Chapter 2: Reunion at Firsthold
Edward woke to a red sky. The sun was just
peeking over the western mountains. They were nearing a glittering
tower, fire flashing from every facet. The dragon veered to
fly nearer and shot a long blast of flame. A light flashed
several times from the tower's top as they dropped suddenly.
Edward's stomach felt very peculiar. He sighed and stirred
and felt Moraelyn shift so that his right arm now held Edward.
He stretched and yawned.
"Not much longer now. It's several days
by horse from the Crystal Tower to Firsthold but I judge that
Akatosh will have us there within the hour."
"We're not stopping at the Tower? I'ric..."
"Do not use that name so lightly, not
even to me. The ArchMagister will not return for days yet.
Unicorns are brothers to the wind and travel as fast, even
burdened, but not as fast as dragons fly. You see the Elven
homeland at dawn from the back of a dragon. Count yourself
fortunate among men."
Edward's gaze roamed the deep green woods
and rugged hills. There was no sign of habitation. "It's
lovely," he said politely, "but not so beautiful
as High Rock," he added out of loyalty and truth. "Are
there no towns or villages or farms?"
"The Firstborn live nestled deep in the
trees. And they do not tear up the earth and plant anew, but
take gladly what Auriel offers, and make return. Ahhh, the
green smell of growing things."
Indeed, the air was as heady as the wine Edward
used to sip from his father's cup, before... "I'm hungry."
"I expect so." A bit of shifting
and Moraelyn's left hand produced a small leaf-wrapped package.
The dusky hand was large and strong and looked neither human
nor animal. Edward stared at it with revulsion, then took
the package gingerly so as not to touch the hand. He felt
Moraelyn stiffen and the hand that held Edward relaxed its
grasp a bit. Edward felt ashamed of his reaction. It was neither
kind nor wise to give offense in the circumstances. Moraelyn
could quite easily drop him overboard. "I need to bathe,
but so do you," he said stiffly. Moraelyn was deliberately
misinterpreting the reaction, Edward knew. "Yes, I'm
very dirty," Edward bit into the cake which proved much
better than it looked. "My lady mother's used to seeing
me like this, at least she used to be. But perhaps I should
"I think you will not be offered that
choice. Ah, at last!" The dragon spread his wings, sent
a huge gout of flame soaring skyward and dropped to earth
in a large clearing. The landing was abrupt and jarring. Elves
appeared quite suddenly and arms reached up to take him and
Shag, who woke at last, ran frantically in circles, and then
sat panting at Edward's feet.
A tall elf with fiery hair like copper greeted
them formally. "Greetings, my lord King. Your lady wife
awaits you. Prince Edward, I welcome you to the land of the
Firstborn on behalf of all its people. May your stay here
prove pleasant and productive."
Moraelyn nodded deferentially. "Thank
you, my host. My Queen has waited long enough; we will go
to her now." Moraelyn's hand on his shoulder steered
Edward toward the largest tree he'd ever seen. The trunk was
hollow; steps inside led up; openings gave out onto more steps
and bridges along and among the mighty branches. They proceeded
along these until they reached a large canopied platform,
furnished with seats and chests as if it were a room. A golden
skinned woman smiled at them and waved them in, then left.
A tall slender, pale-skinned, dark-haired human woman paced
toward them, her eyes on Edward. Only Edward.
"Why did you leave us!" The cry
came from deep inside, ringing through him. It stopped her
several paces from him. Now her eyes lifted to Moraelyn, who
said in a harsher tone than Edward had yet heard from him.
"Thou wilt address thy Mother with respect, cub!"
A glancing blow made his eyes water.
Aliera crossed quickly to Moraelyn and placed
her hands on his chest. "Greeting, my husband. All praise
to Notorgo for bringing you and my son safely to me."
"Thank also the Lord of the Dragons and
the Bandit, who could not have lifted the boy more neatly
himself. The ArchMagister had somewhat to do with it as well."
