Chapter 4: Stories
Edward faced his mother defiantly. "I'm not sick and I'm not a baby. I can stay here by myself. I don't need Mith." There was a dangerous glint in Moraelyn's eyes. Aliera's lips thinned. "You will mind him, Edward."
"Yes, madam," Edward said sulkily.
"Come on, wife. Mith knows how to deal with princes who don't want his company." The three adults laughed a bit in their irritating way at a joke he didn't understand.
The weather was drizzly and Edward had the sniffles. His mother had decided that he shouldn't go out, even though they were only going visiting. Moraelyn had taken his side, but threw out his hands and raised his brows at Edward in a helpless gesture when Aliera insisted that he stay behind. Mith, whom Edward liked the least of the Companions, had volunteered to stay with him. Even Ssa'ass would have been better. Mith was scruffy looking. Like a stableboy. And cheeky, even for a Companion. Edward sulked silently for awhile longer. Mith had fetched a broom and was sweeping the house out, brushing dirt from the room above into the room Edward was in. What on earth was the use of staying in when there wasn't really any 'in' to stay in? Edward got tired of sulking, fetched a broom and went up to help sweep.
"Mith", Edward said. "have you ever been to the Crystal Tower?"
"I have. It's an unchancy place at first, but you'll grow used to it." Mith was applying his broom with energy and whistling. "Sweeping was kind of fun there. There weren't any sides to the platforms so all you had to do was brush the dirt and leaves over the side. You started at the top and worked your way down."
"You're quick with the broom, Mith. I haven't half finished my side yet. Will there be others there like me?"
"Oh, some children, I'd think. Most'll be somewhat older. I should be quick with a broom. My father had me sweeping out the king's stables when I was your age. I used to dream and talk too much like you; he beat me for it. So I learned to be quick."
Edward swept faster, stirring up dust. "Not like that, boy. Watch me. Anyway, there's no hurry; it's just habit with me. Moraelyn'd serve me my head on a platter if I touched you. My father, heh, he was always...well, he was a hard man to please. He was a Nord."
"Your father?" Edward stared at Mith, but Mith looked much like the other Dark Elves he'd seen. Not many. Dark elves didn't come to Daggerfall; Gerald had banned them. But he'd seen some on his rare trips to other courts. And there were some in Firsthold besides Moraelyn and Mith. "Did he have red hair?" Mith's hair was a dark red. Gerald had red hair. "He tended the stables for Moraelyn?" No wonder Mith looked like a stableboy. But Edward kept his tone polite. Mith had a sharp tongue...and Edward knew that neither of his parents would be sympathetic if he complained that Mith had been impertinent.
"He did have red hair. Maybe I got mine from him...but mostly mixed elf and human children come out dark elf. No, Moraelyn wasn't a king then or expecting to be...'sides this was in Blacklight, where I was born. Moraelyn's brother was king in Ebonheart in those days. He came up to visit our King and brought Moraelyn along. To keep him out of trouble, he said." Mith grinned. "I grinned when I heard him say that, and I saw the boy looking at me out of the tail of his eye, but he wouldn't take notice. Like I was the dirt or something worse. His brother tossed him a pouch and told him to go into town and get his knife mended. Jerked his thumb at me and told me to show him the way."
"Moraelyn said he didn't need an escort to find a store and stalked off like princes do." Mith grinned knowingly at Edward. But the grin wasn't unfriendly. Edward smiled back a bit, and Mith went on. "Our king eyeballed me, so I took off after him. Moraelyn didn't spare me so much as a glance. Went four blocks out of his way, down by the wharfs, and when I tried to tell him where the store was he shoved me right off the pier. I could Levitate, of course, but he caught me by surprise and I went in with a big splash, and everyone laughing like jackasses. I got myself out and went straight to the store and waited for him - but not so he could see me - and when he finally showed up, I lifted the pouch right off him. He didn't even know it was gone. So in he goes and tosses the knife on the counter and tells the smith to fix it right off. Which he does. Only then Moraelyn can't pay him, tells the smith he's the King of Ebonheart's brother, the smith just laughs and says, 'And I'm the Archmagister.' Then the smith calls the guard and three of them show up. Well, Moraelyn wasn't what he is now - three guards wouldn't even warm him up nowadays - but he was even faster then. He was out of there so fast he nearly knocked me over at the door. He lost the guards pretty quick; all that armor slows 'em down. I found him crouching in one of those hedge mazes in the park. He was doubled over out of breath but still I stood a good ways off while I asked him real nasty if he needed an escort back to the Palace. Not that I was planning to go back! I was gonna take the money and run and never look back, I tell you! But I had to have the last word. I wasn't born high but I was born proud."
