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The days following Epesorn’s recruitment set him on edge. It seemed nearly every waking hour was spent riding to Windhelm. Replacing her initial appearance of confidence and surety was a quieter and tenser demeanor. The Nord did not explain the change in her behavior, but her hurried attitude made a point just as effectively as words could: time was of the essence. Her stress was contagious, so Epesorn stayed on high alert.

He wondered if she trusted him at all. Not enough to give her name, clearly. Pity he couldn’t ask for it. They faced no extreme difficulties on the road. Sometimes they repelled wildlife, either by Epesorn scaring the beast with fire, or the Nord yelling loudly and waving her arms. Travellers were trickier. Epesorn was instructed to pull his hood over and make no eye contact when they passed others on the road. Thankfully, no one stopped them.

Each night, they cooked their food over a fire, unwilling to stop at any rest points. Occasionally, the Nord would tell him stories. Most concerned Ulfric Stormcloak and various atrocities she’d been witness to, but others were happier. She mentioned she’d fallen for a man in Whiterun. Her stories were short and often broken by long stretches of silence, but they interested Epesorn all the same.

At Windhelm, when the city was within sight, they stabled their horses and the Nord told him the plan to get in. She would feed the guards a cock-and-bull story, and once granted admittance, they would make their way to the Gray Quarter. Simple as that. If anything went wrong, he was allowed to do anything to avoid capture - apparently some tales had painted life imprisoned in Windhelm as worse than death.

As it turned out, things went without a hitch. The Nord explained to the gate-guards that her Altmer friend here was a fierce supporter of the Stormcloaks, and he had fought bravely on their behalf during the civil war. She was an admirable liar, and it didn’t take long for the guards to give them access to the city. Epesorn could still feel their cold glares on his back. So much for patriotism.

She led him to the drop-off point, a crumbling excuse for a house. It couldn’t have been abandoned for long, but still gave off a forlorn feeling. Mildew crept openly along the wooden boards. Every building in the area looked about the same - the Gray Quarter, had she called it? Apparently this was where the Dunmer went to rot. Even the poorest of Altmer did not live like this in Alinor. The Nord asked him to wait outside for a moment while she conferred with her associate. He kept on the lookout while waiting, feeling it was likely there was plenty of crime in this area. After a few minutes, she reappeared and waved him inside.

“Make a good impression,” she said, then vanished into the street. He felt a clench of momentary fear, not unlike the fear a child feels when separated from its parents - which was silly, because he could fend for himself. He took a deep breath, forcing his shaking hands to steady.

Epesorn stepped inside cautiously, taking in the scene. A bald Dunmer woman leaned by the door, unsurprised by his appearance. Looking past her and further into the room, he saw a second Dunmer and a Nord, both male. The Dunmer looked quite old. It came as no surprise to him that multiple dark elves were part of the resistance. Here in Windhelm, they would be the people hit the hardest by Ulfric’s reign.

He tried for a smile, all too aware his heart was beating quicker than it should. Epesorn took a seat next to the Dunmer, lowering his hood to expose his sharp, golden ears. There really was no logical reason he should feel so nervous, but this was far from his comfort zone. The weight of his shortsword pressed against his thigh. He wondered if he should have left it by the door, but refrained from standing now that he was here.

