A/N: Thanks for sticking with me this long. See you next time.
She awoke gradually, as one slips out of a fog, though remained disoriented. As her head lolled across her shoulders, eyes slowly blinking open, she realized with a start her hands were bound, and she was rocking with steady, creaking rhythm of a wooden cart.
She would not be taken to her execution again, not willingly and not afraid. This time, it was no scared student running for her life the foolish bastards had captured. This was a Master Wizard, a Master of the Thu'um, and Master of Dovah. She will go down in a blaze of fire or not at all. A Word jumped to her lips and she drew in a deep breath to Shout it, ready to burn everything in her path until she was free or lay empty and defeated in the dust.
"Hey. I wasn't sure when you'd wake up."
She turned to the voice, saw gold, and wondered how the world can be so full of repetition.
"We're headed to Morthal by the way. Well, not Morthal. That's the chief city in this hold. You were given a plot of land somewhere in whatever this land is called and builders are working now to build a manor. I tried to send ahead plans for an Altmeri style home, but I think they were purposefully lost. We shall have to manage with a Nordic home. I suppose that is more practical, considering the elements here and the materials available. Still, the builders claim they will have something done and livable by the time we arrive. I am doubtful. Who could build that fast, both house and furnishings? All the same, if they manage it, I will be both impressed and grateful."
She was ready to rage at him, to let loose this barely-contained fire at the mer speaking meaningless words, when she remembered who she was. She also remembered who he is to her, and realized in a painful flash why her hands are bound.
She turned away from him in shame.
"Ah. So you're back to yourself then. I hoped it would happen sooner rather than later."
Words of many kinds bubbled up, but she could not find the voice to say any of them. So she was silent for a while, gathering strength. "Ondolemar, I-"
"This house is supposedly built near the sea. Do you know what that means?"
He smiled at her. "Plenty of space to run."
"That arrogant bastard!"
Ondolemar stormed through the carved doors of the manor and through the entryway, coming to a rest in the main hall, pacing by the side of the dinner table. Siltuzma leaned over the railing of the second floor to peer down at him. "Can this wait? I'm experimenting with double enchantments on the practice table." She resigned herself to a delay when his only response was slamming some piece of paper down on the dining room table with enough force the dishes shook. Leaving nothing in a volatile state upstairs, she hurried down the stairs to a nearly exploding husband.
"Just read that."
Bemused, Siltuzma lifted the apparently offensive slip of parchment and read, the soft hammering of the final workmen her metronome. "What is the problem? It's just an invitation to Ulfric and Elisif's wedding."
"Exactly! Only the ceremony is tomorrow. I realize Solitude isn't that far away, but we've no time to reply as the courier ran off; there's no way to find them an appropriate gift; and we definitely have no time whatsoever to arrive in the city with an appropriate amount of space before the ceremony in order to give our congratulations, meet the families and friends, mingle, settle in, and engage in revelry. If he didn't want you there, he should have sent nothing at all. Some way to treat a 'dear friend and trusted s-'"
"It's no slight," Siltuzma interrupted, moving to place the invitation on the mantle. "He's informing me of the event, one I should be at, but he cannot allow me to be there. If I lose control, meet a hostile dragon on the way to see him, I am the only person in Skyrim that can undermine his authority, and the only person would could stop me completely is me. This is the nicest thing he can do in his eyes."
Moving away from the fireplace, Siltuzma glanced around at the manor. It was truly lovely, a fine peace of Nord craftsmanship. Perhaps there were a few scorch marks on the walls from dark days, but those could easily be covered by paint or art. She should hire someone to look after the place. Smiling, she turned to her husband.
"I think it's high time the College had its Arch-Mage back. That does still count as my lands, I am sure."
"Oh really? Looking to start up an army?"
"You never know. Scholars might make pretty decent battlemages. And I have some tricks that need to be brought to Skyrim."
"Build a house, build an army, build a College, your architectural pursuits never cease."
She laughed. "Says the man who drew up plans for an Elven manor without being asked."
"I just thought you might like a little taste of home." He slipped an arm around her waist and drew her in for a sweet kiss. "But that's the only one you need, isn't it? Just promise me one little thing, Madame Arch-Mage."
"And what is that?"
"You won't write to the bastard until I have something to brag about."
"As it pleases you."
His second arm wrapped around her as he pulled her into a second, deeper kiss, lifting her up onto the large table as he did so. "Excellent. Now, lets move these dishes somewhere else."
To Ulfric Stormcloak, son of Galder the Bear of Eastmarch, of the ruling house from the city of Windhelm of Skyrim, student of the Greybeards, Chief General of the Skyrim Army, and High King of Skyrim:
Greetings from Arch-Mage Thilinihle at the College of Winterhold.
Faralda sends her personal greetings as well, along with an invitation to tea in order to properly exchange names.
