High Rock: Motherhood.
I woke up pretty sore but I couldn’t complain. Not when there were guards and soldiers missing limbs and a couple that had lost their mind.
Many people came in and out during the morning to pray to the various Divine. Some did loudly as they asked the eternal question, “Why my son/wife/daughter/husband etc.” The Divine will not answer as they do not control our free will and therefore pure luck. Somebody who made a dash for the temple five seconds earlier made it. The person following got killed by a monster that just appeared out of the ether at exactly the wrong time. Stories like that are always in abundance after a battle or catastrophe.
Serana and I spent some time doing more healing but I needed to get out. Be active. I knew the canker Lady Mara wants lanced was still growing.
I decided I might get an idea of the state of the kingdom from Advisor Kegor. So we left the temple at around 6:30AM and via a portal we were in Evermore and banging on Kegor’s door at about 7:00AM.
He was surprised to see it was us but promptly invited me inside.
“Your Majesty, to say I never thought I would have the leader of the Empire in my humble abode is a gross understatement.”
“I have decided to check on the health of the kingdom. First thing is the Orsimer. The rebels are well equipped and their targets do not seem to be logical for conquest. It seems they wish to undermine the Imperial Army. At first I thought they were driven by religious fervour like the Witchmen. Now I think they are like the Redguard pirates and simply taking advantage of the chaos knowing resources are stretched. I have a suspicion who is directing and supplying them. I would like your opinion on the matter.”
“First, if you would please indulge me your Majesty, I need to understand something. As an advisor to my king I make it a point to learn what I can about the leaders of other provinces and countries. So of course when you and High Queen Rigmor claimed the Ruby Throne I read all I could about the both of you. Dragons, Daedric Princes, huge armies and battles and so on were hard to believe. The one thing myself and most citizens of this kingdom refused to believe were reports of how you both fought on the front-lines and put yourselves in danger continuously. How you do things like personally sponsor orphanages and go out of your way to help individual citizens of no discernible rank. That is not what we believe nobility is or does.”
“This is the first time we are really having a conversation. Yesterday, or was it the day before, we exchanged a few brief and very officious words. Yet you feel comfortable enough to ask me things the nobles of this kingdom might take offence at and even threaten you over. Why is that?”
“When waiting outside with your guards, The Sentinel, they were obviously very proficient and observant of all around them. Yet their banter was centred around what Wulf would say to my liege and whether or not you would let you Dovah lose. Several thought you would use the Thu’um in anger. They all seemed to think my king was not real nobility and that you would humble him in his own throne room.”
“I have told them that diplomacy is needed by them as well. They also represent the Ruby Throne. But I think they were testing the waters a bit. Keep going. You can speak freely.”
“That is when I instantly understood the far-fetched stories to be true. I did not feel anger at their disrespect for my king because in comparison to you and High Queen Rigmor he is nobody. He has done zero for his people. He is not noble. You are and that is why I know I can talk freely and without fear.”
“But you are a good man and will remain loyal to him as you should. I have no doubt you have sworn to serve him and that oath is binding to a man of integrity. How was he after I left?”
“He had a few choice words about you but I could tell it was false bravado. Nothing treasonous I assure you. But he was scared. If anything he reminded me of a child caught in a lie. I doubt he has ever had anybody give him a dressing down in his life.”
“I would love to give you a lengthy lecture on what nobility should be but you have seen it in action over the last week and read about it. So believe me, this is the abbreviated version. Slowly the provinces and countries of Nirn are being led by real nobility and those like your king replaced. Sometimes by war, sometimes by a successor who believes the same things my wife and I do. To be noble means the welfare of your citizens is paramount. All effort should be made so they can enjoy the simplest of pleasures. Khajiit, Argonian, Orsimer, Manmer, Mer and Men, in fact all sentient mortals not corrupted want safety, family, friends and a fair wage. Ensuring citizens achieve all of those simple things is the duty of their leaders. To guarantee this happens leaders must be willing to fight for them against mortal and immortal threats.”
“Governor Merosa complained that you accused her and the other nobles of being murderers.”
“They are and they will be held accountable. They are part of The Empire and subject to its laws. They also profess to be followers of The Divines. The massacre of twenty years ago was illegal and I see very little but lip service to the Commands of The Divines. I blame them for the evil that now manifests itself in this kingdom. Their form of leadership is a breeding ground for frustration and fear. Rebellion is the only option and if a Daedric Prince makes promises to help then abandoning The Divines seems a lesser evil than continuing to accept tyranny. This kingdom has already lost two leaders to the inevitable violence that comes with accepting advice from those masters of manipulation and chaos. The Ayleid and Direnni Hegemon both collapsed because they gave up their Gods for the promises of the Dark Lords. There are lessons in history that the privileged ignore at their own peril.”
