The Companions stayed the night at a crude but comfortable inn at a tiny village that called itself Raven Spring, located in the foothills of the Wrothgarian Mountains. The next morning they resumed their journey eastward, moving through rolling hills towards the Skyrim and Hammerfell borders, and camping the next two nights under clear early summer skies. When they resumed traveling the third morning, Moraelyn told everyone to watch the slopes north of the road for a notch opening to a high meadow that faced to the southwest. Shortly afterward everyone spotted it almost simultaneously when the group completed a bend around a rocky outcrop.
Silk and Beech went ahead to scout a good route, and to look for a campsite for the evening ahead. By dusk they had covered most of the distance to the meadow, but still faced some stiff climbing the next morning. They agreed that it was time to camp once again, but happily a lunchtime picnic seemed very likely the next day.
By mid-day the next day, which was Loredas the 5th of Mid Year, the Companions were sprawled across a grassy slope within the Dragon Village, having been joined by Akatosh and one other dragon. This second dragon was smaller than Akatosh, and seemed to be a female, although characteristically Akatosh had just introduced the dragon as Debudjen, with no further explanations being forthcoming. The two dragons politely chatted with the humanoids as they enjoyed their repast, though Debudjen flew off afterwards, to arc gracefully above, and then swoop down upon a steer in a grassy field some distance away.
Edward replied with a small smile, "I don't think that our meal was quite that violent in nature."
Akatosh returned the smile, but then responded. "A good reminder then, that we are only similar, rather than the same."
Edward paused, squinting into the mid-afternoon sun, and then turned to the golden dragon: "Akatosh - why did you choose this spot for your village?"
"Well, it was high enough up into the mountains to suit us, but flat enough for raising the cattle ... with trees for the deer ... and it is very defensible for all of us. There is plenty of room for the humans to build their ranches and farms, and the elves are quite comfortable in the dense trees along the cliff edges. The adits in the surrounding cliff faces provide us the access to our lairs, which we have located within the mining tunnel system. All in all, an ideal site for such an experiment involving this many races of beings. It even opens to the southwest, providing reasonable warmth for the smaller beings, with some protection from the elements during the colder months."
Edward responded, "It is difficult for me to get used to the notion of a village without some central concentration of buildings - but perhaps these will be developed in the future; at least, a few buildings for meetings and socializing. And, I suppose that there are also some beautiful sunsets to be seen."
The dragon smiled again, but replied "Quite so, but I am the only one of the dragonkind to show any interest, and that was not a legitimate consideration when we chose this site." Then wistfully: "I wish that I could assemble the words to describe some of them. I have attempted this many, many times, but the results just are not ...very admirable." More briskly: "And by the way, we do intend to erect a meeting hall for the humanoids, and also some stores for barter and other exchanges of goods."
Moraelyn had wandered over and seated himself, and he asked, with a notable absence of the usual humanoid respect for dragons, "Whatever possessed you to attempt such a crazy experiment, Akatosh?"
The dragon paused thoughtfully, and then replied "As is my wont I had been analyzing, in this case one might say the history of dragon behavior. Clearly our lengthy contest of resistance to these new Aurielian gods was futile, but it took many of our generations for us to realize and accept this. Then, our next pattern was to isolate ourselves, even from each other, and to resist intrusion from any and all beings. The exception of course was to mate among ourselves and procreate our race. However, aside from that one activity, we fought any and all for our precious privacy, and really for no good reason except that we can be an especially stubborn race."
Edward said, "Then you maintained a pattern of behavior long after the reason for it was gone?"
Akatosh looked a bit embarrassed. He said stiffly, "I believe that is what I just said. We are not the only sentient race to fall prey to that."
Edward said, "The Archmagister has told me that much behavior is inborn."
Moraelyn smiled at him, "And inborn behavior patterns are a particular problem for long-lived species who change slowly as conditions change. We elves suffer from it even more than you short-lived humans, which is why we like to keep things as they are, though life is change and to resist it utterly is death. Dragons live far, far longer than even elves, and, in consequence, breed even more slowly. Still, who can say what alterations being born into a social setting may produce, for good or ill, in dragon behavior."
