Chapter 19 Tales and Tallows
It was the early morning of Hearthfire third, Tales and Tallows, and there could be no better day to begin our quest for the High Elf, Lemnos. He was our greatest lead in finding a way to conclude the Nerevarine prophecies. And Lemnos’ Telvanni Lord, Master Aryon was the best lead to find Lemnos. With the new addition of Vailant, the Imperial mercenary, we had a possible location of where we would meet our destiny. I was excited. I could feel the need for action sending shivers through my bones. I was longing for a good fight; like the one with Umbra. Our evidence was leaning more and more towards the Telvanni lands. And that was exactly where we were headed: to the east, to Sadrith Mora.
After travel through the Mages Guild’s teleportation, we headed towards the Gateway Inn, where Magnus had told us to meet him. Without trouble, we found our way there. He was sitting down near the bar on the upper level of the Telvanni mushroom-structure. I noticed him tapping his foot on the ground and rapping his knuckles on the table, as if eager for us to arrive. It seemed unlike him, but didn’t put much thought into it.
“Ah, there you are,” Magnus said, rising to his feet as we approached. His gaze soon fell upon Vailant. “And who’s this?” he queried.
“The name’s Vailant,” Vailant responded, before I could speak. I had suspected that Magnus would be wary of Vailant’s presence on our mission, but surprisingly he gave little protest, aside from a raised eyebrow. The two greeted, and we were on our way.
Our first stop was to the marketplace. There were a number of smiths and enchanters in Sadrith Mora, who had equipment that the five of us could make good use of. We spared little expense in purchasing new armor, since we all knew that the Sheogorad region of the north would be much more dangerous than what we had dealt with so far. Magnus refrained from heading to the marketplace; he said that he already had what he needed. I had noticed that had replaced his old dreugh staff for a new, enchanted, ebony one. The rest of us spread out in search for the gear we would need.
I immediately found what I was looking for. A female Redguard smith had a wide selection of medium armor. My greaves and bracers were in good condition, but my cuirass and pauldrons were battered and bent. My right paulron had completely shattered from during battle with Umbra. There were still usable, but I wanted new armor anyway. Back in Cyrodiil, I wore the finest medium armor. I was itching to get something of that quality back. What I did find was quite close.
After a short period of haggling with the smith, I walked away with two gah-julan bonemold pauldrons and three pieces of fine dragonscale armor. They made a fine set. The dragonscale was among the most resistant medium-weight armor. The cuirass was reinforced with Imperial steel and layered with brassy-brown scales from tough skinned dragons. My dragonsacle helm and shield was of equal quality. The powerful plates and rigid spines that protruded from the edges perfectly matched the gah-julan pauldrons that I equipped, with strong, bonemold spines that reached out for side protection. They slightly blocked my peripheral vision, but the defense that they provided was worth it.
I held my repaired steel battle axe up and swung it, to get a feel for the weight of all my armor together. It felt good and my anticipation for action intensified. The only last thing I needed to do was get it enchanted. I found one of many enchanters it the city and had her endow it with a spell of wasting flame. I didn’t know exactly what it did, but I suspected that the sensation wasn’t pleasant for those on the receiving end.
Not long later, I found that Prophiter, Vailant, and Snorri had also found what they were looking for. Snorri, being patriotic to his native craft, wore a Nordic chainmail cuirass and greaves. The rest of his armor consisted of Nordic fur armor. He held a new battle axe that was lined with silver along the blade.
Vailant mimicked Snorri, by choosing the armor of his people and donning pure Imperial steel. Everything he had on him resembled the gear worn by Imperial soldiers, with the metallic grey shine and the dark blue, cloth underlining. He held his old steel tower shield and wide hilted Imperial broadsword. If he had been wearing a helmet he would’ve looked just like a soldier. It made me wonder if he had ever served in the legion, but I didn’t ask him.
Prophiter was the last to finish acquiring his weapons and armor. Given his thievish tendencies, I suspected that how he “acquired” everything didn’t exactly involve standard transactions, but he had the gear and that was all that mattered. The young Wood Elf wore his old newtscale cuirass, but with black, leather pauldrons, greaves and bracers. He wore no helmet or boots, only simple shoes. I assumed that was because he relied so much on stealth; heavy boots would conflict with soft footsteps. He had a new silver shortsword, and also a new oak longbow. Seeing him with his bow reminded me of the border wars in Elsweyr. I remembered all the times I had spotted elves in the treetops with bows just like his. I watched as he plucked the bowstring, testing its durability. The sight suddenly gave me an urge to tear out his throat. I then looked away and tried to think about something else. Prophiter wasn’t even old enough to have fought in the wars, so my long buried instincts were misplaced. Fatigue from the trip was obviously having an effect on me, but I shook it off.
