High Rock, Bruma: Diplomacy and doubts.
I did not hesitate to walk into Oblivion once more.
It was Husk’s little pocket of the Scuttling Void but it felt different.
I stood over his remains and felt great sorrow for him. I never did ask his name. He was not Husk and Ambition. He was a mortal. Great evil inflicted on him turned him away from The Divine and into the hands of greater evil. The witch created his new body knowing that somehow he would aid in her revenge against the kingdom. Maybe she plotted with Namira? I don’t know. I do not know if Namira tore him asunder or experiments where his prison was or it was just a natural evolution of the process the witch had used. Namira was happy to use him and the witch would have been delighted at the outcome. It really does not matter now and is just curiosity.
It is interesting Ambition still had knowledge of the witch. Did Namira steer him to her somehow? Did something cause the memories of her to be automatically provided by Husk over their connection? Another answer not needed but my enquiring mind likes my curiosity sated.
I turned and there was a subtle reminder from Namira at what I had achieved.
She probably made it to represent the destruction of the kingdom. To me it symbolised the destruction of warped ideals. The Gryphon represented the values of the kingdom’s leaders. Its vanity, greed, sense of entitlement and warped enjoyment of children made it King Sigmayne with wings.
There was no handy doorway I could see from the cliff. I headed the other way towards my initial entrance from The Void.
To my surprise Lady Mara’s avatar materialised in front of me. Even this aspect of her should not be able to exist in Oblivion.
“Lady Mara, I am at a loss as to how you are here? Is it not dangerous for you?”
“Fear not for my welfare Child. This pocket is collapsing thus benign entities are allowed passage but for a moment.”
“Then my fear is replaced by curiosity.”
“I have come to provide succour for you. It was not easy for you to traverse the quagmire of want. This interstice rapidly approaches its end however, and with it the return of the dread. We will have to depart soon my Child.”
“Lady Mara, I understand all the circumstances that led to this situation. It is not unique and oft repeated in history. I need to get back and help start the repairs.”
“Child, I wept, every effort to thwart the systems of men and insidious circumstances had fallen short. We tried, and will keep trying to stem the tide of horror. But the hearts of mortal agents are locked in struggle, their soul tandem with fragility. Swathes of individuals seeking to covet their being had given rise to the terrific scenario you have seen. Such chaos has led to extremities in every strand of thought, where the sadist and butcher thrive in dire times. Yes go back and salvage what little hope there is, lest that dark mother has her feast.”
“She has had a whole banquet and you knew I had no choice but to feed her. It is not how I like to resolve things. Do not ask me to do this too often. I cannot.”
I was back in the palace and it looked like the fighting eventually got inside. The ambient heat and smoke told me fires were lit and extinguished not more than a few hours ago.
I hope those I left here got to safety.
I could hear sporadic fighting but nothing like the continuous roar during my last visit. I exited the building through the charred front door.
There was no fighting in the castle courtyard but a lot of smoke. The temple had some damage but not too bad.
Just over the fence I could hear fighting. I could also hear The Sentinel talking to each other.
I exited the courtyard and watched the end of the skirmish.
Imperials and The Sentinel were finishing of a large number of Orcs who had come up from the sewers. I saw Vaeser and called him over.
“In a minute Majesty!” he yelled as he grabbed a bow from a dead Orc.
The last Orc fell and The Sentinel saw me. They came running over with a million questions.
“We will have plenty of time to talk soon after I to talk to Advisor Vaeser.”
He looked worried as he said, “Yes Majesty.”
“I am not going to ask if you knew what depravity was going on as even Kegor didn’t. I think part of the reason is the inability to believe such evil exists. It is so foreign to us.”
“I did not like this type of nobility. I know you hate it. I felt dirty just being close to it.”
“I am going to make General Rikke the Governor. The High King is ill and he will need to figure out the leadership when well. But transition to whoever he picks could take some time so I would say we will be here for at least a couple of years.”
“I get the feeling I will not be recalled then.”
“These people need all the help we can give them. When we chose you as advisor to King Sigmayne it was for the skills you have giving sensible advice and you expressed the same values Queen Rigmor and I have. I am sorry this place was not ideal but now you have the chance to help these people. The military will keep them safe, the mages have fixed the Affliction and little damage was done to farms. Moving these people from serfdom to a normal economy is part of the challenge. Making them feel like they are part of decision making is another. Dealing with those who still feel privileged will be very difficult. Underlying all this are the racial tensions. If you think this is all too much we can reassign you and there will be nothing negative on your record. So I am not ordering you Vaeser, I am asking you. Do you wish to remain here as advisor to Governor Rikke?”
“Even after my short time here I have developed a liking for the citizens. Even under the terrible conditions and suppression you saw they were still generous and caring. I would not feel right running away from the challenge you outlined. I accept the position and will do my best.”
“We will get the palace turned into an Imperial administration building. No opulence or sense of wasted money. That will be our base Vaeser and good luck.”
“Do you know who burnt the place? It was the children with Kegor and their Orc nanny helping. I think it was to help them move forward. I hope they do.”
As Vaeser walked off to talk to some citizens the Legate in charge of the troops in and around the city approached and saluted.
“Your Majesty, I am Legate Ancrellius. Would you like a situation report?”
