“GET AWAY FROM HER!”
As she returned to consciousness, Elspeth saw a blurry Lydia grab the Altmer in the Thalmor robes and knock him to the ground. The rest of the mages who were just standing around in silence started to back away—except for Colette who knelt down beside her. Suddenly, the pain in her head was met with the most incredible Healing Hands spell she had ever felt. Warmth radiated through her skull and down her spine.
The Thalmor elf scrambled to his feet and Lydia put her hand on the hilt of her axe. However, before he could confront her, another elf, a Dunmer wearing unique robes, put himself between them. “Ancano!” he shouted, “Let it go.” Then he turned to Lydia and said harshly, “There is no need for violence. Please go take care of your friend. And I will see you both in my quarters in two hours.” As he led Ancano away, Elspeth surmised that he was the Arch-mage, Savos Aren.
“Thank you,” said Elspeth to Collette and Lydia as they helped her stand. The mages were gathering back into to their groups now, whispering and snickering. Tolfdir approached them, offering to help and Lydia thanked him but promised that Elspeth would be fine. The rest of the instructors looked on with concern, but kept their distance as they left the Hall of the Elements. Outside, Elspeth took a deep breath; the cold, snowy air felt good in her lungs. She turned to a very worried Lydia and burst out laughing.
Lydia breathed a sigh of relief. “You really know how to make an impression.”
They walked back to Elspeth’s room and after they locked themselves in, Lydia turned to her and asked, “It wasn’t the spell that made you sick, was it? It was Ancano, that Thalmor elf.”
Elspeth leaned back onto her bed and nodded. “It’s not like I haven’t seen any Thalmor since Arcane, it’s just….” She paused, not exactly certain how to explain what happened. “Just being here surrounded by mages, everything suddenly came back and I thought for sure he was going to kill me—like he meant to finish the Purge. And I was weak from the spell, which didn’t help.”
“I’m sorry.” Lydia felt terrible for her and she didn’t know how to help. “If it’s any consolation, I don’t think anyone here will try to kill you now.” She looked thoughtful for a moment, as if trying to recall something. “I’ve never seen you use that spell.”
“It’s very powerful but actually kind of useless…unless you want to go burninating the country side and the peasants and all the people in their thatched roof cottages.” Elspeth stretched some more and closed her eyes. She was exhausted and dreading the conversation with Savos. Normally, she would have been eager for a personal audience with the Arch-mage, but it seemed likely that Ancano would be there and that put a damper on her whatever excitement she might have felt. She took a deep breath and started to doze off while Lydia pulled a book out of her satchel and sat down at the desk to read.
About an hour later, there was a soft knock at the door. Elspeth sat up and straightened her robe while Lydia answered. It was the Nord mage with the playful eyes and the nice cheekbones.
“Can I help you?” asked Lydia, somewhat apprehensively.
“Hello,” he said. “I wanted to see if Elspeth is okay. And I brought you both some food. It’s not much, just some mead and bread and cheese.”
Lydia grinned. “Well, this is a nice surprise. I wasn’t expecting much, or really any Nord hospitality here.” She turned to Elspeth, “Are you hungry?”
“I’m always hungry,” she responded as Lydia opened the door to welcome him. Her heart started flipping around in her chest and she tried to appear composed.
“That’s what I like to hear,” he said has he unpacked the food he had brought. “I’m Onmund.”
“It’s very nice to meet you,” said Lydia as she gestured for him to sit down.
“That spell was quite spectacular,” he said, turning to Elspeth and handing her some mead. “Did you learn that at Arcane?”
Elspeth frowned. “Did Ancano send you to ask me that?”
“What?” Onmund was shocked, “Ancano? No…I was just…I didn’t mean to make you think—”
Now Elspeth felt bad; she hadn’t intended to be accusatory. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m paranoid…I just didn’t expect anyone to yell at me like that.”
“I don’t think anyone did,” he said sympathetically. “It’s okay.”
Elspeth smiled as she noticed his strong jaw and slight under-bite. “What can you tell me about him?” she asked, trying to force thoughts of cupping his face in her hands and playfully biting his jaw out of her mind.
“Ancano? I know he’s from the Thalmor, and that he claims to be here simply as an advisor,” he replied. “I also know that no one really believes that. I’ve been trying to avoid him, honestly.”
“Well,” said Elspeth, suddenly feeling very nervous. “I don’t think I am going to be able to avoid him. In fact, I think we have to go meet with Savos now and he’ll probably be there…advising.” She looked at Lydia who nodded in agreement. Despite her anxiety, she forced herself to smile at Onmund. “Thank you for the food.”
“You’re welcome,” he said as he got up to leave. “I hope to see you soon.” He walked backwards out the doorway, smiling warmly the whole time.
Lydia watched as Elspeth craned her neck, trying to keep Onmund in view as long as she could. She gave her a knowing look and said, “Well! Looks like you found your magic Nord.”
