'I'm sorry...' Erandur whispered chokingly, wiping his eyes, 'You... You shouldn't have seen this... I don't know what came over me...'
Baldr beamed at him, showing an almost unnatural amount of teeth, 'No worries, my friend; you know you needed a good cry, what with all these awful things haunting your memory! And if you are ashamed, don't be - I have that effect on everyone. Honestly, if I had a pebble for every living being that ends up sobbing on my shoulder, I would be able to make a life-size replica of the Throat of the World, complete with High Hrothgar and all! Humans, mer, beastfolk, men, women, children, dogs, Daedra - they all get extraordinarily weepy in my presence; makes me think that beside being part dragon, I might also be part onion... I wonder how my die-hard Thalmor of a father would react if he found out...'
The priest of Mara looked at his over-zealous, sincerely friendly assistant-Dawnstar-saver with a slow shake of his head and an incredulous smile, 'You know, you are the most extraordinary person I ever met. An Altmer with the appearance and morals of a Nord and the heart of a child...'
Baldr laughed, loudly and heartily, his arms folded on his chest, steel-clad and unusually broad for an elf, and his braided hair dancing over his genially twinkling eyes, 'Why, thank you! But we really should get a move on - much as I like long dialogues, being an aspiring bard, there are artifacts that need to be banished to Oblivion'.
Erandur went up the time-worn stone steps and stood facing the Skull of Corruption, Baldr hovering interestedly behind his back. Nodding briefly to his companion's encouraging, 'Come on, I believe in you!', he took a deep breath and let the magic come alive within him, throbbing warmly in his heart and rushing, like a mountain torrent, through his veins, towards the tips of his cupped fingers.
It was not long before he heard Baldr address someone invisible, apparently seriously angered by what that someone had told him, 'No way! I have trusted him this far and I am going to trust him up to the end!' and then, after a brief pause, 'Yes, I do know him better than you - to you, he was a servant; to me, he is a friend! What, you want a bet or something?'
And before Erandur even had time to shape the realization that had shot across his mind into a coherent thought, the same voice that had to have been speaking to Baldr addressed him, soft, sly, enthralling, like the hiss of a snake; Erandur stopped his rite and listened, his eyes blank and glassy, his chest heaving, perspiration trickling down his temples,
'Look at him. So obstinate in his foolish belief that you will do him no harm, that your true intention indeed is to rid this realm of my Skull... But he is mistaken, isn't he? We both know that. You are a coward and a traitor, always have been, always will be - it is a stygm burned into your past as well as your future. You will turn on your new friend just as you turned on your former brothers and sisters. You will abandon your precious Mara just as you once abandoned me. And the moment you do so, the moment this blind, naive mortal drops dead at your feet - I will accept you back as my faithful... yes, I will, worthless, contemptible, double-crossing worm as you are. And the Skull will be yours, all yours... Isn't that what you are craving for, somewhere in the dark depths of that foul, reeking pit that you call your soul? Come now, fulfill your desire, and you will be mine again... Casimir'.
That last word woke Erandur from his trance; he shuddered all over and, a wild crimson flame of fury flaring up in his eyes, his mouth distorted and twitching, as if in pain, screamed with such passion that Baldr stepped back in alarm, 'DON'T! CALL! ME! CASIMIR!'
Erandur's thundering outburst was followed by a flash of light, so glaringly vivid that it seemed to eat through his eyes and Baldr's like acid - and the Skull dissolved into thin air, sucked back into the nightmarish plane where it had been created.
'Say, she told you to kill me, huh?' Baldr asked, patting Erandur, sheepish and out of breath, on the back, 'Figures. These Daedra Lords have no imagination. I've recently been through the same routine with Molag Bal. Only in that case, the other mortal snapped. So much for the high-and-mighty Vigil of Stendarr...'
He looked like he had a good mind to spin a long yarn about one of his numerous adventures in the wilds of Skyrim, but he cut himself short abruptly, eyes widened, eyebrows raised in childish astonishment.
'Shor's beard, that was odd,' he muttered at length, passing his hand over his forehead, 'This place must really be getting to me'.
'What's the matter?' Erandur asked, taking Baldr's other hand, suddenly limp and clammy, off his shoulder and peering into his face.
The Nord-like Altmer made a nonchalant gesture, 'Oh, it was nothing really! The whole place got blurry for a moment or two and sort of rushed away from me, as if I was falling into a well... But it's gone now. Could be a side-effect of the Torpor or something. I will go and ask Mara for a blessing at the shrine you made, if you don't mind - this usually helps. I catch all sorts of nasty ailments while out there in the great wide open - and asking the Divines for help has never failed me yet'.
This time, it did. As Baldr was rising from his kneeling posture at Mara's altar, prayer completed and blessing received, he gave a small gasp and gripped at the sleeve of Erandur's robe for support.
'By Talos,' he laughed, shaking his head like a wet dog, 'I've never felt so queasy since the infamous Hangover of Markarth'.
'Let me take a proper look at you,' the priest suggested, his tone stern and business-like - their adventure put behind them, he was once again a healer at work.
Baldr, who was already on his way out of the ruined temple, glanced at Erandur over his shoulder and snorted, 'Don't have time for medical examination. Right now I have quite a few pressing items on my agenda that I have been putting off for too long as it is. A friendly neighbourhood Dragonborn, such as myself, can't afford to just hang about being healed. I will get over it, eventually. Always have'.
'Let me at least accompany you to wherever you are heading,' Erandur pleaded, sounding sincerely concerned, 'You might need help on your travels now that you are feeling... out of sorts. It's the least I can do for you in return for your trust in me - the trust that gave me strength to face Vaermina...'
Baldr smiled, 'I won't have you fuss over me like a wet-nurse; but I always welcome good company'.