“Do you support the rebels then?”
“I understand why they rebel. I understand why they turn to the Daedric Princes. You have read about my wife and me. You know we try and minimise bloodshed. Even if I think the rebels are just I will stand between the warring parties and demand a truce and bring down the wrath of The Divines on those who do not listen. There are over 40,000 Imperial Soldiers I can call on. If I did not care about casualties I could destroy every noble and their troops in this kingdom in days. I could enforce the laws and bring in new leaders and walk away knowing no more problems will ever come from Evermore. My father did that and made an Empire that enjoyed relative peace for far longer than any since. I am hesitant to mimic his tactics but I will if it means the survival of mortals on Nirn.”
“So that is true as well?”
“My parents were Saint Alessia and Tiber Septim. That is true and without question. But I am mortal. I can die if I make a mistake. In fact I already have on two occasions. But the Gods need me, not just The Divines but some Daedric Princes as well, so they gave me the chance to escape The Void and return to Nirn. My love for my Queen gave me the strength to return.”
“I am sorry Majesty. My questions delay you.”
“You have nothing to be sorry for. You are doing what a good advisor does. You have gained knowledge that may help your king. Let us hope he listens.”
“I explained to my king that I believe there is an unknown party sponsoring and directing ‘Orsinium’s Sons’. Our scouts reported they are running low on food and gear again over at the old Direnni ruins of Umbasir.”
“How long ago was that report? Did they mention that every single Orc rebel camped at Umbasir is dead?”
“No, it was a full camp when the report came in.”
“We were investigating the ruins as a favour to your Arch Bishop. The rebels got in our way.”
Kegor shook his head in disbelief.
“We do not have enough seasoned troops to remove them and this handful of people did?”
“In the fight for the Ruby Throne we were outnumbered by more than six to one. Imperial troops are by far the best in The Empire and probably Nirn. They demonstrated that yesterday defending citizens against the horrors from Oblivion. The Sentinel are the best of the best and most trusted. The rebels were totally outclassed. This handful of people traversed Oblivion yesterday.”
“I have read the reports of your success against the Redguard pirates and the Orc stronghold. I thought you were many more in number.”
“If Umbasir is important as a launching point they would have quickly replaced the troops.”
“True, so perhaps now is an ideal time to spy upon them. They would desperately need food and gear even more. You might not need to wait long before the third party shows up.”
“I can be as close as you are and they would not know I was there. We will go and do a bit of spying. Now what about the Redguards? Jackos most likely perished in Oblivion yesterday. I hold very little hope of him finding a way out of there. He did mention a few days ago that there is more we can do to prevent other Redguard pirates from raiding along the rivers.”
“He will be a great loss to Evermore even though most knew he was rebellious in nature and actions. My king was rather fond of him for some reason. The Redguards have scouting posts along the river that serve to guide any Corsair ship sailing our way. We would have dealt with them ourselves if it wasn’t for the hazards such confines bring.”
“Mark them on my map. How many are there?”
As Kegor wrote on my map he said, “These are the three last known locations of those posts.”
“We shall destroy any equipment used for ship guidance and eliminate all hostile. The knowledge that Evermore is capable of finding and destroying such outposts should convince them there is no longer easy plunder.”
“We will be even further in your debt Majesty.”
“I don’t think these two tasks alone will take much of the day. I would like to visit some outposts if there is also a task we could do for you at the same time.”
“King Sigmayne has dispensed funding for a number of renovations throughout the realm. We need reports from three of those renovations but have been losing scouts trying to get them. I will mark them on your map.”
“So I assume the spending is happening now because we have killed much of the enemy in those areas?”
“Yes, if we had spent the money earlier it would have been wasted as looting would have occurred.”
“I hope your king realises this is the work of the Empire and not some random group of mercenaries. Imperial troops accepted the bulk of the fighting and dying against the Oblivion creatures as well.”
“Yes, he knows. Also we have a lot of coin coming in from the provincial Merchants. No need to hoard such wealth when half the land is in ruin.”
“The merchants seem to have way too much influence on the politics of this realm.”
“Yes, it seems their whims are the Kings whims. No greater arbiter than those who control gold.”
“The mistake is allowing too small a number to monopolise the trade. Make it worthwhile for smaller traders and reasonable taxes and more money comes in with less political interference.”
“These merchants have grand plans, worrying plans. Especially those pertinent to New Orsinium and the trade route it borders.”
“If they are planning an attack on the Orcs they are talking treason. I will gladly lead my troops and cut them down.”
“We are still not sure where the Orcs have holed themselves. There is many an enclave that’s been mistaken for their capital. Yet we know the Orc’s aren’t content with scant dwellings. What we are sure of is that they’re close to the Imperial road, leading out from the Divide through the valleys to Cyrodiil. It is a major trade route.”
