The next morning brought a thunder-storm, but Saril the gryphon was not afraid to rise from his great perch in Solitude.

"Fly south, my darling!" cried the Second Archivist. "Stop when you see the beacon!"

Saril shrieked appreciatively.

"Hello!" said a passing bird.

"Begone, bird!" said Saril, in the language of feathered animals. "I'm a Noble Sunhold Gryphon, and have no time for your petty bird trifles!"

"Whatever happened to civility?" said the bird, but of course it was a rhetorical question.

Saril's great wings carried him high into the storm.

He glided in a circle. Eldaline would have liked to travel with him.

He would arrive in Cyrodiil two days earlier than she would, but a Thalmor officer flying a long distance atop a red gryphon was a temptation to mischievous archers.

Saril turned and flew away south, over the gates of Solitude.

Eldaline waved at him until he was out of sight.

It was a Sunhold tradition.

As soon as the storm had gone back into its cloud, Eldaline uncomfortably mounted a borrowed Embassy horse, as did Aralina, formerly the commander of her security detail, now only her escort to Bruma.

Aralina said nothing. The Second Archivist had scarcely uttered a word since Skavild's departure the previous day. They continued their silence all the way down the long road to Dragon Bridge, until they reached the path up the hill to the Embassy. Then Aralina found she had to speak.

"Madam, there is a rider watching us from the hill."

Eldaline did not slow down. "Very good, Flopsy. Let me know what it does next."

"Second Archivist, it is the Ambassador."

"Oh, wonderful." said Eldaline. "I mean, Hello, Ambassador Elenwen."

It was indeed the Ambassador.

"I see you are starting early, as instructed." she said. "Good. I'm taking you both on a small detour."

Eldaline said, "Madam Ambassador?"

"I don't feel like being reassigned either. Let's see if we can't salvage your Wilfred Project. Ulfric. I mean Ulfric."

Although the Ambassador had expected Eldaline to be cheered by the idea, it was very difficult to speak to her about it, as she was racing ahead of the party.

Elenwen understood well that Eldaline was no friend to the abstract, and to excessive discussions over what she perceived as simple and practical matters, but it was highly irritating to see this trait in practice.

Agent Aralina, though, was interested enough to ride alongside and ask questions, though she watched the trees and clifftops carefully for signs of assassins.

They met none; only some Imperials who wanted directions to Solitude.

And the swift journey towards the Ambassador's detour took them further south, directly through the mountain pass where the ancient city of Labyrinthian sat in gloomy boredom, of no use to the modern world.

"When did General Tullius and his men leave Solitude to set the ambush, Madam Ambassador?" said Aralina, as they pursued Eldaline with all possible haste. "I am very angry with myself for not having noticed that he was missing."

"Not four days ago. This intelligence was for the Headquarters to relay." said the Ambassador. "I shall be very angry when I discover whose ineptitude has brought the civil war to an end. I am, of course, angry now, but it is largely undirected."

Aralina said, "I will be very angry with the rebel leader if he has allowed himself to be captured."

"And so will I." said Elenwen. "But if the General agrees to release him into our custody before they reach Cyrodiil, this unscheduled change in plan may yet be averted, and everything can go back to the way it was."

"I suppose it is unlikely that my new commander will agree to continue paying for my Escapology course, Madam Ambassador?" said Aralina.

Ambassador Elenwen did not answer this question, but continued her pursuit of the Second Archivist through the pass.

"Hey." said the child at Solitude docks.

"Why are you Hey-ing me, lad?" demanded Skavild. He was less angry this morning and was making his escape from Solitude before the gaping hollow of misery and loss engulfed his being, which he suspected it would. But first, he could at least tell his family that he was going to lie low until his hair had changed colour.

"Ain't you Rufus' Da? Rufus called me a milk drinker 'cos I wouldn't swap him the wheels of the sawmill cart for some dirty books."

"Sorry about that." said Skavild.

"Well, I'm not sorry to see the back of him!" said the child. "His grandma took him back to Bruma, and good riddance."

"Bruma?" said Skavild. "Well... too bad I'm not going there. I'm going in the opposite direction. I'm going to discover the lost continent of Atmora."

"Bye, then!" said the child, and skipped off.

But when Skavild strode out over the creaking jetty, to plan his journey to Bruma (his previous assertion had been a clever ruse), a Redguard appeared behind him and brandished a heavy mace.

"Going somewhere?" he said.

Skavild drew his one-handed travelling sword. "Are you mad? Get away from me."

"So be it." said the Redguard. "You have aligned yourself with the Thalmor scourge."

The Redguard charged. Skavild was too taken aback to argue immediately, and darted into the small and localised fray.

"Know that your fate could have been different!" snarled the Redguard, trying to land a blow anywhere, which was entirely avoided, to his surprise.

"Well, I don't know you and I don't explain myself to men who speak with weapons drawn!"

That didn't take long, he thought to himself. Damn Thalmor, using me and leaving me to the wolves like this. Damn Stormcloaks, sending me to my certain death in their Headquarters. Damn Eldaline, not letting me assassinate you and making me care about you. Damn whoever in Oblivion this is, trying to kill me on this jetty.

Skavild deflected a swing from the Redguard's mace. The force aided him in his quick turn, and light step back onto the staircase.

He lunged back down the stairs a second later with renewed resolved.

"Where the blazes did you go?" he demanded.

"I'll get you for that, you elf-loving traitor!" shouted the wet Redguard, from his new position just next to the docks.

"What do you want from me, you lunatic?" Skavild kicked once or twice at his opponent's head as he made to climb back onto the jetty, but the Redguard, with unexpected speed of his own, pulled himself up and rolled under the rope, slashing at Skavild's leg as he passed.

"Give up, you damned..." Skavild began, but did not need to reach the end of the sentence as he had already sized up the Redguard's armour for uncovered areas. There was a quick route from his left shoulder through to the back of his ribcage.

The Redguard warrior dropped forwards as Skavild pulled his sword out. "... you damned dead assassin, what do you think of that, ha. Wouldn't even stop to listen to it from my side, would you? How do you like..." Skavild's chest heaved as he slowly stopped blithering to himself.

Shaking with anger and surprise, he knelt next to the fallen man and carefully searched him for bags and pouches. "All right, now, who were you? Perhaps you'll tell me now you're dead."

At this point, a guard decided that the situation was now calm enough to approach.

"Good morning, Skavild!" said the guard.


"Don't you worry, I saw everything. I won't say a word. I'll put it down to... Embassy business. I know you do a bit of, err. Contracting."

"Now, you bloody well listen..." Skavild began. But his brain stamped down hard on his mouth. While the guards of Solitude still thought he was protected by the Thalmor, he could get out in one piece. "Err, thank you." he said.

Then he read the only piece of paper he could find on the Redguard.

It just read:

kill him if he tries to leave

"Well, that's nice." he said aloud. "Not even helpfully signed by 'Shadowy Assassin, and here's a clue. There's no helping some people."

"Don't you bother yourself, I'll get rid of the body." said the guard. "I'm sure you've got somewhere you need to be."

"Prob'ly." said Skavild.