In your tales you have many names for her: Al-Esh, given to her in awe, that when translated sounds like a redundancy, “the high high,” from which come the more familiar corruptions: Aleshut, Esha, Alessia. You knew her as Paravant, given to her when crowned, “first of its kind,” by which the gods meant a mortal worthy of the majesty that is killing-questing-healing.”
~Morihaus from The Adabal-a
“You know how much I love Skyrim, really and truly,” said Xeri, her voice dripping with sarcasm, “but shouldn’t this ritual take place in Imperial City where—at least, where the statue of St. Alessia once stood?” She frowned and pulled her cloak tightly as she looked around the snow-covered clearing.
“One might think so,” said Nerussa, barely looking at Xeri as she set out supplies for the summoning ritual. “The ritual works anywhere—well, almost anywhere. But we aren’t actually summoning St. Alessia.”
“Then who are we summoning?” asked Xeri.
“Aouregan, the last priestess of the Alessian Order and follower of the prophet Maruk. And Øyvind, one of the last of the ancient Nord tribal leaders, dedicated to the old hero-god of the Cyro-Nordics, Morihaus, who was a consort of Alessia,” Nerussa explained. “Together they are said to represent the combined spiritual and political influence of St. Alessia, the alliances she forged, and they are the initiates and guardians of the sacred trials.”
Xeri simply nodded. Try as she might, she could not help but be impressed. She had always respected Nerussa as a capable administrator and steward, but now she was utterly floored by the sheer amount of knowledge and the various skills the Altmer had acquired over the years—all while running from the Thalmor.
When Nerussa was ready, she beckoned them over. Evangeline, who had been sitting, on a tree stump on the edge of the clearing, looked up and paused before she got to her feet. She ambled over slowly and as she stood before the two elven women, her face darkened. For Evangeline, the excitement of crafting the amulet had slowly worn off as they made their way through the Rift, giving way to a profound feeling of despair. Xeri had sensed her dread, but for the most part ignored it, believing that the she would come to her senses and recognize the importance of the task and its relevance to her visions.
“What’s wrong?” asked Nerussa.
“We need to talk about this,” she said nervously. “We just can’t do this without some sense of why. What do we really think is going to happen in the end? Are we really trying to revive the Septim dynasty? Because as wonderful as that may sound in theory, it’s actually not going to go over well in reality. And as I said before, simply revealing the existence of a Septim doesn’t automatically challenge the Concordat.” Evangeline’s voiced raised as she spoke and her tone was firm, almost angry.
“Evangeline, if you are worried about the Thalmor, we can utilize your dissidents and—“
“Not just the Thalmor!” she exclaimed. “It’s not going to go over well anywhere. Maybe in Skyrim and Cyrodiil. But the validity of the trials isn’t going to be accepted everywhere. It’s not going to automatically reunite the Empire, not spiritually and certainly not politically.”
“I suppose not,” said Nerussa. “All of this will depend largely on what Elspeth chooses to do. She will have to decide. Will she go forth and usurp the throne from Mede?”
“I doubt it,” Xeri interjected. Her tone was somewhat cynical, causing Nerussa to glower at her before she continued.
“Or will she pick up with the dissidents and the Psijics and forge other alliances to confront the Thalmor menace?”
Xeri smirked at this and opened her mouth to say something about how she thought Elspeth’s strengths as a leader would emerge, but then she thought better of it. This wasn’t really about Elspeth; it was about Evangeline. “You’re scared,” Xeri said finally. “I understand…sort of. But I can feel your ambivalence sera. I believe…” she paused, thinking very carefully about what she was going to say next. “I believe, in the end, our motivations and intentions matter very little. The trials and the amulet are little more than a catalyst.”
Nerussa nodded, pleased and somewhat surprised at Xeri’s thoughtfulness. She stepped toward Evangeline and held her hands. “And if you cannot do this Evangeline, now is the time to leave. I will be disappointed, but I need you to be fully committed and accepting of whatever outcome.”
Evangeline paused for a moment. Weighed down by dread, ambivalence, and longing, her heart ached. She was a careful person, a planner, but she wasn’t one to shy away from taking risks. But never before had so much been at stake. Elspeth, the dissidents, her companions—in her mind she saw both the potential for glorious triumph and devastating loss. And in all likelihood, there would be both. A stubborn realist, she had taught her students that there was no success without sacrifice. Now here she was, being tested by her own admonition. She couldn’t turn back; how could she face her students, the dissidents, even Quaranir and his colleagues knowing about all this? “Very well,” she said quietly. “I will come.”
“Thank you,” said Nerussa. “There is something else I want to ask you. I was going to wait but I think it’s a appropriate now.” She stopped and looked around—somewhat uncomfortably—for a moment before she continued. “Please know that I hate to ask but…is there any chance that Bedyn sired another child?” She took a deep breath and bit her lip as she anticipated the offense that Evangeline would take to such a query.
Surprisingly, Evangeline simply cocked her head, her demeanor as calm as if it had been any other mundane query. “I don’t believe so,” she said after several moments. “None of the lovers he took in the village bore him any children. Xeri, do you know of any?”
“It’s highly unlikely,” she replied. “And if he had known, you would have known too. Bedyn wouldn’t have abandoned a child.”
The casualness with which both Xeri and Evangeline spoke of these past encounters was unsettling to Nerussa, though she said nothing. As a young couple, Bedyn and Evangeline had enchanted their neighbors and friends in Chorrol. Whatever happened later should be of no concern she supposed. They’d endured; they brought Elspeth into the world. Isn’t that all that mattered?
