When Runa found Xeri, she was by the statue of Maeve Sigeweald, the Champion of Cyrodill, the hero of the Oblivion Crisis, and Elspeth’s ancestor. Xeri was contemplating the last ten years and trying to figure out exactly where she went wrong.
“Do you think that Elspeth is inspired by her?” asked Xeri. She didn’t look at Runa; she just crossed her arms and stared forward.
Runa could tell that Xeri felt disheartened and so she took a deep breath and tried to think of something encouraging. She paused for several moments and finally said, “No.” Runa knew, better than anyone else, that while Elspeth understood her family’s history, she felt little, if any, affinity with her legacy.
Xeri looked at her sharply with her lips pursed and brow furrowed. But she couldn’t hold the look. As defensive as she felt momentarily, she knew that Runa was right. She dropped her head and sighed. To Runa she looked defeated and Xeri Tharys did not accept defeat.
“What’s on your mind Xeri?” asked Runa.
“I’m at a loss,” she responded. “I don’t know what to do with her.” There was a long silence but Runa was patient. This conversation was long overdue. Xeri continued, “You know, I remember the day that Elspeth was born. Nirn shook below my feet and there was joy. Bedyn and Evangeline had not had a joyous day in so long.”
Every word seemed to be chosen carefully; Xeri was not a sentimental woman. Runa nodded slowly, offering nothing more than gentle encouragement. She knew that this had to be incredibly difficult.
“That night I went to sleep and I woke to a vision, just like the ones my mother and grandmothers described to me as a child. It was so clear to me then, that Elspeth was special. Important. That she would play a pivotal role—a healing role.” Xeri paused and looked intently at Runa, “Did you know that I was never supposed to have the gift of vision?”
Runa didn’t know this. She was quite familiar with rest of the story, but Xeri wasn’t inclined to call her talents into question. Other people’s, yes; but not her own. Runa shook her head cautiously. Xeri trusted her and it was clear that she needed to confide in someone. But Runa also knew that one wrong glance, one misspoken word could turn Xeri’s vulnerability back to her stone cold warrior posture.
“I knew that her path was different from Evangeline’s. I knew that I needed to prepare her,” she continued. “And so we brought her here.” Runa realized that Xeri was taking stock of the last decade. “We’ve worked so hard—all of us. Until this point, I was absolutely certain about every decision right down to the type of combat and magic training.” She stopped and stared forward again.
“She has the skills she needs.” Runa spoke very deliberately. “Now she needs an objective. She doesn’t feel inspired by her legacy because she doesn’t have purpose.”
“I thought what happened at Arcane University was the sign, the trigger that would set it all in motion. But Titus Mede, once again, just bent over and took it from his Thalmor puppet masters. I was left—nay, we were left with a young women full of rage and sadness.” Xeri’s voice was cracking and Runa thought she might cry. “And so I did the only thing I knew, I brought her to the mountains and tried to exorcise her pain with combat training.” She paused and asked, “Do you think I made a mistake?”
Runa considered this carefully. To say that she approved wholeheartedly of Xeri’s methods would be a lie. Regardless of this, however, Xeri was good at what she did. She created warriors and Elspeth was on her way to becoming a remarkable one.
“You are a good mentor, Xeri. Elspeth is well trained.” Runa had never before felt the need to reassure Xeri. But she had watched the Dunmer’s confidence and composure dwindle in the months since she had returned from Morrowind—from a trip she had hoped would give her some clarity. She had remained unwavering toward Elspeth and her training, but Runa could sense her growing anxiety. “What did the wise woman tell you?”
Xeri smirked and shook her head, “Nothing I didn’t already know. Send her back the way of the father. That came to me in my last vision. I had already brought her to the fighter’s guild, to the ruins of Cloud Ruler Temple. I brought her to Chorrol and to the Chapel of Stendarr. I showed her where he fought with other Blades in the war. I took her to all the important places in Bedyn’s life—and even some of the less important ones. The wise woman couldn’t—or didn’t—interpret it any better.”
“So, she didn’t help. How did Elspeth like Morrowind?”
“She hated it. But I expected as much. Shargon Hills is filled with nothing but refugee and nomadic Dunmeri tribal camps.” Xeri squatted down and buried her face in her arms. There was something she was holding back, something painful.
