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"So you saw a demon? And killed a rat with Tooth? That's a fine ebony dagger, Tooth is. They're rare so you want to take real good care of it," Mith said. "I can't tell you about the blade except it came from Moraelyn's father. It's the one his brother sent him to repair just before we ran away. Would you like to hear about how they got the dragon's tooth that Mats carved the hilt from?"
Edward nodded, caressing the curved hilt with its lightly carved intertwined roses, thorns and leaves. It was well after supper and everyone but him and Mith had left the fire for one reason or another. Aliera and Moraelyn had gone for a walk hand in hand, Aliera holding Moraelyn's newly healed left hand in both of hers. They'd laughed and shaken their heads when he'd offered to come along, "Not tonight," Aliera had said. "Go to sleep soon. We'll be leaving before dawn." Willow had gone to visit a High Elf friend. Beech, Ssa'ass, Mats and the Khajiit woman, Silk, had also gone off together, laughing. They'd invited Mith to come along, but Mith had declined.
"Khajiits! They're all turning into a bunch of shameless Khajiits," Mith said. The short Dark Elf sat close to the glowing embers, knees to chest. His hair and eyes glowed in the dim light. "If you're going to pair, you should pair, not turn it into an tourney. They'll be selling tickets next. But each to his own. Khajiits think we're weird because we like eating as a group. Silk says it put her right off her food at first, listening to everybody chew. Well, having a bunch of watchers puts me off--I s'pose you're too young for this kind of talk."
Edward shrugged. It was a beautiful night, crisply cool, no moon, but the stars were very large and bright.
"Anyway, it was just a few months after Mats had joined up with us. We were up in Skyrim, travelling from town to town. Just three kids seeing the country a bit, picking up odd jobs where we could. Moraelyn entered tournaments if we heard about them, but he wasn't winning that much ... just about enough to cover healing him up afterwards. You can get beat up pretty bad fighting Skyrim style -- that's without shielding spells, or any other spells for that matter, no magic allowed -- even if it isn't to the death. And he drew a few types that didn't mind seeing a little dark elf blood spilled in the sand. Or a lot. And the crowds were against him at first. It can get pretty lonely in the arena, especially if you're beating the home town favorite. And it's even worse if he's beating you.
"Mats and me 'ud be the only ones for him, and sometimes we didn't dare cheer too loud. They'd look real funny at a Nord boy cheering a Dark Elf back then. 'Course Mats was so big, not many wanted to start anything with him. That was a long time ago. Moraelyn's the favorite now if things get tough. 'Course the crowds will cheer for a good match, but hardly anyone really wants to see him lose now. They like seeing the best, even if it comes wrapped in a dark elf hide. And when he walks into an arena you know you're seeing the best. Not but what they'd like seeing a Nord that's better. And Mats may get there soon. He doesn't fight his best against Moraelyn, though. Maybe he doesn't want to, or maybe Moraelyn just knows him too well. Oh, well, you want to hear about the dragon ...
"So Moraelyn was gambling with this Nord in a tavern one night, trying to pick up a little easy gold. The pot's pretty big, and the man can't match his bet, so he says he'll put this map on the pile and tap Moraelyn. Says it's a map to the hiding place of the best blade ever made. Says there's a spell on it so that if you hit your opponent, you get as much heal as he gets hurt. That some Mage hid it just before he died so's only someone worthy of it can get to it.
"'And you think I look worthy?' Moraelyn says, grinning. We were young and dumb, but not all that dumb.
"The Nord grins back and says 'I saw you fight in Falcreath, kid. You look like you'd take a chance.'
"'Why not? The story alone is worth the gold. You ought to be a Bard.' So anyway Moraelyn wins the pot and tosses the man enough back to keep his throat wet all evening. Just for laughs we look at the map. It showed the Dragon's Teeth Mountains down in Hammerfell. Real wild country. And there's an 'X' and some writing saying 'Fang Lair'. Mats gets excited and says he's heard of the place, but he'd never known just where it was.
"'And you still don't,' I say. 'Any fool can draw a map, just as any fool can look at one. I could do as much myself.'
"Mats says Fang Lair is an old dwarf mine, but there's supposed to be a dragon there now, and the dwarves are gone. Moraelyn looks real interested at the mention of a mine, and asks what they mined there. Mats says mithril and gold.
"Moraelyn says, 'Hmmmmm.'
"The mithril had him interested. We couldn't afford really good weapons. And mithril's scarce, but it's light to carry for its worth, and easy to mine and work if you know how; and he did. He didn't believe in the magic blade or the dragon, but he thought the mine might be real. Mining's in his blood, as it is in all the R'Aathim, the royal Kin of Ebonheart.