We were prepared and equipped, and there was nothing left to do but leave Sadrith Mora. We set out to the ferryman for voyage northward. After the five of us had boarded, the long, wide ferry took off from the shores of Sadrith Mora and set out to the waters of Zafirbel Bay. It was not too big of a vessel and the Dark Elf handled it well. As he kept the single sail in line, he also held a long oar to push away from rocks in shallow waters. Being a Telvanni, he obviously had at least an adequate use of magicka. He showed this by casting a spell of feather on the whole vessel, propelling us faster.
Soon we were away from the city and navigating in between the small islands of Zafirbel Bay. Magnus and Prophiter sat across from Snorri, Vailant and I, seated on the low benches that were crafted into the middle of the boat. I was anxious. I was thinking about Lemnos, whom I’d never met. I could only guess what excitement lay before us. The urge to rush into battle was becoming the only thing on my mind, and I couldn’t wait to get off the boat and find the High Elf wizard.
The ferryman told us we were about half of the way there when the wind started to pick up. It increased our speed, for which I was glad. I felt uneasy on the boat, not being able to get up and walk around. Even the soothing sound of the water and wind didn’t calm me. I was restless, to say the least. I tapped my foot on the wooden boards of the boat as my tail swished nearby. My fingers restlessly rapped along the wooden handle of my axe. I couldn’t help but fidget, because to sit still made my fur feel like it had movement of its own.
“What are you doing?” Snorri asked. I turned and looked at him to see a raised eyebrow upon his pink, Nord face. He wasn’t questioning only me, though. As I found out by turning my attention across from me, Magnus was also fidgeting, almost in unison with me. Magnus was broken away from his gaze out to the waters, stopping his knuckle cracking in one hand and finger tapping in the other. The nord suddenly turned to Snorri, in response to his question. He had little to say though, as did I. The two of us had been distracted, myself with thoughts of Lemnos."Yeah, really, cut that out will you?” Vailant added, referring to our restlessness. They looked at me, and I awkwardly looked back.
“I…all right,” I said.
“You’re a Nord, man. You shouldn’t be afraid,” Snorri said to Magnus, almost bearing contempt in his words.
“I am not afraid,” Magnus quickly responded. “I was just…thinking,” he then said, his volume trailing off.
“Thinking about what?” Snorri continued.
“Lemnos, the ruins, all of it. Aren’t you?”
“I’m thinking about how many limbs I my axe will cleave. That’s all. I’m not fussing about like the two of you are. What about you?” Snorri then asked, turning the conversation to me.
“Me? I’m thinking about the High Elf as well. Just…preparing for everything,” I said, although I was lying. I was preparing in a way, but it was more like a nagging feeling, one that I couldn’t dispose of. Is this the day I’m going to die? I wondered. It was a feeling I hadn’t felt in a long time.
“Hmm, and what about you, then?” Snorri asked, finishing his questions with Prophiter. Prophiter pulled himself up in his seat, and his eyes widened, though he said nothing. They others waited for a response, but he gave them silence.
“Well?” Vailant persisted. He looked at us and shrugged. I knew what he was shrugging about. Tales and Tallows.
Tales and Tallows, Hearthfire 3rd, was a holiday well known across Tamriel. It was said that the planes of existence came into alignment, or something complicated. At night the dead were supposed to walk. It was only a superstition, but some of those inclined to believe such superstitions were too afraid to even speak throughout the day, for fear of some kind of mystical punishment. The young Wood Elf was a naïve type and he bought into such beliefs.
“The elf won’t be saying much today; it is Tales and Tallows,” I told them. Vailant, Snorri, and to a lesser degree, Magnus, all began to laugh.
“Ha! Afraid of ghosts are you? Tales and Tallows is just a myth to scare children, you silly elf!” Snorri bellowed with laughter. Prophiter looked at the floor, detaching himself from the conversation, still in silence.
“Oh, it’s no myth,” Magnus said to Snorri. Snorri’s laughter died and he turned to his fellow Nord. “Yes, it’s no myth,” Magnus reiterated. “Tales and Tallows is very real. As far as I can tell, only the Mages Guild understands the day though.”