“So the Orsimer who want nothing to do with the rebels flee High Rock into Cyrodiil. They are normal, hard working citizens of The Empire and no more likely to be aggressive than a Breton. But racism says they must be eliminated. How much have you been involved in this? Let me make it clear, if your king has ordered you to help with planning such an attack you are not guilty of a crime. But he certainly is.”
“My oath to him does not preclude giving my Emperor requested information. I have been sought for advice. Tactical aid and so on. And the plans drawn for the ‘Orc problem’ are terrifying. From what I have seen, this could be the final epoch of the Orsinium race. It is only a matter of time until those enclaves in Skyrim are under threat. Eventually there won’t be one place the Orcs can call their own.”
“You are so wrong! The Orcs in Skyrim have never been and never will be threatened. They are left alone and have come to Skyrim’s defence when needed. They are selective who they let into their compounds only because their way of life and religion can seem strange to the ignorant. Once this kingdom has settled a bit I will offer the Orcs an expanded Orsinium and independence as long as they remain part of The Empire. They will have Imperial troops for protection and any act by High Rock against them will be a declaration of war. Under their own leadership and own economy they will thrive and Bosmer will be envious. Tell your Orc hating friends this. Let them try and stop it happening and once again I will gladly lead an army to wipe them out.”
“There are always Orcs who want to fight!”
“No, there are always oppressed Orcs who want to fight. No oppression and no aggression. Give me the names of the merchant representatives at these meetings. I will then decide what if anything I will do about this.”
“Is this not confidential and protected?”
“No, it is treason and you can hand over the information voluntarily or I get The Sentinel to march into the palace and search for it.”
Kegor wrote down three names. One of them was Toel. Like almost everybody else in this damned kingdom he is a pretend follower of Mara.
“I know this has put you in a difficult position but I do not apologise. I have been fighting evil almost every day for nearly four years and cannot just ignore it when it is blatantly shoved in my face.”
“I understand Majesty.”
“Here is some information for you to absorb. Children have been sent here by trusting families and never seen again. Enquiries as to their whereabouts and why the parents can’t at least write to them are met with derision and challenges such as, ‘Do you think the priests or nobility are guilty of harming them?’
I found out where a lot of those children went. Into the belly of the Gryphon that flies around this kingdom with impunity. The piles of bones were taller than I.
I have seen forlorn ghosts of children in this city. Such spirits only stay where they met untimely and violent deaths. They will not move on till avenged.
I will find who is harming the children and punishment will be swift no matter social rank or nobility.”
Kegor looked shocked and pale.
“We will go do these tasks now. Remember Kegor, you are a good man so be careful you do not put your head in a noose that rightfully belongs to another.”
He did a quick bow and we exited and headed for the portal.
Serana asked, “Toel was on that list wasn’t he?”
“Yes and he played me for a fool. A few years in a dark cell might teach him about racial tolerance.”
When we got near Umbasir I asked the others to stay back while I cast invisibility and went spying.
The luck that had deserted me yesterday returned today. I was not surprised the Thalmor were involved as I suspected that very early on. Here is the conversation I witnessed;
- Justiciar Silinthar: I see you haven’t cleared the dead yet. Left by your Emperor and his friends I do believe.
- Urk-Magzor: From what I hear you maggots are scared he will leave such carnage all over Alinor. I am sure he would have lots of Orsimer volunteers if he asked.
- Justiciar Silinthar: I hope this was not too much of a setback and you are still keeping to our schedule? It’ll be a shame for your kind to lose their momentum now.
- Urk-Magzor: Look Silinthar, just give us the gear and we will do the rest. You don’t like speaking to us and we sure don’t like speaking to you.
- Justiciar Silinthar: It is Justiciar Silinthar and it is a mutual sentiment I assure you. One more thing, have you spoken to your friends at that outpost?
- Urk-Magzor: The Imperial one? Nah, the big chief over there hasn’t sent someone over in a while. Not since the Emperor took up residence. Hey, didn’t that other Justiciar get arrested for fucking horses or some small furry animal?
- Justiciar Silinthar: As usual, your kind behaves like your goblin cohorts in the first week of an organised occupation. You will send for that Imperial war-chief and speak.
- Urk-Magzor: Listen dickless, just hurry up and bring those supplies. As I said, we’ll do what you lot want and you pay us. Simple.
- Justiciar Silinthar: If only it were that simple with your kind. The gear will be here by tomorrow, and remember, leave one witness from Dunlain alive. Preferably still able to speak.
- Urk-Magzor: Hah, don’t you worry. We’ve sharpened some brand new pikes just for ‘em. We got a bet for how high we can leave ‘em hanging before they slide down. The lucky survivor will wet their pants I bet.
- Justiciar Silinthar: Such a morbid race, anyway, we’ll speak again after the contract is done.
