He swore he couldn’t see his hands in front of him through the mix of falling and blowing snow. Baurus tugged his black cloak closer to his armor, though it was in vain, the wind whipped the cloak about, and it barely clung to his shoulders. The fresh snow was light and airy at least, and not damp and wet. Still, he was a Redguard, his people weren’t built for the snow and the cold; at least not like Nords were. It was times like this that he envied them. The Blade looked back, his eyes hazed as he tried to focus. A muted shadow was moving behind him. “Adria!” he shouted over the wind. He paused as the shape grew closer, becoming more defined, and soon the Imperial woman was close enough to recognize.
She stumbled in the snow drifts. Baurus offered his arm, and she took it with a weak smile of thanks. He placed a gauntleted hand on her shoulder. “Are you doing alright?” he asked loudly.
She touched her showing belly with a soft nod. “My feet are killing me, but otherwise we’re alright.”
Baurus nodded back. They started walking together, his hand on her back, helping push her forward, his sword hand ever on his weapon. “You didn’t need to come.”
She sighed, giving him that annoyed glance that he knew so well. “I told you already. I wanted to be there to hear this myself.” He shook his head. He knew she wouldn’t budge. She was just as, maybe even more, stubborn than Martin had been about these things. Just like when Martin insisted upon leading the Battle for Bruma, despite the advice of his trusted Blades, even against Adria’s own advice against it. “Besides,” she said, breaking him from his thoughts, “I was losing my mind, sitting in that damned fortress every blasted day and night. I think sore feet and a little cold are more than welcome compared to insanity don’t you think?”
Baurus chuckled. “Fair enough.” In an instant, he stopped. He held out his arm to stop Adria as well. She gazed at him, confused for a moment before she heard it herself. Baurus drew his katana, stepping in front of Adria. His brow furrowed in concentration. Humming. Someone was humming a song, and they were coming closer. The snow and the wind made it hard to pin point the direction, but Baurus was ready for anything. From the corner of his eye he saw Adria draw her short silver sword.
The humming stopped, but the sound of muffled footsteps still drew closer, until a shadow appeared just at the edge of the Blade’s vision. Baurus pointed at the shadow with his sword. “In the name of the emperor,” he called out, his voice threatening, “declare yourself!” The shadow stepped closer, coming fully into sight. It was a middle aged Nord. He wore intricate blue and grey robes and a faint grin on his face. Baurus scowled. “Don’t come any closer,” he warned, aiming the blade tip at the man’s throat.
The man opened his arms. “Sorry to worry you, sir Blade. I am Brother Holger, caretaker to my fellow brothers.” The Redguard’s blade didn’t move an inch. “I watched as you descended the mountain, and I wish to escort you to the Temple of the Ancestor Moth.”
“Thank you, Brother,” Adria said behind him as she put away her weapon. He felt her step forward, but again he threw his arm out to block her.
“Say the code,” Baurus ordered, his eyes never leaving the Moth Priest. “The jaws of Oblivion have been closed.”
Holger sighed. “Dawn’s new day has been ended.”
Only then did Baurus lower his blade. He nodded, sheathing his weapon. Brother Holger bowed and turned on his heels without another word. Baurus and Adria looked at each other, the Champion giving a small shrug and following, the Blade following shortly behind her. Baurus was silent as they followed the monk, but Adria was never one for silence. “I thought the Moth Priests were blind?”
The man didn’t turn around. “It is a… result of reading the Elder Scrolls, yes. Over time the Scrolls take their toll on the reader’s eyesight. When this happens, the reader retires, and comes here, to one of the Temples.”
“Then who is reading this prophecy we have come to hear?”
“You misunderstand,” Brother Holger says with a sigh, “they are not truly blind, not at first. Before true blindness settles in, they can only read the Scrolls, see the hidden truths, nothing more. They call themselves blind long before that, wearing blindfolds to secure their vision, saving themselves only to read the Scrolls for as long as possible.” He pauses. “Brother Hjar will read this prophecy, and it will be his last, for his visions fade.”
They were silent for a time, following the monk down a rough path in the snow, until they reached a small group of buildings. A Temple of the Nine stood tall in the center, around it numerous buildings of all different sizes; even an entrance to a crypt.
The snow wasn’t as thick here in the small valley, in fact, it seemed like spring. The sky was brilliant with stars. The moons were huge, red and pale in the midnight sky. Brother Holger smiled. “I will take you now to Brother Hjar in the Temple.”