“Thank you for finding me Legate. I was about to go searching. A situational report would be great but first, what is the date and time?”
“One of The Sentinel, Serana, tried explaining to me how time can run differently in Oblivion. It made me dizzy thinking about it. It is about 9:30AM on Tirdas, 11th Rain’s Hand.”
“So I lost half a day in that short visit. Glad I did not need to stay there longer!”
“The Divide and Raven Spring fared a lot better than this city. The troops were already inside both and neither was the centre of hate.
This city was attacked by Exile, Orc, citizens and Waycrest rebels. The Ustase were entrenched and in large numbers.
Those poor people who had been tasked with hunting and burning Afflicted were insane and stood behind a magical barrier and threatened to attack anybody who tried to use the entrance they guarded. They refused to parley and said they did not care what was happening inside. They had their orders and only King Sigmayne could counter them.
Our troops were pouring in from the border but we heard fighting inside and could not wait for them to arrive. The Ustase were carrying out orders given them by General Lowland and manned the walls and made barricades etc. Do you know that general?”
“One of their nicknames is Lowland Ravers. Their boss was a Dremora Lord who had been hiding in this kingdom since Lord Akatosh defeated Mehrunes Dagon and ended the Oblivion Crises. I assume he was this General Lowland. He is dead.”
“We were wondering how to get inside when approached by representatives of those who live in the caves and sewers under the city. Skooma addicts, beggars, thieves, smugglers and run away serfs were helping the citizens fight the Ustase and offered to show us a way in. The best entrance was guarded by those insane mages so a platoon was guided to a building near it.
They exited the building then used a flare to signal when ready. The bulk of my men approached the entrance. That got the attention of the mad mages. The gate opened behind them and the platoon made a beeline for the lever to drop the magic barrier. Once it dropped we peppered the mages with arrows. They were killed to the last man. Mercy in many ways I think. We then poured into the city.”
“What did the regular guards do?”
“They had been fighting the Ustase and had protected a large percentage of the citizens. Their numbers were dwindling fast as they were greatly outnumbered.
We were quickly wiping out the Ustase who had the defensive positions but were not disciplined or brave.
Although the majority of the subterranean dwellers were determined to help the citizens there were some who could see a profit from helping the enemy. So Witchmen, Orcs, Exiles and later the Waycrest rebels were shown a way in and caused chaos. They were fighting each other as well as my troops. It has taken days to finally wipe them out as they would hide in the underground and just pop up and cause mayhem.”
“Tell me of the Waycrest troops.”
“Waycrest saw all the soldiers had been moved from the border. That was the first time since that brief Evermore/Waycrest war. They had amassed a reasonable army ready to invade when they heard reports marshal law had been declared. They withdrew from the border so as not to appear a threat to General Rikke. Some of their men did not like that. They held a hatred for King Sigmayne and broke away from their army and crossed the border with the intent to kill him. Not many made it into the city.”
“Thank you Legate. Your men have done well. I had better head out and see what the situation is elsewhere.”
“Majesty if I may say. The Sentinel arrived a day ago and they were cheered by the citizens. Their uniform is recognised by all and the stories of their actions a thing of legend already. The handful of skirmishes they have aided with have shown me why. They are like a well-oiled machine.”
“Yes Legate. I have twelve of them and they are the best of the best. That is why I entrust them to protect High Queen Rigmor. I am blessed to count them as friends.”
Legate Ancrellius saluted then walked away. I was soon surrounded by The Sentinel and we headed for the main gate. I wanted to see how Raven Spring and the Divide had fared.
Dusk was waiting for me just outside the main gate.
“There you are silly! I was getting bored out here.”
“Good to see you too but what are you doing here? How did you get here?”
“I ran all the way from the Divide. I needed to ask you something.”
“That was very dangerous Dusk. You could have been killed!”
“I made it through Skyrim and over the mountains remember. I am quick and smart and small. I am very good at hiding. I smell and hear the bad people before they even see me.”
“Okay, it was still very dangerous so it must be important. What is it Dusk?”
“I really like the sound of your orphanages and I have no relatives I like but I have been helping the priests and other people help the injured and scared and sad people and would like to know if it is okay if I stayed in this kingdom and perhaps you could build an orphanage here are well because there are lots of sad children who don’t have nice relatives either.”
I just stood and stared and tears came unbidden.
“Why did you not wait for me at the Divide?”
“It is peaceful there now and soldiers were helping and telling me I was getting in the way and I heard you would be here so I came to ask you. Can I stay and help?”
“Of course you can. It might take a little bit to set up a proper orphanage. Where do you want to stay till one is opened?”
“The Temple at the Divide. Priest Fenrig wants so bad to help the children. When many people told him the stories of the children he cried and cried. He prayed to all the different Gods and kept saying he did not know and asking for forgiveness and I felt sorry for him. After hours of praying he looked at me and came up and kneeled and begged me to believe him and forgive him so he can help fix it all. I hugged him and told him I know bad people and he was not one. I told him how he can use his sleeve to wipe away the tears and snot and he laughed.”
“Why did you wait outside? Where you scared of the fighting?”
“No silly, I was scared of the memories.”
Not far out of the city we encountered the only fighting I saw that day. An imperial patrol had been ambushed by some Orc rebels.
