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Part I-A: The Ransom of Zarek, Part 1
Jalemmil stood in her garden and read the letter her servant had brought her. The bouquet of roses in her hand fell to the ground. For a moment it was as if all birds had ceased to sing and a cloud had passed over the sky. Her carefully cultivated haven seemed to flood over with darkness.
"We have thy son," it read. "We will be in touch with thee shortly with our ransom demands."
Zarek had never made it as far as Akgun after all. One of the brigands on the road, Orcs probably, or accursed Dunmer, must have seen his well-appointed carriage and taken him hostage. Jalemmil clutched at a post for support, wondering if her boy had been hurt. He was but a student, not the sort to fight against well-armed men, but had they beaten him? It was more than a mother's heart could bear.
"Don't tell me they sent the ransom note so quickly," called a familiar voice, and a familiar face appeared through the hedge. It was Zarek. Jalemmil hurried to embrace her boy, tears running down her face.
"What happened?" she cried. "I thought thou hadst been kidnapped."
"I was," said Zarek. "Three huge soaring Nords attacked my carriage on the Frimvorn Pass. Brothers, as I learned, named Mathais, Ulin, and Koorg. Thou shouldst have seen these men, mother. Each one of them would have had trouble fitting through the front door, I can tell thee."
"What happened?" Jalemmil repeated. "Wert thou rescued?"
"I thought about waiting for that, but I knew they'd send off a ransom note and I know how thou does worry. So I remembered what my mentor at Akgun always said about remaining calm, observing thy surroundings, and looking for thy opponent's weakness," Zarek grinned. "It took a while, though, because these fellows were truly monsters. And then, when I listened to them bragging to one another, I realized that vanity was their weakness."
"What didst thou do?"
"They had me chained at their camp in the woods not far from Cael on a high knoll overlooking a wide river. I heard one of them, Koorg, telling the others that it would take the better part of an hour to swim across the river and back. They were nodding in agreement when I spoke up.
"'I could swim that river and back in thirty minutes,' I said.
"'Impossible,' said Koorg. 'I can swim faster than a little whelp like thee.'
"So it was agreed that we would dive off the cliff, swim to the center island, and return. As we went to our respective rocks, Koorg took it upon himself to lecture me about all the fine points of swimming
- the importance of synchronized movements of the arms and legs for maximum speed, and how essential it was to breathe after only the third or fourth stroke, not too often to slow thyself down, but not too little to lose one's air. I nodded and agreed to all his fine points. Then we dove off the cliffs. I made it to the island and back in a little over an hour, but Koorg never returned. He had dashed his brains at the rocks at the base of the cliff. I had noticed the telltale signs of underwater rocks and had taken the diving rock on the right."
"But thou returned?" asked Jalemmil, astounded. "Was that not when thou escaped?"
"It was too risky to escape then," said Zarek. "They could have easily caught me again, and I wasn't keen to be blamed for Koorg's disappearance. I said I did not know what happened to him, and after some searching, they decided he had forgotten about the race and had swum ashore to hunt for food. They could not see how I could have had anything to do with his disappearance, as fully visible as I was throughout my swim. The two brothers began making camp along the rocky cliff-edge, picking an ideal location so that I would not be able to escape.
"One of the brothers, Mathais, began commenting on the quality of the soil and the gradual incline of the rock that circled around the bay below. It was ideal, he said, for a foot race. I expressed my ignorance of the sport, and he was keen to give me details of the proper technique for running a race. He made absurd faces, showing how one must breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth; how to bend one's knees to the proper angle on the rise, and the importance of sure foot placement. Most important, he explained, was that one must keep an aggressive but not too strenuous pace if one intends to win. It is fine to run in second place through the race, he said, provided one has the willpower and strength to pull out in the end.