Moraelyn's dusky hands came up to hold her bare arms lightly
and tenderly. He laughed, looking relaxed and happy. But the
hands against his chest formed a barrier as much as a caress.
"I am blessed indeed. But it has been
long since my son and I have spoken. We may find words more
easily if we seek them alone together."
Moraelyn's smile vanished instantly. "Are
words then a thing which two can find more easily than three?
Well. Perhaps. At times. Wife." He turned on his heel
and left. The bridge swung and creaked, but his feet made
no sound at all.
Aliera watched after him, but he did not look
back. Edward felt again the curious mix of satisfaction and
regret that came with giving pain to his enemy. "Edward,
my son, come and sit by me."
Edward stood where he was, "Madam mother,
I have waited many years and travelled many leagues to have
an answer. I will wait no longer, nor go one step further."
"What have you been told?"
"That you were most treacherously kidnapped
by night with the aid of magic, while my father slept, trusting
in the honor of his guest."
"Your father told you that. And Moraelyn?"
"Said that you came full willing. I would
hear what you say."
"Would you hear why I left your father
or why I did not take you with me, having chosen to go."
Edward paused, thinking, "Madam, I would
hear the truth, therefore I must give the truth. I would hear
why you left me behind. The other, I think I know, as much
as I can or would know, unless you wish to tell me more or
"The truth? Truth is not a single thing
existing apart from those who apprehend it. But I will tell
you my truth and perhaps then you may arrive at your truth.
Aliera walked back to a softly pillowed chair
and composed herself. Nearby a small ruby colored bird settled
on a branch and trilled an accompaniment to her soft voice.
"My parents arranged my marriage as is
the custom of our homeland. I did not love Corcyr, but in
the beginning I respected him and tried to be a good wife.
He did not care for me, nor did he take care. And so he lost
my respect and I died a little each day, withering like an
untended plant. I was happy only with you, but Corcyr thought
I was making you too soft. "Womanish," he said,
and so, after your third birthday I was allowed to spend only
an hour each day with you. I listened to your cries and sat
weeping, without heart for anything. Finally, you ceased crying
and asking for me, and my heart was left empty. I formed the
habit of walking and riding much of the time, alone save for
a guard or two. Then Moraelyn came. He wanted to mine for
ebony in the Wrothgarian Mountains. The land he wanted to
use was part of my dowry. He was willing to train our people
in the arts of its use and even to give them weapons of Dark
Elf making. In return our people were to aid him in keeping
the goblins away, and allow him to form a colony of his people
in High Rock. Corcyr had no use for the land and he wanted
the weapons very much indeed -- there are none better -- so
he favored the proposal. There were many details to be discussed
and arranged and it fell to me to conduct these negotiations.
Corcyr despises Dark Elves and he was jealous of Moraelyn,
who was already famed as the finest fighter in all Tamriel.
"But Moraelyn is more than a skilled
fighter; he's well-read and interested in everything under
the sun. He sang and played as if taught by Jeh Free and Jhim
Sei both. He was a companion such as I'd only dreamed of...that
and no more, I swear. We both love to be outside, so our discussions
took place while riding and walking, but always accompanied
by his men and Corcyr's. When all was arranged, Corcyr gave
a great feast to celebrate the treaty. All of High Rock nobility
came and many from other provinces. At the end Corcyr was
deep in his cups and let fall an insult that could only be
washed out in blood. I had long since retired with the other
ladies so I know not what it was, but I'd heard enough in
private to know that Corcyr had a store of such to choose
from. Moraelyn gave the challenge and gave Corcyr until noon,
that he might recover such wits as he had.
"Then Moraelyn came to me, alone in my
chamber, and told me what had befallen. 'Milady, I think he
will choose your brother as his champion; in any case there
will be a river of blood between us that may not be crossed
in this life or any other. I can live without your love, but
I would not have your enmity. Come with me now, as wife or
honored guest, as you choose. And you shall serve as blood
price in stead of your kith or kin.'