Evermore Guards were assisting the Imperial’s and when we joined in the fight was over quickly.
As we as we walked to Raven Spring I asked Serana, “Tell me about the Affliction cure.”
“The three mages went to have a look at the Direnni Soul Stones as you asked. While doing that they also investigated the Affliction. When they got back to Cyrodiil they contacted the College of Winterhold and a search of the archives was started to see if a cure was known. At the same time the best alchemists and Restoration mages studied the work already done by the priests in Evermore to see if that was a viable start. The three mages asked Rigmor for some ‘orders’ and basically recruited all the librarians and archivists at the Imperial Library to also search for a cure. You will never guess what they found.”
“Probably not because undoubtedly gobblygook is involved so could be anything.”
“They were searching the dusty tomes and scrolls at both places and after a couple of days were starting to conclude that it could take years to find anything if it existed at all. Then a young scribe came up to the three mages with a scroll he found in a pile of already checked and discarded ones. It caught his eye because it was new, not old. It was a detailed alchemical formula with precise instructions. Turns out the priests in Evermore were almost there. The addition of a couple of common herbs was needed but the precise measurements, heat, distilling etcetera was the key to making it work.”
“Nothing really gobblygook so far yet I dread to ask, who was the alchemist who wrote it?”
“It was signed, ‘Allie of Roscrea.’”
“I give up being surprised anymore Serana. I have decided the Gods and all the metaphysical stuff is way beyond my comprehension.”
She laughed and said, “About time. I mean you never really wondered why it had to be the ‘Eye of Boethia’ so there was hope for you yet. Finally the epiphany arrives!”
I stood at the entrance to Raven Spring and there was no noise of battle. I did not really expect there to be but still, it was a relief.
We entered the town and it was apparent the damage remaining would require some heavy lifting and engineers to oversee. The Imperial Army would provide both.
We entered the temple and it was empty except for some injured men, all town Guards.
One of them informed me they were to be evacuated to an Imperial Hospital soon. They were not seriously injured. He also told me the priest was organising some volunteers if I wanted to talk to him.
We found the Priest of the Nine with some Imperial soldiers and civilians.
“Good to see you priest. The town is looking reasonable.”
“We have all been praying for your return Majesty. Thank the Nine you have survived the evil being reported back to us.”
“What is happening here?”
“As you can see most of the work left is heavy stuff and we are not able to do much about that. But the captain over there says some engineers will arrive soon to remove most of it and make sure the buildings don’t fall down. Meantime these people are eager to help more so the captain says he will find work for them to do.”
“We will be turning the palace in Evermore into an administrative centre for the duration of our stay here. We do not know when the High King will be well enough to assign new leaders so that may be a long stay.”
“I think the people are actually feeling safe with the Imperial soldiers being here. Nobody is mourning the loss of our king and other nobility. Not after the stories of their depravity were confirmed.”
“There will be many challenges rebuilding this kingdom. But the people seem robust and I have faith a better society will emerge.”
“If you are going to the Divide can I come with you? There are some fleeing the kingdom that I would like to convince to stay and help.”
“Certainly, I see everything is under control here. Let us go.”
As we walked towards the Divide I asked Serana another question,
“Do you know what is happening with the Witchmen and Orcs?”
“The ones still fighting are by far the minority. You know how it goes. Even after a truce is declared there are some who wish to seek revenge or simply can’t get over their hatred. With the Orcs it is often those who have yet to prove themselves in battle who continue to fight. The general consensus is both are waiting to see what happens. The hated king and nobles have been removed and the Imperial troops have not been aggressive unless attacked first.”
“That is a good start. We will have to gain trust through deeds and not words.”
Just outside of the Divide we encountered Rados.
“Rados, it is good to see you! Building a new smithy here?”
“Yeah, I like the scenery.”
“Are you okay?”
“Me? Yeah fine, just a bit too much rum again. Gods, I’m pathetic aren’t I? After the ordeal in that vile world I just couldn’t handle it.”
“It can be a shock to realise how evil is so close all the time and how repulsive it can be.”
“Nah, you don’t get it. I was having these problems way before then. After the battles again Waycrest it has be the bottle, just drowned in the bottle.”
“I have heard a first-hand account of the savagery inflicted on the civilians of Waycrest.”
“The brutality by my fellow countrymen was just as evil as what we saw in Oblivion. And I was a coward and watched it happen.”
“Sometimes you have to realise it is not the time to intervene. That nothing will be achieved by doing so. You have to pick your battles Rados.”
“I thought I could join you on a hero’s journey you know. Without succumbing to that state again but the sounds and smells of the violence brought it all back.”
“We triumphed and save the town. That is something to be proud of!”
“If you are a born warrior yeah, but I ain’t. Don’t ya get it friend? I ain’t my grandfather and I never will be. I ain’t got the mettle. I tried so hard to live up to his legacy but I can’t. I will just hit the drink after every battle and it changes me. No longer Rados the jolly but Rados the miserable. I was sober for so long, now I don’t think I’ll ever be sober again.”
Argus said, “Wulf gets it Rados and so do me and Calder. Our Emperor can recall in detail every mortal he has had to cut down in battle. They play on his mind. He finds no glory in battle. He does what he can to avoid it and sometimes he has to be a different Wulf. Be his Dragon who shows no mercy and glories in battle, just to do what needs doing.