Elspeth blushed. She started to protest but the look on Lydia’s face indicated that such a gesture would be useless. Instead she asked, “Should I get an amulet of Mara?”
Lydia sighed. “Elspeth my dear, while calling upon the blessings of the Divines is a perfectly cromulent way to initiate the courtship…process, you could also just talk to him.”
“I just tried that and I accused him of being a Thalmor agent.” Elspeth crossed her arms and dramatically shook her head. “No, that won’t work. I’m pretty sure he thinks I’m daft.”
“You just stunned the college with a massive wall of white flame, passed out, and hit your head. I’m sure he doesn’t. Just bat those long eyelashes next time you see him and say something brilliant and hilarious.”
“Is that what you did?”
“Don’t do what I did.”
“What did you do?”
Lydia smirked. “I accidentally forgot my bedroll on a trip to Ivarstead and snuck into his after he’d fallen asleep.”
Elspeth’s eyes widened, “Really?”
“Pretty much, yes.” She paused and then asked, “Do you disapprove?”
“Not in the slightest. But they probably have rules against that here.”
They walked quickly across campus; the mages milling around looked over at them with both suspicion and curiosity. Except for a few people casting spells, The Hall of the Elements was almost empty when they arrived and as they ascended the stairs, they heard Ancano and Mirabelle arguing in the landing just outside the Arch-mage’s quarters.
“….someone like that is dangerous and—”
“You may be used to the Empire bowing to your every whim, but I’m afraid you’ll find the Thalmor receive no such treatment here. You are a guest of the College, here at the pleasure of the Arch-Mage. I hope you appreciate the opportunity.”
“Yes of course, the Arch-mage has my thanks.”
“Elspeth!” Mirabelle exclaimed when she saw the women appear at the top of the steps. “Arch-mage Savos is expecting you.” She held the door open and motioned toward a table where Savos Aren was seated. He looked up and nodded for them to sit although he looked less than pleased when Ancano took a seat as well. He didn’t object, however.
After Mirabelle left, Savos made what could only be described as small talk: was she feeling okay; did she need elixirs, food, linens; were her quarters to her satisfaction—concerns that were not generally the considered within the purview of an Arch-mage. Elspeth found it disconcerting, if not downright bizarre. But she nodded along. Finally, he took a deep breath and asked, “Elspeth, the spell you demonstrated today was most impressive. It’s clear that you have a tremendous amount of skill. Could you tell me more about the spell? Where did you learn it?”
“Arch-mage Relamus taught it to me before he died,” Elspeth explained. “He never told me why.”
Ancano opened his mouth to say something but Savos scowled and he backed down. “Yes, I thought that might be the case. It’s interesting to me that he never mentioned you in our correspondence. Tell me, did he ever produce a tome for that spell?”
“No,” she replied. “Well, not that I know of. He taught me the aspects line by line.”
“What do you hope to learn here?” he asked. His manner, while genuinely inquisitive, was stiff and uncomfortable. He was holding something back; it was plain to everyone on the room—even Lydia.
“Well, I still have plenty to learn in the other magic schools,” she said. “And I thought I would do some archival research as well.” Elspeth had hoped to ask the Arch-mage about Nerussa and the letter that was the only evidence of her existence, but with the Thalmor in such close quarters, that would have to wait.
“Good, good.” He then launched into a well-rehearsed lecture on the purpose of the college. It was awkward and somewhat pointless but she listened patiently. He paused at the end and then asked, “Do you have any questions for me?”
Elspeth just shook her head slowly and he dismissed them. She and Lydia skipped quickly down the steps to avoid walking with Ancano. When they were back in the lobby and out of earshot, Lydia turned to Elspeth and asked, “What was that?” She was baffled. “Am I missing some sort of magic language code?”
“No,” said Elspeth; she also looked puzzled. The generic lecture, the obvious and inexplicable discomfort, it was all very strange. “That was weird. Even for a mage.” Elspeth looked around. “There is something going on here. I don’t know…I have a feeling that I’m going to be doing more than combing the archive.”
“I know,” said Lydia. “We came here to find Nerussa. Now you’ve got the Thalmor to avoid, a Nord mage to woo….” She laughed for a moment before her face turned serious again. “Do you want me to stay longer?”
Elspeth considered this. “No,” she said finally. “Go meet the Jarl. Find some work. Nothing on that point has changed. I’m going to update my journal and then mix some potions or something. I’ll find you tomorrow after I meet with the librarian and inspect the archive.”
They parted ways in the courtyard. The weather was still a mess—heavy, wet snow—although the winds had let up slightly. As she watched Lydia disappear down the bridge, she felt a twinge of sadness as she realized that this was the first night since they’d met that she would be alone. It amazed her how quickly and easily she had grown comfortable in Skyrim and with Lydia. She looked up and sighed. On the day that she was forced to recall the most devastating night of her life—when she’d lost her one and only kindred spirit, she was also realizing that she had found another.