Baurus shook the show off his cloak, lowering the hood and taking in the room, seeing Adria do the same. The temple was simple. It had a rustic feel. Normally, Baurus was used to temples, they were a part of everyday Blade life, but here he felt like he was intruding somehow. Pews lined on either side of the main isle, and all around the room candles and torches flickered, making the shadows of statues dance along the walls. Purple banners hung along the walls, and the air was thick with the smell of incense. Here and there a brother sat in the pews, chanting an ancient song that Baurus didn’t recognize.
In front of the altar of the Nine an old priest knelt, his eyes covered by a red blindfold. He seemed to be leading the chant, his back to the altar. Brother Holger motioned for them to stay there before he made his way down the center aisle. He knelt beside the priest at the altar and whispered in his ear. The old priest nodded. Brother Holger made his way back to Baurus and Adria. “Brother Hjar is ready to read the Scroll for you.”
Baurus looked at Adria, who nodded. Baurus went first down the aisle, his hand wavering over his blade out of habit. When they reached the monk he did not stand, but instead motioned in front of him. Baurus and Adria shared another glance before she knelt in front of the old Nord priest. They were silent for a time. Finally the priest broke the silence, “Such fire I see in you.” He nodded as if confirming something to himself. “The fire of one who has faced the realm of Oblivion and returned to tell the tale.”
Adria moved to introduce herself, but the Moth Priest raised a hand to stop her. “I know who you are, Hero of Kvatch. After all, wasn’t it our order that requested to speak with you?” The old man paused. “And you, Blade, the loyal friend and guard, standing to defend what is left of your reason for existence; or at least the shadow of it.”
“How did you know all this?” Adria asked, her voice barely more than a whisper.
Hjar smiled. “You told me, your very essence speaks more than words or sight ever could. You are here because those of our order who still reside in the White Gold Tower have seen what is to be, and have decided to share it with those who would bear witness to it. The future contained,” the monk explained, “in the lives of your descendants, the last of the line of Tiber Septim.”
Adria’s eyes went wide. “How-“
The priest interrupted, “Why else would you travel here, instead of the Imperial City? You do not wish the world to know. A wise choice, given the political state of the Empire. But you did not come to hear an old man rant.” At that the monk reached into his robes, revealing what Baurus instantly knew to be an Elder Scroll. It was larger than he had expected it to be. It was inlaid with gold and jewels, and was at least the length of his forearm. With reverence, Brother Holger removed Brother Hjar’s blindfold. The older monk kept his eyes firmly closed as the blindfold fell away.
Adria stared at the Moth Priest kneeling before her. Baurus was watching Holger who had stepped the altar and pulled on a white rope that lead to the ceiling. Within minutes of pulling the rope Baurus began to see them. Hundreds of them. Black moths came from the ceiling. Ancestor Moths, he realized, literally, they’re moths. They seemed drawn to Hjar, and the old Moth Priest welcomed them.
The Moth Priest nodded. “Now, we begin,” he said. Then he opened the Elder Scroll, his eyes opening, revealing clouded blue eyes. The priest paused a moment before beginning, “I see before me a line spanning generations, the line of Akatosh blessed, the line of Talos, Tiber Septim; represented by a golden thread. I see words written, no, carved in the bones of dragons, ‘Birthright'. A bright blue thread crosses that of the gold, a separate prophecy, coinciding with the fate of this one. I will try to see that prophecy.” The priest paused, a slight scowl etched on his face, and was that worry? “All I see is a dragon, black, with red eyes. The vision changes. The threads intertwine. Their goals become one, and a deep voice whispers these words; “That which was willingly lost will be returned. The past, long forgotten will be remembered. The End’s bane will join the Bane of Mer. The crownless will once again be made king.” The old man paused again, and he closed the Scroll. “And that is where I see no more.”
Delphine threw another log onto the fire, the meager flames picked at the fuel eagerly. She stood straight, her muscles complaining after the long day's ride. She watched the flames for a few seconds, watching the tongues of fire twist and bend, the smokeless fire was weak, but served its purpose, if somewhat halfheartedly. It had been two days since Esbern left; he said it was, "Too dangerous to keep all our eggs in the same basket." Delphine agreed, though she did not like it. They were stronger together than apart. The Thalmor would not give up in their hunt for the Blades, the last of the sacred order that once were the most dangerous organization in all of Tamriel. Even though they were remnants of what they once were, the legendary were now nothing but legends themselves.
