hen Dagglin last spoke to Indrel, the Silvenar was a gaunt figure, with wiry hair, a gentle gait, and fast, slippery eyes. On this day, however, the city’s leader was a plump, portly Bosmer, his cheeks pink and fat with joy. As the Silvenar was said to be a mirror of his people, there was no guarantee he would cut the same figure tomorrow.
Time did little to change Indrel’s appearance. She had kept her disdain for armor, still wearing that sleeveless tunic underneath her hooded cloak. She still cut her hair with a dagger, leaving a shock of tattered black brushing against the nape of her neck. When she removed the hood from her cloak, it was the hair he noticed first, pinned back behind her ears. She claimed it was for practical purposes, to help her hear the movements of the forest, but the old bartender liked to pretend it was an affectation, if only to make her seem more feminine.
“What are you doing in Silvenar? Got tired of following that band of boots?”
“I’m always tired of something Dagglin.”
“If you want to play hero, you ought to join the Firedancers of Vindisi.”
“I would, but the Jagga in Vindisi is as bad as the bloodwine in Black Marsh.”
“So what are you here for then? You didn’t come all this way for the bloody Jagga.”
Indrel ignored the question. Dagglin could only shrug. Everything was the same as it was back then, down to the wood that lay beneath their feet. Silvenar was a city made of petrified trees, dyed centuries ago in brilliant red, blue, white and green by a spell of crystalline ichor. It was an orgy of color, so bright that you had to squint as you crossed the bridges from tree to tree. Just outside the palace was the grand Prithala Hall – made famous by the tales of Waughin Jarth – and another clear assault on the senses.
Dagglin’s tavern, by contrast, was a hovel. Moss and stray leaves littered the floor. Stringy, discolored vines were draped haphazardly over cracks in the wall. Strangers looked upon her with bulbous eyes, while others stunk of Rotmeth and stared only at the void. To answer the barkeep’s question, Indrel wasn’t entirely sure what she came for, but whatever it was, it promised her fortune and glory. Whoever it was, he was supposed to be in this tavern. If this person was truly a man of means, it seemed like an odd choice.
His name was Syrion, and he took the stool beside her.
“Is it true what they say about the Honorable Eight? That they put honor above all else, whether it be king, province, or blood?”
“Is it also true that the Bosmer in that company spent a hundred days in an Argonian jungle, putting arrows in any Imperial spy, soldier, or bird who dared sneak across the border to Leyawiin?”
“One hundred and seven.”
“I didn’t mean to sell you short, milady. You did the Dominion a great service. Our Thalmor cousins toast your name, even as they curse a dozen others.”
Fetching his drink, Syrion slid effortlessly off the stool and braced his elbow on the counter. He was older than Indrel in both in years and by experience, although it wasn’t entirely clear what kind. He dressed in a modest hauberk but wore a smile of callow privilege, one that couldn’t be disguised under a ragged cloak.
“It seems some of the woodland tribes don’t understand that the Khajiit are our allies. By Y’ffre, I think some of them were even alive for the Five Year War. They’ve been trying to take back the land west of Anequina. Raiding villages, slaughtering livestock…some even say they called the Wild Hunt. Even worse, their leader is said to be young, handsome, and charismatic – not to mention good with the bow. Just one of these days I’d like to kill a man and not make him a martyr.”
“Why hasn’t the Silvenar sent his men?”
“The Silvenar is a bloated toad. The Thalmor feed him a steady diet of lies, and his appearance does as much to quell the people’s fears. Still, just because the Aldmeri want everything to appear right as rain, doesn’t mean they’re going to stand by and let their alliance go to the hoarvers. At the same time, they can’t take action themselves and risk further rebellion. Basically, they want this rebel killed by other Bosmer, and they’ll pay us a fortune to do it.”
“You, me, and one other. A mage.”
“Because I need an archer.”
“There are plenty of archers in Valenwood.”
“But I wanted the best.”
Indrel thought about what Ula-Wei would do. He would measure the stranger carefully, taking into account the motivations and events that led up to this meeting. Then, and only then, would he make a decision. Indrel, on the other hand, couldn’t put her mind that far ahead. Nor could she put her mind in reverse, to that faint, sliver of a memory that told her everything she needed to know.
“You still don’t remember me, do you?”
“No,” Syrion replied with a thin smile, “I suppose it’s best you didn’t.”