The Harps Call, Conclusion

Please note:  To read previous installments of this story, please click the following links:

Tirdas (really early in the morning): 

“Put your hands where I can see them!”

Cari was dazzled by the electric torch’s beam, and could only vaguely make out the forms of the police in front of her.  “Put your hands where I can see them,” a female voice said.  Cari raised her hands in front of her.  “What’s your name, brat?” the woman ordered. 

Cari tried to speak, but she couldn’t make any words.  In fact, she felt a dull, constricting pain around her neck, as if she were wearing a scarf that was pulled too tight.  The feeling quickly grew more acute, then agonizing as Cari began to see dark blotches in front of her and began hearing her own pulse ringing in her ears.  She clawed at her neck in a futile, panicked effort to escape whatever was strangling her while the woman repeated, “Put your hands back up!  Put your hands back up!”.   

“I asked for your name, brat!”

She heard a sharp click as the lights went on, and the feeling vanished.  Cari exhaled sharply.  In front of her stood two police officers, a middle-aged man and a younger woman.  The man had salt-and-pepper hair and looked tired and somewhat puzzled.  The woman was blonde and looked haughty as she stared at Cari with an arrogant sneer.  “I asked for your name, brat!”

The older officer looked at his partner.  “Constable,” he said simply. 

Finally catching her breath, Cari spoke.  “I’m, I’m Cari Ayalu,” she said. 

The older officer raised an eyebrow.  “Cari Ayalu?” he said, and began speaking into a microphone on his collar. 

“Well, Cari Ayalu, what are you doing burglarizing a museum in the middle of the night, huh?” asked the nasty officer. 

“I wasn’t, I mean, that’s not what I meant to…” stammered Cari. 

The nasty officer was just getting started.  “How’s your Mama going to feel when we tell her you’re arrested?” she said, making Cari wince.  “Maybe I should just put the cuffs on you right now!” 

“Frokken Cari, it seems you’ve caused quite a stir tonight.”

“Constable Fisk, that’s enough!” the older officer scolded.  Turning to Cari, he said, “Frokken Cari, it seems you’ve caused quite a stir tonight.  Everyone’s looking for you.  Someone at the police station is calling your Papa, and the director of this museum is on his way here now.”  The officer, whose name tag read “Långskepp,” motioned Cari to sit at a nearby table.  He looked intently at Cari.  “You’re in quite a lot of trouble, so can you explain what, exactly, you’re doing here?”

What can I even tell him?  Cari thought.  He’s not going to believe me, no matter what I say!  “I…I was following somebody,” she stammered.    

“Following whom?  There’s nobody else in the building.” 

Cari had no answer to that, no matter how desperately she wracked her brain.  How could she tell him she was following a ghost?  In any case, both were interrupted by an elderly man making his way down the stairs.  “What’s going on in my museum?” barked Doctor Swenson, a little too loudly, Cari thought. 

“Oh, we caught this little brat sneaking in,” replied Constable Fisk. 

“Brat, you say?” said Doctor Swenson.  “Oh, Sergeant Långskepp, is this our burglar?”  The sergeant nodded.  Doctor Swenson looked at Cari.  “You?  Didn’t we speak, not even three days ago?  And now you mean to break into the Bard’s College in the middle of the night?  Why?” 

“She said she followed somebody!” sneered Constable Fisk.

“I believe the young lady can speak for herself,” said Doctor Swenson, “and I suggest you let her.”  Constable Fisk retreated to a corner and sulked while Sergeant Långskepp stifled a laugh.  “Well, Frokken Cari?” 

“I was following somebody,” said Cari. 

“Whom?” asked Doctor Swenson.  “Whom were you following?” 

There was no point in evading the question any more.  “Näktergal,” she said softly. 

“Näktergal?” said Sergeant Långskepp, “Who’s that?”

“Näktergal?” exclaimed Doctor Swenson.  “You were following Näktergal?  You’re hunting ghosts, then, are you?  You assured me you were not that type of person!” 

Cari tried to come up with some defense when they were interrupted again, this time by two people clambering down the stairs.  Papa was wide-eyed with bewilderment and fatigue, while Aunt Teri merely looked sick.  She appeared to be perspiring heavily.  “What on Nirn?” exclaimed Papa.  “Daughter, what is the meaning of this?”

“Oh, Cari,” said Aunt Teri sadly.  Then her eyes went wide, she emitted a noticeable burp, and scampered back up the stairs. 

Cari felt everyone’s eyes bearing down on her.  There was nothing logical left to say, no reasoning she could use to explain what she was doing.  At that point, there was only one move left:

Go for broke.  

Cari said simply:  “Näktergal.  She’s here.”

