“Elspeth!” She opened her eyes slowly and lifted her head, peeling her face from the bottom of the carriage where she saw two blurry guards peering at her from the end of the cart. She groaned and tried to sit up but she was spent. Every muscle in her body ached and she flopped her head back down.
The walk from Northwatch Keep had been exhausting and made even worse by her incredibly misguided attempt to drag Benor’s body all the way back to Morthal using a makeshift sled fashioned out of old boards and rope. First she hit a storm, which turned out to be a boon as it covered the path leading between Northwatch and Elspeth being formed in the snow by the sled. On the second day, it became clear that bringing Benor home was going to be impossible. The journey was too long and the path too difficult. At the rate she was moving, it would take more than a week just to get to Solitude.
The ground was too frozen for any sort of proper burial, so she took his body into a thick cluster of trees and did her best to cover it with branches she cut with his axe. It was, woefully inadequate, but it was something. In Morthal, Alsfur, the Jarl’s steward and husband, thanked Elspeth for her efforts when she returned Benor’s axe. He seemed almost moved by her gesture but by then she was so sick with exhaustion that she barely noticed and the last thing she remembered was answering “Whiterun” when he asked where she was heading.
“Toki,” said Bjorlam. “Get her out of here, I need to take these nice people to Markarth.”
“Come on Elspeth,” he said as he crawled in and helped her out. “Can you walk?”
“Maybe,” she mumbled as she righted herself on her feet, holding herself against Toki and looking up at the familiar walls surrounding Whiterun. Not since the very first night she arrived in Whiterun had she been so relieved anywhere. She hobbled slowly up the path, helped by Toki who saw her just inside the main gate. It was late and the market stalls were closed so she took the first turn and walked up the path to House Gray Mane.
Fralia clutched the handkerchief she was holding to her chest when she saw Elspeth standing in the door and brought her inside, her face drawn with terrified anticipation.
Elspeth didn’t waste a moment. “Thorald is alive,” she said as soon as Fralia closed the door behind her. “I got him out of the dungeon where he was being held prisoner.”
She gasped loudly. “You did? Where is he? I must see my son at once!”
“I’m afraid he’s not here. He didn’t think it was safe to return,” she explained, feeling her chest tighten as Fralia’s face fell in disappointment.
“What? After all this, I can’t even see him?” She pursed her lips and furrowed her brow. “Then…how…how do I know you’re not just telling me what I want to hear?”
“He said to tell you…” Elspeth paused, wanting to be certain to repeat Thorald’s adage correctly. “Suffer the winter’s cold winds—”
“For it bears aloft next summer’s seeds! That’s my boy! That’s my Thorald.” She stepped forward and took Elspeth’s hands in hers. “For now, it’s enough to know that he’s alive. I can find peace in that.” The touch of the old woman’s hands eased the weight that had settled into her chest, but before she could say anything, Fralia was hurrying around the house. When she came back she presented Elspeth with a beautiful axe. “I had Eorlund forge this for Thorald. I suppose he can’t have it now.” She held it out, “Why don’t you take it. We can always forge another for the day this war ends and Thorald can come home.”
Elspeth took the weapon. Unlike most axes, this one felt comfortable in her grip. Familiar. “It’s beautiful. Thank you,” she said quietly. “I have to go home now and let Lydia know I’m back.”
“Of course.” Fralila placed her arm around Elspeth’s shoulder as she walked her back toward the door. “Thank you, dear friend.” Before she left, Fralia pulled her close and said. “Runa would be so proud of you,” which almost brought tears to her eyes.
At Breezehome, Lydia was sitting at the table reading and drinking tea when Elspeth limped through the door. She yelped and leaped up, almost stumbling into the fire as she scrambled across the room. “I was so worried,” she said as she wrapped her arms around Elspeth. She held her out at arm’s length, “Is Thorald alive?” Her eyes sparkled as Elspeth nodded slowly. “I want to show you something!” she exclaimed. She reached for the door. “It’s a bit of a walk, but you can tell me about how you saved Thorald!”
“No,” she replied, a little harsher than was probably necessary. Lydia was practically bouncing on her heels. Elspeth was happy to see her but her unbridled enthusiasm was too much. “I’m exhausted. I killed a lot of Thalmor. I lost a friend. And I’m not even entirely certain how I got back here. I’m going to bed.”
Lydia looked dejected and nodded as she whispered, “okay.” Her disappointment was evident. Elspeth gave her hand a quick squeeze and walked upstairs. She was so drained that simply lifting her arms to don a nightshirt was painful. Her cloak and armor dropped to the ground and she left them there in a messy pile as she collapsed into bed.