I returned to my team and told them what I overheard. I left the bit about the Imperial war-chief out. The man has proven his worth and I will have to mull over what to do.
We decided to tackle the Redguard posts next.
The first one was simple jetty with only three Redguard pirates manning it. Within a minute they were dead and the apparatus destroyed.
The second one was behind a palisade.
We had developed a favourite tactic. If the enemy attacked in numbers I would use Cyclone Shout. The enemies would fly through the air screaming and The Sentinel would pepper them with arrows and maybe a fireball or two from Serana.
The enemy died and the apparatus was destroyed.
Third and last was a small jetty.
With the Redguard posts taken care of we headed to Deepcrag to get the report for Kegor.
The Captain in charge of the raid we participated was in charge of the repairs.
He gave a perfect salute when we entered.
“At ease please Captain. I am just doing the rounds of some of the rebuilding King Sigmayne is paying for and collecting reports for Advisor Kegor.”
“Seeing where his priorities are Majesty?”
“Good guess Captain. The places I am visiting seem to have one thing in common. Income generation using prisoners or slaves, I mean serfs.”
“Slaves in some places Majesty. Previous Emperors have turned a blind eye to reports tendered by Imperial officers on such practices. You and High Queen Rigmor will not and Kegor is a good man and knows this. His king would not approve of your snooping.”
“Yes, that is why I went to Kegor and not him. You seem to have quite a good number of men here Captain. Are they engineers and labourers or trained combat soldiers?”
“Trained soldiers Majesty but a bit rusty as you saw when we took this place back.”
“Do you know Dunlain? Could you hide a good sized force nearby for several days?”
“Not quite hide but we could certainly look like a reasonably sized work party with our weapons and armour hidden.”
“The Orc rebels will attack there within the week and most likely in a day or two. If I take your report back to Kegor today they will not ask for another for some time which will prevent any awkward questions from King Sigmayne. Not that he has any say on Imperial troop movements.”
“The troops at the Embassy took a battering yesterday. Is that why you wish us to do this instead?”
I laughed and said, “Let me be a High Rock noble for a second. ‘Soldier, you are paid to do and not ask. Such an impertinent question deserves a severe smack to your bottom. Lucky for you this lord is in a good mood and therefore you benefit from my leniency.’”
The Captain laughed and so did The Sentinel who could hear the conversation.
“Truth is there are several reasons but that is the main one. Please do your best to not raise suspicion with the Orc scouts that will undoubtedly have a good close look at you. Such is the arrogance of these rebels they would not regard piggy labourers a threat to their planned massacre. They plan to torture and kill every resident but one.”
“Dunlain would not be a strategic target if the conquering of this kingdom was their aim.”
“True, but it is good for undermining both the King’s and Empire’s abilities to protect the citizens.”
“That sounds a bit more sophisticated in purpose than these rebels have shown over the years.”
“Correct again. I will leave it up to you to surmise who is the puppeteer.”
“Here is the report Majesty. Very neat and tidy and it proudly displays the best bureaucracy training on Nirn. If you can’t win with the sword, dazzle them with facts and figures.”
“We could just bury our enemies in the wasted parchment and set it alight!”
“That is an unfortunate truth! Can I please ask a favour Majesty?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Do you remember the woman we rescued here? The one forced upon by the Orcs?”
“Denize. Yes I remember. She had not harmed herself I hope?”
“She has vanished leaving little trace for where she went. She was being tended to by the field nurse and slipped out during the night.”
“Do you have any idea where she went?”
“My first suspicion is that of her unborn child, she repressed the trauma from her capture, but I could see the despair simmering beneath her strained smile. The nurse told me of Denize’s fascination with this local myth, a witch who was known to perform dark rituals and the like. So my fear is that Denize has fled into the wilds in search of that witch, probably in an attempt to deprive herself of that child. Such actions betray a shattered mind.”
“Virtually every village or town has a seller of herbal concoctions that cause miscarriage. Searching for this witch is certainly a sign of unclear thinking. You know me well Captain. Of course I will try and find her.”
“When I found out you were the man was who risked his life to save those captives I was not surprised. Many a Breton has expressed disbelief that any level of nobility would care enough to do so.”
“Their nobles would risk a thousand soldiers if there was a chance of a septim profit. What can you tell me about this witch?”
“Having spent many days with nary a peep in The Reach, I’ve divulged in some research to best prepare against the more dangerous folk in this realm. Of prominence are the witches, who are known to steer the Witchmen to greater ends, creating archaic military structures which see themselves as lieutenants.”
“I had encountered many Briar Hearts over the years but some of the current ones are of a magnitude never seen before. The Matriarch Hagraven are also something new and appear to be far more powerful than the normal ones. The Reachmen witches are casting spells of higher magnitude than I have seen in the Forlorn.”