“Ah, well tell us, oh wise one, what are the rules of this day? Should none of us speak?” Snorri asked, with significant sarcasm.
"No. I couldn’t explain what that takes place on Hearthfire 3rd, at least not very well; you wouldn’t understand.” The mage then turned his words to Prophiter.
“But by not speaking all day, you appease no one but yourself. Believe me.” The four of us waited for a moment after Magnus’s words, to see if Prophiter would break his silence. He did not though and responded only by suspiciously raising his right eyebrow.
“Well, this is going to be a long boat ride; you might as well try to explain this complicated phenomenon to us,” Vailant comically suggested. Magnus sighed, but indulged him.
It was half an hour later, and I knew little more about Tales and Tallows than I had an hour ago.
“You’re right, you really can’t explain it very well,” Vailant said, in response to Magnus’ long-winded lecture of the quaternary patterns of oblivion streams and everything else that I’d rather have not heard about. Magnus had been directing his commentary to Prophiter for the last few minutes, in an attempt to convince him of his foolishness.
“So, when the day was finally accepted as a holiday, that is why they named it Tales and Tallows. Believe me, you can speak freely. Nothing will happen.” He kept his gaze on Prophiter, awaiting some kind of response.
Prophiter gave him nothing, aside from suspiciously raising his left eyebrow. Magnus just shook his head and laughed, giving up on the elf. Magnus’ words had little effect on our opinions of Tales and Tallows, but they had served a purpose of making the trip go faster, and keeping me away from my habitual tail swishing. After only a few more minutes we arrived at our destination. The ferryman had taken us to Tel Mora, a small settlement on the northeastern region of the Grazelans region. He said that any farther north would put him in danger. We thanked him or his voyage, with words and septims, and made our way off the boat and onto dry land, at last.
It felt great to finally be off the boat. I wasn’t used to traveling by such means. The grass felt good to walk on, and it stretched out farther to the south and west than the eye could see. We, however, had to turn our sights to the north. Past the cliffs ahead of us and across the waters to islands, rocks, and cliff racers, was where Vailant said we had to go. And so we set off.
Walking down a faded path, I breathed in the fresh air. Being near the water gave it that strange coastal smell, but I still liked it. Taking in another breath, I picked up something else, though. A familiar and unforgettable scent: that of an Orc. I stopped walking and looked around in all directions. Off in the distance, I saw two figures, standing on a hill. One of them wore armor, but he could’ve been an Orc. The other was a woman, and definitely an elf. They were so far away, that I was almost surprised that I picked up any smell from them. I broke my gaze off of them and turned back to the rest of the group.
The lightness in conversation that the boat had provided was gone. We were all much more somber and serious. The wind was still strong, and as we neared the high risen cliffs, we felt its cold sting. At least Vailant, Prophiter and I did. They both crossed their arms to gather warmth. Snorri and Magnus, probably due to their northern heritage, were unaffected. My fur protected me a bit, but my face felt cold, as did my bare hands and feet. Soon we were at the edge of the cliff, and there was no more that could be done without getting wet. We descended the cliffside.
“This is going to be a rough swim, you know. There are dreugh down there. I hate dreugh,” said Vailant.
“Yes. And cliff racers above,” I added, noticing the circling airborne beasts that loomed high above our heads.
“There is no need for getting wet. I can cast a water walking spell on all of us, for at least long enough to get to the first island,” the Nord mage announced. He stepped up to the edge of the water, and turned to us. “All right, who’s first?”
The four of us remained silent for a moment. Snorri and Prophiter were not too fond of magicka being cast upon them. I didn’t wait for Vailant to step up, so I did.
“You should have enough time to make it to that island over there, but just in case, you had better run,” Magnus warned me. I nodded, and awaited his magickal influence.
“Aquosus Ambulo.” Magnus spoke slowly, with both palms open towards me. Small wisps of purple light wrapped around me, but I felt no physical change. I looked at Magnus, not knowing if his spell had even worked.
“What are you waiting for? Go!” he hurriedly said to me. I reached my foot out and lowered it towards the water’s surface. It was firm. Not completely hard, but more like soft earth. I then broke into a sprint. Charging across the waters and seeing creatures swimming below, was quite amazing. As I ran at a solid speed, slaughter fish jumped up out of the water behind me, trying to snap at my ankles. They served as no threat, however, and I had reached the first island before long.