"And there, in the moonlight, in my terror,
with my ladies sleeping about me, I knew I loved him. Doubted
that I could live without him. And yet, I loved you more!
'My son,' I whispered. 'I can't'. 'Milady, you must choose.
I am sorry.' You see, don't you, Edward? If I stayed, it meant
my brother's death his innocent young blood. Or your father's!
Or possibly that of the man I loved, though I counted that
most unlikely. Moraelyn's fighting skills alone were supreme,
and in an affair of this sort he would be entitled to call
on magic aid as well. 'We could take him with us.' But Moraelyn
shook his head sadly, 'That I will not do. It would go against
my honor to part father and son.'"
"Leaving love alone, I am trained to
duty", Aliera said proudly. "Should I have robbed
you of your father or your loving uncle? And I thought it
likely that Corcyr, should he survive, would somehow blame
me for the affair and use it as an excuse to put me away.
I thought that Corcyr would be pleased to have me gone. I
knew he wanted the weapons very much. I could trade them for
time with you, I thought." All this passed through my
mind while Moraelyn stood waiting, not looking at me.
"Lady Mara, help me to choose wisely,
I prayed. 'You truly want me as wife? I could bring you nothing
"'Aliera, I would have you to wife. And
I want nothing but yourself.' He shed his cloak and wrapped
it round my body, pulling the bedclothes away."
"'Moraelyn, wait is this right, what
"'Milady, if I thought this wrong, I
should not be standing here! Of the choices you are given,
this one seems to me most right.' He swung me up in his arms
and carried me to his horse. And so I left your father's house,
clad only in his cloak and riding before him. And wild joy
mixed with my sorrow, so that I scarce knew how I felt. That
is my truth."
Edward said quietly, "But he has parted
my father and me in the end."
"With great reluctance. And only because
the dragon says that you and your father were in truth already
parted in heart. It is only a matter of more leagues. Which
provide a measure of safety for you. Moraelyn insisted that
you should freely consent to come. You are as free to return
any time you wish."
"Moraelyn would have just taken me! It
was I'r...I mean, the ArchMagister, who insisted that I must
"He's not a patient man by nature. And
he is anxious to do Corcyr no harm. Doubtless he felt the
discussion could be carried on as well elsewhere."
"He called him King of the Small Cock.
And laughed. Why? Are Daggerfall cockerels smaller than Ebonheart
birds? And what does it matter, anyway? My father was very
angry; I think he would have liked to fight. But it's true
he hates me. I knew that, but I didn't want to know, so I
pretended not to. I don't suppose Moraelyn would do that."
"He'd lie, though. He thought about telling
me he was my father. I could see it."
Aliera threw back her head and laughed her
pretty rippling laugh; he remembered it from long ago, and
it sent shivers down his back. "He must have wanted to
claim it very badly indeed if he let you see it; he's usually
quicker than that. And he does not lie under oath, or to hurt
those he loves."
"He doesn't love me; he doesn't even
"But I do, my dear son. You..."
Edward thought she was going to say he'd grown; adults always
remarked on his growth, even if he'd just seen them a week
ago. Very strange, since he was small for his age. Instead
she said, "You're just as I thought you'd be," with
deep maternal satisfaction.
"And he loves you. But he said he was
no one's errand boy. Yet you dismissed him as if he were."
Aliera's face and neck burned a deep crimson.
"Nay, though I am reduced to serving
man, it seems." Moraelyn had entered silently, bearing
a huge tray piled high with food. "Get me a stool, boy,
you can play page if I can play server. You must be famished
and I thought I'd best return before my wife gets round to
the rest of my faults. Could take her most of the day listing
them." He'd shed the mail and bathed and dressed in fresh
black jerkin and hose with a silvery sash tied round his narrow
waist. But the black sword still swung by his side.