She placed the amulet on a tiny makeshift alter she’d fashioned from several ingots and outlined a circle just big enough for the three of them using a mixture of fire, frost, and void salts. After they all grasped each other’s hands, Xeri and Evangeline listened as Nerussa spoke the incantation that would summon Alessia’s guardians. The Altmer spoke slowly and deliberately, but to their ears the ancient Nedic words were little more than gibberish. When she finished, there was a brief pause and then a distinct change in the atmosphere as the air around them compressed and grew thick.
When they opened their eyes—or, to be more precise, when their eyes were allowed to open again, it was pitch black. They hung suspended, not in air, not anywhere. It was the Void and for a moment, in the absence of everything, there was no sound, no touch, no sight, no smell. Then in the after what could have been an eternity—for there was no way to know—their perception began to return and a small space, lit dimly with a dull blue glow, opened and two figures, a lithe Breton with golden hair and pale skin, dressed in the ancient robes of the Alessian order and a large Nord warrior, burly and dressed in ancient armor, stepped forward.
Aouregan spoke first. “Nerussa the wanderer, daughter of Elanin and Telindil of Dusk, I bid you welcome. We’ve been waiting a long time for this meeting. I see you’ve brought companions.” The ancient priestess spoke with a clear, yet ethereal tone that did not waver once. Nerussa bowed her head in reverence. The atmosphere Void did not unnerve her at all. Among the preparations she had made for this were years spent meditating in anticipation.
“Xeri Tharys, the warrior,” the priestess continued, “granddaughter of Balam, the revered wise woman of Narsis. And also, Evangeline Sigeweald the mage, daughter of Aurelie and Pierrick of Cheydinhal, mother of Elspeth, descendent of Vivienne Sigeweald, the daughter of Martin Septim and Maeve Sigeweald.”
Xeri and Evangeline nodded slowly as they listened to the priestess and became oriented to the Void space. Evangeline, a master level conjuration mage, had expected something more familiar, something akin to the planes of Oblivion she saw in her mind as she summoned bound and unbound dremoras over the years. Xeri, on the other hand, was quite comfortable. In the Void, sensation was limited and perception narrowed so that Xeri, for the first time in her life, only had to deal with her own consciousness.
“Bring me the Chim-el Adabal.” At Aouregan’s command, the old Nordic warrior Øyvind stepped forward and directed the amulet into Aouregan’s open palm. “Indeed, this is an adequate replication of the artifact,” she said as she inspected it carefully. “Its authenticity will be a matter of debate of course. But all the elements are present and its ability to wield the aspects of the Divines as they are granted is without question.” She paused for a moment as she looked at the three women before her. “Øyvind, what is your opinion on the initiation of these trials?”
Even in his ethereal form Øyvind was a behemoth and he towered over them. “The Mer come to us with clarity of spirit. The Dunmer is a warrior and to her I would assign Alessia’s aspect of Killing. To the Altmer, a scholar of sorts, I would assign the aspect of Questing.”
“And what of the Breton?”
“The mage harbors deep ambivalence and fear. And while there is some selfishness to her motives, she lacks neither integrity nor conviction. I would assign her Alessia’s aspect of Healing.”
It was explained that the Trials of St. Alessia were organized around these aspects. Nine trials, the first of which was, of course, the quest to bring forth the Chim-el Adabal. Though each woman was assigned an individual aspect, the features of the forthcoming trials and how each woman’s strength’s would be utilized would be up to the gods to decide.
“Øyvind will now indicate the conditions by which you will be bound as you embark upon the trials.”
As he proclaimed the conditions, Øyvind’s voice echoed and swirled and reverberated in their heads, as if the tenets of the trials were being written into the fabric of their very being. “The three of you are bound together for the duration of the Trials. Failure to complete the Trials, for any reason, will leave all of you in the service of the Divines for eternity. Is this clear?”
The women nodded and Øyvind spoke again. “None of you are to have any contact with Elspeth or her companions during the Trials unless specifically instructed to during the Trials. To do so will forfeit the trials.”
At this, Xeri and Nerussa looked over at Evie, but her face was impossible to read. And in the Void space, Xeri’s empath abilities were useless.
So they swore their oaths and felt the power of their assigned aspects infuse their souls. The priestess and the warrior bade them farewell and sent them back to Mundus.
Øyvind turned to his companion. “Others have sought to initiate the trials and you’ve always turned them away. Why have you allowed this?”
“It was the Chim-el Adabal, of course,” she replied, her tone indicating that it should have been obvious.
“But that wasn’t the Chim-el Adabal. It will not hold Alessia’s soul; it will not offer protection. It is not an artifact; it is merely a symbol of that artifact.”
“I suppose you are correct,” she conceded.
“The return of the Alduin has awakened the dragonborn’s soul and stirred the power in her blood. Is that not enough? Who are we to involve ourselves in the politics of Nirn?”
“But Alessia was a politician before she was a saint.” Aouregan sighed. “Soon there will be a reckoning between Men and those Mer who would see them all enslaved again.” And there are fringe elements in the Thalmor who would do so much more than that to reclaim what they believe to be their birthright.” She brought her palms, pressed together to her mouth and paused for a moment before continuing. “The apotheosis of Talos bound him to Lorkhan. But to preserve the balance that Alessia fought for on Nirn, we also need a living Septim, if not on the Ruby throne then at least known to all of Tamriel. And for these reasons, she would see this done.”
“And Elspeth, she is the only one who can do this?”
“No,” said Aouregan raising her eyes to the Void above. “There is another.”
A/N: I feel like I should apologize for that Easter egg, but I’m not sorry. Okay, well maybe a little. Sorry.