"Auntie Delly," said a small voice, breaking her from her thoughts. She looked across the fire; Emilia's small form was sitting cross legged, her arms wrapped close around her. The little girl spoke again, "Where's my papa?"
Off being a fool. Marcus insisted on hunting, saying he was feeling 'cooped up'. How, she wondered, could he feel cooped up when they never stayed at the same place twice? "He will be back soon," she said shortly.
The little girl held her legs closer to her chest. "Why can't we have a bigger fire?"
"Because we might be seen."
"By the tall people with pointy ears?"
Delphine looked at the girl sadly. She was so innocent, too innocent to know the true nature of the Thalmor. "Yes, the bad elves."
"'Elves'," she repeated, taking in the word.
Delphine kept a hand on her blade, scanning the trees for any sign of danger. Marcus should have been back by now. Silence hung, save for a few birds chirping nearby. The girl piped up again, "I'm cold."
Delphine gazed at her. Maybe this was the power of her heritage, guilting people with sad eyes. Without a word, the last Grandmaster of the Blades took her own cloak and draped it over the girl. The girl was absolutely swimming in it. "Better?"
Delphine couldn’t help but smile as the pile of wool nodded.
Delphine's hand went straight to her weapon when she heard footsteps approaching. She turned, to find Marcus strolling into the campsite, his line full of salmon, and his black hair and leathers drenched. Her childhood friend smiled. "I'm back," he said with a silly grin. Within seconds the fish was in Delphine's hands and Emilia was in Marcus'. He situated her so she sat on his hip. He nodded towards the salmon in Delphine's hand. "How about some fish?"
Delphine cooked the fish, watching Marcus play with Emilia with a wary eye. Marcus was teaching her swordplay, each of them wielding a carved stick, while he showed her the steps passed down by his Blade teachers. Marcus touched her with the stick for what seemed like the tenth time. His daughter threw down her stick and fell to the ground, pouting. "I'll never be good at this," she cried.
Marcus smiled softly. He threw his stick into the woods before kneeling down and putting a gentle hand on her shoulder. "We will find you something else," he said cheerfully.
"What about archery?"
"Archery?" she repeated, chewing on the foreign word.
"Bow and arrow?"
Her eyes lit up. "Oh yes, papa, please!"
He smiled warmly. "Next town we stop at we will get you your own bow, how's that?"
"Thank you," she repeated over and over, running circles around him.
Marcus stood and laid a soft hand on her head, halting her celebrations. "Now, why don't you go wait in the tent for dinner?"
"Yes, Papa," she said, still brimming with excitement. He knelt down and hugged her. She gave him a kiss on the cheek before skipping to the tent they shared.
Marcus watched her go with pride. "She's growing up," he said sadly.
Delphine glanced away from the fish. “Children tend to do that.”
Marcus gave her a look, but merely laughed lightly as he gazed back at the tent. “I almost forget that sometimes. Someday I’ll be fighting off suitors and assassins.”
Delphine smiled. “Well, if you deal with suitors the same way you deal with assassins...” Marus laughed. "Archery?"
Marcus planted himself beside the small fire. "It makes sense," he said with a sigh. "Every other child of Adria has been male and been trained in swordsmanship."
"What does that have to-?"
Marcus interrupted, "Emma is the first Septim female in nearly two centuries, and, just like our many greats grandmother, she'll be a master of the bow. I'm sure of it."
Soon dinner was finished and their bellies full. Delphine was on watch, patrolling the campsite and eyeing the tree line. Marcus sat beside the fire, Emilia in his lap as he told her stories. "Maybe it's time for a new story, " Marcus declared, ”the story Hero of Kvatch perhaps?"
Her eyes went wide. Marcus grinned.
Delphine looked at him. "She's only seven, Marcus do you really -"
"I think she's ready to know," he interrupted. At that he reached into the pack at his waist, revealing an orb the size of his fist. It was black, orange, red, and gold, the colors swirling beneath its glass-like surface. "My father gave this to me," Marcus explained. "Can you guess what it is?"
She stared at it with wide eyes. "Can I hold it?"
Marcus shook his head. "It's not a nice thing Emma. This is a Sigil Stone,"
Marcus said with pride. “This is the proof that the story I’m about to tell you is real, more real than anything.” His daughter looked at him curiously. “I say that, because it’s our own family history.”