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The Moon, The Stars, and The Grey Fox

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Lady N's picture
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Joined: 06/26/2010

Author - ​November O’Malley

Find her on NovemberOMalley.wordpress.com or on Twitter.


 

THE MOON, THE STARS, AND THE GREY FOX Renette Renoit, 4E 12 Colovian Hills Press For My Grandfather, Giles

===

“Mask on,” Methredhel reminded the Bosmer girl across the carriage as it climbed up the hill to the hill to Castle Skingrad.

Anathiel wasn’t entirely sure why she was hired by the Thieves’ Guild for this particular job. She wasn’t very crafty, in fact she only had two talents: she was so unremarkable that no one paid her much notice and she was the fastest runner in all of Tamriel.

She slipped the soft fabric mask over her eyes, a simple black thing trimmed with tiny seed pearls, as she and her “lady” were lead inside.

The room was crowded with lords and ladies, counts and countesses, faraway Queens and Jarls and councilors from the Great Houses of Morrowind.

It was the one night a year the Count of Skingrad opened the doors to his castle and not a single one of them would miss it.

Lamplight, real magelight not smelly tallows, glittered on the polished stone of the steps leading down to a valley where the gathered gentry danced and spun before an empty throne.

“Is that not unusual?” Anathiel asked, “For the Count, our host, to not even be at his own party?”

“Not to worry, Count Hassildor is rarely seen before sunset. I’m sure he’s working hard behind the scenes to make sure everything goes smoothly,” Methredhel reassured her.

Much like the rest of the Court, they were both wearing shades of black and grey in mourning for the assassinated Emperor, although there were more than a few flashes of Imperial Red in masks and jewelry and fashionable details.

Only one among them stood out in a sea of such drabness, a young man with mud colored hair streaked with gray. He wore the same fur-trimmed velvet jacket as other gentlemen, only his was a rich, royal violet.

Trailing not too far behind him was a fierce Reguard in Akiviri armor and a hard-eyed Imperial, both with hands resting easily on hilts.

“Who’s that?” Anathiel asked.

“A pretender to the throne and not our problem right now. Our contact is here.”

“Who?”

She nodded to a gentleman making his way up the steps towards them. He was a broad-shouldered Imperial with a silver - no, Grey mask concealing his face.

“You’re joking.”

Anathiel barely remembered to curtsy politely when Methredhel did.

She wanted to run, run far away from the stone walls closing in, the heat of too many breaths in one small place, to somewhere where eyes weren’t always staring.

“Lady Daenla, I presume? Count Hassildor tells me your people provided the oranges on tonight’s table.”

“Yes, we are very proud of them. Those of us in the north-west corner of the Province consider it our greatest treasure.”

“Indeed. I was hoping I might beg a favor of you, my lady. Might I have a dance with your handmaid?”

He turned to Anathiel.

“If the lady is amicable, of course.”

It was all she could do to pull a brave smile and ignore the violent thud of her heart.

“By- By all means, milord,” she stammered around a thick lump in her throat.

Bravery, bravado. She could do this, she would do this.

“How curious, a mysterious stranger arrives to offer me a dance,” Annathiel forced herself to tease as she stepped in, out, and spun with the music, “And on a night when the Gray Fox is said to be on the prowl.”

“Shh, keep your voice down,” he hissed.

It sent shivers down her spine.

“Well, I would never deny such a handsome gentleman.”

“And I would say the feeling is mutual, but I fear I am married.”

He wound her out the length of his arm, then back into his embrace.

“Pity,” she replied, “Then I gather this is strictly business?”

“It is. Armand tells me you are the most promising of our newest recruits”

“I’m not a member of your merry band just yet, I was only hired for this job because you need a runner and I’m the fastest the Black Horse Courier has.”

“Then perhaps tonight could be the making of you.”

“Or perhaps the wealthy third son of a Count will become taken with me and whisk me away from this life,” she countered.

If the Fox said anything, Anathiel didn’t hear.

“So what’s the plan?” she asked.

He wound her out the length of his arm and spun her back in again, facing her towards the empty throne.

“Has the Count arrived yet?”

She nodded, “He wasn’t announced but everyone noticed. Looks like he’s dancing with Countess Milona of Chorral.”

The Grey Fox stopped dead in the center of the floor, a dancing pair colliding into him.

Anvil,” he corrected weakly.

“Are you alright?”

“Fine, just fine,” he replied, but didn’t move.

“Should I...?”

“Come, let us continue,” a cheery smile snapped back into place and pulled her in close. “What we’re looking for is in the north-west corner of the castle, likely in a storage room. The box will have a tax stamp from both the Empire and Morrowind, but the latter will most likely be hidden. It will be nondescript, but look for signs of something amiss, extra locks or if the box is made of an unusual wood.

“The song after next, make your excuses to your lady and seek it out.”

His hot breath tickled her pointed ear and turned his skin to gooseflesh.

He stepped back, in, and spun her again. Anathiel wasn’t sure if her head would ever stop spinning.

“What is it exactly we’re taking?”

“That doesn’t concern you. Just take the box.”

“And the security? There are so many guards since the Emperor...”