“Yes, the Matriarchs appear to function as generals, whether through birthright or practical utility.”
“There is nothing inherited in Forlorn or Witchmen. Hagraven give their souls to their Daedric Lords in exchange for their powers. Mostly Namira followers but many are Hircine devotees. Briar Hearts give up their soul and allow their transformation via the dark magics of the Hagraven. Reachmen witches study the old magics not taught in the College of Winterhold or known by The Synod, College of Whispers or even the Psijic. Hierarchy is earned and therefore respected far more than even within the Imperial Legions.”
“You would have seen that their offensive magic is mainly ice sorcery. More often we see sinister invocations that smack of ancient arts. The ‘old magics’ as you call them.”
“Much magicka has been lost. That of the Ayleid, the Snow Elves, the Dwemer, the Direnni and Minotaur is mostly lost to the ages. Attempts to unravel the mysteries of these ancient arts often result in death or worse. What about the witch Denize is searching for? I assume she is one that has not sided with the Witchmen.”
“Her name is Zenalata but that may just be a current alias. It is impossible to tell how long some of them have been practising their dark arts. She may have had many names over time. She seldom travels from her lair and is known to make trespassers vanish if they stray too close. However some are granted the ‘privilege’ of her presence. For whatever reason, we’re not sure. I wouldn’t be surprised if such ‘fortunate’ agents are being weaved into a grander plot by the witch. If there is ever a being you shouldn’t trust, it’s a witch.”
“Many of the horror stories are welcome propaganda that witches nurture as they value their solitude. They are true to their word but you must understand fully what was agreed to in any bargain. Think of them as expert hagglers who manage to get the best of most deals. I doubt she has any great plans. Most are mercenary in nature. Whatever can be done by their arts for payment is acceptable and there is no moral dilemma or hidden agenda.”
“Just be careful within her domain. Don’t make the mistake of so many others in underestimating her. Enticing words and promises of power have many fall to her schemes.”
“Captain, I appreciate the warning but remember who I am and who I have dealt with. I have outwitted Daedric Princes who underestimated me. Have no fear she can make me forget my purpose as Champion of The Divine or Emperor. Plus I have Serana with me. Taught by that master of manipulation, Molag Bal. A better advisor during negotiations I could not hope for.”
Serana piped up, “His Majesty finds some perverted enjoyment in shocking people with inconsequential facts about me. So let me spoil it for him. I am older than The Empire, used to be a Daughter of Coldharbour, am Vampiric Royalty and used to be a Vampire Lord. My family are the most powerful vampires that exist. I am no longer a vampire and wish to be a Priestess of Mara once Wulf stops looking for trouble and I no longer have to protect his noble arse.”
“You didn’t spoil it for me. The Captain is still looking like somebody hit him with a wooden mallet.”
I handed him my map and he marked where Zenalata lived.
He was still staring at Serana as we left his office and headed out to find the missing Denize.
Ulkarin said, “You got to hand it to the men who built these forts, they’ve really stood the test of time, ‘specially since they look like they were made with shit and shingles.”
It was about 9:30PM when we arrived at Zenalata’s lair. The entrance was well lit which is a universal sign of welcome. Still, both Serana and I carefully scanned for dweomer and we climbed the ramp to where she lived.
We found Denize sitting in a chair staring into nothing.
“Hello Denize. We rescued you from the outpost but were dressed and bit differently. We have come because we are worried about what you are doing.”
“So you were not as you seemed. Forgive me if I show no graces Majesty. Please do not make me dwell on that memory. Ughhh… I can’t go back, it makes me sick what happened there. I need to get rid of this spawn inside of me.”
“We wish to help and that is all. Not to lecture or judgement.”
“If you really want to do that then aid Zenalata. She is the one who will bereave me of this omen that was thrust upon me.”
“There are many women in towns and villages that provide potions to cause miscarriage. Why risk death or injury travelling these wild lands to see this witch instead?”
“Could I be more hurt than I already am? Death would be a welcome release. I came here with the notion of my demise at the back of my mind and it was comforting. Peace either way, through her getting rid of my child or me passing on. I just hope now, since I’ve made it this far, that it is the former.”
“I shall speak to the Witch as you asked.”
I approached Zenalata and could sense she was a creature of age and power.
“I am honoured to meet one so knowledgeable of the old arts Zenalata.”
“I suppose I am the first who is not trying to kill you.”
“Yes, there is that aspect. Why are you helping Denize?”
“I desire to be a mother; animus that has willed me into helping this woman supplant her progeny unto me, so that I may be imputed with dynasty.”
“You cannot conceive through other means?”
“No, it is an accepted sacrifice for our art. But now a chance is presented to me and I wish to grasp it.”
“Is it not the most natural of things? The wish to procreate motivates many.”