"I was an enthusiastic student, and Mathais decided that we ought to run a quick race around the edge of the bay before night fell. Ulin told us to bring some firewood when we came back. We began at once down the path, skirting the cliff below. I followed his advice about breath, gait, and foot placement, but I ran with all my power right from the start. Despite his much longer legs, I was a few paces ahead as we rounded the first corner.
"With his eyes on my back, Mathais did not see the gap in the rock that I jumped over. He plummeted over the cliff before he had a chance to cry out. I spent a few minutes gathering some twigs before I returned to Ulin at camp."
Part I-B: The Ransom of Zarek, Part 2
"Now thou wert just showing off," frowned Jalemmil. "Surely that would have been a good time to escape."
"Thou might think so," agreed Zarek. "But thou had to see the topography—a few large trees, and then nothing but shrubs. Ulin would have noticed my absence and caught up with me in no time, and I would have had a hard time explaining Mathais's absence. However, the brief forage around the area allowed me to observe some of the trees close up, and I could formulate my final plan.
"When I got back to camp with a few twigs, I told Ulin that Mathais was slow coming along, dragging a large dead tree behind him. Ulin scoffed at his brother's strength, saying it would take him time to pull up a live tree by the roots and drop it on the bonfire. I expressed reasonable doubt.
"'I'll show thee,' he said, ripping up a ten-foot-tall specimen effortlessly.
"'But that's scarcely a sapling,' I objected. 'I thought thou couldst rip up a tree.' His eyes followed mine to a magnificent, heavy-looking one at the edge of the clearing. Ulin grabbed it and began to shake it with a tremendous force to loosen its roots from the dirt. With that, he loosened the hive from the uppermost branches, dropping it down onto his head.
"That was when I made my escape, mother," said Zarek in conclusion, showing a little schoolboy pride. "While Mathais and Koorg were at the base of the cliff, and Ulin was flailing about, engulfed by a swarm."
Jalemmil embraced her son once again.
I was reluctant to publish Marobar Sul's "Ancient Scrolls of the Dwemer," but when the University of Gwylim Press asked me to edit this edition, I decided to use this as an opportunity to set the record straight once and for all.
Scholars do not agree on the exact date of Marobar Sul's work, but it is generally agreed that they were written by the playwright "Gor Felim," famous for popular comedies and romances during the Second Era after the fall of the Reman Empire. The current theory holds that Felim heard a few genuine Dwemer tales and adapted them to the stage in order to make money, along with rewritten versions of many of his own plays.
Gor Felim created the persona of "Marobar Sul" who could translate the Dwemer language in order to add some sort of validity to the work and make it even more valuable to the gullible. Note that while "Marobar Sul" and his works became the subject of heated controversy, there are no reliable records of anyone actually meeting "Marobar Sul," nor was there anyone of that name employed by the Mages Guild, the School of Julianos, or any other intellectual institution.
In any case, the Dwemer in most of the tales of "Marobar Sul" bear little resemblance to the fearsome, unfathomable race that frightened even the Dunmer, Nords, and Redguards into submission and built ruins that even now have yet to be understood.
Part II: The Seed
The hamlet village of Lorikh was a quiet, peaceful Dwemer community nestled in the grey and tan dunes and boulders of the Dejasyte. No vegetation of any kind grew in Lorikh, though there were blackened vestiges of long dead trees scattered throughout the town. Arriving by caravan, Kamdida looked at her new home with despair. She was used to the forestland of the north where her father's family had hailed from. Here there was no shade, little water, and a great open sky. The land looked dead.
Her mother's family took Kamdida and her younger brother Nevith in, and they were very kind to the orphans, but she felt lonely in the alien village. It was not until she met an old Argonian woman who worked at the water factory that Kamdida found a friend. Her name was Sigerthe, and she said that her family had lived in Lorikh centuries before the Dwemer arrived, when it was a great and beauteous forest.
"Why did the trees die?" asked Kamdida.
"When there were Argonians only in this land, we never cut trees, for we had no need for fuel or wooden structures such as you possess. When the Dwemer came, we allowed them to use the plants as they needed them, provided they never touched the Hist, which were sacred to us and to the land. For many years, we lived peaceably. No one wanted for anything."
