Frostcraig Spire—18 Frostfall 4E190
Bedyn stopped in the door way and peered into the bedroom where Elspeth was sitting cross-legged on the bed, reading—so intently focused on her book that she didn’t notice him standing there.
“Are you ready?” he asked, smiling warmly at her.
The sound of her father’s voice jolted her from her story-world, startling her a bit. She furrowed her brow. “Can we skip this week papa? I want to finish The Story of Aevar Stone-Singer tonight. Please.” With this she transformed her frown into a pout, complete with wide wolf-pup eyes that she knew her father could rarely resist.
“I’m sorry,” he replied, grinning inwardly at her attempt to sway him. “But just as the grandfather in your book must impart the wisdom of the Skaal onto the child, I must also convey this story to you.”
“But it’s the same story every week,” she protested, although she knew that wasn’t entirely true.
“And it’s the most important story I will ever tell you.” He studied his daughter intently. She was 10 years old now and he had been telling her this story for years, adding details as she grew older. Perhaps it was time to do something different. “I think it’s time for you tell me the story,” he said finally. “And I’ll know if you’ve been paying attention.”
She wrinkled her forehead in mild annoyance before closing her book and placing it on the side table. “All right,” she said as she pulled her legs up and stretched her nightshirt over her knees, something that drove her mother crazy. But he didn’t care. She could rip her clothing into shreds and thread them back together with Daedra silk for all he cared.
Bedyn leaned back on the bed and put his arm around her, squeezing her close. He cherished their Sundas night storytelling tradition. It wouldn’t be long before she would leave the village and attend school in Cyrodiil. Xeri, his mentor-turned-housecarl and Runa, the Nord woman who acted as their family’s nurse, would take her away to bring her closer to fulfilling her destiny—a fate already written and shown in bits and parts to Xeri over the years. But that was still at least a year away. “Any time you are ready,” he prompted.
“Okay.” She snuggled into the crook of his arm and began, “once a very, very, very long time ago—”
“Mara’s mercy kid,” he interrupted. “It wasn’t that long ago.”
“Yes it was,” she insisted. “It was a very long time ago…because you and mother are old.”
Bedyn snorted. “You know elves who are upwards of 300 years old.”
“Yes, but you are old Bretons,” she explained. “As, I was saying…once, a very long time ago, there was a young girl named Evangeline who was born in Cheydinhal and moved to Chorrol so that her father could advise the new Count, Rufus. She studied and practiced magic and was very serious about becoming a mage. After she had been living in Chorrol, a boy moved there from Wayrest.” She paused for a moment and looked up. “You were my age when you met mother, right?”
“Yes, I was.”
“Will I meet my husband soon?”
Dear gods I hope not, thought Bedyn. “Maybe you’ve met him already,” he replied. “Maybe it’s Undilar,” he teased, knowing that she had the sweetest sort of crush on the Altmer mage who lived in the village.
She pursed her lips as her face reddened in embarrassment. “Mother didn’t like you at first, did she?” She furrowed her brow again. No matter how many times she heard it, she couldn’t imagine how her mother, nay anyone, could find Bedyn unlikeable. According to Elspeth, Evangeline hung Segunda, but not until after her father hung the larger Masser.
“No,” he laughed. “She did not. She thought I was lazy and fickle.”
Why did she think that?” Her tone was both curious and incredulous.
“Because I was lazy and fickle. I wanted to have adventures, but I didn’t want to prepare myself for the life of an adventurer. That’s why your grandmother hired Xeri, to teach me discipline.”
“And to fight!” At ten, Elspeth was at the stage in Xeri’s training where combat was fun and invigorating, albeit challenging. Eventually that would change, but he just smiled at her enthusiasm. He didn’t have the heart to quash her excitement.
“Yes,” he agreed. “Xeri taught me to fight, but discipline was more important. Of course, I don’t need to tell you that.” Elspeth was a serious student, but Xeri was always on her to focus, to temper her zeal with restraint. She had so much potential and it saddened him that he probably wouldn’t get to see her grow into a powerful mage. Would she be a natural leader like her mother? Inspiring people to rise up? Or would she be part of a legion, using her strength to bolster the force that would bring justice and healing back to the Empire? Xeri’s visions were so cryptic, so incomplete. All they knew was that she needed to be prepared. And that she would eventually have to leave.
“And then mother liked you?” Her sweet voice interrupted his thoughts before they become troubled.
“Yes, that brought her around. So then what happened?”
“You trained and studied together until mother went to Arcane University and you were recruited by the Blades.”
“That’s right. Tell me, who did your mother meet at Arcane University?”
“Her mentor Fainde,” she answered. “He was her instructor and the Arch mage.”
“Tell me about him,” he prompted. “He is very important.” Official histories of the Thalmor and the Empire would just as soon forget mages like Fainde, but Bedyn would not let his name be forgotten.