Calder and I are Nords. We used to glory in battle and boast about it around campfires and over mead at an inn. We used to look forward to earning our place in Sovngarde and be amongst other warriors swapping tales of violence.
Then we learned from hanging around with Wulf the cost of such misplaced values. How one can become desensitized and forget the real values we are fighting for. How we end up demonizing the enemy so we don’t ever feel guilt cutting them down. How such societies allow the extermination of others such as the Ayleid, Snow Elves, Minotaur etc.
So we fight but no longer feel pride at how well we fought. We feel pride in the outcome achieved. So you had damn well better feel proud of what you did. Every single person in the kingdom owes their life to you!
Stop the fucking drink and stop worrying about those who do not understand what you have seen. You don’t need to be your grandfather. You need to be Rados and use what skills you have to help rebuild. Then you can look around and not see the horror but the good work done and have pride.”
I asked, “Okay, what happened to the real Argus?”
Everybody laughed including Rados.
“Rados, Argus is correct. Not everybody is a warrior and not everybody needs to be. The drink is not going to make you forget. You have to fill your head up with good memories and learn to be proud of what you do. Your skills as a blacksmith will be needed so don’t disappoint those who will look to you for help.”
“So replace the bad memories with laughter and thanks. That sounds real easy.”
“It is easier than slowly dying from drink. It is easier than being ignored by those trying to rebuild the kingdom. It is easier than disappointing those who don’t expect you to be Mados but do expect his name to be honoured.”
I could see a change in Rados. He knew what we said was right. He will at least try.
“There is nothing I could do to rescue this kingdom Rados.”
“I know but what happened ain’t your fault. It was all too good to be true. The kingdom was built on crimes and living on borrowed time. It was all going to happen anyway. The things we did to Waycrest, to Munstor. All of it was always going to come back to haunt us.”
“Evermore is not unique Rados and they all collapse eventually.”
“Listen friend, I need you to take my grandfather’s armour. Make him proud and make the people here have some hope. That Mados is here to save us again.”
“They do not need a Mados. They just need to work for each other rather than privileged nobility.”
“But what am I going to do with the amour?”
I turned to the Priest of the Nine and said, “Mados should have a sarcophagus made and his remains and armour given the burial and respect he deserves. A senior priest of Arkay brought in to do the correct blessings and ensure no dark magic can use either.”
The priest replied, “We shall do so but the cost Majesty when we are trying to rebuild.”
I emptied my gem bag into my hand and then back into the bag and handed it to the priest.
“These are to be used for the burial and to help pay for the rebuilding. From what I have seen the labour from the Imperial soldiers should be sufficient for most things and the main cost will be materials. Funding will come from Cyrodiil but those gems will get everything started and done much quicker. Do not think it is a burden or generous for me to part with them. I was filthy rich before becoming Emperor and I carry them to hand out as charity. I suggest somebody make a trip to Skyrim and deal with the Khajiit caravans if you wish a fair price.”
I said to Rados. “Be proud of what you did. Do not regret being the grandson of a great man.”
A bit further on Horustair was kneeling and praying. On the table with Mara’s shrine was a statue of a Gryphon. I brought my sword down on it and reduced it to a pile of dust.
I said to him, “Do not sully Lady Mara by placing such a thing near her. They are opposites in every way. I hope you were praying to her and not that foulest of creatures. It is not even a God and its veneration in this kingdom was sacrilegious. No different than the ancients worshipping Dov.”
“I was praying for the souls on this bridge. There is an Orc contingent within the bog hell bent on seeing the souls on this bridge suffer further indignity. Evoking the memory of Mados for a moment, if you can recall his encounter with those Orcs who laid that curse on Grey Belmor, it seems this realm is regurgitating those same awful events all over again, however we have hope this time those shamans can be culled before their hideous magic reaches its penultimate form.”
“It would have taken hundreds of shaman many months to produce that curse. Ask yourself why they have not done it since. Think with logic, not racism.”
A Divide guard came running up and said, “Excuse me sir. There is an Orc, says he’s from the swamp near Belmor. He said something about a truce.”
Horustair started walking saying, “Let’s see what they intend to do!”
I put my arm in the way of him and asked the guard, “Who did he ask to see?”
“He said you promised your Majesty.”
“Do not have weapons drawn or bows knocked and no disparaging remarks. I will be there shortly.”
The guard saluted and hurried back to his position.
I turned to Horustair, “Keep your racism and hatred to yourself. If you can’t do so then stay here. Let me talk and don’t you dare interrupt.”
I walked up to the lone Orc and said, “Anka-Ur, it is good to see you have survived the chaos. Who do you want me to speak to?”
“Dom-Kurz is our chieftain. All we wish is passage to the other side of the Divide. We can then join the rest in New Orsimer.”
“Did you make rumours of a new curse?”
“Not my idea. Dom-Kurz said it was the only way we would get the Bosmer to agree. I would rather talk without threats.”
“An empty threat so realise I go to talk out of a genuine want for a truce, not some illogical fear of a new curse.”
“Good, jus’ follow me to where we’re holed up. I’ll try my best to make it go smoothly.”
We jogged along behind Anka-Ur and I was quietly surprised the priest kept up despite his robe not being ideal for such exercise.