"It took us a couple of months to get there. We couldn't afford horses. We never would have found it without the map. It's tricky country, full of canyons and hidden valleys. We sure never expected what we saw when we did get there. You could see the towers from the canyon mouth, way back in there. Dark elves live right in caverns if they mine, but the dwarves had built a hall over the top of their mines. It's a pretty thing on the outside. Narrow towers, and arched bridges between them. Delicate looking; you wouldn't expect work like that from Dwarves. Merged right into the rocks too. And there was a big stone dragon mounted above the gate.
"'There's your dragon, Mats,' I said. The inside wasn't much to look at, just rock wall. The doorway was enormous, but the doors were gone. There was a balcony running right around a big open pit ... probably the start of the mine, turned into a hall. And right in the middle was more treasure than you can imagine ... piled up almost like a haystack that'd been flattened out. And what had flattened it was a golden dragon curled right over it; we didn't even see him at first, 'cause he blended with the rest of the gold. Well, we just froze in place. We hadn't seen a sign of live dragon outside. The place smelled of brimstone, but most mines do. And there that dragon was, just lying there. And it's gotta be two miles to any kind of shelter.
"'I told you there was a dragon,' Mats whispers.
"'Shhhhh,' Moraelyn says. 'Look what's in front of his nose.'
"I'd been busy looking AT his nose, believe you me. But there was a sword lying right there naked, sure enough ... .and the blade was dark metal that looked just like his dagger."'You two start back,' Moraelyn says, 'I'm going to try for that blade, anyway. If that's not ebony, I'm a wood elf. Maybe the dragon's dead, or asleep for the winter ... or maybe it's not alive at all. Just something the dwarves made to guard their treasure. Like the scarecrows the Nord farmers put in their grain fields. At worst, I'll distract him long enough for you to get clear.'
"I'd a mind to take him up on it, but Mats just shook his head, and I was kinda ashamed to go back alone.
"'Let's all just clear out,' I said. That thing looked real enough to scare ME away. But Moraelyn casts Invisibility and heads on down the stair, not making a sound that even I could hear. I could see Mats hated letting him go down alone, but Mats couldn't sneak past a blind, deaf beggar in a fish market. So we strung our bows and figured we could try to get off a couple of shots and maybe get lucky and take out the eyes if the dragon woke up and went for Moraelyn. Mats and I move around to where we can get onto a tower stair fast if we have to, figuring the dragon can't get in there. Then we scrunch down and peer between the railings. Not that there was anything to see except the dragon lying there. Which really is a lot to see, at that.
"Then those dragon eyes popped open and my heart gave one big jump and then seemed to quit entirely.
"'Ahhhhh! Dinner comes to me today,' the dragon says. 'Take a good look at my hoard, dark elf. You will not steal it nor even view it long, but your bones will keep it company ... .forever.'
"'I don't want your hoard, dragon, just the sword you guard. I'll trade you mine for it; mine's bigger.' I couldn't see Moraelyn, but his voice was coming from right near where the sword was. Which was practically in the dragon's mouth!
"'I get a meal and both swords. Why should I settle for just your poor sword?'
"'Let me pass and I'll get you more gold from below.'
"'I have gold enough.' The dragon yawned and I thought he was going to swallow Moraelyn right then, but he turned his head away -- away from us, too. Mats was looking to get a shot, but it was really dark in there for Nord eyes and he was scared of hitting Moraelyn, since he couldn't locate him that well by sound. 'Course Moraelyn's too smart to get between us and the dragon, but Mats wasn't smart enough then to think that far along. Slavery dulls the wits in some ways, Mats says, and he hadn't been free very long. I could see well enough, and I could tell by sound exactly where Moraelyn was, but the shot was clean out of my range.
"The dragon goes on, 'But there is something you can do for me, elf, and prolong your life a few more minutes.'
"'A few more minutes sound pretty good just now, dragon. What would you ask of me?' Moraelyn's voice sounded as calm and easy as if he was asking if there would be rain tomorrow. He can keep his head in a tight spot, I'll give him that.
"'I have a toothache. It's too far back for me to reach it with my claws. Canst see it, elf?' The dragon gapes his jaws to bare his teeth. "Moraelyn's invisiblity spell wore off about then, and I could see him standing there staring up into that cavern of a mouth. 'Lower your head a bit so I can get a good look.' He puts out his hand and pulls the upper lip aside, cool as you please, and examines the inner gum carefully. Damndest thing I ever saw.
"'It's. Thy gum wants lancing, and the tooth should come out. I can lance it if you trust me in there with a sword.'
"'And why should I trust you, dark elf? I hear no good of your kind.'
"'You must be spending too much time with Nords, then. I wouldn't be able to kill you before you killed me. Why should I even try? Listen, I have some friends up above. Suppose they hunt you up a nice fat deer. I'll lance your gum and you can let me go and eat the deer. Else you can just eat me now, toothache and all.'
