Harlwystyr shot Halwend another, subtle look as they passed by the fifth wagon loaded with goods. "Even though I told thee that I have been here a few times, I neglected to mention that it hasn't been in a while. As such there's a fair chance that my face won't be remembered - and that's quite good, given the nature of our trip here. Few come here to gain knowledge and new spells but by far the majority come here to show what they're capable of doing, like children heavy at play. Cruel, greedy children, mind ye."
He lifted a hand to his chin, drumming lightly on it as he looked thoughtful. "As for the ones responsible for the business with the wardstone? Ah, their names remain mysteries to me." He suddenly flashed Halwend a wicked grin. "Just do as usual and suspect everyone!"
"Do many seek this wardstone, Harlwystyr," Halwend asked, "and what is so special about it?"
Harlwystyr shrugged. "'Tis important only because of what its spellcraft guards. Its appearance and overall purpose ye'll understand soon enough - which is simply another way of saying that I can't remember how it looks and haven't got the faintest clue why, after all these decades, its regard amongst many has risen so high and sharply." He threw a dry gaze at his companion and continued, "Am I mysterious enough for thine preferences?"
Halwend grunted in half-answer and rolled his eyes in annoyance.
Unperturbed, the old man winked at him and motioned ahead between the many booths. "I pray ye pardon lad, but the lecture that ye decided to give me last time was, as I recall - on voicing every little sort of detail that I otherwise thought should remain a secret for the mind, so I'm simply trying to fulfill ye wishes. But ah, I shall just keep quiet now and pretend like I alone know the great secret on which the safety of Tamriel rests upon. Ah... there I go again. Ye know, I just can't help myself. All this intrigue and world-saving gets very complicated when ye've practiced it for centuries, and with a solemn mind. Ah, but I-"
There were slightly darker fates, Halwend reminded himself with an inward smirk, than journeying through Tamriel with Harlwystyr. The knight would have to curb his spirits, and tried to recall what some of said fates were.
His musings kept him occupied across many bricks in the road; leading them both to the edge of a large, round area. Harlwystyr led them through a series of side-walks and narrow spots; eventually landing them in front of a couple of trees that stood out next to the hurry of Camlorn.
In that instant a nord in detailed, white robes sailed towards them through the air. Levitated would actually be a more correct term, since he was calmly standing on a floating gray rock that moved forward with controlled dignity. As the two companions watched, the rock soared towards a nearby tree; the nord on it disappearing before it clashed against a tree, exploding in a myriad of colours. As the flares died down, the leaves of the tree had now changed colour from their lush green to a pale blue - much to the delight of the audience who cried in awe.
They were obviously at the right spot.
In the distance, on a little hill with no vegetation, Halwend caught sight of a spectral bat breathing flames through the sky. Harlwystyr briefly followed his eyes and commented, "Ah, of course - the illusion contest, how could I forget? Magelings really love that sport; something exciting to impress their peers, I believe. Our path will probably lead us there eventually. They're quite keen on challenging us doddering old spellweavers, ye understand, to prove their overmuch manly mettles by defeating weak old men. Ah, there's also women, before ye ask, but I find that most maidens have sense enough in their minds to stay clear of such vulgarities."
Halwend spared Harlwystyr a bored look. "You can speak for hours about anything, can't you?"
He rolled a shoulder into a helpless shrug. "Yes, well - there's little point in boasting about ye skills, I believe - no matter how impressive they are."
With a brief, yet meaningful pause, he continued, "I'd prefer if we went through this quickly, lad, with little to no dallying. This kind of performance is more a sport for the high-thinking and greedy. If ye stay close it should be fine."
Despite the melodramatic words Harlwystyr sniffed quietly and continued his march down the path; the edge of his robe gathering dust at the haste. They had soon entered a crowd of yelling laughing people; elves, men, and beast races alike. Halwend had a moment to return a look before he entered the group.