Runa knelt and touched her shoulder, “What is it?”
“The wise woman said something else.” Xeri kept her head down. “She said that Elspeth was following the wrong elf.”
“What!” Runa was astonished to hear his, although it explained Xeri’s growing unease and insecurity of late. “How can that be correct? That doesn’t make any sense. Did she tell Elspeth that?”
“No, she didn’t talk to Elspeth. Anyway, she couldn’t tell me who or where the correct elf is, she just—” Xeri stopped, her eyes grew wide, and she shot straight up so she was standing and staring at the statue again. Her face lit up, betraying an epiphany. “Nerussa.” She was almost shaking with excitement, “It’s been staring me in the face all this time. We have to find Nerussa—NO! Elspeth needs to find Nerussa.”
Runa did not want to dampen Xeri’s sudden enthusiasm, but she was skeptical. “Well,” she said slowly, “Nerussa was the Sigeweald family steward for over two hundred years. She would certainly know the path of her father. But last we heard, she was evading the Thalmor. We don’t even know if she’s still alive.”
“No,” agreed Xeri, “but I know someone who might. I have to go to Chorrol. Nerussa had been very close to the court wizard, Safiya. Tell Elspeth when she gets back—wait, don’t tell her anything yet. Shazir will run drills with her while I’m gone. I’m going to the castle to see Countess Muriel and Safiya.”
Xeri rode all night and arrived at Castle Chorrol the next morning. She was met by Alexa, the court steward and then greeted by a very surprised countess who was pleased to see her but remained reserved. Although Xeri had been back to Chorrol in recent years, she had kept her distance from the court. As far as Muriel knew, Xeri was trying to reestablish herself as a mentor and trainer and was now associated with the Fighter’s Guild in Bruma. She knew that Xeri had charges, but she did not know about Elspeth.
“Xeri Tharys,” she said, “To what do we owe this surprise?” She held out her hand.
Xeri took her hand and offered a brief but courteous nod. “I would like to speak with Safiya, if she is still in your service.”
“Of course,” said the countess. “I’m sure she will be pleasantly surprised to see you. Could I ask why you wish to see her?”
Xeri looked at all the people wandering around the Great Hall. “To be honest, I would rather not say. But if you insist, it would be best if we all talked in private.” After so many had turned their backs on her, Countess Muriel’s father, the former Count Rufus, was one of the few who had been vocal in his support of Evangeline during the events leading up to her exile. However, Xeri was unsure if Muriel shared her father’s political leanings.
Muriel agreed to this and asked Alexa to suspend court activities for an hour. She led Xeri up to the private quarters and into the wizard’s suite, where Safiya and her apprentice, a young Bosmer, were studying an enchantment on an old dwemer dagger. When Safiya saw Xeri standing there she gasped and clapped her hands together, “Xeri!”
Xeri smiled, “It’s good to see you again Safiya, I regret that it has been so long. I have an urgent matter to discuss and I need you to excuse your apprentice here.”
“I’m so glad to see that you still don’t mince words,” said Safiya. “Dany, why don’t you take those spell books over to the mages guild. I will see you after elevenses.”
When she was gone, the three women sat down and Xeri said, “I need to know if Nerussa is still alive and, if she is, where I can find her.”
Muriel and Safiya looked at each other and then back at Xeri. Muriel shook her head and looked sternly at them, “I think I will leave you both to your business. It is a pleasure to have you back in Chorrol Xeri.” Her tone was flat and this last sentence sounded forced.
When she left Xeri turned to Safiya and asked, “What is going on?”
Safiya closed her eyes and shook her head. “Xeri, if you are surprised—”
“I’m not surprised, but I want to know what is going on. Do you know where Nerussa is? Is there a specific reason why Muriel does not want to be here?”
“Xeri, what did you expect to find out here?”
“You were Nerussa’s closest friend in Chorrol. I was hoping that, if you don’t know where she is, you could point me to where I might start looking for her. Where would she go? What other associates did she have?”
“Why? Are you still working with Evangeline? Are you hoping to recruit Nerussa for that rebellion of hers? Don’t you realize how dangerous that is?” Safiya’s tone was suspicious and accusatory. In her zeal to find out about Nerussa for Elspeth’s sake, Xeri had not considered that her motives would be called into question. For years, Nerussa and Xeri had both been committed to the Sigeweald family, but with Bedyn dead and Evangeline’s anti-Thalmor campaign (the size and strength of which were still a mystery to most) gaining notoriety, Safiya’s misgivings were not entirely misplaced.