"'Hssssssss. What makes you think your friends will return once they're away?'
"'They're not very smart. I think for them. They'd be lost without me. Good hunting, guys! Uh, if they can't find a deer, is there anything else you'd like? Pig, maybe? A few rabbits? Nuts? Berries? Hurry up, will you?' But we had hand signals and his hands said to get out of there and stay out!
"I'd a been glad to; I mean I'm fond of Moraelyn but I didn't see my dying alongside would bring him any comfort. I'd a been glad to see him clear if it was me that was on the menu, and I figured he felt the same way. But that thick-skulled Nord wouldn't listen to me! Said if dying beside him was all we could do, then that's what we'd do. Nord nonsense. Sounds good in a song, though.
"So we took a couple hours getting a deer and headed back with it. I figured Moraelyn was filling the dragon's belly by now, and the dragon would be happy to add a deer, another Dark Elf and a Nord to round out his day's rations. But Moraelyn was still sitting there, chatting with the dragon. He didn't look that pleased to see us, either. Told us to leave the deer and go and he'd lance the abcess once we're away. But Mats says he's been thinking. Oh, brother, I thought. Mats doesn't think too often, and that's a good thing, really. He's decided he can get a chain round that bad tooth, fasten down the end to the floor, and then the dragon can give it a good yank himself.
"The dragon likes the idea, so Moraelyn lances that abcess to take the swelling down to where the dragon can gulp the deer with some comfort. And then they rig up a chain and get that tooth out. Made a hell of a mess, that. Blood and pus everywhere. And Moraelyn's got us casting Heal spells on this dragon to stop the bleeding and close up the wound.
"'Ah, hum, good, very good. All right, Moraelyn, you've proven yourself. Take the sword and go.'
"Moraelyn looks at him. 'You mean this was some kind of test?' he says. 'How long have you had that toothache?'
"'Long indeed, as you measure time, mortal, yet not very long at all for dragonkind. Hear my story then: a scraggly young mage came along, hoping to steal my gold. I caught him at it; we had increasingly harsh words, and he attempted a spell aimed at me. His pitiful spell affected me little, and I killed him. But ummmm...' The dragon looked away briefly, then resumed his tale. 'The little runt had apparently cast a home-made Curse spell upon himself, and when I crunched him...' The dragon scowled fiercely, remembering, then continued, 'Anyway, the ache only came on bad when someone came along to try for the sword. The sharpest pain went away if I ate the intruder ... but I usually didn't, though I've singed a few in self-defense; heh, waft a bit of fire and most of them fled. Deer are plentiful; there is something er, ah, unpleasant about eating someone you've talked to. That greasy mage gave me indigestion for days. Cramps and runny bowels and too much gas, even for a dragon. So that toothache never did completely go away. And the people who've come along haven't been very pleasant either ... all in all one of the most unpleasant stretches in my life. I couldn't stay away from the vicinity of the sword for very long of course. Part of the curse.'
"'We could stay on for awhile, if you like. We're good company. I'm Moraelyn; my red-headed friend is Mith, and the big guy is Mats. I'd still like to look for mithril below and I've never had a dragon friend before.'
"'I might like that. You have good friends, and even though you have said that you must do the thinking for them. I think that they can do some thinking on their own, and it would appear that they have decided that you are a worthwhile fellow,' The dragon hesitated for a second and actually managed to look shy! 'You can call me Akatosh.'
"So we stayed for a couple of weeks. Hunted with the dragon -- now that's an experience! Searched the mines ... didn't find much down there. But the dragon gave us the jewels from his hoard. Said he only needed the metal; they absorb it into their scales while they lie on it. So we did pretty well out of it after all. Moraelyn tried to give Mats the sword. Claimed that he'd have sure tried to kill that dragon if we hadn't come back, and would have been toasted. But Mats wouldn't take it. Said the dragon gave it to Moraelyn so that was clearly who was supposed to get it. Mats took the tooth, but he made the hilt you've got now and gave Moraelyn that, too. Told me he'd never had anything worth giving before, and it made him feel good. He's real pleased Moraelyn chose to give it to you."
"I think Mats should have got the sword," Edward said. "He didn't try to steal anything. It was really brave of him to come back, even when he didn't think it'd do any good. Moraelyn tried to steal, got caught and then just tried to talk his way out of it. You could all have been killed because of him."
"That's just what Moraelyn said. Ah, well, Mats likes that big axe of his better than a blade anyway."
Edward sighed. "I wish I was brave like Mats. I guess I'm more like you."
"Aye," Moraelyn's voice sounded behind him, startling the boy. "Tart tongued, like Mith. No matter. I'll be well pleased if you're as brave as Mith. And if once I'm gone they say no more of me than 'he did what he had to do', my spirit will be at peace."