We arrived at the Orc camp and I spotted three shamans standing around a brazier.
I got closer and could tell it was all for show. They did not have a fraction of the power required to make such a curse as threatened.
I approached Dom-Kurz and said, “I greet you Dom-Korz under the rules of parley. Do not break those rules.”
“The balless one says you wish to talk truce. Why should we believe you?”
“I am welcomed as bloodkin in Dushnikh Yal, Largashbur, Mor Khazgur, Narzulbur and Cradelcrush. As Emperor I am also your Chieftain. If you deny this then challenge I and when your corpse is rotting on the ground your people will enjoy the new freedoms and independence I intend to offer.”
“Proof of right to lead does not prove honesty.”
“I stopped the planned attack on New Orsinium and rescued many Orsimer from slavery. I have done nothing but help your people in both Skyrim and here. What I have not allowed to happen is the slaughter of civilians who have done you no harm. Dunlain was not an attack against your people but a defence of the unarmed. I have not harmed a single peaceful Orsimer. The Orsinium Sons did not follow the Code of Malacath. Their deaths were the Blood Price owed. There are many things to be discussed in future negotiations. Let us get this one out of the way. State what you want.”
“Just get my people safely across that bridge so we can join the others in New Orsinium.”
“Done but you must turn a deaf ear and blind eye to insults. Many do not distinguish between Orsinium Son’s and other Orsimer so you will be blamed for their atrocities.”
“You got a sharp tongue. Go lead, we’ll be right behind.”
When we approached the entrance to the Divide I could see Horustair blocking the path and the guards with drawn bows and swords.
I approached him and said, “These Orsimer are under my protection. Stand aside Horustair.”
“We can’t allow these murderers and rapists to simply walk away without punishment. You have gone too far. Mother Mara demands we avenge our fallen.”
I back handed him and drew my sword. He knelt before me knowing his life was forfeit according to the rules of Evermore nobility.
“How dare you falsely claim what Lady Mara wants! She has spoken to me and this is exactly what she wants. It is what I want. It is what this kingdom needs. It is what the whole of Tamriel needs.”
“Forgive me Majesty. I spoke out of place.”
“Knighthood breeds people like you. Lip service to the oath you uttered while basking in the false respect given. I suggest you join the Imperial Army. Your leadership skills would probably see you climb to officer rank quickly. Watch how the people react to our soldiers. Earned respect is in abundance. Watch the interaction between officers and their men. The maintenance of discipline through respect is the core of their effectiveness as a fighting force. Do some good for the people of this kingdom for once and forget about your fake nobility. It never really existed.”
He remained on his knees with head bowed.
As I walked past him I said, “Remember this. The Divines love all mortals no matter race or religion. If you start with that fact your worship will not be false.”
We walked through the Divide and although many stared not a word was said to the Orcs. I got the impression everybody was tired of the hatred.
I walked past the temple and other people I wanted to talk to. The quicker I escorted the Orcs out of the Divide less chance of an incident.
We finally got to the gateway out of town and I stopped to talk to Anka-Ur.
“Here you are Anka-Ur. First promise fulfilled.”
“Hey look, thanks for the help.’
“I have great plans for the Orsimer people. Both new and old Orsinium can thrive and I will not allow anybody to ever take your home from you again. You have my word.”
“We have heard that before. The Empire gets involved in big wars and the parasites attack when you ain’t looking.”
“If you have your own soldiers, proper armies with training and equipment, you will not need us to defend you. If you are completely independent you will have to survive through trade and manufacture your own goods and grow your own crops. Orsimer smithing is second to none! You will be a proper nation and earn respect by becoming prosperous and good neighbours. That is my vision for your people.”
“You really believe that don’t ya? Too bad everyone else thinks of us as savages who like to rape and kill.”
“Only in Evermore Anka-Ur and not for much longer. Visit the settlements in Skyrim and see how they live unmolested and free.”
“Centuries of blood and tragedy have humbled a lot of my kin. You will find your negotiations easy. I know they trust you and your Queen to deliver the promises you make.”
“You will still have elements who want to fight. They do not follow the Code of Malacath. You must not be slow to condemn their actions. It is that type that causes resentment.”
“Yes, it is always the few who lead everyone else to slaughter ain’t it.”
“I hope to see you soon Anka-Ur, you would make an excellent diplomat for your people.”
We entered the Divide again and I said goodbye to The Priest of the Nine.
“All things considered the kingdom fared better than I had hoped. You will be basing yourself here?”
“I think I will need to travel around a bit. Perhaps get all the shrines reconsecrated. Start afresh with the Commandments of The Divines and teach them properly. Not the obviously warped version you so clearly pointed out to us from the first day you arrived.”
“Mother Mara sent me here because she loves all mortals and was saddened by the evil she saw making your lives miserable.”
“Well I hope she can confer all her love as we heal. You and The Sentinel were the only ones who tried to prop up a mountain that had already began to crumble. Yet it was too late to avert this calamity as we had crossed the threshold of no return long before your arrival. Now we must make the best of a terrible situation. Isn’t that what we mortals do best?”
“I have confidence. Use those gems wisely. Do not perpetuate the idea that priests are of a higher caste. That was blasphemy at its worst. Good luck priest.”
The priest was going to stand watch for those fleeing and try to convince them to stay. I took Dusk back to the temple.