"Some of your scientists discovered that by distilling a certain tree sap, molding it, and drying it, they could create a resilient kind of armor called resin," said Sigerthe. "Most of the trees that grew here had very thin ichor in their branches, but not the Hist. Many of them fairly glistened with sap, which made the Dwemer merchants greedy. They hired a woodsman named Juhnin to start clearing the sacred arbors for profit."
The old Argonian woman looked to the dusty ground and sighed, "Of course, the Argonians cried out against it. It was our home, and the Hist, once gone, would never return. The merchants reconsidered, but Juhnin took it on his own to break our spirit. He proved one terrible, bloody day that his prodigious skill with the axe could be used against people as well as trees. Any Argonian who stood in his way was hewn asunder. The Dwemer people of Lorikh closed their doors and their ears to the cries of murder."
"Horrible," gasped Kamdida.
"It is difficult to explain," said Sigerthe, "but the deaths of our living ones was not nearly as horrible to us as the death of our trees. You must understand that to my people, the Hist are where we come from and where we are going. Destroying our bodies is nothing. Destroying our trees annihilates us utterly. When Juhnin turned his axe on the Hist, he killed the land. The water disappeared, the animals died, and all the other life that the trees nourished crumbled and dried to dust."
"Then why are you still here?" asked Kamdida. "Why didn't you leave?"
"We are trapped. I am one of the last of a dying people. Few of us are strong enough to live away from our ancestral groves, and sometimes, even now, there is a perfume in the air of Lorikh that gives us life. It will not be long until we are all gone."
Kamdida felt tears welling up in her eyes. "Then I will be alone in this horrible place with no trees and no friends."
"We Argonians have an expression," said Sigerthe with a sad smile, taking Kamdida's hand. "The best soil for a seed is found in your heart."
Kamdida looked into the palm of her hand and saw that Sigerthe had given her a small black pellet. It was a seed. "It looks dead."
"It can only grow in one place in all Lorikh," said the old Argonian. "Outside an old cottage in the hills outside town. I cannot go there, for the owner would kill me on sight. Like all my people, I am too frail to defend myself now, but you can go there and plant the seed."
"What will happen?" asked Kamdida. "Will the Hist return?"
"No, but some part of their power will."
That night, Kamdida stole from her house and into the hills. She knew the cottage Sigerthe had mentioned. As she approached it, the door opened and an old but powerfully built man appeared with a mighty axe slung over his shoulder.
"What are you doing here, child?" he demanded. "In the dark, I almost took you to be a lizard man."
"I've lost my way in the dark. I'm trying to get back to Lorikh."
"Be on your way then."
"Do you have a candle I might have?" she asked piteously. "I've been walking in circles and I'm afraid I'll only return back here without light."
The old man grumbled and walked into his house. Quickly, Kamdida dug a hole in the dry dirt and buried the seed as deeply as she could. He returned with a lit candle.
"See to it you don't come back here," he growled, "or I'll chop you in half."
He returned to his house. The next morning, when he awoke and opened the door, he found that his cottage was entirely sealed within an enormous tree. He picked up his axe and delivered blow and after blow to the wood, but he could never break through. He tried side chops, but the wood healed itself. He tried an upper chop, but the wood sealed.
Much time went by before someone discovered old Juhnin's emaciated body lying in front of his open door, still holding his blunted, broken axe. What he'd been chopping with it was a mystery, but the rumor spread that Hist sap was found on the blade.
Shortly thereafter, small flowers began pushing up through the town's dry dirt. The Hist did not return, but at twilight the shadows of great trees would fill the streets.
Part III: The Importance of Where
The chieftain of Othrobar gathered his wise men together and said, "Every morning a tenfold of my flock are found butchered. What is the cause?"
Fangbith the Warleader said, "A monster may be coming down from the Mountain and devouring your flock."