Prophiter was next. He ran across with ease, darting the slaughterfish bites that were aimed for his feet. Snorri was next, followed by Vailant. Snorri had only been standing beside Prophiter and me for a minute or so when Vailant began to cross. He ran at a moderate pace about three quarters of the way, until something impaired his movement. From where I stood, I thought that a slaughterfish had nipped his foot, causing him to trip. I very son realized it was much more serious than that.
“Aaughh! A dreugh! It’s a bloody dreugh!” Vailant shouted frantically. The huge claw of the creature had clamped onto his ankle, and held him tight against the waters surface. He tried to pull away, but we all knew the grip of a dreugh was not something easily broken. So he was downed, on the hardened water surface with only a matter of seconds left in the duration of his water walking ability.
Dreugh were tough beasts. They were aquatic, hard shelled things that resembled a human, at least on the upper half. Their four arms had pincers and sharp claws at the end, perfect for predatory hunting. Their lower halves were nothing but kraken-like tentacles, reaching out over twice the length of the upper body. They were not nearly as intelligent as a human, but much more cunning than anything else one might find in the water.
“Come on! Fight it, man!” Snorri shouted, trying to root on the Imperial. From where we stood with our magicka having faded, there was little else that could be done. Aside from diving in the water and becoming prey for a pack of slaughterfish and dreugh, Snorri and I could do nothing. Prophiter, however, had something I had forgotten about, his oak longbow. I turned to see him with his bow already cocked with an arrow in place, only seconds after Vailant fell. We were about twenty meters away from where Vailant lay, and the only part of the dreugh that was above the surface was its arms, grappling on to Vailant, not understanding why he wasn’t being pulled under. Prophiter let an arrow loose, making a direct hit on the dreugh’s right claw. Despite Prophiter’s excellent aim, the arrow bounced off, being repelled by the thick, red shell.
Prophiter’s hand moved instantly to his quiver, snatching another arrow and loading his bow at lightning speed. I watched his movements. Load, aim, check, release. Those were the movements of the Wood Elf archery style. It differed from the Khajiit practice, which I had been taught. It reminded me of the border wars. I saw Prophiter’s eye line up with the arrow, and his thumb adjust the string before firing again. Just like in Elsweyr. That time I didn’t even see where his shot went. I was too occupied with the idea of slashing his jugular with my claws. My hand trembled, as if about to strike him, and I swatted it away with the other. I could feel the urge to kill rising up in me, undeniably. My breath quickened as I forced my attention back to Vailant. He still shouted; Prophiter’s second arrow had also failed to help him.
I shook off my recent distraction, as the level of peril seemed to grow. The three of us could do nothing, but Magnus was able to assist. He did so by casting the spell on himself and charging onto the water to help the Imperial. It was only seconds later that the Nord was swinging his broadsword down upon the dreugh. Its armored shell was tough though, and the sword only did minimal damage. Vailant had pulled out a dagger from his belt and was stabbing away at the creature’s claws. Magnus resorted to his favoured craft, and put away his sword.
“Aquosus Ambulo!” he shouted. The dreugh’s grip then ceased. Vailant scrambled up to his feet and the two men ran towards safe land, beside us. We all watched the dreugh, as its arms struggled and thrashed around. As it seemed, Magnus had only cast the same spell on it as he had on us. Water had become solid to the dreugh, and it entire body was submerged in water. We watched as the nearby slaughterfish turned on their predator. Through the ripples in the water we saw the dreugh get ripped apart; its soft underside offering no protection from the gnashing teeth of the fish. We all gazed at the sight, Prophiter and Magnus in disgust, Snorri and I in apathy, and Vailant in spiteful glee.
“Take that you fishy bastard!” Vailant shouted at the dreugh. “Oh, and good work,” he said to Magnus, slapping him on the shoulder for gratitude. He then turned to the north and continued on, hobbling slightly. We all followed.
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. My urge to attack Prophiter was disturbing. Not so much the thought, but the fact that it took over. I had lost control, even if it was only for a second. I looked at the elf then, and felt nothing. It was a strange feeling, but I knew that something was wrong. There was a grip around me that was becoming tighter the farther north I went. It was the urge to kill. Something, anything. I hurried my pace, eager to let my angst loose upon our target, Lemnos, before it spilled out at someone else.