All that was left to do was wait.
Rorikstead, 10th of Sun's Dusk, 4E 205

The people of Rorikstead were a stalwart, stubborn bunch. Ulfric Stormcloak's claim as High King had affected them very little. They maintained their steady trade with Whiterun and Windhelm, and very few ever went hungry. Most of the population were Nords, and those who weren't already had their place in the tightly knit town. Any and all outsiders were treated with suspicion. True, they tended to trust the Nords quicker - but given the climate in bigger cities, the civilians considered their stance open-minded, and felt any naysayers should be satisfied with that. After all, they weren't obligated to be hospitable. Indeed, for an outcast seeking safety, it was one of the closest places to ideal they could wind up in.
But the fact remained they were a small community, and word travels quickly in those sorts of places. When a high elf arrived early in the morning, exhausted and half-starved, this was a topic that spread like wildfire. The mystery deepened when it became apparent he was mute. Rumours abounded. People shared their theories - all out of earshot of the subject himself, of course - the most popular being that he was a spy; whether Imperial or Thalmor, they could not seem to decide on. Some suggested both. Even his name was unknown to them. He had flat-out refused when asked to write it down.
The local innkeeper knew the high elf's daily routine, and was not discreet about sharing it. The elf paid for food and drink with what little he had, then retreated to his rented room and locked the door for the day. Curious to know what in Shor's name was going on in there, the innkeeper had watched through a peephole. The high elf was working some kind of magic - a light glowed from his hands, and he caressed the air in front of his throat. After some time, whatever he'd tried evidently hadn't worked, because the elf slammed a fist into his pillow out of frustration. "He's trying to fix himself up, I'd wager," the innkeeper had told his patrons in a low voice. "Doesn't like not being able to prattle on about the inferiority of man."
For his part, the Altmer could only be relieved that Rorikstead tolerated his presence. He felt a gnawing dread that the peace could not last forever. Already the coin was running low. Unless he was able to find work, he'd have to sell off his enchanted sword, and that thought depressed him. It was lucky for the Altmer, then, that an individual took notice of him: another outsider, one who did not disclose her name. In this they were similar, if one overlooked the fact that he was an Altmer and she a Nord.

Epesorn paid for his evening meal and ate it at a table, quite alone. From his arrival, he had noticed how his very existence set the local Nords on edge. He had no wish to antagonize them any further. He had had no success with his restorative spells today, and it was beginning to look hopeless for him. His training had always focused on the offensive - only now did Epesorn wish he'd been taught how to reverse curses as complex as his own. For the thousandth time, he felt a sneer creep onto his face at the thought of his former mentor. Epesorn bit into his bread with a vengeance.
"Can I join you?" a woman's voice said, startling him. He turned and saw a Nord cloaked in travelling garb. She had a lopsided grin, and looked every bit your typical adventurer. She was also holding a bottle of mead.
Epesorn nodded, and the woman plunked down. She poured a tankard for herself and Epesorn. He waited until she began sipping to drink it himself, not all that trusting of a friendly Nord.
"I've heard you're mute," she began, drumming her fingers against the table. "It's all anyone in this blasted village will talk about. People are quite taken with the idea of an undercover spy in their midst."
Epesorn shrugged, smiling. He knew he had caused a bit of commotion. He preferred that to the abuse of power by guards he'd face in a bigger city, such as Whiterun or Markarth. Better he find a quiet place and stick to it until talk died down.
"But being mute isn't all bad," the woman said, lowering her voice enough that Epesorn had to strain to hear. "You can keep secrets. Am I right?"
Epesorn's gaze sharpened, and he grinned at her conspiratorially.
Even more quietly, the woman said very quickly, "I'm with a small pocket of resistance. Ulfric has tyrannized Skyrim, and he needs to be stopped. We're recruiting."
He sucked in a small breath at this, widening his eyes and glancing around the inn quickly. The Nord laughed, resuming the one-sided conversation in a normal voice. "Not so flighty, Altmer. It's not a good look. Listen, if you want to talk more about taking up the job, I'll be at the stables. I'm leaving tonight."
And without further ado, she downed the rest of her mead and left.

In the end, there wasn't much to deliberate over. Was he, a Thalmor-trained Altmer mage, going to waste away in Rorikstead for the rest of his life, trying in vain to remove a curse that seemed to be quite permanent? No. His pride wouldn't allow it. For more practical reasons, Epesorn would run out of money eventually, and he needed some way to get by. This hardly seemed any worse than becoming some accursed Nord farmer's manual labor.
He met the Nord in the stables as night fell. She was just saddling her horse, and seemed pleased he'd shown.
"No potential eavesdroppers this time," she said. "If you're interested, we're headed to Windhelm. We'll be received by my superiors and a wave of other recruits. Room and board are provided."
Epesorn nodded emphatically, glad this was the real deal and not some ragtag team of rebels.
"Glad to hear it," the Nord said. "Can you use that shortsword at all?"
"What about magic?"
Double thumbs-up.
"You're the jackpot," the Nord said happily. They stole away that very same night.

The townsfolk would never get the answers they desired. On a day just like any other, the Altmer vanished without explanation. It was left as a curious chapter of Rorikstead's otherwise quiet history.

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