It seemed like it was years that I was stuck in that cell. I wasn’t sure if it was the food or something about the magic of the Adamantine Tower, but it felt like my strength and magicka waned each day I rotted in there. I had plenty of time to think about my actions as I awaited the inevitable. Was I right to lead Marie and Calindil to their deaths? Did Teldryn survive his escape? Did our actions even make a difference? Even sleep offered little reprieve from my doubts. My only solace was the memories of my last moments with Calindil.
It was practically a relief when the guards, dressed in New Hegemony regalia, shackled and dragged me from my cell to the summit of the Tower. A familiar face, Vicereeve Jean Estard, was waiting for me. Flanked by a scribe and a pair of guards, he stood before an executioner’s block. I squinted and shied away from the dawn light, a striking contrast from the eternal darkness of my cell.
Low clouds rolled across the Iliac Bay, pierced only by the lighthouses and towers of Wayrest to the east and Daggerfall to the west. I searched the horizon for a sign - any sign - of the Hall of the Lamp, there was nothing to be seen. The world had simply moved on without us.
The guards led me before the block and remained by my side. Estard held out his hands, and the scribe passed him a ornate staff, adorned with exquisite scrollwork among red, gold and silver motifs. No doubt a badge of office in the New Hegemony.
“Right then,” Estard started. His demeanor was all business, but he looked almost disappointed to see me. “Let’s get this over with. I, Vicereeve Jean Estard, with the power vested in me by King Direnni of the New Direnni Hegemony, on this day, sentence this prisoner, known as the Palatinus of the Lamp Knights, to death. Amongst their crimes are murder, treason, and insurrection against the Hegemony and the Thalmor. The sentence is death; have you any final words?”
“What are you expecting, Estard?” I asked. My voice was small and harsh. It had been days since I had spoken, let alone to another person. “Repentance for my so-called crimes? I did what I had to do. Nothing more, nothing less.” Staring down at the executioner’s block, I continued. “At least I’ll be going to a place where people appreciate my deeds.”
Estard tapped the staff on the stone platform, activating the Conjuration magic within. From a whirling portal of indigo magic stepped forth a Dremora, fully armoured and armed with a wicked executioner’s axe. The scratching of the scribe’s quill, the light shifting of armour and the whistling of the winds danced on the eerie silence as I was forced to my knees before the block. I took solace in the certainty of the moment. It was the first time in many years that the future seemed so clear.
Estard gave the signal, and the Dremora Executioner hefted their axe with a metallic grunt. It seemed to hang above me for an eternity; it felt as though the whole world had suddenly stopped around me as my vision clouded. I looked around in disbelief as a gold-robed Mer materialised from nothingness before me.
“Rise, Knight of the Lamp.”
She spoke with a peculiar lilt, slightly removed from an Alinori accent. I’d never seen, or heard, anyone quite like her before.
“Am I dead?” I asked, following the mysterious elf’s direction. The guards, scribe, Estard and Dremora were all frozen in the moment like living statues.
“No,” she stated, matter of fact. “I believe there are many more pages to your story. You are alive because Tamriel has further need of you. We have been watching you for some time, after all.”
I approached, puzzled. “You’ve been watching me? Who are you?”
She held up a single hand for me to stop speaking. “Who I am is not important. You are the one with the power to safeguard the fabric of this world from those who intend to unravel it. I have waited some time to speak with you; the walls of the Adamantine Tower keep out visitors both magical and mundane.”
“I’m sorry, but I can’t help you,” I said frustrated. “I have nothing. No weapons. No magic. No Order to stand at my side. Just let me die in peace.”
“If that is your wish, then we will respect it. But you have more than you think, Lamp Knight. You have your heart, your mind. The rest is there too, if you only look for it.”
As much as I didn’t want to admit it, I knew she was right. Calindil and Marie sacrificed themselves for the Order, and for me. If there was more that needed to be done, I could at least honour their legacy.
“Even as we speak,” she continued, “events unfold in Skyrim that threaten existence on Tamriel as we know it. I have seen that you, and you alone can avert calamity.” Her words had a certain definitiveness to them that was almost inspiring.
“What are you talking about?” I demanded as she turned to leave. “I don’t understand.”
“I have already said too much,” she replied, halting at the edge of the Tower. “Fate awaits you in the city of Winterhold. All you need to do is take the first step.”
I hurried to the edge of the Tower, following the mysterious mage only to watch them vanish as quickly as they had appeared.
I felt a sudden lightness in my steps, and the chain linking my shackles struck the floor with a clatter of rusted iron. All of a sudden time began to flow again. The guards, scribe, executioner and Estard alike looked around, bewildered. To them it must have seemed as though I suddenly appeared, mere inches from the edge of the Tower.
“Restrain them at once!” shouted Estard, shocked and infuriated. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Taking the first step,” I replied. The guards reached out as I fell from the precipice, plummeting into the clouds below. The mysterious mage’s spell slowed my fall as I glided softly into the bay.
As if by Divine intervention, I landed in the water not 50 feet from a merchant vessel bound for the Imperial City. It so happened that I had assisted the captain in years past, when her crew and cargo were lost to a group of malicious Nereid, not far from Wayrest. She was more than willing to accomodate me on their voyage to the capital of Cyrodiil.
With each day that passed away from the Tower, I felt my strength returning, and I set off north alone once we reached our destination. The venture north, through the Great Forest, Jerall Mountains, Falkreath Hold and finally to Eastmarch was arduous, but I felt younger in both body and mind with each step I took towards Winterhold. Despite all the terrible things Teldryn had told me about Windhelm, I was looking forward to seeing the city in the coming days of my journey. A small part of me hoped that I’d even run into him there.
I had ended up sleeping rough most nights; caves, stables and abandoned campsites were my inns during my trek northwards. One night I was even fortunate enough to make camp by the safety of a party of soldiers, journeying to Windhelm from the Rift to the south. It seemed that my luck had finally run out when their camp was set upon by Imperial soldiers. With no wish to get involved, I did my best to make an inconspicuous escape into the woods nearby. The Imperials were meticulous however; I didn’t make it far before I was captured and thrown into prisoner wagons with the rest of the soldiers.
The next thing I remembered was waking up to the bitter chill of a snow-blanketed mountain pass, shackled once more and headed for Gods knew where. A golden-haired Nord soldier sat opposite me in the wagon, hands bound and a heavy blue scarf wrapped around his neck. The cold barely seemed to faze him. We locked eyes, sharing a grim look.
“Hey, you,” he called. “You’re finally awake.”