This is the first in a series of short stories following the NPCs of our ongoing roleplaying campaign, The Dragon's Dozen. More to come soon!
It seemed to start as a day like any other. I worked the forge, embers and sparks drifting up from the flames as the snows drifted down from above. With the adventurers out on the Lamp Knights’ next bout of assignments, the place was quiet, almost peaceful. Winds whipped through the valley of the Dragon Cult’s ancient city as the camp hibernated. A low chatter from the market and tavern accompanied the crunching of boots as the guards and Lamps did their rounds, the sweet smells of Khajiiti cuisine drifting across the way. Everything was as it should be, and I had finally caught up on my list of requests.
The Steward had said that the orders of the adventurers in his employ should be the priority. Sure, some of them had been well within reason; patching armour, honing weapons, that sort of thing. Then came the truly bizarre requests, from swords without blades to a strange Argonian asking if he could “smith clay”. And of course, he couldn’t forget the ebony. Reinforcing a suit of ebony armour, melting down a beautifully crafted cestus to plate a pair of gauntlets, filing Aldmeri crests off of a set of shortblades… ebony wasn’t even a metal! In truth, it was volcanic glass, beaten into sheets and folded over and over on itself under immense heat to form ingots, which could in turn be…
Needless to say I had little experience with the material. The books I had bought on the subject still taunted me from my shelves, home to several types of ingots, some special reagents, and my other tools. I had taken the day - and no small portion of my expenses budget - to purchase a pair of ingots from that extortionate housecat. I had hoped to try my hand at forging an ebony dagger from scratch, lest the adventurers return with further requests involving the not-metal.
Things were not going well.
I’d used the last of my fire salts to heat the forge hot enough to work the material without damaging it, hammering the ingot into a crude blade. The ebony was sturdy beneath my old blacksmithing hammer, barely yielding as I attempted to give shape to my work. Ebony cooled slower than ordinary metals; between my natural instinct for iron and steel and the sheer tenacity of the black glass, I ended up working the piece for too long. A fracture erupted cross-ways over the unfinished weapon, rendering it all but useless.
Sweat beaded on my brow as I seethed in frustration at the dark substance. I thought furiously, looking over my supplies for some way to salvage what was left of my project. The stress only intensified as I heard voices approaching. That old Dunmer Lamp Knight with the chitin armour, and a new face, another Dark Elf. Maybe they were an adventurer that hadn’t need of my services so far, or someone else entirely. He carried a heavy soot-stained rucksack over one shoulder, some strange two-legged beast of burden and a small child trailing close behind. I did my best to make myself look busy as they approached.
“I should head up and make a report to the Steward,” drawled Teldryn, preparing to take his leave from the other Dunmer. “I’ll see you in the Tower this evening, I’m sure. See if those cats have got the liquor that I asked for. You two make yourselves at home; I’m sure you’ll get along just fine.”
The sound of footfalls on snow and stone trailed off in either direction among some muttering from the Dark Elves and strange sound from the pack beast. Another set of boots, however, approached the forge. The rucksack was placed down on one of the benches, and I saw the gleam of ebony within as the Dunmer man opened it. I winced almost reflexively; I wasn’t exactly eager for another attempt with the material after the day’s failures.
Much to my surprise, however, a well-worn apron was drawn from the sack and donned by the mer before he slotted an ebony hammer through a simple leather belt loop. I couldn’t help but steal more than a glance at it. While lacking any ostentatious ornamentation, it was an exquisitely beautiful piece. It looked as though it had been forged from a single piece of the black glass, all clean edges and flowing contours while still remaining undeniably practical.
“Clear skies, craftsman,” greeted the mer, extending his hand towards me. “Grendis Rolovo, at your service.”
The Grendis Rolovo? Of course, just about every blacksmith on Tamriel had heard of the Dark Elf artisan, practically a savant with chitin, bonemold and…
Ebony. Thank Zenithar, the answer to my prayers! But what was he doing in Skyrim, let alone at my forge?
Grendis looked old, even for a Dark Elf. Creases framed his face and thin, ashen hair; despite his cheery disposition, his crimson eyes held a singular sadness. A long scar, partially concealed by a scarf, ran horizontally along his neck. For a mer of his renown, he dressed simply, in a practical blue tunic beneath his leather apron.
“Mjallar, ah, Mjallar Steel-Singer,” I introduced, stammering over my words as I took Grendis’ hand. “It’s an honor to meet you serjo, truly.”
We shared a firm handshake, his hands clearly those of one who was used to working with them, day in and day out.