Aliera had by this time joined the conversation, and observed: "The Daedra must have been long pleased with dragon behavior."
Akatosh responded, "Perhaps so, but I approached our ... queen with this suggestion moreso because it seemed clear to me that as a race we had fallen into a stasis, and we needed to break this shell in order to invigorate ourselves. She didn't quite agree with me, but, perhaps because of my reputation, she told me to go ahead and make this attempt."
By this point, all of the Companions were sitting within hearing range, and Mats asked: "Did you have to get your queen's permission? And have there been many difficulties among the various races?"
"Permission is not quite accurate in this case, Mats; being the beings that we are, it was moreso that I was obliged to tell her of this so that she would have the information. For example, other dragons regularly come to me with potential military intelligence, following this same philosophy of preparedness."
Mats grinned and said, "You mean 'just in case', right? But what about these elves and humans?"
"Ah, our humanoid Lord and Lady do set a most remarkable example of tolerance and respect for differing shapes and customs. I owe a debt of gratitude to Moraelyn for the loan of his smiths and miners, who have been most generous in sharing their knowledge and skills with the Bretons that my young friend Edward and I have, ah, persuaded to attempt settlement here. It is my experience that Bretons, well, many Bretons, will do virtually anything so long as it is profitable and they gain skill and knowledge from it. The Nordic lust for individual honor and glory makes the mithril armor and weapons produced here extremely profitable -- t'was sheer genius that inspired Aliera to insist that we sell only to the nobility -- while the delving opens new tunnels and provides access to -- that which we dragons require." Akatosh smiled a little slyly. He was very reticent on the subject of exactly what dragons required. "Beech and Willow have made it known among their people that wood elves are welcome here, so those who have long missed their ancient High Rock homes have returned to these hills."
"Fortunate for me that I'm now a Duke, and thus qualified to wear and carry mithril. If only I could afford more than a piece or two! But for the cost I might retire --" Mats said.
"If you retired you would not require the mithril," Moraelyn pointed out.
"And what of my son and daughter? Thinkst thou I will beg from thee for them?" Mats said indignantly. "My knees and wind may not be what once they were, I grant you. I'fact I'm somewhat tempted to remain up here, now I am here, yet I can still swing my axe with any!"
Mith grinned delightedly, "Nords can't count. It's why they seek honor and glory, not profit. Honor and glory are not amenable to enumeration much past what one can tally on the fingers. Mats, if thou art but thirty-nine, thou wert the largest ten year old humanoid I ever met or hope to meet!"
"But what then are these benefits to those who neither delve nor smith?" Mats persisted, ignoring his old friend. "I would think that many would be terrified to live so close to such ... formidable beings" Mats spoke the last of this with a sly grin.
"Well, on the other hand, the presence of the 'formidable beings' means that they are certainly well-protected. And this area is surprisingly fertile, so the crops seem to be growing well ... and although they provide the meat for us, we allocate one fifth of each herd to them for their own consumption. We've also been finding out what I have long suspected - the three sets of races, when combined, fight much more effectively than the sum of each when considered in isolation - that is, each race covers or cancels weaknesses of the others. At least it is certainly true that the local goblin population has been drastically reduced in a very short period of time."
"Aye," Edward responded, "so Moraelyn proved in Morrowind."
"With a bit of help from his friends," Moraelyn acknowledged. "I reap the praise, but i'truth I'm little more than the standard they wave -- and at times I feel more like the target they set up!"
A wave of laughter greeted this remark. Edward persisted, "With you and the others up here, Akatosh, I feel my borders are well guarded, should Skyrim ever feel the urge to move its borders west again."
Aliera asked: "Was it easy to convince the other dragons to move to here?"
"Actually, the most difficult part of that was moving our hoards to our new lairs" Akatosh responded with a lazy smile, "although once it was known that we had no use for the metals, gems and jewelry that we accumulate, everything went much more smoothly." But then more seriously: "Essentially I had to approach each dragon personally, and ... convince them that this idea had merit. Again, once I had persuaded a couple of our especially independent specimens, things went much more smoothly. However, there are only nine of us living in this area ... and there is really only room for two or three more of us. We shall have to see what develops hereafter."
