviri military camps in the Reach, during their conquest of Skyrim.”

Delphine furrowed her brow. “What are you going on about, Esbern? What does any of this-,?”

Esbern shushed Delphine, waving his hand, tapping at a particular paragraph in the book. “This is where they built Alduin’s Wall. To set down in stone all their accumulated dragon lore. A hedge against the forgetfulness of centuries. A wise and foresighted policy, in the event. Despite the far-reaching fame of Alduin’s Wall at the time, one of the wonders of the ancient world, its location was lost.”

“Would you care to get to the point, lore master? What does this ‘wall’ have to do with anything?” Ancano’s voice had held an icy tone while his long fingers drummed on the desk; a clear indicator the Arch-Mage’s patience was wearing thing, which seemed best avoided given his disposition. Though the old Nord clearly possessed a vast amount of knowledge they needed, he was far too caught up in the details he forgot why he was really here in the first place…or who he was talking too.

Esbern cleared his throat, noticing the warning look that Delphine had given him. “I’m not surprised that you haven’t heard of Alduin’s Wall, though I’m surprise you haven’t, Delphine.”

“Just tell us what Alduin’s Wall has to do with stopping the dragons, Esbern. We don’t have time for this right now,” Delphine said, crossing her arms over her chest.

“Alduin’s Wall was where the ancient Blades recovered all they knew of Alduin and his return. Part history, part prophecy. Its location has been lost for centuries, but I’ve found it again. Not lost, you see, just forgotten. The Blades’ archives held so many secrets…I was only to save a few scraps after the Thalmor burned most of Cloud Ruler Temple down…” As the Old Nord laid out the notes and sketches he had gathered over the years, he gave Ondolemar a pointed glare when Cloud Ruler Temple was mentioned. “Alduin’s Wall will hold the key on how to stop Alduin.”

They all looked at the information laid out on the desk by Esbern. According to his research, like he pointed out, Sky Haven Temple was located East of Markarth. “Sky Haven Temple it is then, I suppose.”

Ganir, however, slammed his hand down on the map Delphine had made to take. “I don’t think you and I are going anywhere after what you pulled on me in Solitude…”

“Gods be damned, Dragonborn, are you honestly still begrudging me for that?” Delphine slammed her fist down in return. “You had me ride for Riften with him-,” Ondolemar and she exchanged death-glares, “-through cold and storm and had us wait for hours because you had ‘better things to do’. I told you a dozen times back then that I couldn’t. Risk. It.”

“If I am to work with you I need to know whether I can trust you or not and right now I wouldn’t trust you with the life of my worst enemy!” Ganir’s eyes flared up as he and the Breton glared each other down. Ondolemar glanced at Ancano, who regarded the argument with a calculating glimmer in his eyes. “Abandoning me with a treacherous wood elf and an injured comrade in the heat of pursuit by the Thalmor. Disobeying Ondolemar’s direct orders to wait and your complete disrespect and disregard for anything but your narrow-minded views. You will be either the death of me, or what I have left in this cursed land!

“You think you have lost a lot? That you have suffered? I was there when the gates to Oblivion opened. I was there when Martin shattered the Amulet of Kings and sacrificed himself for all of us and I was there when they burned Cloud Ruler Temple to the ground and butchered every last one of them. But I was not there in time to save Tolfdir or Cirilonde…and I won’t let it happen again because you can’t fucking swallow your pride and cease to be blinded by your hatred.” Delphine stood in silent, trembling rage and disbelief. He had not spoken in the Dragon’s tongue, but the Dragonborn’s voice had shaken her to the very core. “Now. Get. Out.”

It was Esbern who spoke who stood up, breaking the Dragonborn’s ‘hold’ on her. “As you wish, Dragonborn. We will await your summons in the Frozen Hearth Inn as you asked of us. If there is anything you need, we are at your disposal.”

“Thank you, lore master.” Ganir spoke without tearing his gaze away from Delphine’s, who finally cast her eyes down and nodded.

“As you wish, Dragonborn.”

A shiver ran down Ondolemar’s spine. He had never experienced such an intense power and he realized that very moment, all his doubts were erased. Ganir Mathendis truly was a force to be reckoned with that would definitely tear asunder the dissent that held Tamriel in its grasp.

Ganir and Ondolemar regarded Ancano, who looked tired and pinched the bridge of his nose. “I’ll see to it they actually leave the College grounds. I’m sure the two of you have a lot to discuss.”

“Yes. Of course.” Came Ancano’s irritable response, but he made no indication that he desired to be left alone. The heavy chair he was sat in scraped over the stone floor and Ondolemar followed him to the large window where the Arcane Eye was embedded into.

“Ganir told me of what occurred,” Ondolemar said, the both of them watched Ganir escort the two Blades off the grounds like he said he would. “I am sorry for your losses. She sounded like a gentle soul.”

He hadn’t thought it possible but Ancano’s facial expression hardened even more. He had folded his hands behind his back and began clenching and unclenching his hands into fists. “It doesn’t matter. They are gone. Nor do I have need for your sentiments. Aside from the Dragon Crisis, we have a minor issue I’ll need your assistance with lest I strangle the life out of him with my bare hands.”

Ondolemar raised a brow. “Do tell.”

“When the Lord Exarch died by my hands, his General immediately surrendered. I would have torn him apart had he not made a bold claim that I cannot ignore,” Ancano said. “Apparently, the Lord Exarch hoped to use her parents as leverage against Cirilonde to disclose the location of the Staff of Magnus, which as you can see here, is broken…” Ondolemar looked at the nearby enchanting table, where a dragon-bone carved staff lay with shattered crystal-fragments. “I’ve spent a few good nights to figure out how to mend it, but for so far, I’ve made no progress…” he then waved his hand in a dismissive manner, seemingly annoyed he was so distracted. “I will need you to interrogate this General in disclosing the whereabouts of her elders. They need to be informed of their daughter’s death…” he then turned away from Ondolemar, “…and recover her remains, if they so desire.”

“I will do what I can.” Ondolemar crossed his arms over his chest. “On the condition you get yourself a proper meal and rest.”

There was a barely visible tug at the corner of Ancano’s lip. “But of course, mother.”

Ondolemar put his hand on Ancano’s shoulder before he left to do as asked.

Notes:

What, you thought that this would be the end of it all?

Oh no no no no no! Of course not.

But hey, can't just go about spoiling everything now, can I?

Unless of course, you want me too

Volgende: Skyrim: The Unlikely Companions – Chapter 20 07-'16 Skyrim: The Unlikely Companions – Chapter 20
Volgende: Skyrim: The Unlikely Companions – Chapter 18 04-'16 Skyrim: The Unlikely Companions – Chapter 18

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