Ghorick the Healer said, "A strange new disease perhaps is to blame."
Beran the Priest said, "We must sacrifice to the Goddess for her to save us."
The wise men made sacrifices, and while they waited for their answers from the Goddess, Fangbith went to Mentor Joltereg and said, "You taught me well how to forge the Cudgel of Zolia, and how to wield it in combat, but I must know now when it is wise to use my skill. Do I wait for the Goddess to reply or the medicine to work, or do I hunt the monster that I know is in the mountain?"
"When is not important," said Joltereg. "Where is all that is important."
So Fangbith took his Zolic cudgel in hand and walked far through the dark forest until he came to the base of the Great Mountain. There he met two monsters. One, bloodied with the flesh of the chieftain of Othrobar's flock, fought him while its mate fled. Fangbith remembered what his master had taught him, that "where" was all that was important.
He struck the monster on each of its five vital points: head, groin, throat, back, and chest. With five blows to the five points, the monster was slain. It was too heavy to carry with him, but still triumphant, Fangbith returned to Othrobar.
"I say I have slain the monster that ate your flock," he cried.
"What proof have you that you have slain a monster?" asked the chieftain.
"I say I have saved the flock with my medicine," said Ghorick the Healer.
"I say the Goddess has saved the flock by my sacrifices," said Beran the Priest.
Two mornings went by and the flocks were safe, but on the morning of the third day, another tenfold of the chieftain's flock was found butchered. Ghorick the Healer went to his study to find a new medicine. Beran the Priest prepared more sacrifices. Fangbith took his Zolic cudgel in hand again, and he walked far through the dark forest until he came to the base of the Great Mountain. There he met the other monster, bloodied with the flesh of the chieftain of Othrobar's flock. They did battle, and again Fangbith remembered what his master had taught him, that "where" was all that was important.
He struck the monster five times on the head and it fled. Chasing it along the mountain, he struck it five times in the groin and it fled. Running through the forest, Fangbith overtook the monster and struck it five times in the throat and it fled. Entering into the fields of Othrobar, Fangbith overtook the monster and struck it five times in the back and it fled. At the foot of the stronghold, the chieftain and his wise men emerged to the sound of the monster wailing. There they beheld the monster that had slain the chieftain's flock. Fangbith struck the monster five times in the chest and it was slain.
A great feast was held in Fangbith's honor, and the flock of Othrobar was never again slain. Joltereg embraced his student and said, "You have at last learned the importance of where you strike your blows."
"What'll it be, muthseras?" the barkeep asked.
"Give me a mug of mead," said the Nord.
"I'll have a snifter of shein—the good stuff, mind you," said the Chimer.
"Kindly serve me an infusion of chal, a marble, and a leather-sewing needle," said the Dwemer.
"Haw, haw," guffawed the Nord. "Shor's bones! The little milk-drinker's going to play pick-up-sticks, but he can handle only one stick!"
"At least I don't swear by a god who is not only imaginary, but dead," said the Dwemer, as the barkeep placed his items on the counter.
"Hey! What?" the Nord blustered. "Why, I ought to…!"
"He's got you there, by Azura's Star," said the Chimer, sipping at his shein. "A point for you, Dwarf."
"Yeah! Let's gut the runt!" growled the Nord, pulling a hand-axe.
The Dwemer knocked the marble off the counter. It landed on the floor just where the Chimer was putting down his foot for his thrust. He slipped, lurched left, and buried his dagger to the hilt in the surprised Nord's chest. Meanwhile the Dwemer gave the big needle a precise flick of the finger; it spun down and lodged in a crack between the floor-planks, point up. As the Chimer back-pedaled from the dying Nord, he lost his balance and fell headfirst to the floor, where the needle pierced one of his golden eyes all the way into his brain. It took several minutes of flailing, but eventually the Chimer was as dead as the Nord.
