Now all you fishermen bold,
If you live till you grow old,
Do you open the pane and pop out the flame
Just to see how the wind do blows.
Elspeth could hear the song echo throughout the hallway of the Hall of Attainment and all she could do was laugh. Lydia had been up for 48 hours straight trying to perfect Candlelight and had started singing in the last couple of hours, punctuating the penultimate line of each verse with the snap of the spell. Thanks to Collette and Tolfdir, Lydia’s confidence had been restored and she was perhaps the College’s most enthusiastic student. Collette was, just as Onmund had indicated, an excellent instructor. Where it had taken Farengar eight hours to teach Lydia a healing spell, it had taken Collette a half an hour to each a lesser ward, arguably the more complicated of the two spells.
The days and weeks were starting to blur together. After the excitement of Sarthaal, life at the College went back to normal and Elspeth started the incredibly tedious work of looking through boxes and folders in the archive. Every day she combed through letters, manuscript notes, research proposals, and so on and so forth, trying to match the script of Nerussa’s letter to something—anything—there. Occasionally, she happened upon some interesting notes or an old manuscript. One day, she found extensive notes on the philosophical and symbolic significance of the Void Nights, the two year period when the moons of Nirn, Masser and Segunda, disappeared. She hadn’t realized until Onmund came to get her for dinner that she had spent four hours reading. Although finds like this made the work more interesting, it also took time away from the task of finding Nerussa.
Trying to spend eight or nine hours in the Arcanaeum each day proved to be maddening, however, so Elspeth broke up the days with magic practice. She learned several new restoration and alteration spells and attempted to practice illusion magic with Onmund, however, those sessions were never all that productive. She fell into a pattern of waking, eating, casting, researching, eating again, sleeping—usually with Onmund and with the amount of actual sleeping varying. They were growing close and as long as Elspeth didn’t think too much about it, she was rather content.
Aine, who was assigned by Savos to research the mysterious glowing orb, was often in the archive. Occasionally, to help break up the monotony of each of their respective projects, they switched. Elspeth looked for papers with symbols matching the sketches that Aine had drawn from the orb, while Aine looked to match the script of Nerussa’s letter. By most estimates, it would take Elspeth at least six months to get through the first group of boxes that Urag pulled for her. And that’s if she worked consistently and did not leave for any quests, or be called by any ancient Elven orders. The project was daunting but once she developed a routine, she rather enjoyed College life.
After leaving the Hall of Attainment, Lydia’s song still ringing in her ears, Elspeth walked down to the Arcanaeum for yet another day of archival work where she found Aine and Urag engaged in what could only be described as a spirited discussion regarding her latest findings.
“And I am telling you,” she insisted, “there is nothing else in Seleth’s notes or in any of the related archives that is useful. I need that book.”
“Aine!” Urag lowered his voice down considerably, but it was still harsh. “Orthon stole that book—it was among the ones he took when he left.” She gasped at this and Urag shook his head in exasperation. He was about to excuse her to return to her work when Elspeth arrived. Instead, his face perked up a bit. “Elspeth! I know you are busy, but would you and Lydia be interested in going after some more stolen books?”
Aine nodded furiously. “Please? I will keep on looking for evidence of this mage for you. I really need these books and it’s the least I can do.”
Elspeth hesitated. “I don’t know….” she said, her voice trailing. She was reluctant to leave the letter with Aine but did not want to appear untrustworthy.
“Urag will keep the letter safe,” said Aine, as if she could read her mind.
Urag was amenable to this suggestion and Elspeth trusted his dedication to the materials in his care. He would put the force of a thousand angry atronachs behind the care of the letter if needed and so she relented. “Okay,” she said eventually. “Where can I find these books?”
He cleared his throat. “They were stolen by Orthorn, a mage who once studied here. He took a number of books when he ran off to Fellglow Keep to join a group of renegade mages, summoners. I think maybe he was trying to offer some kind of peace offering—I’m not certain. The books should be there. Orthorn too, alive or dead, however, I cannot say.” Aine looked dismayed at this, although she tried to hide it.
“Very well,” said Elspeth. “I’ll check with Lydia and we’ll leave…probably tomorrow. She’s been up casting for two days straight.”
“So I’ve heard,” grunted Urag.
Back in the Hall of Attainment Lydia was fast asleep in her room. Elspeth smiled and went into town to see the Jarl’s steward, Malur, who confirmed the location of Fellglow Keep on her map. Then she stopped at Birna’s for lockpicks and at the Frozen Hearth where she wound up talking to Dagur and Haran for two hours before she realized how late it was getting.