“The honor is mine, Northman,” he responded, looking over what amounted to my workspace. The stocks of raw materials, spare plates and fittings, blanks, wraps, and more; thankfully, he seemed pleased. “I wasn’t expecting to see a shop this robust all the way out here.”
I scratched the back of my head, still wondering what he was doing in Labyrinthian of all places. “Might I ask what brings you this far west, serjo?” I asked, puzzlement evident in my tone.
“I probably should’ve started with that,” laughed the Dunmer, stepping back towards me. “And Grendis is fine. There was an… accident at my workshop back home.” His countenance darkened for a few moments before he addressed me again. “My friend Teldryn suggested I could make myself useful here for a few months while it’s rebuilt. If that’s not too much trouble for you, Mjallar.” He admired a blued and inscribed crossguard on one of my workbenches, wrought with swirling patterns of steel, before glancing back to the cracked and blackened piece of ebony still on my anvil with a wry grin. “Maybe we can teach each other a thing or two, hmm?”
“I’d be honored, Master Grendis,” I beamed, beckoning him over to the anvil. “I’ve been having some problems with ebony of late…”
The old master truly lived up to his reputation. Over the next few hours, he instructed me on the art of working the material. We constructed a crude convection forge, fed by charcoal and fire salts, which would heat the ebony to immense temperatures. Folding my failed project over and over on itself, we compacted the piece back into a rough ingot before drawing it out into a blade once more. Grendis’ ebony hammer, while unfamiliar in my hand, moved the heated glass with ease. I was an eager student, and he the wise mentor; I soon found myself moving to the grindstone to put some finishing touches on the weapon.
I couldn’t help but wonder what events led the Dunmer here. Of course I had heard rumors of the events that transpired in Morrowind’s capital. The Aldmeri and Morag Tong blades the adventurers had brought him told their own story. But while he worked, Grendis seemed content, even happy. Perhaps I’d learn the truth in time; maybe over a few drinks.
“Have you a family, Mjallar?” inquired my new mentor as I worked the grindstone. Golden flecks drifted into the snow as the blade took on a cutting edge and the signature ebony sheen.
“Ah, I do, serjo,” I answered, slowing the wheel so we could continue our conversation. “A wife and two daughters. We live just north of here, in Morthal.” I paused to examine the blade for a few moments, testing the edge before placing it back against the stone. “Truth is, I don’t see them often nowadays. There’s so much to do here, and with all these rumors of the Orders’ enemies at every turn, I don’t feel safe heading home after dark.” I thought on what I had just said; it made me sound like a terrible parent. “Better my girls lose their father for a few months than grow up without one, I suppose.”
I could see it written on Grendis’ face that he knew my troubles. A blacksmith doesn’t earn the awe-inspiring reputation that he had by spending time with their family. “In times like these, family is never something we should take for granted,” he stated with a somber nod. “Why don’t you take the day off, Steel-Singer. No need to trip over each other while I set up my things. I’m sure your wife and daughters are missing you dearly.” A kind smile told me he was being truly sincere.
“I… thank you, serjo. I will.”
By the following morning, Saras and I had made ourselves a home in the strange city of the ancient Nords. One of the old stone huts, seemingly abandoned by one of the adventurers, made for a cozy hideaway for myself and my son. It seemed that Dark Elves were an uncommon sight around the camp, but fortunately Teldryn’s mere presence had driven away any of the prejudices I had feared. Saras was in awe of the snow, ice and strange terrain, and its stranger inhabitants, though I imagine much the same would be said of a Nord visiting Morrowind for the first time. For now he seemed content to accompany me by the forge, greeting and chatting with passers-by, but he was a clever, curious child. I only hoped his restlessness wouldn’t get him in too much trouble too quickly.
I contended with my first round of orders while I was busy stocking the workshop with the supplies we had brought with us from Morrowind. Sofie and Teldryn arrived with a pair of casualties from their morning practice session; the Nord Lamp Knight was every bit as exquisitely fearsome as Sero had described. Even the Steward himself arrived to make introductions and welcome us to this Labyrinthian.
Stoking the forge back to life, I made short work of the morning’s repairs before unpacking the last of the items salvaged from the workshop. From the bottom of the final sack I pulled what I had thought would be my last work. An ebony shield engraved with golden characters in a Daedric script. Commissioned by Galo Sadras, it was meant as a gift for a Thalmor ambassador; the very ambassador that had ordered the attack on my family.
The mirror finish hadn’t faded in the weeks since I had seen it. I stared back at my own reflection, a chain holding a pair of intertwined platinum and ebony rings falling from my tunic as I knelt to examine the piece. Overcome with melancholy, I forced my eyes shut as a single tear escaped them.
“My Dralia… if only I could have fixed you.”