The area was crowded to the point where one had to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with his or her partner. The many robes were almost like an uncertain see of vivid colours. The conversations soon reached a deafening height, forcing a frown on the knight's lips. These people came, as is the nature with port cities, in all shapes, ages and attitudes. Long-sleeved robes seemed to be the norm here, but some sorcerers also wore shorter, exotic and tighter sitting garments. As a member of the Cobalt Cloaks, he knew that most ordinary people considered the weavers of the Arts crazy and nonsensical. He thought the place they spoke about was Shornhelm, but he had little time to ponder on such matters.
Tiaras, circlets, hats and other headpieces with splendid displays could be seen almost everywhere, sparkling into different shapes every now and then in fluid spellcraft. There was a man covered in dancing, blue flames that somehow supported the appearance of a robe. The wizard was speaking to a high elf who wore an equally strange attire - one of gleaming and soft-polished sapphires strung by fine, silken threads. A quick snatch of their topic reached Halwend's attention.
"Tell me, what did the Dunmer do again?"
"Forced the others out by blowing up the tower, of course. What else?"
Many more tongues entered the conversation, drowning the previous voices. "What? What!? Permanent invisibility? Pah, why I never-"
"Yes, it was quite cruel! The lady forced a spell onto a servant; a spell to pinch him in all the places he had previously pinched her... in front of the entire noble house, too!"
Harlwystyr strode through the throng with a determined look in his eyes. Evidently, he seemed to know where the thing he sought was located. Halwend quietly followed, past a woman who was raising her fist in anger at an argument concerning her powers being common knowledge. He removed his gaze just before the woman slipped and planted her face in the dirt, but could not resist a final glance back at the scene, doing his best to suppress a grin.
"Powers indeed, hah!"
Halwend ended up shaking his head instead trying to concentrate on Harlwystyr, and shut out most talk around him. Beautiful harp-music sang a sweet song through the air, accompanied by a stream of birds leaving a trail of twinkling, golden smoke behind them. Radiating orbs hung above them lazily before they began to bounce and dance in an almost graceful, aerial ballet. Halwend studied them cautiously, mumbling something about danger to himself.
The sound of flagons clattering together could be heard here and there, giving detail to an already noisy group of drunk mages a few strides away. The laughed together, most likely at someone's misfortune, given the nature of the spotting amusement. The tallest of them, a nord with a light-brown beard who was holding a hand-sized ball of ice in the air, tilted his head back and uttered a spell to refill his drink. The young woman he was trying to impress resorted to a yawn.
A strong smell of cinnamon filled the air as they passed by the next group. It was made up by old and wrinkled imperials with tired expressions shining from pale visages. They wore red robes, lined with silver threads, and seemed to keep themselves out of the grander crowd. One of them raised a crooked finger. "I'd rather swallow a stone before I'd attempt that, Larrius."
Halwend left the group behind, quickly wetting his lips as he saw another open space where smoke rose and ashes suggested a story in which someone had experienced a possibly fatal accident quite recently.
"Now now, understand that the process of shape-shifting the first time is an experience that you'll never forget!" A breton in florid green and brown, his shoulders adorned with a leaf, was underscoring this point by waving his hand dismissively at the mage he was speaking to - a dark elf with long, furry hair that ran to his shoulders. His skin was almost humorously pink, Halwend noted. The elf's reply about the topic of shape-shifting came as an eloquent snort.
Then Halwend was threading his way beyond four bewitchingly beautiful wood elven sorceresses; their heads lowered together in whispers. One of them spotted a suspicious glance towards Harlwystyr, only to relax and give him a polite nod. The other three, seemingly too busy never saw him.
"Well, you'll just have to change the pattern a bit, including a pinch of dreugh wax, and he'll be none the wiser. Ah, but if you teach me that warding spell, I'll show you that little trick of Nasha's, the one that make men fall over you and-"
Chuckling, Halwend hurried on through the area, now trying harder to catch up with Harlwystyr. Where had he gone? He saw nothing at first - there were dozens of old mages here! Yet, eventually, he managed to locate the Old Meddler. He continued to cut his way through a gathered audience without slowing until he arrived at a tree-shaded spot. There, standing on a root, a lithe, stunningly beautiful wood elf was conversing with eight or nine obviously smitten men; all carrying rich jewelry on their hands.