Xeri was slightly thrown by this, but she didn’t let it show. Safiya was not wrong to question Xeri’s objectives, but Xeri had no intention of wavering. Indeed, she only intensified her approach. “I would think that after what the Thalmor did to your family, that you would want to help Evangeline’s cause.” It was manipulative, but Xeri was not above such methods.
Safiya was stunned silent. When she recovered, she was furious, “It is because of what the Thalmor did to my family that I am unwilling to give you any information about Nerussa.” She stared angrily and continued, “I think you should probably leave now.” And then she paused and after a few moments said, “You know, I would have been willing to help. I know plenty of anti-Thalmor mages, students whose families and friends were either purged or who continue to be persecuted—who are aching for a chance to fight the Thalmor. I just don’t understand why you want to bother Nerussa. After everything she’s been through—” Safiya’s voice was trembling with fury. She got up, “I really think you need to leave.” Her anger was now accompanied by anxiety and she started rearranging all the books on her shelves.
Xeri smiled inwardly. Now she knew she could trust Safiya and so she began to explain, “I am no longer in Evangeline’s service. I haven’t been since Bedyn was killed. It is not for Evangeline that I seek Nerussa.” She moved closer to Safiya.
“Then, for whom?” Safiya asked, turning slightly to observe the change in Xeri’s tone and posture.
Xeri looked directly into her eyes and answered, “Their daughter. I’ve had her in my care for over a decade now.”
Safiya’s eyes widened and she brought her hands up to her face, dropping the books she was holding on the floor. “Oh my gods,” she exclaimed. Then she glared at Xeri again, “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I just did.” Xeri shook her head and said, “I needed to make sure I could trust you. If word of her existence got to the Thalmor….”
“You’re right of course,” she agreed after a few moments. “Listen, to court questions of Nerussa’s existence is to invite trouble with the Thalmor. And that is why Muriel left. She would like to follow in her father’s footsteps but she lacks the courage of his convictions. Anyway, for you I will make an exception and tell you everything I know. Only because Nerussa would insist upon knowing that the Sigeweald lineage continues.”
“So help me gods Xeri if you are lying!”
“I am a lot of things, but I am not a liar.”
“All right then.” Safiya took a set of keys from her pocket and unlocked a chest on the far end of the room. She rifled through some papers and brought out an envelope. “When they captured Chorrol, the Thalmor torched most of the archive. And after Mede agreed to banish Evangeline and Bedyn, they came back and finished destroying the family’s library, all of Nerussa’s papers. However, many year ago she wrote me once to let me know that she was alive and that she was in Skyrim, at the college.” She handed the letter to Xeri. “She didn’t sign it. But I know her script and the letter makes reference to some shared private knowledge–in the guise of general knowledge, of course.”
Xeri glanced over the note. There were few, if any, identifying details. It read as letter of general information from one mage to another. “So, this is it?” She sighed.
“I wish I had something else. Will you be seeking her yourself?”
“No,” said Xeri. “I am actually sending Bedyn’s daughter.”
“Is she a mage?”
Yes. She specializes in destruction magic, but she is also quite talented in restoration and alteration.”
“Good,” Safiya smiled. “She should be able to access the college easily enough. Nerussa had some academic interests she likely pursued at the college—out of both sincere intellectual curiosity and to maintain a disguise. She might have left notes of her research in the college’s archive.”
“This isn’t a lot to go on, but I appreciate it. Thank you,” said Xeri.
“You do realize that this will not be an easy task. If she’s still alive, she likely left the college long ago. Your protégé may have quite a journey ahead of her.”
Xeri nodded, “I’ve prepared her for that.”
“What will you do in the interim?” She narrowed her eyes at Xeri.
“Wait, I suppose,” she replied. “Why?” Xeri noted that Safiya’s tone was suddenly very inquisitive and it was her turn to be suspicious.
“I know some angry mages,” she said. “I’d like to find something for them to do. Once you your charge is on her way to Skyrim, maybe you could help me find someplace for them to go.”