The sea was ablaze with sunlight. The birds were circling over the docks, with shrill, hungry cries. The bell was tolling monotonously. The sailors were calling out to each other, hauling large sacks on board a cargo ship. Another busy afternoon in Solitude.
They walked down the wooden steps to the pier one after the other - Baldr, festively solemn and desperately struggling with weepiness, Ondolemar, cloaked in a hooded back mage's robe and icy silence, Aventus, cheerful and excited by the new experience of seeing someone off, and Lydia, calm, obliging and helpful as always, though with noticeable pink rims round her eyes - the whole household, except for Aela, who had been unable to come because of being assigned to clear out an allegedly haunted barrow, though Baldr strongly suspected that this was just an excuse, as she made no secret of disliking her brother-in-law, who returned her feelings tenfold, despite all of Baldr's attempts to make peace between the two of them.
'Uncle Lemmie, Uncle Lemmie, will you write to us?' Aventus sang, hopping down two steps at a time.
'I suppose,' Ondolemar replied curtly, through gritted teeth; he winced in disgust every time the boy addressed him as 'Uncle Lemmie', it being his firm belief that the terrible sin of his brother adopting a human gave the insufferable little brat no right to treat him, Ondolemar, as a relative.
'I want to know all about Summerset Isle!' Aventus went on eagerly, 'Even about the Thalmor! Jarl Ulfric hates the Thalmor, and Jarl Ulfric sent me to Honourhall, so this must mean...'
Ondolemar cut his syllogism short with an irritated 'I won't be writing to you, that much is certain'.
Aventus pouted; Lydia, his caregiver, caught up with him and got hold of his hand, her grip reassuringly firm. Like Baldr, she wished the relationship within the family to be even and peaceful, but that had been rather hard to achieve ever since her Thane turned up on Breezehome's doorstep accompanied by his brother, who openly detested everything about the way they lived their lives - especially after the initial rosiness of having found his presumably long-dead little brother dispelled a little.
At length, they reached the place where the ship bound for Summerset Isle lay at anchor; throughout his convalescence and further stay at Baldr's, he had been doing his utmost to obtain a board passage for home, now that his mission in Skyrim had failed so dismally - and at long last, his desire was fulfilled.
They stood in a semi-circle next to the ship's gangway, all of them, even Aventus, awkwardly silent. Ondolemar folded his arms on his chest, his lips twitching in a ghostly likeness of a smile. It had been the most insane, the most shameful, and, arguably, the happiest time of his life. There had been family dinners, noisy and confused, during which he would learn one appalling detail of his brother's private life after another - like him wearing an amulet of Talos on his person at all times, or his regular habit of performing all sorts of menial tasks, or quests, as he called them, for humans, or him being the one responsible for the disastrous jailbreak at Northwatch Keep, or his wife, as if belonging to the Nord race was not a horror in itself, being a werewolf... There had been journeys to the wilderness which Baldr had insisted upon because they were supposed to be good for Ondolemar's health - during these journeys, they had done a wide variety of stupid, childish, pointless things, including butterfly-chasing, and fishing at the break of dawn, and taking baths in geysers, and sliding down a snowy mountainside on a shield. There had been endless debates between the two brothers, late at night, by the campfire, with the northern lights billowing, silk-like, overhead - debates on faith, and elven supremacy, and the eternal question of good and evil, which would go round and round in a circle till the two would grow weary and agree to disagree. There had been dungeon-delving, and dragon-slaying, and cooking contests, and countless household chores which Baldr miraculously managed to turn into entertainment by singing song after ridiculous song. There had been long evenings of silent gazing at the flames, side by side, when for a brief moment Ondolemar could almost imagine they were boys again. He was still at a loss how he could have allowed all that to be done to him. But no longer - the inebriated daze was over; his head clear, his mind returning to reality, Ondolemar was ready to go back to where he truly belonged.
The ship was about to cast off. Ondolemar allowed Baldr to draw him close to his broad, warm chest, and throw his arm affectionately across his back; when he let go, Ondolemar deigned to give a brief nod to the others and went up the gangway, his whole figure an image of frozen dignity.
'I miss you already!' Baldr called out, waving his hand frantically. Aventus leapt up and down. Lydia turned away to hide tears - if someone inquisitive were to dissect her honest Nord heart, they would find there an unexpectedly strong influence of the Aldmeri Dominion, represented by one particular agent...
Ondolemar watched the outline of Solitude draw further and further away with what he believed to be satisfaction. True, he had been reunited with his precious little brother - but during the years of separation, the gap between them had grown almost too deep to be bridged. A Talos worshipper and Stormcloak sympathizer, consorting with ever so many lowly people... and creatures. Perhaps he would have been better off with that aching wound in his heart, inflicted by the thought that his brother was dead... Ondolemar shook his head. Who was he fooling? That day when a Stormcloak soldier stabbed him in the back, perhaps he did kill a Thalmor Justiciar...
The crew, with a many a curse and look of disbelief, gaped at the black-robed passenger throw himself overboard and swim ashore. The little company on the pier, too, gaped at him approach, their eyes round with astonishment, their hands clapped to their mouths. Baldr helped him climb onto the slippery boards, grinning from ear to ear, 'You have surprised me, Lemmie. Maybe some good will come of you after all'.
'I intend to surprise you further,' said Ondolemar. And just as he was, breathless, dripping with water, he cupped his hands around Lydia's face and gave her a long kiss on the lips. He had been tempted to do it for quite some time. Of course, the idea of being irresistibly attracted to a Nord woman horrified him - but like brother, like brother.