"He glared at me for a minute or so, catching his breath, then he just rolled over and started to laugh that laugh of his. Prince or no, I started to like him then. When we'd finished laughing, more or less, we started talking. I told him I didn't want to go back. Nor dared to. 'Princes don't get blamed, Prince,' I said, 'Stableboys do.' He said that wasn't entirely the case, but he saw my point. Then he said that as I was his escort then he must obey his brother and come with me. And that his name was Moraelyn, not Prince. We've been together ever since....more or less."
Edward smiled politely. He could see why Mith had run away, but not why Moraelyn had gone with him. Unless he was afraid to face his brother about the stolen money. Edward tried to imagine Moraelyn being afraid to face anyone and failed. "I wish I was brave. Like you and Moraelyn."
"Why, you are brave. And your courage will grow with the rest of you."
"Are there only High Elf boys at the Tower?"
"There'll be other sorts, too, most likely. A few Dark Elves, for sure. D'ye miss your own kind?"
Edward shook his head. "Human boys don't like me much anyway. Nor High Elf boys..." His eyes filled suddenly and he turned his head away. But Mith's voice was unexpectedly gentle. "I thought you wanted to go to the Tower."
"I do. But..."
"You'll be lonely."
"That's a hard thing to face."
"Did you go there alone, Mith?"
"No. Moraelyn did, but he was older than you, by a good bit. A grown man, in fact. They didn't take any but High Elf students in those days, you know. But Moraelyn heard of them and said he wanted to go there. We were together already, the seven of us, save for Aliera, and a handy bunch in a fight. Moraelyn had already gotten that Dragon's Blade he wears, and the Dragon's Tooth to go with it - remind me to tell you about that sometime - and he was a famous fighter already. And the rest of us aren't slackers. But he thought we could be better at the spellcasting and the Tower was the place to learn that. Well, no one goes near the Tower without an invitation. No one! No one would even tell you where it was. But they'd tell you where NOT to go. So he went there. Alone. One morning he was gone and there a note saying for us to wait for him. So we did, here in Firsthold. He was gone two weeks, then he came back one night, rowing across with the tide. He just said they'd accepted him, but he couldn't say anything more about it. But he asked me to come back with him."
"'They want me?' 'Well, they've accepted one Dark Elf,' he said. 'One more shouldn't bother them too much.' So we go there, and bless me if the Archmagister himself didn't meet us at the door and demand to know the meaning of this. I wanted to turn myself into a rock! I was wishing hard that I was stable dung! And figured I was like to get my wish soon. But Moraelyn speaks up real polite that this is the friend he'd mentioned and the Archmagister had expressed an interest in his abilities, and naturally he'd want to see for himself."
"But the Archmagister was real interested. See, they don't wear armor or carry anything but a staff and a dagger. They think it interferes with their spellcasting, all that metal. But Moraelyn could cast pretty well even with chain and with any one-hand weapon at all. And I could cast wearing leather and as much as a saber, though it's an unwieldy weapon; I like my short sword better. Truth, they didn't think that much of me, but Moraelyn...he'd camped outside their door. And when they tried to move him he just sat there! They threw all the spells they had at him, the troll guards, everything. Nothing. He laid the trolls out flat and left 'em to regenerate. If they tried to beat him with their staffs he'd ward them off with his blade and the spells didn't turn him a hair."
Edward's mouth gaped open. "How'd he do that!?!" He said.
"Well, it was a trick, in a way. He'd picked up something that came natural to Willow. See, Willow is different."
"I didn't know Willow could cast!"
"Well, she doesn't have any mana, ordinarily....but she can absorb it if you cast a spell at her, see. O'course it wasn't much use to her, since she'd never been able to learn what t'do with it once she got it. Couldn't get it back once it was gone, so she couldn't practice. Until Morelyn got hold of her and trained her. Well, Moraelyn had figured out pretty much how Willow did what she did....though it cost Moraelyn mana to do what came natural to Willow. So Moraelyn sat there absorbing everything they threw at him and burning it off into a big shield. Drove 'em wild."
"He said the Archmagister could best him, though." Edward suspected that Mith was making up the whole story.