"Mara help us, you've enough food for
a small army. And I've broken my fast." Aliera's small
hand reached for the elf's arm, slid down it caressingly,
then clasped his hand and squeezed it, lifting it to her still
hot cheek, brushing it with her lips. Edward looked away quickly,
discomforted by the sight of his dusky skin against her fairness.
"This's for me, and a bit for the boy.
But pray join us, my dear. You've grown thin. Pining for me,
no doubt." He wrapped a lock of her dark curly hair around
a finger and tugged at it, grinning, then fell on the food
like a starving wolf, attacking it with small silvery weapons
instead of eating with his fingers as humans did. The food
was wonderful. Edward ate until he could eat no more.
"Eavesdropping," he murmured thoughtfully.
He'd been mulling over a list of Moraelyn's faults while he
ate, and realized too late that he'd spoken aloud.
"By Zenithar, boy, if you humans will
shout your privy conversation all over the tree, d'ye
expect me to shut my ears with wool?"
He tapped one of his large pointed ears. Edward hurriedly
tried to remember what they'd said. What he'd said. Lying.
Oh dear. Maybe he hadn't heard.
"So I'm a liar, am I, boy?" Vir
Gil help him, Edward felt he was drowning. Could the Elf read
minds? He hoped that wasn't the insult his father had used!
"I...I meant I thought that you were thinking about it.
You did hesitate," Edward gulped. He was making matters
"Possibly, I was trying to remember."
the sardonic tone was back.
"You don't even like me!" Edward
"That doesn't seem to have stopped your
true father from claiming you."
"Moraelyn! Don't!" Aliera interrupted,
but the Elf held up his hand to quiet her.
"I'm not so sure." Edward flashed.
"Why do you say that?"
"I don't know...Roane says...things...and
I'm not at all like him. Everyone remarks on it. And then
"What things? Speak, boy!"
"About how fond Mother was of her brother
when they were young. How sad and angry he was when she was
carried off. More like a lover, she said, than a brother.
She says it very sweetly, but like she means something by
it. Something too dirty to say. Other times she talks about
how elfin I look. And how quickly after marriage I came. Not
as quickly as her first son, though."
Moraelyn leaped up. "By the Avenger,
I will go back and wring the vixen's neck! The human",
he bit off the insult, but his red eyes flamed rage; his muscles
swelled and his hair stood on end. "You do not look half-elven.
I never met your mother until four years after your conception.
Roane, it seems, cannot decide which lie she wishes to use.
But incest! May Kel strike her down if I may not." The
tall elf paced furiously about the room, lithe as a Khajiit,
hand fondling his sword hilt. The platform swayed and dipped.
"She's ambitious for her sons, at Edward's
expense. The question is, how many will believe her. Not enough
if she was planning to have him killed instead." Aliera's
smooth brow wrinkled a bit.
"I never disliked her, you know. Nor
she me. She wanted my place and I was glad enough to let her
have it save for Edward."
"You want me to be king so I'll let you
have the ebon mines." Edward had just worked out the
"Oh, devil take the ebon, which he probably
will. I've a better chance of getting co-operation from Roane's
boys once your father's dead. They'd have reason for gratitude
and the bargain's a good one. Although the chances they could
keep a civil tongue long enough to sign a contract seem poor,
given their parentage."
"Then why? You don't even like me."
"Mara, help me! 'Liking' a person is
a human concept. One day they like you, the next day they
don't. On Tirdas they're back to liking you again. My own
wife does this to me, but claims to love me even when she
doesn't like me. Except of course on the days when she doesn't
do either, and talks about joining the Order of Riana. Fortunately
that only happens once a year or so. I go hunting until she
comes to her senses."
"You exaggerate; that only happened once,
and well you know it."
"I remember enjoying the recovery period.
Maybe it should happen more often." They grinned at each
"But why do you want me to be King?"