The Dwemer pulled a coin-purse from the Chimer's belt and gave it to the barkeep, swallowed the Nord's mead in one prolonged chug, picked up the snifter of shein and took a sip, then nodded to the barkeep and left the cornerclub, snifter in hand. "Off to the market," they heard him say. "I must get a bone-tweezer, a guar egg, and a boot-jack."
Part V: Song of the Alchemists
- When King Maraneon's alchemist had to leave his station
- After a laboratory experiment that yielded detonation,
- The word went out that the King did want
- A new savant
- To mix his potions and brews.
- But he declared he would only choose
- A fellow who knew the tricks and the tools.
- The King refused to hire on more fools.
- After much deliberation, discussions, and debates,
- The King picked two well-learned candidates.
- Ianthippus Minthurk and Umphatic Faer,
- An ambitious pair,
- Vied to prove which one was the best.
- Said the King, "There will be a test."
- They went to a large chamber with herbs, gems, tomes,
- Pots, measuring cups, all under high crystalline domes.
- "Make me a tonic that will make me invisible,"
- Laughed the King in a tone some would call risible.
- So Umphatic Faer and Ianthippus Minthurk
- Began to work,
- Mincing herbs, mashing metal, refining strange oils,
- Cautiously setting their cauldrons to burbling boils,
- Each on his own, sending mixing bowls mixing,
- Sometimes peeking to see what the other was fixing.
- After they had worked for nearly three-quarters an hour,
- Both Ianthippus Minthurk and Umphatic Faer
- Winked at the other, certain he won.
- Said King Maraneon,
- "Now you must taste the potions you've wrought,
- Take a spoon and sample it right from your pot."
- Minthurk vanished as his lips touched his brew,
- But Faer tasted his and remained apparent in view.
- "You think you mixed silver, blue diamonds, and yellow grass!"
- The King laughed, "Look up, Faer, up to the ceiling glass.
- The light falling makes the ingredients you choose
- Quite different hues."
- "What do you get," asked the floating voice, bold,
- "Of a potion of red diamonds, blue grass, and gold?"
- "By [Dwemer God]," said Faer, his face in a wince,
- "I've made a potion to fortify my own intelligence."
Part VI: Chimarvamidium
After many battles, it was clear who would win the war. The Chimer had great skills in magic and swordplay, but against the armored battalions of the Dwemer clad in the finest shielding wrought by Jnaggo, there was little hope of their ever winning. In the interests of keeping some measure of peace in the Land, Sthovin the Warlord agreed to a truce with Karenithil Barif the Beast. In exchange for the Disputed Lands, Sthovin gave Barif a mighty golem that would protect the Chimer's territory from the excursions of the Northern Barbarians.
Barif was delighted with his gift and brought it back to his camp, where all his warriors gaped in awe at it. Sparkling gold in hue, it resembled a Dwemer cavalier with a proud aspect. To test its strength, they placed the golem in the center of an arena and flung magical bolts of lightning at it. Its agility was such that few of the bolts struck it. It had the wherewithal to pivot on its hips to avoid the brunt of the attacks without losing its balance, feet firmly planted on the ground. A volley of fireballs followed, which the golem ably dodged, bending its knees and its legs to spin around the blasts. The few times it was struck, it made certain to be hit in the chest and waist, the strongest parts of its body.
The troops cheered at the sight of such an agile and powerful creation. With it leading the defense, the Barbarians of Skyrim would never again successfully raid their villages. They named it Chimarvamidium, the Hope of the Chimer.
Barif had the golem brought to his chambers with all his housethanes. There they tested Chimarvamidium further, its strength, its speed, its resiliency. They could find no flaw with its design.
"Imagine when the naked barbarians first meet this on one of their raids," laughed one of the housethanes.
"It is only unfortunate that it resembles a Dwemer instead of one of our own," mused Karenithil Barif. "It is revolting to think that they will have a greater respect for our other enemies than us."