She went running off to chat to people and I noticed Kegor praying in front of Mara’s shrine.
When he saw Dusk fly past he stood and was not surprised I was there.
“Glad to see you made it Kegor.”
“Not without a few scars. I can’t imagine what the sights seen by these children will leave on their souls, an imprint of hatred on their minds.”
“It doesn’t always work that way Kegor. I have hundreds of them in my orphanages and with some compassion and care most become children again. They do not learn to hate and the trauma can scar some but most live normal lives. The majority of them here have families to return to which will aid their recovery. Those that need more assistance know they can always ask for help. I will be setting up an orphanage in Evermore. We will not leave them to fall prey to evil again.”
“I take your word for it Majesty. I will believe we can steer them from a path that mimics the tragic, withered figures here. If you have seen it happen then I have hope.”
“You can help Governor Rikke and the people. You can be the interface between the Empire and Evermore. I think it will do you good to see what rule for the people means. To understand how things should have been.”
“I am ashamed I did not know about the children. A basement prohibited to anyone except a select few is sure to have skeletons.”
“Kegor, they were one of the many evils that plagued this kingdom. You will be able to read my reports on my actions here soon. There are people being sent for trial and I will not show mercy.”
“It’s bizarre isn’t it? Everything within me compels me to forget. Yet I can’t for the knowledge that it can happen again.”
“Such knowledge in itself is not enough. Have a look at the Direnni Hegemon and you will see so many parallels. It was the desire to regain that type of power that made your leaders mimic their style of nobility and pursuit of coin. People always think they can do a better job than the ones who failed not realising it is the nature of evil to eventually eat itself.”
“I think you for all you have done for us Majesty.”
“You are a good man Kegor. Expect Governor Rikke to call on you soon. One of your first tasks is to give an affidavit about the plans to attack New Orsinium. Remember that you are immune from prosecution but the ringleaders are not.”
I found Dusk praying to Lady Mara and said, “She is definitely not a cat.”
“Of course not silly, can you see a tail?”
“But Akatosh is a cat?”
“Why do you think dragons have tails? They wouldn’t need them except the Khajiit tales would get cramps if curled around inside the dragon’s bottom.”
“I have to go now Dusk. You are sure you wish to stay?”
“I have watched you today. You know the right things to say to help people. I will learn them too and help the children who did not escape what I did.”
“I have seen lots of sad and evil things in the last couple of weeks. You have given me smiles and giggles and they are the best things ever. They have helped me and will help others as well. So keep smiling Dusk and may your Gods bless you.”
Ulkarin approached and said, “I think this is where I will leave you Majesty. It is where I first joined you and I like that symmetry.”
“You can collect your wages from the embassy. I will let Governor Rikke know. I will also triple them. You have earned every septim my friend.”
“They aren’t the new ones with your ugly mug on them I hope.”
“You survived and have seen things few mortals have. You fought well and bravely and it was an honour to have you with us. I am not one for long goodbyes. I do ask if you are ever our way, drop in and my Queen can drink you under the table at the local inn.”
“I will do that Majesty.”
I clasped his hands and then The Sentinel all took turns saying their goodbyes. I let them take as long as they needed. The bond only obtained when fighting side by side was strong. He has made friends for life and I hope he keeps in touch with them.
We left the temple and headed back to the exit. There was somebody I wanted to talk to and one I dreaded.
I approached the missionary and said, “Reamonn, how are you fairing?”
“Majesty, I was told you kept vanishing and reappearing in the oddest places.”
“I was in and out of Oblivion and sometimes time runs a bit different especially in the smaller pocket planes.”
“I will take your word for it. I do not regret not taking the opportunity myself to experience it.”
‘I am tired and do not wish to go over the same ground again. Just realise that what happened here was not unique. Mother Mara wept over the evil in this land and it was by far the worst I have encountered. She described it as a canker and that is a good description. But the future looks bright and you can contribute.”
“Your words when we last spoke. They haunted me then and now I can’t get them out of my mind. You were right and all the tension was leading to this. After my bout of madness there was clarity. I had been repressing the thoughts that the order we clung to could ever slip away. Even through the worst of it I believed that we’d eventually settle back to normal.”
“Reamonn, you need to sit and rest and then you may realise that it was never normal. It was corrupt and evil and even if there were no Daedric Princes meddling I would have ended up investigating. The fake nobles would have been replaced eventually. The evil here was entrenched well before the Dark Lords got involved.”
“Yes, of course. I will do what I can to help rebuild.”
“You are a good man Reamonn. If you ever visit Cyrodiil again please visit.”
I approached Toel and said, “Making money evacuating those who wish to leave?”
“Yes well, things were already bad enough but it looks like your entry into this spoiled land was the spark that engendered this inferno.”
“Show some respect. If we had not come when asked by Mother Mara every person you see would be dead. Nobody else could have closed that Oblivion Gate!”
“Of course, only in hindsight can we look at the grander picture and say that tragedy was inevitable. This chaos required a very special ingredient, a special someone.”
“While we were risking our lives and helping the people what were you doing? When the people of Raven Spring were desperate for goods you bypassed them to make more profit at Evermore.”
“So you blame me for being smart and making a profit? This is the real world. Levy the blame at ever other merchant and person engaged in gold rather than me then weep at your naïve arguments.”