“Maybe you have not seen but you’re in a tale of mothers. Mothers are weaving stories in every stride you take. Who knows what they may have laying down your strand.”
“I have seen this fact and am living it. My wife is expecting and the child is one of prophecy. Countless lives manipulated by Gods to make sure she is born to particular parents. Blood of immortals and nobility combined to create one of unique powers. Yet she is loved by her parents at this early age and will be just another little girl to be spoiled when born. I was sent to this land by our God of motherhood.”
“With my own child I will have another destiny to write from my own. A fate that will leave red the world in its spill.”
“Were you a part of the Forlorn or Witchmen?”
“An age has passed since my time with those naïve Witchmen dreamers. They let the wind carry them along with nary a care. Such was there downfall. When our cousins, donned in red and black, had fallen from the mountains and cleaved their way through our peoples. Shedding oceans of blood in their wake. Now the meat of our peoples have wrought an eight legged augur, that’s moulding them into the self-eating man-demons that plague the land.”
“You were here at the time of the mighty Red Eagle? Was he not the first to forge an alliance with the Hagraven? Was not Hircine your God? Now they follow Namira and she uses them for her foul plans and will be discarded if they came to fruition. We won a major battle in a war against her just yesterday but she is cunning and I know more had to be done.”
“You are a warrior for Gods that can find no common ground with those we follow. It is a futile war that simply leaves us mortals it victims.”
“Were you at Munstor?”
“I had made consort with the feathered-women of yore, engaging in song, synchronised to sooth the land. A frozen waste birthed a fecund beginning.”
“So the people had not even taken land of use to the Bretons. Made possibly more wealth via trade if let be. Their stupidity is only surpassed by their evil and greed. Most of all they were scared of what your people offered the downtrodden of theirs.”
“All the best efforts laid to waste by men from stone walls, civilisation had come to bring us to heel. The hegemony that seeks to oust all competitors.”
“That was not civilisation. That was barbarism birthed by fear not of your people but their own. The fake nobility scared of citizens who knew their worth and would demand it if given a taste. The Forlorn had impressed with their ability to accept our ways if left to practice theirs but they fell to the ambitions of a despot called Ulfric. One of my predecessors and the High King of Cyrodiil planned to grant them the land they had captured. The Reach would be a far different place if that had been allowed to happen. Munstor would not have occurred and the Witchmen subservience to Namira never a possibility.”
“Yet you killed the king of the Forlorn?”
“They had turned to terrorising and murdering those I am sworn to serve via my blessing of Lord Akatosh. I will defend the innocent and defenceless mortals who have no ambition other than a simple life. Their actions directed by him led not to any possibility of conciliation but only perpetual mistrust and violence. Why have you not joined these new Witchmen?”
“They have honed their methods in combating your kind, I have honed my own. Where they are bold and terrifying, I find the opposite to be more alluring. Serving a more palatable meal. Subversion through hope, love and desire can render the wealthiest a beggar, all through their own doing.”
“You fall into the same trap that causes much grief and sorrow. I must be the same as the Manmer because I live behind walls and wear other than bones and furs. I have spent much time teaching and preaching that each sentient being should be judged on actions and intentions, not on generalisations. Thus I have Dov comrades and friends who worship differing Gods than I. I have close friends and trusted allies of all races. I am not like these Bosmer and they are not like others of their kind. Your experience of the world is limited and your views biased.”
“That is true but here is where I choose to live and what surrounds me is what I need to protect against and combat if I wish to preserve my culture.”
“You spoke of dancing to invoke the ancient magic. What can you do with such dance?”
“I divulge in the dance that melds one world to another. Through these dances, our bodies had flesh transposed with magics summoned from a raging stream of arcane noise that spills forth from every orifice and every end of the form. You manifest desire and become a beacon of dreams, not only your own but those of a thousand shrieking souls seeking your body as an outlet.”
“You somehow touch The Void?”
“Pragmatic are the civilised. If you want a change of destiny bring me flesh. That would serve some utility to those who just want results yes? The skin of those you wish to mimic and I’ll graft it onto your shape. A new identity will be birthed.”
“Visually Witch. I know if you maintain your soul you maintain your memories no matter the flesh it inhabits.”
“What you say is true. The mind is not the same as clay, so may find itself anchored to the past despite best intentions. Some people ask to have memories removed but it is a fraught exercise. The body opens rooms of the mind where they were once locked. The first doors to loosen are pleasure and pain thereby alleviating or exaggerating the carnal.”
“So somebody who was chaste may find themselves a slave to sexual desire? The receiving of pain somehow mixed in. Sounds like those who undertake this become perversions of their old selves. Especially if they suddenly have a body visually attractive to those they desire. This must be a danger when combined with retained memories of past experiences.”
“Yes, your deeper self? How you move, how you react, your trauma, your pleasures from the past. These will stay.”