"I think we should never accepted the peace terms that we did," said another, one of the most aggressive of the housethanes. "Is it too late to surprise the warlord Sthovin with an attack?"
"It is never too late to attack," said Barif, "but what of his great armored warriors?”
"I understand," said Barif's spymaster, "that his soldiers always wake at dawn. If we strike an hour before, we can catch them defenseless before they've had a chance to bathe, let alone don their armor."
"If we capture their armorer Jnaggo, then we too would know the secrets of blacksmith," said Barif. "Let it be done. We will attack tomorrow, an hour before dawn."
So it was settled. The Chimer army marched at night and swarmed into the Dwemer camp. They were relying on Chimarvamidium to lead the first wave, but it malfunctioned and began attacking the Chimer's own troops. Added to that, the Dwemer were fully armored, well-rested, and eager for battle. The surprise was turned, and most of the high-ranking Chimer, including Karenithil Barif the Beast, were captured.
Though they were too proud to ask, Sthovin explained to them that he had been warned of their attack by a Calling from one of his men.
"What man of yours is in our camp?" sneered Barif.
Chimarvamidium, standing erect by the side of the captured, removed its head. Within its metal body was Jnaggo, the armorer.
"A Dwemer child of eight can create a golem," he explained, "but only a truly great warrior and armorer can pretend to be one."
Part VIII: The Snow Elf and the Variation-Lens
Mzulchond the Tonal Architect had spent twenty years attuning the great animus geode he'd found in Inner Duathand, trying to synchronize it with the precession of the dual equinoxes in order to captivate the Nirnpith Essence. The geode's vibratory affinities continued to elude him, however, so one day he threw down his attenuators, left his workshop and went to the kitchens for an infusion of chal.
As he approached the kitchen portal he heard sibilant music that cut off abruptly as he stepped over the threshold. His house-assistant, a Snow Elf maiden named Lilyarel, withdrew her hands from behind the steam-grill and looked up guiltily.
"I heard music, Lilyarel," Mzulchond said. "What did you just put behind the calorefactor?"
"It's nothing, Sir Dwarf," the maiden replied. "Just something I cobbled together to pass the time."
"What? Have you been in my device-closet again? Show me what you have there."
Reluctantly, the Snow Elf reached behind the steam-grill and drew out a fist-sized object of golden metal, crystal knobs glinting on its flange-hood. Mzulchond held out his hand, open, and Lilyarel carefully placed the object in it. "Don't drop it," she said. "It'll get de-tuned."
"Well, well," the engineer said. "So you've built yourself a crude tonal variation-lens. Is this what was playing the music I heard?"
"Yes, Sir Dwarf," the maiden said, gazing at the floor. "I hope I didn't do anything wrong."
"What, with this device? There's nothing dangerous in a melodic repeater bauble, so long as it doesn't leak bthun-waves from its volumizer. Can't have that—might interfere with the static condensers."
"Oh, don't worry, I used arkoid shielding—not very much!" she said anxiously. "But it's not a melodic repeater, Sir, it harmonizes with my mental melodies."
"Nonsense," Mzulchond scoffed. "No one knows how to synchronize a variation-lens with mental concept-cycles. It's never been done."
"I wouldn't know anything about that, Sir Dwarf," Lilyarel said, wringing her hands nervously. "I just flipped the duum-emitter so it canceled the demi-ektar-waves, and it worked just fine. Can I have it back now?"
"Hold on a dzum," the engineer said, raising a hand while he looked more closely at the gleaming device. "Flipping the duum-emitter cancels the demi-ektars? Yes … yes, I can see how that might work. This may be just the thing I need to attune my animus geode to the Nirnpith Essence!"
As Mzulchond turned in excitement to take the variation-lens back to his workshop, the Elf maiden picked up a flipper-strut with both hands and struck him across the back of the head. The tonal architect fell dead to the ground, as Lilyarel picked up her shiny device. "Never liked him," she hissed to herself. "Always smelled like Dwemer oil."