Aliera now observed: "I think that now the gods and goddesses might look very favorably indeed on dragon behavior."
"That may be so, Aliera, but again that was not really why this was done. Besides, they still may remember and resent our long opposition to them."
Beech asked deferentially "But what is the name of this village?"
Akatosh sighed, and then responded "I fear that we shall never reach a decision, since each race has decided opinions in that regard. Perhaps once the initial building phase is completed, we will able to be more contemplative about such matters."
Beech replied "That just doesn't seem right - everywhere should have a name, shouldn't it?"
Willow chuckled and then said "Perhaps to us this is so, but who knows how dragons think; and I'm sure that the humans and elves will squabble over the style of the name, besides the specifics of it."
Moraelyn interrupted with great drama, "Surely you don't mean to imply that an elf can be overly stubborn!?" and the discussion dissolved into a period of laughter and teasing amongst the group.
Presently, Akatosh said, "I favor the name 'Section 22.'"
Beech stared at him, "Akatosh, I see what thou dost mean about thy difficulties with the poetic. If you will allow my frank opinion? That is the single worst village name I have ever heard."
Akatosh sighed gustily, then pardoned himself hastily to Beech -- humanoids found dragon sighs quite unpleasant and sometimes actually hazardous. "Then thou seest what I mean by differences. To me, it is very meaningful, and most appropriate. Is 'Section 16' any better as a name? Not? Then is it the word 'Section' that offends you? In what way is it inferior to 'Keep' or 'Reich' or 'Glen' or 'Hold'?"
Edward said, "But Akatosh, a name should make some sense. At least humans think so. You should have 21 other sections first, if you're going to name this place '22'."
"Really?" Akatosh said, "Why is that? Are not all numbers equally valid? They serve well to distinguish one place from another. There could be many 'Greenvales' for instance. I myself know of four such villages. The number 'Twenty-two' does appeal to me....aesthetically, as well as possessing some 'sense' -- at least to me," he smiled secretively.
Moraelyn said, "I think Lord Akatosh is enjoying what some call an 'in-joke'. Were I so rash as to instruct a dragon in manners--"
"Who," Silk said, "would ever accuse Moraelyn of being rash?"
A bit later, Edward asked Akatosh: "Do you think that we could play a game or two of Battle? I brought the board and playing pieces with me."
Moraelyn interrupted "I'm afraid that Akatosh and I must discuss some matters this evening - and you'd only lose again anyway" he added with a fond smile.
Edward replied "But I can beat everyone else ... Akatosh, will I ever win a game with you?"
"No, Edward, you won't", and Akatosh was slightly bemused by Edward's startled expression, and then the hearty laugh that quickly followed it.
"That wasn't very diplomatic of you, Akatosh. But why won't I ever win?"
"Because I have been playing for much longer than you have Edward, and so long as I continue to play, you will not be able to catch up to me. Besides, this game is what I am starting to think of as a 'bounded problem', and that sort is most easily dealt with."
"What do you mean by 'a bounded problem', Akatosh?" asked Mats.
"That is a problem that has a countable number of possible actions and results, Mats. There are only 81 squares on the board, and each side has exactly 27 playing pieces, each piece moves in a specific way, and so on."
"But the game is like a real battle, isn't it?" asked Ssa'ass.
"No, it is very good practice for learning, and for thinking about how to execute a battle - but my Elven Archers never become tired or demoralized, and my Master Mage always does what I want. Such things seldom happen in a real battle."
Moraelyn nodded in agreement, and asked with mock slyness "Then what is an example of an unbounded problem?"
"Certainly a real battle ... but also, to me a poem is an unbounded problem"
"But any poem can be analyzed, Akatosh" Aliera said chidingly.
"Of course - but only after it is written. I am unable to define, or bound, the act of writing it, though ... that is, the act of creating it. If I start to write a poem ... there are so many possibilities" and then wryly "I never get beyond the first line, because I start imagining all the things that I could put into the beginning and...."