'You certainly took your precious time,' Calcelmo grumbled with a very displeased air, tearing himself away from his heap of manuscripts to greet the returning adventurers, 'I never thought one spider would be so hard to kill'.
'Spider?' Baldr blinked, 'What spider? Oh, that spider... Gods, I forgot all about it! Well, naturally, Ghorbash and I killed it first thing, but then we found the bodies of those poor researchers... And then we got kind of carried away...' He went into an extremely detailed narrative of their exploits in Nchuand-Zel, concluding it some twenty minutes later with a cheerful, 'And here we are, complete with loot and...'
At that moment, the small greyish bundle he had been carrying in his arms, suddenly came alive, wriggling and hissing and grunting; startled, Baldr laxed his grip on it, and the Falmer eeled free and attempted to push its skinny, whithered body away from the sources of unknown, frightening smells and sounds that had surrounded it - with its injured leg dragging behind, limp and lifeless, looking like a gnarled root of some monstrous tree, its good leg bent in the knee, and most pressure put on its arms, as is the manner of Falmer when they slide from shadow into shadow.
Before anyone could stop it, the poor creature upset a small table with an assortment of dwarven weaponry that Aicantar had been cataloguing for his uncle, and let out a long, shrill, spluttering shriek, having cut itself on an ornate, broad-bladed dagger.
'Looks like it's having one of those days,' Ghorbash joked grimly.
Baldr glared at him in disapproval, hurrying to the Falmer's aid, followed closely by the uncomprehending gaze of Calcelmo and his nephew. He knelt at the creature's side and stretched out his hand in a soothing gesture; the Falmer made a loud, animal-like noise of fear and hostility and bit at Baldr's fingers. He jerked his hand back, smiled at the creature, despite knowing that it could not see him, and then, to the utmost astonishment of the onlookers, uttered a short phrase in the incomprehensible, hiss-like tongue the cave skulkers could often be heard using among themselves.
'You... You can speak Falmer?' Aicantar asked, frowning in disbelief; after beholding a sight as rare as a fellow Altmer frolicking about in heavy armour, juggling greatswords and axes and not touching a single spellbook except for healing various injuries after a battle, he had started suspecting that Baldr had to be full of surprises - but this was a bit too much.
The carefree adventurer looked up with toothy grin, 'No. I don't understand a word of it. But I did memorize this little bunch of sounds - I once heard a Falmer use it while he was groping for the tip of my arrow in his kinsman's wound. Must be something friendly and encouraging... Hey, whoa, whoa, watch it! That's my nose!'
While Baldr was talking to Aicantar, the Falmer had taken to feeling Baldr's face with its bony fingers, not missing an inch, breathing in his smell in long gasps - probably wondering how a being so unlike itself - a hated surface-dweller - could have uttered the words it was accustomed to hearing only from its own people. Baldr laughed, steering the Falmer's hand away from his face - for it had felt rather like a spider crawling across his skin - and the creature echoed his laugh; the sound that came out of its fish-like mouth was wheezy, rasping, almost unnatural, but there was no mistake in what it was. Aicantar's eyes widened in awe; Calcelmo fumbled about for a quill and a sheet of parchment, his hands trembling with the anticipation of a major breakthrough in research of all things Falmer; Ghorbash passed his hand over his forehead, muttering a prayer to Malacath. A laughing Falmer - a laughing Falmer! - was something they had always considered as inconceivable as Draugr whiling away the long evenings in a crypt playing ball... And yet, there it was, before their very eyes...
To add up to the general bewilderment, the Falmer repeated what Baldr had said to it, several times, pronouncing each syllable with greatest care, as if trying to show him how it was done; Baldr tried to copy its hissing manner of speaking as best he could; this little exercise went on and on until the Falmer was satisfied. After that, the Falmer apparently decided to go further; Calcelmo and Aicantar gaping at it with baited breath, it pressed its hand against its hollow chest and hissed out a single short word that was part of the phrase it and Baldr had been practicing.
'I get it!' the adventurer exclaimed excitedly, 'It must mean heart... The little thing is trying to teach me how to say heart in its language!'
Eager, agitated - little short of ecstatic, in fact - he grabbed the Falmer by the wrist and pressed its hand against the part of his armour that was supposed to protect his heart.
'Heart!' he said firmly, 'Heart!'
'Heart...' the Falmer hissed back.
'This is weird... This is so weird!' Ghorbash said weakly.
'Verbal contact with a Falmer!' Calcelmo muttered, rubbing his hands together, 'This opens so many possibilities! I wonder... Their contemporary tongue must be a rudiment of the original language of the Snow Elves...'
'Uh, Uncle,' Aicantar coughed unobtrusively, 'Shouldn't we heal the creature and feed it first? Before we go on with linguistic research?'
'Feed her,'Baldr piped in, 'I'm pretty sure it's a she'.
At first, Shaleetha - that, as far as Baldr and the others could make out, was the Falmer's name - spat out the bread and milk she had been given by Aicantar, overturning the bowl and throwing an extremely wild tantrum; but after picking out the crumbs from between her uneven, sharp teeth with the tip of her tongue, she deigned to accept a second helping from Baldr's hands. Judging from her vigorous munching and swallowing, it must have been a real feast compared to the stringy, bitter flesh of a chaurus. The three enthusiastic High elves and rather hesitant Orc spent the rest of the day teaching her the surface world names of those things around the laboratory that had to be familiar to her, such as stones and fungi and water; it was a tedious task, and rather dangerous, too, for out of the four of them Baldr seemed to be the only one Shaleetha trusted; she screeched and flew into a rage whenever someone else touched her. By sunset Shaleetha's injuries, skillfully tended to by Baldr and Aicantar, whose fingers she nearly snapped off, were healed completely, and Ghorbash once again brought up the subject of letting her go.
'But there is so much research to be done!' Calcelmo protested, 'Once it -I mean, she - has sufficient command of our tongue, we can try to learn hers. This will add up splendidly to my collection of lore!'
'And what will you do with her, once your research is over?' Ghorbash snapped back vehemently, 'We have seen now that this wretch has thoughts and feelings - odd, but still! What will her thoughts and feelings be when you are done with her? By then, just throwing her back into Nchuand-Zel will be too late! She will become like a stronghold Orc who's been to the Legion - someone that's neither here nor there, someone belonging to two different worlds and so belonging to neither! Let her go now, before she gets used to our ways! This is not where she is supposed to be... It's unnatural!'
'People said it was unnatural for an Altmer to learn melee combat and smithing and mingle with humans,' Baldr replied calmly.
'That is different!' Ghorbash's voice was now almost a shout, making the intently listening Shaleetha cover in silent terror, 'You are still part of the surface world - try plucking out your eyes and living down there with them!'
Calcelmo pouted, looking rather like a child about to be deprived of a new toy, 'You worry too much, Orc. I am sure everything will go perfect'.
Ghorbash snorted, 'Perfect or not, I will have no part in this! I am going back to the stronghold'.