All is well here, and repairs continue at an adequate pace across our lands. The strange madness we have been dealing with is almost entirely eradicated with little signs of returning. It is never good to assume, of course, but as buildings continue to stand firm throughout the hold the College is certain things are on the mend here.
For the first time in many years, a new home has been built in the city of Winterhold, and it is occupied. Granted, the resident – who tends to the horses of the increasing amount of travelers in the hold – wears leathers cut in the Riften style, so is always complaining of the cold. Many a college resident have offered a warming enchantment, but our dear new friend is too attached to his armor to give it away, even for a moment. We get along quite well, all things considered.
Heartfelt congratulations from us all on your election as High King and marriage to the Jarl of Solitude, Elisif the Fair. It remains the Arch-Mage's opinion that the match is sound, and, from all rumors, that it is a happy one.
The bread and salt were greatly appreciated. You will find some in return from us in your home when you least expect it.
The newest teacher at the College provides a re-freshening outlook on the practical uses of textbook skills in the wilds of Skyrim. It is not often we have such a well-trained strategist in our staff. Many of the College's students will be prepared for what ever comes to Skyrim from faraway shores, thanks to him.
We are expecting a new addition within several months, just a small one but important all the same. It took many vigorous efforts across many years, and we have finally met with success.
Do consider an addition yourself. You should, of course, consult your wife, but we imagine you will meet no resistance from her. In fact, she may even enjoy it. All of Skyrim will appreciate any successful attempts at such a feat.
On a serious note, a passing stranger brought word of movement in Tamriel. It seems Summer may come to this frozen land after all. After such a long time in the grips of the cold, it promises to be a scorcher. However, if you prepare the land and people correctly, it should not do irreparable harm. Please look into this rumor to verify it. If you lack friends with the required skills, we at the College are confident that we can supply the allies you need.
Again, you have our congratulations and respect. Talos guide you.
The signature was smudged beyond legibility, but Ulfric smiled all the same.
His wife, not quite dressed to hold court, looked up from her own reading. "What has made you so happy, Ulfric?"
"Oh, simply a confident bastard much like me providing details about their sex life, among other things. But more importantly, all is well with a friend I have often worried over."
"Good. When you write back, you had better out-do their naughtiness."
The man who was slowly going gray with the weight of a nation, age held back by the support of a wife, looked at said woman with calculating eyes. "If you had shown even a slice of this tenacity as Jarl before I started the path here, you would have easily been chosen as High Queen."
Elisif smiled, rising to walk over and kiss his forehead. "I know. But this way, I get the same amount of power with half the work." She presented him with a roll of paper and charcoal. "Now write."
"And if I need some inspiration?"
"Imagine how inspired I'll be after I proofread your letter." She slipped out of the door with an exaggerated sway of her hips while he turned to the empty page with new energy.
To Siltuzma Thilinihle, daughter of Lylionniss of the House of Setting Sun from the city Dusk of the Summerset Isle, Archmage of Winterhold College, Thane of Winterhold and Hjaalmarch and Haafingar and Eastmarch, friend of High King Ulfric Stormcloak, and Dovahkiin:
Greetings from Ulfric Stormcloak and his wife Elisif the Fair.
To Faralda, I accept your invitation to tea. We shall have to arrange a time in the future. You have more time than I, but I think something can be arranged.
(Greetings to you, too, Ondolemar, cheeky bastard. It was you who wrote about "additions," wasn't it?)
As to the news of the College's health, and Winterhold's, I am glad to hear of it all. It brings me comfort to know I can worry less over what will likely prove to be a valuable asset to Skyrim. Anyone with the aptitude and the willingness to learn will be recommended to you. Perhaps your newest teacher might consider visiting the court mages of each hold? In the coming Summer, any and all attacks at varying levels must be prepared for, and mages in the courts cannot be excepted from this. If he is unavailable, I have recently acquired an ally that may be of some service. He is not as accustomed to Skyrim, however, and I am reluctant to send him somewhere to offend and be offended if I can avoid it. We are able to teach each other much about the world beyond our homelands. Sadly, however, I may have to soon inform his mother of his death, but some things cannot be avoided.
Help in investigating these rumors would be greatly appreciated. I will send my own men, but they are not as experienced as your friends, I imagine.
I happily accept your congratulations, and offer my own on your "addition." With everything the two of you have been doing, my friend, it's a wonder you haven't had one already.
As for me, I am happily attempting to acquire an addition myself. It was in fact my wife who first propositioned one to me, and frequently surprises me with her enthusiasm for the process. In fact, I believe we are due for some progress on that front. Please excuse the short letter, but between friends I am sure brevity can be forgiven in this case. Now I must see to my wife.
Auri-El continue to shine his light on you, as I know he already has.