“Fainde was a powerful mage. His parents were dissident elves who fled to Sentinal to escape the Thalmor. They fought during the Nights of the Green Fire and his father was killed. His mother took him to Daggerfall where he lived until he moved to Cyrodiil to attend the University. He became a trusted adviser to Titus Mede who appointed him to the Elder Council.”
Elspeth also heard plenty of Fainde from the other mages, but Bedyn was nonetheless pleased at the details of the story she recalled. So often she interrupted his history lesson with questions of her grandmothers and of his childhood in Wayrest. “Yes,” he agreed. “In fact, he created a seat on the Elder Council for Arch-mages going forward, so that he would always have an advisor on magic and the Aldmeri Dominion.”
“Fainde knew that the Empire needed more battle mages and spellswords to defeat the Aldmeri. He started an army with you and mother, right?”
He smirked. “I guess you could say that,” he said. “Fainde believed that they would attack and began training his students heavily in destruction and restoration. He sent your mother to Cloud Ruler temple to consult with the Blades. Using our network of spies, we found mages all over Valenwood and Summerset Isle who were opposed to the Thalmor.”
Bedyn stopped and looked away as his face darkened. The Blades in Summerset Isle had also provided Evangeline with vital information on the Thalmor and had paid dearly for it. He swallowed against the hard lump growing in his throat as he thought of those Blades—men and women with whom he had trained—who were sacrificed in a despicable show of Aldmeri treachery that started the Great War.
Elspeth could almost feel the tension growing in her father’s arm as he held her. She looked up, trying desperately to read his face. Sensing her growing unease, he took a deep breath and continued. “Your mother was in Daggerfall where she had gathered more dissident elves when the war broke out. The Thalmor largely ignored High Rock so she was able to train mages there.”
“And when Fainde was killed during the Sack of Imperial City, she became Arch-mage and brought her mages with her!”
“She did,” Bedyn smiled, recalling the ease with which Evangeline had inspired them to come to Arcane. There weren’t many at first, but the mages who had been training with her traversed the deserts of Hammerfell and the mountains of Skyrim—risking their lives at times—to continue their studies and training. They might have attended the College of Winterhold or the academy in Wayrest, but they chose Arcane believing that Evangeline might one day lead them to confront the Thalmor. “Go on,” he said. “The story isn’t over.”
“When Mede retreated north, mother built a new army!”
“Well, sort of,” Bedyn replied. “She increased destruction training. But she had to be careful. The University had always functioned independently, but the Thalmor were now just outside the University walls and had spies everywhere.” In fact, Evangeline had used much of her family’s fortune paying Thalmor agents to leak false information to their superiors. These traitors to the Dominion had also paid with their lives. He shook his head. So many lives lost in the pursuit of secrets and lies. And they were never more than just a very small step ahead of the Thalmor. If Mede hadn’t attacked Imperial City when he did, the Thalmor would have caught on and destroyed the whole University.
“But that’s why the Emperor was able to take back the city in the Battle of the Red Ring, right? The battle mages and spellswords?”
“Yes,” he said, returning his full attention to her. “They reinforced Mede’s forces and he was able to defeat the Aldmeri army.” Bedyn bit his lip. He was in Western Cyrodiil during the battle, but the stories he heard from Evangeline and other survivors were devastating. Only a handful of her mages survived and those that did were traumatized. These were the first to join them in exile. They were not looking to start a rebellion. They came seeking solace, to heal.
He looked down at Elspeth who was scowling. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
“I don’t like the next part,” she replied.
“Really?” This was his favorite part. “You don’t like the part where your mother stands up to injustice?” Before the Battle of the Red Ring, Evangeline had been little more than a thorn in the side of the Thalmor. This is when she became a threat.
“It’s not that….” Her voice trailed off and she looked down. The story of Evangeline’s fall from grace, those moments when her mother’s talents garnered her, not respect but punishment cut into Elspeth’s gut every time she heard about it.
Bedyn hugged her tight and kissed her on the top of her head. “Some stories are difficult to hear and tell, but they are important. So, let’s get through the part you don’t like.”
“Mother refused to support the Concordat and Mede removed her from the Elder Council.” She scowled even harder. “I still don’t understand. The Emperor has supreme power. Why did he ask the council for support if he was going to sign the treaty anyway?”
“That, my dear child, is a question that scholars will debate for decades,” he explained. “Some people think that he was making an effort in good faith, and that if more council members had dissented, he would have demanded changes to the treaty. Others believe that he simply wanted a united front to create an illusion of authority as he yielded power to the Thalmor.”
“What do you think papa?”
He thought about this question carefully. Before they were banished from Cyrodiil, he had a tremendous amount of sympathy for the Emperor. “I think that when the Concordat was presented to him, the Emperor was trying to make the best of a difficult situation. He couldn’t risk another war.”
“So, why didn’t mother support him?”