The Gray Fox grinned cruelly as the song died down, “Run fast.”

He released her all at once, stepped back, bowed, and melted instantly into the crowd.

Anathiel barely noticed the next song had started and she raced up the steps to the top and far away from people.

The next dance seemed to never end, Annathiel watched as Methredhel twirled around some minor Lord and tried to regain her fluttering breaths.

Finally, the music tapered off and her “Lady” returned.

“You saw him, huh?”

Annathiel merely nodded.

“Don’t worry, he has that effect on everyone. Do we have a plan?”

“We do. He told me where to find it.”

“Good. Here, take this,” she unclasped one of her layered necklaces where a black metal ring hung. “Chameleon charm, but don’t use it unless you have to. It really only works if you’re somewhere dark and you don’t move much.”

“Thank you,” Anathiel replied as she deposited it in her palm.

“Now go get ‘im!”

“He said he was married!” she cried over her shoulder as she took off.

“Oh. That’s interesting.”

===

Anathiel nearly ran face-first into a metal-plated guard as she dashed along the brightly lit corridors.

"Are you lost, madam Bosmer?”

Anathiel wanted to quip that she wasn’t sure how her race factored into it, but instead she mumbled, “I- I’m looking for the restroom!”

“You’re headed the wrong way,” he replied sternly, pointing over her shoulder, “Third door on the right.”

“Thank- thank you,” she stammered back.

Rats. Now she had to come up with a new plan.

She ran back to the water closet, just in case the guardsman was still watching and it gave her a moment to think.

There had to be some way to get to the servant’s quarters without being spotted. All the corridors were being heavily watched and for good reason, and too bright for Methredhel's ring to work. If only there was a secret underground passage that ran through the castle.

A breeze tumbled through the open window, daring her to think harder.

Then the idea hit her.

No. It was too stupid.

She leaned out and sure enough there was a tiny ledge jutting out of the stone between the two stories, too narrow for most people to utilize but not a tiny Wood Elf like her.

Anathiel took a deep breath, left a silent prayer to Kynareth, and crawled out of the opening.

It seemed like hours, days, decades, until she finally found herself at the end of what could only be the Service Wing, and not too far from where she was supposed to find the ring.

The only problem was the door was guarded by two of the burliest looking men the Count could conjure up.

Thankfully, the hallway was just shadowed enough that the Chameleon charm could work. She slipped the ring on her finger, held her breath, and crept as quietly as possible past the pair of them.

More than once, they almost seemed to notice, but they didn’t discover her in the darkness.

With a word of command, the lock quietly clicked open and she slipped through the narrowest crack she could fit through.

The room was tightly packed with dusty crates and musty boxes, she had to fight the urge to sneeze.

Which one of these could possibly be what she was looking for? One was stamped from Morrowind, but it looked the same as the others and the mark was obvious. Others seemed like they’d been there a while, they were coated with almost an inch of dust. A throne chair like the one in the Great Hall was in there too, but Anathiel wasn’t sure why.

Finally, she spotted it, buried under a few other things. A box the shape of her fist, imported from down the Niben, but a stamp from Vvardenfell was printed in faded letters on the bottom, as if it was hastily painted over.

She should leave, slip it down the front of her gown and somehow sneak out with it. But a moment of curiosity overcame her. She pried open the box.

Gleaming with an unearthly shine, a pearl-white crescent moon rippled with unnatural rainbows was overlaid with a golden star studded with dark stones.

The Moon-And-Star ring of Nerevar.

The doorknob rattled.“Who is that in there? Open this door immediately! In the name of the Emperor!”

Heart leaping into her chest, Anathiel wracked her brain for a way to get the thing out of there. The box was too big and too noticeable to be carried, she had no pockets or satchel or anywhere safe to carry it.

There was one chance, and only one, that the rumors and legends and stupid stories weren’t true. And she had to take it. They’d catch her and hang her for a traitor and thief anyway if she didn’t.

Anathiel slipped the Moon-and-Star ring on her finger and braced for impending doom.

Nothing happened.

A metal fist continued to slam against the door.

She leapt out the window and landed with a sickening crack.

===

Anathiel ran and ran even though her ankle roared with pain, even though the iron clank of armor and swords closed in. She raced through the dark trees hugging the rolling fields until she collided face-first with a stranger.
“Where is it?” he demanded, gripping her shoulders bruisingly tight, “Do you have the box?”

“Who are you? I’m not telling you anything!”

“Relax, he’s a friend,” Methredhel assured her with a gentle hand.

Anathiel took a breath and then another. She held up her left hand, the Moon-and-Star glittering in the silvery light between the trees.

“I think I have what we’re looking for, but it wasn’t what I expected.”

The stranger laughed. He laughed and laughed until he had to wipe away small tears with a finger.

“What is it? What’s wrong?”

He held out a hand and she deposited the thing in his palm.

“Capital, simply capital,” he replied, examining it closer, “Just as we thought. A fake!”
 

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This piece was written for our 20th anniversary fan art contest! It is strictly property of its original creator - you may not modify, publish, or redistribute it without explicit permission from the artist.