Then she opened the brazen louvers of a vent-tube, crawled in, and began lowering herself down through the inwards of the Dwarven city. "Guess I'm going down to join the Undermer, and not coming back." And with that, she turned on her variation-lens, which immediately began harmonizing with her mental melodies.
Part X: The Dowry
Ynaleigh was the wealthiest landowner in Gunal, and over the years, he had saved a tremendous dowry for the man who would marry his daughter, Genefra. When she reached the age of consent, he locked the gold away for safe-keeping, and announced his intention to have her marry. She was a comely lass, a scholar, a great athlete, but dour and brooding in aspect. This personality defect did not bother her potential suitors any more than her positive traits impressed them. Every man knew the tremendous wealth that would be his as the husband of Genefra and son-in-law of Ynaleigh. That alone was enough for hundreds to come to Gunal to pay court.
"The man who will marry my daughter," said Ynaleigh to the assembled, "must not be doing so purely out of avarice. He must demonstrate his own wealth to my satisfaction."
This simple pronouncement removed a vast majority of the suitors, since they knew they could not impress the landowner with their meager fortunes. A few dozen did come forward within a few days, clad in fine killarc cloth of spun silver, accompanied by exotic servants, traveling in magnificent carriages. All who came who met with Ynaleigh's approval, but none arrived in a more resplendent fashion than Welyn Naerillic. The young man, whom no one had ever heard of, arrived in a shining ebon coach drawn by a team of dragons, his clothing of rarest manufacture. He was accompanied by an army of the most fantastical servants any of Gunal had ever seen. His valets had eyes on all sides of their heads, and his maidservants seemed cast in gemstones.
Such was not enough for Ynaleigh.
"The man who marries my daughter must prove himself an intelligent fellow, for I would not have an ignoramus as a son-in-law and business partner," he declared.
This eliminated a large part of the wealthy suitors. Through their lives of luxury, they had never needed to think very much, if at all. Still, some came forward over the next few days, demonstrating their wit and learning, quoting the great sages of the past and offering their philosophies of metaphysics and alchemy. Welyn Naerillic also came and asked Ynaleigh to dine at the villa he had rented outside of Gunal. There, the landowner saw scores of scribes working on translations of Aldmeri tracts and enjoyed the young man's somewhat irreverent but intriguing intelligence.
Nevertheless, though he was much impressed with Welyn Naerillic, Ynaleigh had another challenge.
"I love my daughter very much," said Ynaleigh, "and I hope that the man who marries her will make her happy as well. Should any of you make her smile, she and the great dowry are yours."
The suitors lined up for days, singing her songs, proclaiming their devotion, describing her beauty in the most poetic of terms. Genefra merely glared at all with hatred and melancholia. Ynaleigh stood by her side and began to despair. His daughter's suitors were failing to a man. Finally Welyn Naerillic came to the chamber.
"I will make your daughter smile," he said. "I dare say, I'll make her laugh, but only after you've agreed to marry us. If she is not delighted within one hour of our engagement, the wedding can be called off."
Ynaleigh turned to his daughter. She was not smiling, but her eyes had sparked with some morbid curiosity in this young man. As no other suitor had even registered that for her, he agreed.
"The dowry is naturally not to be paid 'til after you've wed," said Ynaleigh. "Being engaged is not enough."
"Might I see the dowry still?" asked Welyn.
Knowing how fabled the treasure was and understanding that this would likely be the closest the young man would come to possessing it, Ynaleigh agreed. He had grown quite found of Welyn. On his orders, Welyn, Ynaleigh, glum Genefra, and the castellan delved deeply into the stronghold of Gunal. The first vault had to be opened by touching a series of runic symbols. Should one of the marks be activated incorrectly, a volley of poisoned arrows would have struck the thief. Ynaleigh was particularly proud of the next level of security: a lock composed of blades with eighteen tumblers that required three keys to be turned simultaneously. The blades were designed to eviscerate any who merely picked one of the locks. Finally, they reached the storeroom.