When she woke up it was still dark. Lydia was sitting at the table in her room, drinking a tankard of mead. Elspeth rubbed her eyes and laughed. “How long have you been there?”
“Not long. I figured you were nearing your 20th hour of sleep and would be up soon.”
Elspeth propped up on her elbows and stretched. “I’m sorry if I was harsh.”
Lydia shook her head. “I should have known you would be tired. But you need to get up and get dressed because I want to show you something.”
“All right.” Elspeth couldn’t imagine what she was so exited about. She just smiled inwardly and put her armor on. And after a quick dinner, they left Whiterun and headed northwest along the tundra. The night was clear and their route was lit by the moons of Masser and Secunda.
Elspeth relayed her tale of violence and grief on their trek. Although her eyes continued to betray her excitement, Lydia’s mood was a bit dampened by the story and she quickened their pace now, even more eager for their destination. Elspeth didn’t mind this. She was still somewhat weary and sore, but the brisk walk along the flat, grassy tundra felt light and invigorating compared to her recent hikes along the frozen paths of Haafingar hold.
They approached a large rock formation and as they made their way around, came upon a campsite with a tall stone stairway leading up to another formation lit by a dull glow. It resembled a ruin somewhat, but the steepness of the stair made it difficult to get a clear look
“What is this?” she asked.
“This,” explained Lydia as they approached, “is Silent Moons camp. Several years ago we raided a group of bandits that settled in here. Now Jon Battle Born keeps it maintained. I think he likes to have someplace to go when he can’t deal with his family. But we’ve all camped out here at one time or another.”
Elspeth nodded. “Yes, but why are we here?” she asked as they made their way up the stairs.
“I wanted to show you the lunar forge.” Lydia grinned as she trotted ahead. “Come on!”
Elspeth was still a little perplexed, but decided to humor her. When they arrived at the top of the stairs, Lydia stepped behind and nudged her forward. She could hear clang of hammer against metal and felt the warmth of the fire as she rounded the narrow entrance and walked into the lunar forge, where Onmund was working.
Onmund was working the forge?
Elspeth gasped, not quite sure if what she was seeing was real or some juniper berry induced hallucination. When he saw her standing there, mouth gaping, Onmund tossed the glowing metal slab he’d been hammering back into the fire and before she could say anything, he wrapped his arms around her and lifted her up for a kiss. A long, sweet kiss, borne of yearning and relief. “I missed you,” he whispered as he drew his lips to her ear and down along her jaw and her neck.
“I missed you too,” she replied as she gripped the back of his head, letting her fingers get tangled in his hair, still not entirely certain that this was real. “What are you doing here? I didn’t know you could forge.”
“You didn’t think my grandmother wanted me to take over a forge I couldn’t use, did you? When I was younger, my parents reluctantly agreed that if I apprenticed with my grandfather in the morning, I could spend the rest of the day with Runil and Zaria and other magically inclined people around Falkreath.” He paused for a moment. “You know, I did feel bad about that, but he had another apprentice—and she made plenty of money when she sold it.” He smiled as he led her around the fire to show her what he was working on. There were books and papers and charts everywhere. He handed her a book, Notes on the Lunar Forge. “Sergius gave me this and said that all the information in it is incorrect and the research needs to be redone. So, I am going to make daggers throughout the various moon phases and study the enchantments. And Adrienne Avenicci said she would sell them. Lydia introduced us.”
Elspeth looked on in astonishment as he talked and walked around. From a chest on the other side of the forge he brought out an ebony dagger. “I’m using steel for the rest, but I made this one last week. It’s the strongest enchantment yet. I think because the moons were full.” He held it out to her. “It’s for you.”
Her eyes widened and her heart swelled as she took the blade from him. “It’s beautiful,” she said, almost breathlessly as she admired it by the glow of the fire.
“I can make a decent dagger…nothing like that though,” he said, gesturing to the new axe in her belt.
“I like this more,” she said as she ran her fingers along the dagger’s hilt. And it was true. The axe Fralia had given her was a beautiful, generous gift of thanks. But this…no one had ever given her anything like this before. No one had ever taken the time and care to craft something just for her. Everything about this moment—the gift, the fact that he was here for her now, after weeks of feeling so helpless and frenzied—stirred something in her, something beyond her emotions. It stirred her deep-seated need (which she tried so hard to ignore) for him. She had to have him and she had to have him now.
She pulled him close to her, grabbing and tugging at his clothes. As his robe loosened and came undone, their fingers yanked—almost fighting over—the buckles and straps on her armor. They kicked and twisted out of their clothing and Elspeth hooked her arm around his waist and pushed herself forward as he moved down to ground, leaning back on his elbows. She lowered herself down on him, wrapping her legs around his waist, as he drew himself upright, clutching her back and hips. They came together like this, over and over, until she cried out, arriving at the place where she could find absolute solace.