"I told you; it's Akatosh's notion. And
the ArchMagister's. I just came along for the ride. Ask them."
"I shall ask the ArchMagister when I
"An excellent plan. You'll spend a few
weeks at the Tower before heading north with us."
"Does the prospect of spending the winter
with your mother and me displease you so much?"
"No...no, sir. But I agreed to go with
I'ric." Not you. The words hung unsaid between them.
"You will, in time. A few weeks there
now will fit you to begin your training in magic; I can teach
you spells. But you need hardening; your body must catch up
to your mind. It is the ArchMagister's will."
"Fighting magic? I want to learn other
things. How to call beasts. How to heal. And float..."
"You'll learn that, I doubt not. And
d'ye think a fighter can't Heal? It's the first spell you'll
learn. But a King must know how to fight."
"I'm not good at it."
"Dragon's Teeth, boy! Exactly why you
"If I cannot?"
"You've courage and a clear head and
the potential to learn magic; that's more than most people
ever have. I can teach you the rest."
Edward's head whirled with the unaccustomed
praise. "I do? I have? You can?"
"D'ye think any of your father's fool
court would stand naked before a dragon, a unicorn, the ArchMagister,
and the Champion of Tamriel and demand justice of them? Justice!
Faced with such, they might have managed to beg for mercy,
if they could speak at all, which is doubtful."
"I did that? I did, didn't I?" Edward
was astonished; he wanted to add that he hadn't known, hadn't
thought about it.
"Aye, you did. And it's a deed that shall
be sung from here to Morrowwind; I'll compose the ballad myself--as
soon as I have a nap. I don't sleep as sound as some on dragon's
"You enchanted me and Shag asleep!"
"And the rest of the castle, with the
help of my friends."
"Ooooohhhh. Can you levitate? Will you
"Not so fast. I kept a holding spell
on us all night to keep us on the dragon's back. Until I'm
rested I couldn't light a candle with the aid of a match."
"Oh. Well, I'd still rather be like the
ArchMagister than be a fighter."
"Hah! It'll be news to the ArchMagister
that he cannot fight! I hope he'll find time to show you how
to wield a staff. No better weapon for early training. And
no better trainer. Now, of the four you saw before you, which
would you say could best the others?"
Edward thought carefully for several minutes.
"Sir, my judgement is poor indeed, but if you would still
have my answer, it would seem that the one who claims the
title Champion of Tamriel must be the best. Yet must not the
ArchMagister be your master in magic? And trained to arms
as well, it seems. So which should prevail? Could any mortal
stand against the dragon's fire and claws and teeth? And I
know naught of the unicorn, save that it is fleet and has
a very sharp horn, and hooves as well. So I will guess the
unicorn; it had the mildest manner. And since you asked the
question it seems the unlikely answer may be correct."
"Well answered, youngling! The unicorn
would win easily in any single close combat. No mortal or
even dragon can move quickly enough to land a blow and it
cannot be burned or touched by any magic or elemental power.
It's hooves are deadly and a single touch of its horn will
kill any enemy, although the horn itself will burn away. The
most powerful can regenerate it within moments, however."
"And of the four the Champion of Tamriel
would probably be the loser against any of the others, although
the title is no idle boast!" Moraelyn is not accustomed
to being so outclassed. "My manners may have suffered
"Milord King, I am most deeply in your
debt. You have done me great honor and service. If ever
I can repay you, I will. Forgive my brash
words and ill manners. I have dwelt among the rude and boorish.
And it seems I have no father, unless I may call you so?"
The elf held his hands out to the boy, who placed his own
in them. Edward's feeling of distaste was quite gone as if
by magic the thought drifted through his mind and then he
released his hands and clasped Moraelyn about his waist. The
elf's hands stroked the dark hair and clasped the thin shoulders.
"I thank you, my wife. After only five
years of marriage, you have presented me with a fine son,
nine years of age. Remarkable. In fact...magical."
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