It was entirely empty.
"By Lorkhan, we've been burgled!" cried Ynaleigh. "But how? Who could have done this?"
"A humble but, if I may say so, rather talented burglar," said Welyn. "A man who has loved your daughter from afar for many years, but did not possess the glamor or the learning to impress. That is, until the gold from her dowry afforded me the opportunity."
"You?" bellowed Ynaleigh, scarcely able to believe it. Then something even more unbelievable happened.
Genefra began to laugh. She had never even dreamed of meeting anyone like this thief. She threw herself into his arms before her father's outraged eyes. After a moment, Ynaleigh began to laugh as well.
Genefra and Welyn were married in a month's time. Though he was in fact quite poor and had little scholarship, Ynaleigh was amazed how much his wealth increased with such a son-in-law and business partner.
He made certain never to ask from whence the excess gold came.
Part XI: Azura and the Box
Nchylbar had enjoyed an adventurous youth, but had grown to be a very wise, very old Dwemer who spent his life searching for the truth and dispelling superstitions. He invented much and created many theorems and logic structures that bore his name. But much of the world still puzzled him, and nothing was a greater enigma to him than the nature of the Aedra and Daedra. Over the course of his research, he came to the conclusion that many of the Gods were entirely fabricated by man and mer.
Nothing, however, was a greater question to Nchylbar than the limits of divine power. Were the Greater Beings the masters of the entire world, or did the humbler creatures have the strength to forge their own destinies? As Nchylbar found himself nearing the end of his life, he felt he must understand this last basic truth.
Among the sage's acquaintances was a holy Chimer priest named Athynic. When the priest was visiting Bthalag-Zturamz, Nchylbar told him what he intended to do to find the nature of divine power. Athynic was terrified and pleaded with his friend not to break this great mystery, but Nchylbar was resolute. Finally, the priest agreed to assist out of love for his friend, though he feared the results of this blasphemy.
Athynic summoned Azura. After the usual rituals by which the priest declared his faith in her powers and Azura agreed to do no harm to him, Nchylbar and a dozen of his students entered the summoning chamber, carrying with them a large box.
"As we see you in our land, Azura, you are the Goddess of the Dusk and Dawn and all the mysteries therein," said Nchylbar, trying to appear as kindly and obsequious as he could be. "It is said that your knowledge is absolute."
"So it is," smiled the Daedra.
"You would know, for example, what is in this wooden box," said Nchylbar.
Azura turned to Athynic, her brow furrowed. The priest was quick to explain, "Goddess, this Dwemer is a very wise and respected man. Believe me, please, the intention is not to mock your greatness, but to demonstrate it to this scientist and to the rest of his skeptical race. I have tried to explain your power to him, but his philosophy is such that he must see it demonstrated."
"If I am to demonstrate my might in a way to bring the Dwemer race to understanding, it might have been a more impressive feat you would have me do," growled Azura, and turned to look Nchylbar in the eyes. "There is a red-petalled flower in the box."
Nchylbar did not smile or frown. He simply opened the box and revealed to all that it was empty.
When the students turned to look to Azura, she was gone. Only Athynic had seen the Goddess's expression before she vanished, and he could not speak, he was trembling so. A curse had fallen, he knew that truly, but even crueler was the knowledge of divine power that had been demonstrated. Nchylbar also looked pale, uncertain on his feet, but his face shone with not fear, but bliss. The smile of a Dwemer finding evidence for a truth only suspected.
Two of his students supported him, and two more supported the priest as they left the chamber.
"I have studied very much over the years, performed countless experiments, taught myself a thousand languages, and yet the skill that has taught me the finally truth is the one that I learned when I was but a poor, young man, trying only to have enough gold to eat," whispered the sage.
As he was escorted up the stairs to his bed, a red flower petal fell from the sleeve of his voluminous robe. Nchylbar died that night, a portrait of peace that comes from contented knowledge.