“I suppose there are many varied reasons an individual would undertake this. But the basis is murder is it not. To obtain the flesh needed somebody must die.”
“I find humour in the desperation of the civilised to escape their fate since one would think such a privileged lifestyle should beg docility and contentment with your luxuries. The deluge of souls who come for my services show this is not the case. One such recent arrival was a demon of translucent red, smacked of all the despairs of your society. His every fibre rebelled against the rigid hierarchy of your world and sought escape. Throwing vestiges of most regal flesh at my feet, I went to work. Sowing and tearing where I needed, this man willed himself into a prince, and I helped him on his path. Now the winds grow fierce and the storm clouds gather, Munstor will taste vengeance in its waning.”
This creature does not realise she has put myself, Rigmor and Kintyra in danger. I am here to help Belize and do not wish to antagonise her.
“We are here to aid Belize. What do you need for this ritual?”
“Deathbell to soothe the pulse, Nirnroot to sear the soul and ectoplasm to deprive that poor child of the flesh and have it ethereal. With these the seed can be carried from its mother’s soil, without too much anguish for either.”
“I assume there are reasons you do have these things already. Since we have offered our help we shall fetch them.”
We moved slightly away and I signalled to Serana. She approached and I whispered in her ear, “You know as well as I what this concoction will do. It will kill Denize.”
I gave a hand signal and The Sentinel prepared for confrontation.
I walked up to Denize and said, “We need to get you out of here. The witch intends to poison you.”
“What? How? She has been nothing but good to me since I got here, why hasn’t she killed me already?”
“I am a Master Alchemist and so is one of my companions. She wishes to transfer your child to her womb. She will bring it up as her own but for what perverted purpose I do not know. Its soul will be at her mercy. Did she tell you the ingredients she needs? That Deathbell is one of them?”
“You are my Emperor but so unlike the nobility of my homeland. I believe you and not long ago I may have welcomed death. But I can’t abandon my child to her. Please, I just want to get rid of this child and live a normal life, I don’t want to die. If I give birth to it I know I’ll lack the conviction to do anything after.”
“This is a familiar story to me and history. It matters not how a child is conceived or if mixed race. Mothers are often abandoned for outdated values. Do you have family that can take care of you?”
“Yes, a very large one. My parents had a lot of girls, too many for my father. It must have burned through his heart knowing he never had a son. He loathed every minute of our presence; he called it a curse that his name would never continue.”
“You can hyphenate names at marriage. You can keep your name under the rules of marriage as taught by Mother Mara. You could have child out of wedlock and that would be even worse to a man as shallow as that. The child can change its name after reaching adulthood if it wished. Emperors, Kings, Queens and other nobility often take a name not of their father. It is not an issue that should stop a fair man loving his children. I am sorry you had a father such as him. I apologise if you feel anything for this man. Sometimes I find such injustice bypasses my tact. Do you keep in contact with your parents?”
“Mother had fallen dreadfully ill upon her 12th child, never saw it through and my sister came too early. Mother’s body couldn’t bear it. My father regressed further into himself, lamenting the fact his family’s name was dead, and made sure to remind us that we were the cause. When he married us off, it was both the best thing I could think of and the worse. Being outside, in new places and forming new relationships were all things denied when I was with him. He had to make sure I was chaste before the wedding, lest I disappoint my suitor.”
“What a shallow man! Has he not found another breeder he can inflict his repugnant need for a male heir upon? I need not ask what his response to your child would be. I have heard such tales before and my anger seethes. He is probably a racist to boot with an irrational hatred for Orsimer. What about your sisters. Would they help?”
“We haven’t spoken nor have I had any intention to do so. Only two of them arrived at my wedding and hurried themselves off when the ceremony was over. Staying only to smuggle ale from the festivities and to chug it all in whatever sty they were holed in. We did not get along much regardless; most of my sisters were in the presence of whores. They slept most nights in the brothels instead of home. The most beautiful of us had married off into some family of some cousin of some noble. The most unfortunate of us was murdered by a wretch in those very whorehouses I sought never to find myself in.”
“No doubt your husband is not an option.”
“The marriage was short lived. My husband had been sent as a tailor for military camps around Evermore, finally staying our feet in Deepcrag. You know how that story ended. Never knew marriage could be so loveless, not even a flicker of passion between us, such is the fruit of a hastily cobbled arrangement for my father’s coffers. I wish I were a better woman, and could tell you I’m heartbroken knowing of my husband’s death, but I just can’t. The moments I did have with him had waned my dreams.”
“I am so sorry such injustices fell upon you.”
“To think of such misery until my death I may as well have been dead already. A forced marriage and a hollow bond! Maybe all of this is retribution for my coldness towards him? This child is the weight I must carry for my sins.”