“Who?” said Papa.  “I see no one.”

Where indeed?  Cari didn’t know, but felt oddly drawn to the stone piling she was standing next to when she was discovered.  She rose, walked to the piling, and placed her right hand on a spot about waist-high.  “Here,” she said softly. 

“There?” said Doctor Swenson.  “That’s limestone.  Nothing is there but rock.” 

“She’s here!” said Cari, more emphatically. 

“Cari, are you sure?” said Aunt Teri, who had returned to the sub-basement. 

“What are you playing at, brat?” sneered Constable Fisk. 

“She’s here!” yelled Cari, as tears welled in her eyes.  “She’s here!  Please, just listen to me!”

“Alright then,” said Doctor Swenson, “let’s find out.”  He walked across the room and opened a cabinet, from which he retrieved a tool box.  He opened the toolbox and removed a steel mallet with a short wooden handle.  He walked to the piling where Cari stood and gave it three sharp raps.

Plonk!  Plonk!  Plonk!

“You see?  There’s nothing there.  Just stone.  You may try for yourself if you like.”  He handed the mallet to Cari.  It was unexpectedly heavy.  Nonetheless, she grasped the handle with both hands, and after a couple of practice swings, gave the piling three sharp raps of her own.

Plonk!  Plonk!  Crunch!

Cari’s last stroke hit paydirt as she knocked an ancient brick sideways and sent a cascade of plaster to the floor.  Suddenly, everyone started talking.

“What the Oblivion?”

“Remarkable!  There may be something back there after all!”

“Ooh, you’re in it now, brat!  You’ll have to pay for that!”

“Shut up, Constable Fisk!”

Cari didn’t know whether to feel vindicated or embarrassed.  Doctor Swenson stepped over to the piling and worked the brick loose.  “This is all brick back here, covered over by plaster or something,” he said.  “And all this time we thought it was solid rock.”  He worked a few more bricks loose, setting them carefully on the table behind him.  Eventually, he managed to create a hole a little larger than a dinner plate.  “Let’s see your torch, Sergeant Långskepp,” he said.  He played the light around inside the hole for a moment, then stopped abruptly, staggering back a step. 

“Dear me!” he gasped.  “There appears to be a human skeleton in here!”

“I must call this in,” said Sergeant Långskepp.  “Forensics will want a look at this.”

“Indeed,” said Doctor Swenson.  “And I will call Doctor Gustafson.”

“The therapist?”

“No, her husband.  He chairs the archaeology department at the University of Solitude.”

Sergeant Långskepp and Doctor Swenson made their calls.  After that, Doctor Swenson enlisted Cari to help remove more bricks, which they handed to Aunt Teri and Papa to stack on the table.  As she handed a brick over, Cari asked her Aunt: “Are you still sick?”

“Don’t worry, Baby.  I’m fine,” Aunt Teri replied, although she still looked a little queasy. 

By the time the Forensics officer and Doctor Gustafson arrived, Cari and Doctor Swenson had enlarged the hole significantly.  After very carefully extracting a single bone, the forensics officer judged the find to be ancient, and not a police concern.  With that, Doctors Swenson and Gustafson set to work extracting the remains, a process which took several hours.  As time passed, most of the people gathered in the crowded room moved upstairs to the Bard’s College main floor.  Only Cari remained behind, watching the professors at work.  Shortly before dawn, a pair of assistant archaeologists appeared with extra tools, portable lighting, and coffee and sweet rolls for everyone. 

It was then that Cari heard Doctor Gustafson exclaim in surprise, “And what is this?  That’s not bone, is it?  No, that’s…that appears to be the frame of a harp!” 

Cari’s jaw dropped.  “Doctor Swenson,” she said.  “Does this mean it’s Näktergal?”

“Well,” Doctor Swenson replied, “there’s really no way to say for sure, at least not yet.  But this find does seem to match the legends doesn’t it?  In any case, it’s a significant discovery.  I don’t know how you came to find it, but it does you a great credit.  I very much hope you choose to join our scholarly community someday.  You’d fit right in!”  Cari blushed at the compliment.  “We’ll be here for quite a few more days,” continued Doctor Swenson.  “Perhaps you should think about getting some rest, don’t you think?” 

Cari realized she was actually very tired, and hungry as well.  She bade the professors a heartfelt farewell, and went up to the main floor.  Upon arriving, she was startled by camera flashes.  It took her a moment to realize that the press had arrived, and a reporter wanted to hear all about her discovery!  She could barely think of what to say, and only managed a few incoherent words when Papa intervened, inviting the reporter to visit the house later that day.  Turning to his daughter, Papa said: “The police left a little while ago.  The sergeant said he had no further business with us, but he was glad you were located so quickly.”  His expression became more serious.  “Cari, your Auntie and I were terribly worried, and I can’t tell you how upset I am.  What’s gotten into you?”