She woke with a start, alone and naked, curled up on a bedroll and covered by a wool blanket and her cloak. It took a couple of moments, but then she remembered arriving at the camp and the lunar forge. At some point they left the forge for the camp’s sleeping quarters, a cavernous area filled with bedrolls, chests, and bookshelves. She shivered as she scrambled around looking for clothing. Her armor was folded on a wooden chest but she grimaced at the thought of putting it on. Inside the chest, she found Onmund’s extra robe. It was too big, but wearing it made her happy.
She found him cooking outside and after a breakfast of cured meat, apple slices cooked in honey and spices, and warm mead, they took their tankards and sat on the ledge just outside the camp’s sleeping quarters. Onmund leaned back against the wall and Elspeth nestled into his arms as they looked out over the tundra. She couldn’t remember a time she’d ever felt so content.
“I’m so glad you’re here,” she said after some time had passed.
“Yeah?” He nuzzled her ear and played with her hair a bit.
“The past couple of weeks have been rough,” she explained.
“Lydia told me a little about your journey from the College. The Butcher and Potema. She said Markarth was unpleasant but she didn’t elaborate.”
“It was awful,” she said. “There was a Thalmor Justiciar I had to deal with and he took a great deal of pleasure in casting powerful calming spells on me.” Onmund’s face grew dark as she told the story—leaving out their misunderstanding of Ondolemar’s intentions. When she got to the part about the amulet, she couldn’t even look at him. She simply buried her face in his robe and cried.
Onmund wanted so badly to ease her weary soul but he was at a complete loss. All he could do, it seemed, was hold her and listen. But Elspeth needed more. He was trying to think of something comforting to say when she looked up suddenly. “Can you cast expert illusion spells?” she asked.
“Yes,” he replied. “Why?”
She turned to face him. “When I get back from Riften, will you help me learn to resist those spells? That Justiciar just wanted to mess with my head. If something like that happens again…I may not be so lucky.”
Onmund didn’t respond. The look of concern on his face worried her and she pulled away, her heart sinking in her chest. She wanted him to help because of his skill, but her request seemed to bother him. “It’s okay if you don’t want to,” she said quietly.
“It’s not that,” he said. He looked at her intently. “You’ve seen how powerful those spells are. Do you trust me enough to get into your head like that?”
“Of course,” she said. For a brief moment she was troubled by his need to ask, but decided that he was simply being cautious.
“Okay,” he whispered, wrapping his arms around her and pulling her close again. As she nestled back into his chest, he looked back over the tundra. Suddenly, he became very excited. “Look!” He pointed to a pair of mammoths roaming over the plains in the distance. “I’ve never had a chance just to see them roam.” They looked so gentle in the distance, their trunks waving as they ambled along. After a few moments he asked, “What should we name them?”
“I don’t know,” said Elspeth, thinking for a moment.
“We have to name one Lydia,” said Onmund.
“True,” she agreed. “We’ll name one Lydia and the other one…Stampy.”
“Stampy?” he exclaimed. “With a name like that, he’s going to get his butt kicked all the way across the tundra.”
“No,” she said, shaking her head. “Lydia won’t let anyone hurt Stampy.”
“I suppose not.” Onmund smiled. “What happens now? Are you two heading Riften today?”
“Yes,” she replied. “And if all goes well, we’ll bring this Altmer woman back to Whiterun and send for Xeri.”
“I can’t wait to meet Xeri,” said Onmund. He seemed almost excited at the prospect, which baffled Elspeth. “Do you think she’ll like me?”
“Xeri doesn’t like anybody,” she said, smirking. “Maybe Runa will come too. Runa is going to love you. She will bake you sweet rolls. And then she will make inappropriate comments about grandchildren.” She laughed and then sighed. “I should probably head back to Whiterun soon.”
Onmund pulled her in for a kiss. “I’ll walk with you. I need supplies.” They cleaned and closed up the camp, and as they made their way back to Whiterun, Elspeth couldn’t help but observe the ease with which Onmund had settled in. Sure, he was bouncing back between Breezehome and the camp but as they entered the gates and he nodded to the guards and assured Adrienne he would have more daggers soon, it seemed as if he had come home. Elspeth felt a rush of warm excitement as she thought, perhaps they both had.
I don’t normally post pictures, but I managed to snag this one and thought it was too cute not to share. Now y’all can see what Elspeth saw when she entered the forge.