Serena walked up and knelt before Denize. She held her hands and gazed into her eyes and said, “You have not sinned but those around you have. The Divines do not punish. The miracle of motherhood is never punishment. It is a blessing and a gift from Mother Mara. My childhood was tragic beyond words and my father as evil a being that ever walked on Nirn. But I have found peace by learning the teachings of Mother Mara and helping women like you and the unwanted and abused children of this sometimes evil but always beautiful world.
You did not want to hand your child over to this witch and I think you would have regretted forever if you terminated it. You are already starting to feel the miraculous bond between mother and child.
It is an innocent and its soul is not darkened by the evil act of its procreation. It deserves to live and have its mother nurture it and teach it the beauty that is all around us.
The best thing for you to do is remove yourself from a society where the child would suffer prejudice. A word from me or your Emperor and you would be accepted into a facility run by the Great Chapel of Mara in Bravil. There expectant mothers are not judged and their children are born into an atmosphere of love and safety. Racism does not exist and all celebrate the miracle of mother and child. We will pay for your safe transport there and the only thing expected is that you look after yourself and give both you and your child the best opportunity to survive then thrive.
I am and many others stand as examples of rising above the shit we found ourselves neck deep in. Sorry for the metaphor but you must agree, that is what your current situation feels like.”
Denize laughed and said, “Yes and if I don’t keep kicking I am going to get a mouthful. You have both showed compassion I have never experienced before. To surround myself and my child with such is something I can’t refuse and I would be a fool not to at least try. You offer me a clean slate and I accept. Please, can we leave this place now?”
Zenalata approached and said, “It is your wish to deprive me of motherhood?”
“Denize now realises the gift Mother Mara has given her. She is a mortal and I am sworn to protect and your plan to poison her shows deceit and your plans for the child undoubtedly one of revenge to those you think wronged your people. It would be an ill use of two innocents.”
“This river has no branches, destinies are now running their course and usurpers like you cannot dare to change them!”
“I do dare and I do change them. Surely your old magic tells you of the power of my Gods and that which runs in me. Look at how that current follows the path set by Lord Akatosh and how I clear away the dams in its way. I have no quarrel with you. Do not make me end you.”
Zenalata attacked and died in seconds. A long life ended when there was no need.
As we took Denize back to Deepcrag I said to Serana, “The witch has put myself, Rigmor and Kintyra in danger.”
“The noble doppelgänger is Ambition isn’t it?”
“Yes and it is a raw emotion without balances or checks. Ambition will drive its ego and wants and no such thing as compassion or mercy will counter its base instincts. That is why it was afraid of Husk as it contains the other emotions that would prevent it fulfilling its ambitions.”
It will never be happy with whatever nobility it starts with. It will do what is needed to sate its primal impulses. It has already shown murder is not an obstacle.
It will work its way to High King of High Rock and then target the Empire with an insatiable desire. Insatiable because it will never be happy with what it has already achieved.”
Serana said, “It will adopt and change personality to whatever is most effective in furthering its climb. Whatever gets it up the ladder faster.”
“Correct. We have met Ambition in its real form and have heard its speech and seen its mannerisms. I think that will allow us to see through its disguise if we meet it. What we do about it I do not know. We will probably have to just let things play out to a certain extent.”
We arrived at Deepcrag and I approached the Captain and said, “We would like to billet here for the night Captain. Nothing fancy needed. It just has to be acceptable to The Sentinel in terms of security.”
“My room is yours Majesty. The room adjacent has beds for your men.”
“Is there a smaller one Serana and Denize can stay in tonight. They have much to discuss.”
“Of course, there is one suitable a floor below. What is the plan?”
“Serana will write a letter of introduction to the Primate of the Great Chapel of Mara in Bravil. The have facilities there for expectant mothers such as Denize. She will be safe in an environment where the Commands of The Divines are actually followed. Something I have found lacking in Evermore.
I will write some orders to ensure she has a safe passage from our Embassy to the doorstep of the Great Chapel. I will need you to assign a decent escort to get her safely to the Embassy. Commander Drugo will take it from there.”
“I thank you sincerely Majesty. You have renewed my faith in The Empire and what it should stand for. Titus Mede II was curtailed by political realities. Sethius was no different than those here. Wealth and prestige seemed to be his only motives.”
“There is far more to the story than that Captain. Read through the official report from Advisor Blackwell. He has summed up the events of the last few years succinctly.”
The Captain saluted and we left for the mess hall where the cooks quickly made a hearty meal even though it was approaching midnight.
I told The Sentinel they will have to do without Serana taking a watch. I wanted her with Denize till we left on the morrow.
I went to the Captains quarters and wrote this journal entry and the orders for Denize’s travels.
I curled up on the not too bad Imperial Army issue bunk.
I know not what time I fell asleep.