“Papa, I wish I could explain, but I don’t think anyone would believe me.”

Aunt Teri appeared behind her brother.  “Kuya,” she said.  “I can talk to you about this later, but all of us should probably go home and get some rest.”  Papa nodded his assent.  Turning to Cari, she said, “are you ready to go, Baby?” 

“Just about,” said Cari, “but I want to step outside by myself for a moment.” 

Outside, the sun was just coming up, casting a long shadow over the Bard’s College porch.  After spending hours downstairs in a hot, crowded room, the morning chill made her shiver a little, but it was refreshing nonetheless.  Is it over? Cari wondered.  Are those really Näktergal’s bones down there?  Is she finally done with me?  Despite Doctor Swenson’s professional misgivings, Cari was sure they found Näktergal.  Is that all she wanted, for someone to find her?  While Cari pondered this question, she noticed a pale blue glow to her right, near the college’s western wall.  Oddly, she felt no fear as the glow gradually assumed human form, a young woman, icy white hair falling past her shoulders.  Näktergal looked at Cari with a sad smile, and in a voice only Cari could hear, said: 

“Thank you.  Thank you.”

“Wait,” said Cari, approaching the figure, but Näktergal was already fading from her sight.  As she vanished, Cari felt Näktergal’s embrace, and in that embrace a feeling of relief, peace, and deep, deep gratitude. 

“Wait,” said Cari, approaching the figure, but Näktergal was already fading from her sight. 

NOT QUITE THE END

Stories don’t always end neatly; some of them have loose ends that need tying or trimming.  So consider what happened in the days and weeks that followed:

  • The discovery in the Bard’s College occupied Doctors Gustafson and Swenson, plus numerous assistants, for several weeks.  Researchers were able to determine that the bones belonged to a young woman, and were around one thousand years old.  The bones were reburied according to Tallic rites in a Solitude cemetery.  What was left of the harp, however, went to the Blue Palace Museum and Interpretive Center for analysis and later display. 
  • Cari did indeed speak with news reporters after she and her family returned home that day.  The story appeared in the weekly magazine edition of the Solitude Herald.  The story focused on Cari’s “tireless research to solve an age-old mystery,” but did not contain supernatural revelations, as Cari was careful not to reveal any.  The story also contained Cari’s picture, which, she noted, was carefully cropped to conceal her pajama bottoms!
  • Cari spend the rest of the week preparing for exams, which commenced the following Morndas.  She did well, receiving top marks in history, mathematics, and science.  The only place she stumbled was in music, where she was asked to sing a song.  Apparently, after she saw Näktergal for the last time, her lovely singing voice completely abandoned her. 
  • Construction on the new tram stop at Cari’s school was suspended indefinitely after workers discovered ancient coins and weapons in the area they were excavating.  A very busy Doctor Gustafson led a team to the site, which they believed to contain the remains of a Stormcloak encampment.  That might explain the vision I had at school, Cari thought. 
Look who got her picture in the paper!

And finally, a couple weeks later…

Cari sat with her Aunt Teri on the rooftop porch enjoying the afternoon.  It was late spring, sunny and warm, and the days were getting longer.  The summer term was only two weeks away, and Cari was relishing her last days of vacation before school resumed.  It felt good to spend that time with her very favorite person.  “Cari,” Aunt Teri said, “Uncle Adrian has to go out of town next week.  While he’s gone, I thought we could take a trip of our own, just us girls.  What do you think?”

“I’d love to,” Cari replied.  “Where should we go?”

“I was thinking Riften,” said Aunt Teri.  “We could take the train down.”

“I’ve always wanted to go there!  But are you up to it?”

“Up to it?” said Aunt Teri, surprised.  “What do you mean?”

“Well,” Cari hesitated, “you’ve been feeling kind of sick lately, haven’t you?  I worry about you sometimes.”

“Oh that!” Aunt Teri laughed.  “I did go to see the doctor about it.  She said it’s pretty common for women in my condition.  It’ll pass.”

“What do you mean, ‘your condition?'” said Cari.  Her aunt merely raised an eyebrow at her.  “You mean you’re –”

“Two months along,” said Aunt Teri.  “You’re going to have a new cousin!”

“A new cousin?”

“Absolutely.  And I’ll want my favorite niece by my side the whole way through!”

“SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEE!”

The End

Go to Part IV


A note about the illustrations: The pictures of Cari and the other characters are screenshots taken while playing The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.  The shots were then manipulated using Paint.net, and occasionally grafted into photos from my personal collection. The following user mods were used for this story:

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