“Because your mother is very, very, very stubborn.” Bedyn grinned as he recalled the day that Evangeline had stood up to Mede and the Thalmor Justiciars, which he attended as a covert representative of the Blades. One by one, the members of the Elder council—with varying levels of enthusiasm—indicated their support, until they came to Evangeline. Her seat, that of the university Arch-mage, was the last to be established and the last to vote. She responded to Mede’s petition with a resounding, “No.”
When Mede and some of the other Elders tried to persuade her, she threw what could only be described as an eloquent tantrum. Her tirade included her usual articulacy and fervor but there would be no interrupting her. When she was done, several Elders, including the powerful and influential Catherine Motierre and Count Rufus of Chorrol, were swayed and threatened to rescind their support. The Thalmor briefly withdrew the treaty and when the council convened the following week, Evangeline was informed that her seat had been dissolved.
“The Emperor may have been trying to make the best of a bad situation, but the Concordat is a disgrace,” he continued. “You’re mother couldn’t support something so unjust. She would not let the deaths of her mages be in vain.”
“So, they kicked her off the council. And she went to Hammerfell to help General Decianus fight the Thalmor there.” She leaned back into her father now, knowing this was the event that led to her family’s exile.
“Papa?” Elspeth pulled away suddenly. “Is mother a traitor?”
“What?” He asked, astonished. “Who told you that?”
“Irinde says that’s what they call her in Imperial City,” she said. “Is she?”
“No,” he replied firmly. “Cyrodiil was not at war with Hammerfell and so your mother was not offering aid to an enemy.” This was the part of the story that was the most difficult for him. When she returned from the desert, the Thalmor pressured Mede to arrest and execute Evangeline for treason. They relented, not because Mede insisted that she hadn’t committed treason, but because he pointed out that such a move would only infuriate the council and inflame anti-Thalmor sentiment to dangerous levels. When they insisted that she be exiled, Bedyn felt that Mede should have taken the Thalmor’s eagerness to eliminate her as a sign of their fear, a weakness he could exploit. But he didn’t. He simply conceded to their demands, which led him to think that Mede’s actions were never pragmatic or strategic. He was doing little more than securing his own position.
“And that’s the end of the story. That’s why we live here.”
“Oh my sweet girl, the story is far from over. But I will tell you more in time.” Bedyn sighed. Eventually, he would tell her about Nerussa, his family’s steward, the devoted Altmer woman who had served the Sigewealds as far back as the Oblivion Crisis and who, for reasons he still could not comprehend, had become an important target of the Thalmor. A series of miscommunications and poor planning on the part of Bedyn and Evangeline had left Nerussa alone in Chorrol when the Thalmor captured the city. The guilt they both felt nearly destroyed them. It was the birth of Elspeth that had brought them together again although the Altmer’s name was never spoken. The last he’d heard was that she was on her way to Skyrim and he was banished to the village before he could inquire further.
“Papa,” Elspeth’s voice was trembling with nervous excitement. “Is mother going to fight the Thalmor again? Or is she just going to keep writing about how awful they are?”
Bedyn snorted and then coughed and covered his mouth. Elspeth hadn’t intended to poke fun at her mother, but it was an on-going joke among the mages in the village that the powerful former Arch-mage had simply retired to write propaganda, trading her sword and staves for parchment and quills. “Maybe she will fight,” he answered. “Or maybe she will prepare her mages to fight them. I don’t know for certain.”
“Will I get to fight the Thalmor?” Her voice perked up some more and she raised her eyes eagerly. Her understanding of the injustices wrought by the Thalmor was still being honed. And although she was intelligent, she was still a little girl. She had neither her father’s deep-seated feelings of righteousness nor her mother’s fiery passion and anger. Yet, she emulated her parents, her sense of their heroics—particularly those of her mother—was fostered within their community of mages, and she wanted to fight as they had.
He pursed his lips. The visions given to their housecarl, vague as they were, betrayed a fighter whose role was hazy at best. He longed to see justice served, and while he could imagine Elspeth as a powerful mage, when she asked him directly like this it pained him to think of his baby girl in the throes of battle. But the fates were not his to decide. “I just hope that whatever you,” he said, “whether you fight nor not, you do with integrity and for justice.”
“Okay!” she said with a level of matter-of-factness that only served to emphasize just how young she still was. She snuggled down in her blankets as he tucked her in. “Will you be gone when I wake up?” she asked. Bedyn was making his yearly journey to Gottlesfront priory, south of Chorrol, where his mother was buried. It was the one concession they managed to wrench from Mede and Thalmor when the conditions of exile were delivered.
“I think so. Unless you want to wake up at 4AM just to say good-bye,” he replied.
“No thank you!” she said firmly. “Don’t forget to put Lady’s mantle on her grave from me.”
“I won’t,” he said, smiling. “And you best study and practice while I’m gone. I want you to have Stoneflesh mastered by the time I get back.”
“Sure,” she said sleepily. “Good night papa.”
“Good night sweet, girl. I love you.”
“I love you too.”