Back her room she started planning the trip. Fellglow keep was just over the Pale border in Whiterun hold and would take at least four, maybe five days of travel, including a stop in Windhelm. When she looked up, she saw Aine at her door, looking terribly worried about something. Elspeth greeted her and invited her to have a seat while she organized her satchel.
Aine looked around nervously before she asked, “I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind taking someone else with you, someone who knows Orthorn.” This didn’t strike Elspeth as an unreasonable request, and so she was confused by Aine’s anxiety.
“Sure,” she agreed. “J’zargo has gone with Lydia on several occasions and he—“
“No,” interrupted Aine quietly, shaking her head. “Not J’zargo.” She paused for a moment; trying to figure out how to reveal more than she was comfortable with.
“Okay, then….” Elspeth was even more perplexed.
“Could you take Onmund? Or even Brelyna? Onmund would be better though. He’s better with destruction, if things get dangerous.”
Elspeth tried to look agreeable but found it difficult. She had no problem asking Onmund along but she found Aine’s angst somewhat unsettling.
Aine sensed her unease and continued to explain. “Orthorn wasn’t a very good mage. He was very smart but not skilled and he had a terrible time while he was here. The instructors were hard on him and the students were worse. He and I were…well, we were close. And Onmund and Brelyna were the only others who were ever kind and supportive.” She took a breath and stopped. “I want him to come back and he might if someone he knows can persuade him.”
“Is he allowed to come back?”
“Yes…well, Urag never mentioned the stolen books to anyone. And if he does, he’ll just have to pay the fine,” she explained. “He had a soft spot for Orthorn, for someone smart and curious but not otherwise talented.”
Elspeth found it difficult to believe that Urag had a soft spot for anyone who stole a book but the tenderness of the Orc’s heart was not really her concern. For Aine, however, she had some sympathy and agreed to invite Onmund along.
At dinnertime Lydia was still sleeping so Elspeth went to find Onmund in his room. When he saw her in the doorway he smiled and picked her up and playfully tossed her on the bed before collapsing next to her. “Gods, you are a sight for sore eyes. I’ve been writing scrolls all day long and I’m about to go mad.” He put his arm around her and nuzzled his face in her neck. “Can we take a walk later? I need to get outside.”
“Okay,” she said. “I’ve got something better, if you’re up for it. Do you want to come to Fellglow Keep and chase down some stolen books with Lydia and me?”
Onmund’s eyes grew wide. He had never been asked on any such errand before. The number of missing and incinerated mages of late had motivated Savos to limit the number of apprentices allowed on dangerous college errands. “Sure,” he replied. “Lydia doesn’t want J’zargo along?”
“Aine requested that I ask you—she wants you to talk the mage who stole the books and try to convince him to return. His name is Orthorn.” Onmund frowned and shook his head upon hearing the name. “What’s wrong? Do you not want to go now?” asked Elspeth, trying not to sound disappointed.
“Oh no,” he said, reassuringly. “I’m happy to go. I just don’t think there is anything I can say that will convince him to come back.”
“Why not? Aine seems to think he left because he was treated so terribly here.”
“Oh he was and I’m sure that was part of why he left,” Onmund rolled his eyes. “I think the Altmer woman he was chasing had something to do with it as well. Aine seems to have forgotten.”
“That’s horrible,” said Elspeth.
“It is,” he agreed. “I had such a crush on her once and it broke my heart to see her pine after someone so unworthy. Now, if she still holds a candle to him—I just feel sorry for her.” He hugged Elspeth tighter. “Promise me that you are the kind of woman who would leave me on the side of the road if I tried to pull that sort of nonsense.”
“Well I would, if I thought Lydia would let you live that long.” She laughed. “Let’s go find the new Candlelight master for dinner.”
“Is she still singing?” he asked.
Lydia was bleary-eyed and dizzy when they found her staggering around her room, not quite certain how long she had been sleeping or what day it was. Nevertheless, she was happy to see Elspeth and Onmund and even more so when they said that Onmund would be accompanying them on their next quest.
“I can’t take another journey with J’zargo,” she explained as she smoothed her hair. “He is a capable fighter but he is even more zealous and stubborn than you Elspeth. In Dawnstar he tried to kill Erandur, the priest we were sent to help, just to get the Skull of Corruption from the Daedric Lord Vaermina. I had to knock him out. And then I had to carry him back to Windpeak Inn. I bet he didn’t mention that.” Onmund tried, but he could not control his laughter at this.
“Damn,” said Elspeth as they made their way to dinner. “And I was so looking forward to the army of cat people you two were going to raise to fight the Thalmor.”