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Jalemmil stood in her garden and read the letter her servant had brought her. The bouquet of roses in her hand fell to the ground. For a moment it was as if all birds had ceased to sing and a cloud had passed over the sky. Her carefully cultivated haven seemed to flood over with darkness.
"We have thy son," it read. "We will be in touch with thee shortly with our ransom demands."
Zarek had never made it as far as Akgun after all. One of the brigands on the road, Orcs probably, or accursed Dunmer, must have seen his well-appointed carriage and taken him hostage. Jalemmil clutched at a post for support, wondering if her boy had been hurt. He was but a student, not the sort to fight against well-armed men, but had they beaten him? It was more than a mother's heart could bear.
"Don't tell me they sent the ransom note so quickly," called a familiar voice, and a familiar face appeared through the hedge. It was Zarek. Jalemmil hurried to embrace her boy, tears running down her face.
"What happened?" she cried. "I thought thou hadst been kidnapped."
"I was," said Zarek. "Three huge soaring Nords attacked my carriage on the Frimvorn Pass. Brothers, as I learned, named Mathais, Ulin, and Koorg. Thou shouldst have seen these men, mother. Each one of them would have had trouble fitting through the front door, I can tell thee."
"What happened?" Jalemmil repeated. "Wert thou rescued?"
"I thought about waiting for that, but I knew they'd send off a ransom note and I know how thou does worry. So I remembered what my mentor at Akgun always said about remaining calm, observing thy surroundings, and looking for thy opponent's weakness," Zarek grinned. "It took a while, though, because these fellows were truly monsters. And then, when I listened to them bragging to one another, I realized that vanity was their weakness."
"What didst thou do?"
"They had me chained at their camp in the woods not far from Cael on a high knoll overlooking a wide river. I heard one of them, Koorg, telling the others that it would take the better part of an hour to swim across the river and back. They were nodding in agreement when I spoke up.
"'I could swim that river and back in thirty minutes,' I said.
"'Impossible,' said Koorg. 'I can swim faster than a little whelp like thee.'
"So it was agreed that we would dive off the cliff, swim to the center island, and return. As we went to our respective rocks, Koorg took it upon himself to lecture me about all the fine points of swimming: the importance of synchronized movements of the arms and legs for maximum speed, and how essential it was to breathe after only the third or fourth stroke, not too often to slow thyself down, but not too little to lose one's air. I nodded and agreed to all his fine points. Then we dove off the cliffs. I made it to the island and back in a little over an hour, but Koorg never returned. He had dashed his brains at the rocks at the base of the cliff. I had noticed the telltale signs of underwater rocks and had taken the diving rock on the right."
"But thou returned?" asked Jalemmil, astounded. "Was that not when thou escaped?"
"It was too risky to escape then," said Zarek. "They could have easily caught me again, and I wasn't keen to be blamed for Koorg's disappearance. I said I did not know what happened to him, and after some searching, they decided he had forgotten about the race and had swum ashore to hunt for food. They could not see how I could have had anything to do with his disappearance, as fully visible as I was throughout my swim. The two brothers began making camp along the rocky cliff-edge, picking an ideal location so that I would not be able to escape.
"One of the brothers, Mathais, began commenting on the quality of the soil and the gradual incline of the rock that circled around the bay below. It was ideal, he said, for a foot race. I expressed my ignorance of the sport, and he was keen to give me details of the proper technique for running a race. He made absurd faces, showing how one must breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth; how to bend one's knees to the proper angle on the rise, and the importance of sure foot placement. Most important, he explained, was that one must keep an aggressive but not too strenuous pace if one intends to win. It is fine to run in second place through the race, he said, provided one has the willpower and strength to pull out in the end.
"I was an enthusiastic student, and Mathais decided that we ought to run a quick race around the edge of the bay before night fell. Ulin told us to bring some firewood when we came back. We began at once down the path, skirting the cliff below. I followed his advice about breath, gait, and foot placement, but I ran with all my power right from the start. Despite his much longer legs, I was a few paces ahead as we rounded the first corner.
"With his eyes on my back, Mathais did not see the gap in the rock that I jumped over. He plummeted over the cliff before he had a chance to cry out. I spent a few minutes gathering some twigs before I returned to Ulin at camp."
|Ancient Scrolls of the Dwemer|
|Ancient Scrolls of the Dwemer I-B|