“Nothing naïve at all in what I said. When you could have helped you didn’t. Yet you pay lip service to the worship of Lady Mara. You contributed to the chaos that ensued in your self-righteous pursuit of profit. Now you see more profit in charging the poor and destitute a fee to take them away from here.”
“The memory of this old order of decrepit royals will fade. The people will beg for new shepherds and we masters of the coin will take up that mantle.”
“And condemn the people to further horrors just like the Direnni Hegemon! There will be a big change. The trade routes will be opened to the Khajiit and the East Empire Trading Company. The people here will be able to sell their own produce and even open stores if they wish. Gutless profit chasing morons like you will be a thing of the past.”
Toel was looking worried at those prospects.
“The Orsimer knew of your plan to sack New Orsinium. They are no threat to those trade routes and if they were it would be up to me to deal with it. You simply wanted to wipe out any opposition as the Orsimer will soon be trading from that new city.”
“Ha! Orcs can’t even tell left from right, how would these savages have any knowledge on trade and its importance. Even if such plans were true, how would that contribute to the chaos you started?”
“It allowed the rebel Orcs to recruit even more to their cause you moron. It cost the lives of your precious customers. You have blood on your hands and refuse to see it. Your racism shows you are a fake follower of Mother Mara.”
“All your talk and apportioning blame is for naught. Plans are already well underway for the merchants’ ascent.”
“Toel, you are under arrest for sedition, profiteering and the planning of mass murder. You will be taken to the Imperial City where you and your co-conspirators will be tried fairly. You can choose your attorney or one will be appointed if required.”
I signalled. Calder and Argus grabbed the shocked Toel by the arms.
“I would not say another word Toel. I could charge you with treason and then your head would roll. You will be found guilty of those lesser charges as I have ample proof including the transcripts of your meetings with Kegor. You are scum and can look forward to replacing the Orc slaves at the quarry. You will contribute to the rebuilding of this kingdom by providing the rocks needed for construction. Maybe you will learn something during those long years.”
“What about my horse and cart? What about my goods in my warehouse in Skyrim?”
“They will be held by the Empire until after the trial. Not guilty you get them back. Guilty and they become mine. A bargain don’t you think?”
Toel was smart enough to keep his mouth shut as we made our way to the Embassy. He was handed over to the guards and shoved into a fairly full prison cell of those to be transported for trial. I saw the Arch Bishop was keeping him company.
I could hold the trials in Evermore but I yearned to go home.
I entered General Rikke’s office. She stood and saluted.
“Take a seat please General. Or should I say Governor as that will be your title once my wife or I sign the paperwork.”
“You expect I may be here a while your Majesty?”
“At least until the High King is well or a legal replacement for him is found. Even then it would be a serious mistake to replace martial law till the rebuilding is done and a permanent truce found amongst the Witchmen, Orsimer and Breton.”
“Is this to be a long debrief? If so I can have food and refreshments sent up.”
“I am exhausted General. I will tell you some essentials and you can expect reams of reports over the next week or so.”
The General already had a detailed map of Evermore on a board so I started marking things on that.
“First thing is this quarry. If you have not sent men already I suggest you do so quickly. If you have any Orsimer platoons I suggest one of those and a standard platoon go. They will find many born and bred Orsimer slaves. I only found one room full but I assume there will be dozens. Get the initial rescue crew there and follow up with wagons and any Restoration mages you can spare.”
“They bred Orcs into slavery! How come we never knew?”
“They were hiding it behind a barrier that made it a pocket of Oblivion. A Dremora Lieutenant was in charge and Ustase were his troops and were the majority of the guards. There are also slave women of different races for their ‘harem’. I can give no advice on how to deal with that mess. All I know is they are better off with other Orsimer while they recover.”
“Is the quarry essential? Should we just close it down?”
“I would make that the penal settlement for hard labour prisoners. The stone from that quarry will be sorely needed.”
“What about the mines?”
“All are manned by slaves and prisoners. Once again I leave it up to you to sort out but the best thing to do is hire those who wish to remain. Let them earn a living from their labour and their skills will be in short supply.”
“You look exhausted Majesty. Is there anything else that really can’t wait?”
“The sites here and here have dangerous Daedric portals and other workings of the Dark Lords. Nobody is to enter. Make the guard around them numerous. We will need the Vigilants to clear away the dangers.”
I could see the concern of the General’s face.
“The palace in Raven Spring is also out of bounds as it contains a portal that needs the Vigilants to remove. You need to arrest these…”
I fell and the last word’s I heard were from a panicked Serana, “Wulf! Make room, I need to…”
I woke hours later lying on some furs in a familiar looking carriage. It was Toel’s. I tried to sit and hands gently pushed me back down.
Serana whispered, “It is alright Wulf. You are worn out physically and mentally. We are half way home. Sleep and you will soon be back with Rigmor. I filled the General in with the important stuff. There is no need to worry.”
“He is still in prison. We just borrowed his horse and carriage.”
My mind would not rest. Two questions kept haunting my dreams.
Who am I?
Could I be ruthless like my father if it meant saving Nirn?
I woke about half an hour out of Bruma. It was late afternoon and the smells and sounds of home calmed me for a while. Then those two questions dominated my thinking.
