It was midafternoon, on the seventh day of the new year. Ancano sat, sulkily, in the back of a cart traveling along the road to Winterhold. He was not pleased to be headed back. It had been such a relief to spend nearly a week at the Embassy surrounded by people with both manners and culture. The mere thought that he was nearly back to that isolated, wintry, prison the locals called a “college”, was borderline physically painful.
He glared at the snow stretched out around him and the peaks of distant icebergs floating in the Sea of Ghosts. He was stuck in this wretched place until he found something of value to the Dominion. A lesser agent might have written the college off after the first year – accepted failure – and returned to the Dominion with nothing to show for himself, but Ancano was determined. There was simply no possibility that a place, so full of power that magic energy literally radiated from fonts in each of the buildings, wasn’t involved in something beyond the mundane, every day, research he’d, thus far, been able to uncover.
Savos Aren, at the very least, was up to something. Ancano could tell that the Dunmer had a substantial portion of his power invested in an ongoing spell; a spell that predated Ancano’s arrival at the college. Aside from warding spells – for which Aren was particularly renowned1 – very few types of spells lasted for years. Yet Ancano had found no evidence of an actively warded location in, or around, the college.
It had also been deeply disappointing to discover that the college’s excavations in Saarthal had, so far, been a waste of time. The only thing the work there had produced was a better understanding of exactly how far warding magic had come since the first era. No intact examples of Atmoran magic had yet been found. So even the small hope that some examples of early human magic might reveal something of use to the Dominion had come to nothing. Much like his continuing search for where the College kept its most dangerous magic items, which had produced only the confirmation that such a place existed. But, aside from, possibly, whatever was behind the one door in the Midden that he’d been unable to open, Ancano’d found nothing worth mentioning on the college grounds. Perhaps, like the Winterhold jail, the college’s vault was somewhere out in the ice. He was going to have to start paying much closer attention to the librarian’s movements if he wanted to determine where.
As for the dragonborn, while her search for aetherium was interesting it couldn’t truly be considered research sanctioned by the college (as it had begun before she’d joined). So it told him nothing about the institutional interests of the College of Winterhold or what role they might play in the next war. Which was why he felt secure in keeping the information to himself, for now. If she ever found a key to Blackreach… well, Ancano would have the immense pleasure of handing the Second Emissary’s prize asset over to Third Emissary Rulindil for interrogation. He almost smiled at the thought, only to frown, disapprovingly, at three brown-robed figures walking down the road in such a way that the cart was forced to swerve so as not to hit them. Damn barbarian Nords didn’t even know how to get out of the way properly.
In the end Ancano’s only reaming avenue of investigation, at the moment, was the vague rumors he’d come across (mostly from Enthir gossiping with the new students) about someone, or something, called “The Augur of Dunlain”. Perhaps he could bare to spend an evening, or two, socializing with Tolfdir. The old Nord had been at the college longer than anyone else, including the Arch-Mage.
The cart stopped on the edge of town and Ancano climbed stiffly out. Ancano paid the driver and stepped out of the way as he turned his cart around to start back to Windhelm. A glance back down the road revealed that the brown robed trio, who, from this angle, he could see were wearing dopy2 looking masks, were just coming into town. No doubt the costumes were part of some local new year custom, he reflected with a scowl and a scathing once over.
“You,” one of the men began, stepping in front of Ancano the moment the cart, and driver, were out of the way. “We understand that the so-called dragonborn is a member of the College here. Is it true?”
“It is,” Ancano answered with all the condescension he could muster after four days3 in an un-sprung cart, on Skyrim’s less than stellar roads, in the dead of winter. “She’s right over there, if you wish to speak with her yourself,” he added, pointing to where he’d spotted Alexa talking to Birna in front of Brina’s shop. He was really far too tired to put up with local foolishness right now.
The masked man immediately shoved past Ancano moving, purposefully, down the street. “You there!” he called out to the Breton student as he approached. “You’re the one they call dragonborn?” he demanded. His accent – Dunmer, not Nord – caught Ancano by surprise, causing the Thalmor Advisor to stay where he was rather than making his way to the college.
“Ye-es?” the Breton student responded with a confused look.
“Your lies fall on deaf ears, Deceiver!” the man yelled, lightning forming in his hands. “The True Dragonborn comes... You are but his shadow! When Lord Miraak appears all shall bear witness. None shall stand to oppose him!”
The fight was over rather quickly. The Winterhold guards were more practiced than most in dealing with magic users and the trio’s strange attire had clearly caught their attention even before the first spell had been cast.
Ancano strolled over and began going through the pockets of the man who had appeared to be the group’s leader. The only thing of interest was a note. He stood back up before opening it and perusing the contents.
“What does it say?” Alexa asked, walking over after the guards were finished lecturing her.
“Board the vessel Northern Maiden docked at Raven Rock,” Ancano read aloud. “Take it to Windhelm, then begin your search. Kill the False Dragonborn known as Iizkaandraal before she reaches Solstheim. Return with word of your success, and Miraak shall be most pleased.” He paused to give her a skeptical look. “Iizkaandraal?”
She grimaced slightly, holding out her hand for the note. “My dragon name – apparently. Don’t look at me, I didn’t choose it.”
“Were you headed to Solstheim, false Dragonborn?” he asked, sardonically, as he handed the note to her.
“Not insofar as I know,” she replied, reading the note for herself. “Miraak… Miraak… Who in Oblivion is Miraak?”
“The True Dragonborn, apparently,” Ancano sniffed.
The girl’s frown deepened. “The Greybeards claimed that I was the only dragonborn revealed in this age. And, if he really is dragonborn, why doesn’t his dragon name have a third syllable?” she murmured as she turned away from him and started back to the College. “Unless… no, that doesn’t make any sense at all. There’s no way he could still be alive. Humans aren’t immortal, stupid dragon memories. Though Bernadette Bandian’s last paper did say the Dragon Priests were becoming more ‘lively’. Perhaps the process is more advanced in Solstheim? No. Miraak disappeared. No body, no tomb, no draugr to donate life-force… but Krosis was fairly lively… of course, his dragon wasn’t dead…”
They had reached the College courtyard. Alexa stopped and threw her hands up in the air. “But I don’t want to go to Solstheim!” she yelled to the sky.
Watching her disappear into the Hall of Attainment Ancano realized he was uncertain how sane the Breton student had ever been but it seemed she was beginning to crack up a bit. This he had mixed feelings about. On the one hand Ondolemar had received quite a bit of credit for having managed to recruit the “dragonborn”. This was irksome as it secured the younger mer’s continued, meteoric, rise through the ranks of the Thalmor. Having it fall apart on him would be quite gratifying to watch. On the other hand Ancano was uncertain what would happen if an insane dragonborn were added to the current political mix in Skyrim. He was also increasingly aware that she wouldn’t be easy to take down. Her elevation to being a “Master” wizard in the four months since she’d arrived – little of which she had actually spent at the College – was troubling. However much she tried to downplay it the Breton obviously had a rare gift for magic. The possibility of a second, older, dragonborn was worrying.
Ancano made a mental note to see what he could find out about someone – a dragon priest? - named Miraak from Solstheim.