"Well, so he did, when he finally came. But all the rest of 'em together couldn't do it. And all Moraelyn wanted was to study with them. We were a sight, the two of us dark elves in our battle gear among all that white and gold. I felt like a fish out of water, but Moraelyn was interested in what they had to say....and you can bet they hung on every word he said. Not too many words at first. After a fortnight or so, he told me one night to tell the Archmagister that he'd be back in a couple of days. And he shows up with Silk! 'Course he'd been telling 'em about the Khajiits...and they'd been asking questions."
"The Archmagister's no fool. He just stared at Silk, and she purred real loud and rubbed up against him and asked 'How ya doin', Archmagister, baby?' The Archmagister kinda pushes Silk away and says in a whisper, 'How many more?'"
"'Just two, sir.'"
"'What are they?'"
"'Wood elves, sir.'"
"'Just wood elves. Plain ordinary wood elves. No horns, hooves or tails.'"
"'Yes sir. Ah, one of them has an extraordinary Absorb ability with some very unusual features. The other's just a Bard.'"
"'Very well. You may bring the one with the Absorb. We don't want a Bard! They are not true mages.'"
"'Well, that's most generous of you, sir, but the Bard's her brother, sir and I swore to their parents that I wouldn't separate them. So it'll just be the three of us.'"
"'Aye, a pair of twins.'"
"'You may bring them both.'"
"So three days later he's back with the twins AND Ssa'ass AND Slave. The Archmagister looks at them and sort of bobs up and down, but he speaks real quiet. 'Dark Elf, by pair of twins, did you mean TWO SETS of twins? Are you going to tell me that these...these are twins???' Well, I could see that Moraelyn was kinda sorry he hadn't thought of trying that, but he said, 'No sir, the twins are Beech and Willow. The Argonian and the Nord are not prospective initiates. They are specimens. For your collection. You don't have any like them so I thought...'"
"'You thought. I do not have a dragon either! Are you going to think to bring me that next?'"
"'Oh, aye, I could. Would you like one?'"
"'Tell me you are not serious.'"
"'Well, I couldn't promise. And it would take quite a long time, a year maybe, but...'"
"The Archmagister's eyes rolled up toward heaven. 'Thank you, All-Mother, I have at least a year to prepare.' he whispered."
"I don't think Mats and Ssa'ass should have been made specimens. They're people. Even if they aren't elves."
"Oh, they made Ssa'ass an initiate when they found out that he had some interesting Heal spells."
"Mats never minds anything. He hasn't a bit of magic; he couldn't be an initiate. Anyway he'd have hated it. He spent his time gaming with the guards. When he wasn't being studied. Seems he has some interesting magic resistances. Anyway, since then, the initiates aren't just High Elves. And they don't all follow the Mage way."
"I shall. I shall be just like the Archmagister."
"Oh, aye, exactly," Moraelyn's voice sounded lightly behind him. "I'll cut the ears off a donkey for thee and dye thy skin with saffron. Bleach thy hair white and stretch thee a foot" Moraelyn swung him high. "Art well, son? I told thee so, Aliera. He's not ill at all. Good, because the Archmagister's returned. We go to the Tower tomorrow."
'We' was just Moraelyn and Edward. Aliera had caught Edward's cold and they took some pleasure in insisting she remain in bed. Moraelyn rowed them across the river in a small boat and they walked for most of the day, resting a little at midday. It was evening when they reached the tower and the setting sun was glinting off it. Even the sea far below looked red. There was a hush over the countryside.
"It's tall, isn't it?" Edward paused to look.
"Towers generally are."
"Did you really..." Edward broke off. Questions starting in that fashion did not draw satisfactory answers from the elf.
"Has Mith been telling thee tales? He's had ten years to polish that one. I doubt not it glistens like the Tower."
"He told me how you met, too."
"I thought he would."
"I didn't understand why you went off with him? He was a thief and a stableboy and you were a prince."
"You have just named three excellent reasons, Prince."
"You never give me serious answers."
"A serious charge. Very well, then. I saw myself through Mith's eyes and misliked what I saw: a callous bully and a coward, fit to be neither boy nor man nor prince. Why did you run off, Prince?"
Edward hung his head mutely. "Nay, I do not require answers. Come, it grows late." Moraelyn reached his hand for Edward's, but Edward shook him off. If Moraelyn was a coward what did that make Edward? He looked at the Tower door where Moraelyn had demanded and won entrance, though all would shut him out. Edward could never do anything like that, but at least he could walk in on his own as an invited guest.