I sat up and Calder was sitting opposite. He yelled, “Serana, he is awake.”
She leaped onto the moving carriage and replaced Calder who took up her spot jogging behind.
“How are you feeling?” she asked.
“Not as tired Serana. I will be okay.”
“You are not okay Wulf. I have read your journals. I know you sometimes have internal questions that haunt you. You have not stopped muttering and pleading and arguing with yourself. I pray to Lady Mara you find the answers you need and the peace you deserve.”
“They can’t expect us to keep doing this crap and prepare for the Akaviri. I had no idea how bad Evermore was and I don’t think Blackwell did. Baa’Ren-Dar never mentioned anything. The other nobles of High Rock are guilty of the massacre twenty years ago. What else will we find if we start digging?”
“The racism was such that I doubt Elsweyr even bothers with Emissaries. Your plan to ask the Khajiit if they wish to trade will be a good test of the new values you want instilled.”
“The Reachmen are all about their ancient rights to The Reach and High Rock yet the Khajiit were there for thousands of years before man or mer. That counts for the whole of Tamriel.”
“We are evading the issue Wulf. Do not be afraid to ask for help from The Divines, Azurah your friends and even Meeko. Share your burdens with Rigmor. She proved how well your dual thrones work. Without speaking to her she knew what was needed. She knows you inside out. She will hurt more if you keep smiling and then were discovered curled in a ball crying.”
I stared out at the countryside and gave a slight nod. Nothing else was said till we reached Bruma.
I walked through the gates and Sigunn was there to greet me.
“Wulf, Rigmor is still in parley and will be here in a couple of hours. You have time to rest and freshen up before she gets here. Apparently that place was a nightmare but no need to discuss it now. We will all learn about it soon no doubt. You are home now.”
‘Thank you Sigunn but I will spend some time in the chapel if you don’t mind. Rigmor can find me there.”
Sigunn exchanged a worried look with Serana but knew not to ask questions. As she said, she will learn soon what horrors we faced.
The Sentinel took up position outside the chapel. The priest instinctively knew to leave me be.
I walked to the central font and threw down shield and sword and helm.
The list of things I wept over is long. Virtually every memory of the last two weeks is tainted with the sadness and evil encountered.
Lady Mara said I had mortal empathy. Sometimes it is a curse.
I wept for something I thought I had conquered. My identity is incomplete. I feel I have made up a good tale of upbringing when in reality it was something different.
Lady Mara knew exactly what I would do. It is as if it was almost guaranteed. So the question comes begging about my free will. Do I really have any?
Is there any scenario where I would have accepted Damian’s offer or allowed King Sigmayne to live? Chosen those options as the lesser evil? Certainly my logic brain can make a list of pros and cons for both. It was not black and white. Yet there was never any doubt about my choice.
Did I have a childhood or was made as I am? Ready to go and built to order! Do I have no more free will than a Dwemer automaton? Just the illusion I have.
The Demon was cursed with memories it could not escape. The witch said all people have this problem no matter how powerful the magics used. So why aren’t I recalling my past? The logical conclusion is there isn’t one. Maybe that day on the carriage to Helgen was the first day this soul became self-aware. I was not brought up by loving parents. Just created and set in motion like a wind-up toy.
Could Talos teach me to be how I am? I am afraid of collateral damage and reluctant to use force. He never showed those traits. Am I destined to be like him and fight via proxy and use overwhelming force instead of looking for other solutions? Is that what I really am?
I was in a world of misery for hours and was not asking The Divine those questions. It was just comforting to be in a place where their Commandments meant something.
I had almost cried myself out when I heard the door open and close. Slow footsteps told me my beloved was approaching.
She stopped several feet behind and I heard her voice for the first time in at least two weeks. It was if it has been three and half years.
“Wulf, they say you have been in here for almost three hours. Talk to me please. Share your burdens.”
I could tell she was fighting her own tears. I tried to talk but found myself howling like I have never done before.
Rigmor walked up and put her hand on my shoulder. Our quietness enveloped us.
Without the pull of destiny and Divine expectations and with Rigmor’s presence I found I could calm down.
We sat on a bench and talked for hours on many different subjects. She understood my fears and knew what to say. We both laughed over Dusk and wept over the other children.
I put my hand on her stomach even though it was way too early to feel any kicking or movement.
I said to Rigmor, “I thought I knew evil. How wrong I was. Our daughter will stop all that I saw. I will do what is needed to ensure we hand her the throne and that she can fulfil the prophecy. I know now I have to be like my father.”
Rigmor held my chin and made me look into her eyes, “We will still seek other solutions but yes, we must be prepared to pick the lesser of two evils. We cannot let it change who we are. If we have to cry for hours like this then that is the price we pay. The one time we don’t cry is when we are not the same people. Then darkness would truly have won.”
“My identity…I…I just don’t know.”
“It does not matter if you were hatched out of an egg this way or scooped out of some mystical pool of goo. You are Wulf, you are my Dragonborn and you are my soulmate.”
We retired to our bedchamber and made love and revelled in each other and my uncertainties faded. Everything was right again. I was with my Rigmor.
I know not what time I fell asleep.
I know it was to the cheeky laughter of a Khajiit kitten. She was the brightest light in that kingdom of darkness.