Middas, 4th Sun’s Dawn, 4E 202
For the second day in a row, I awoke to an urgent Divine Task. Triangulation indicated Castle Dour, so most likely General Tullius was the person to whom I had to speak.
I sat and had breakfast with the reduced population of Silverpeak Lodge. I told my Sentinel Squad that I had to go to Solitude, and that is all I knew. They were to wait for my summons.
I then teleported to Proudspire Manor. From there, I made my way to Castle Dour. Despite my attire, General Tullius’ guards recognised me and let me pass.
I approached General Tullius, who looked amused.
“I get confused. Do I call you General, Commander, Dragonborn or what?”
“Why, General Tullius, don’t you recognise Lord Silverpeak?”
“Of course, how silly of me.”
“I was told to come here by The Divines.”
“And he said you would be here.”
“Lord Silverpeak, do you know where the throne room is? Not High Queen Elisif’s. The other one…that is hardly ever used?”
“Ahh… in the Emperor’s Tower?”
“Yes, here is a key. Go to that throne room and don’t ask me why just do it.”
“Okay. Nice to see you again, General Tullius.”
I made my way to the Emperor’s Tower, and the key Tullius gave me opened the front entrance.
I soon found the throne room. Emperor Titus Mede II was waiting for me.
“At long last, I get to meet the man that has saved my life, all our lives, several times already. And don’t you dare bow to me, Wulf!”
“It is an honour to meet you, Your Imperial Majesty, my Emperor.”
I did a head bow despite Mede’s request. He is a noble I admire, and the respect I show is genuine.
“Now, young man, why do you think I am sitting here twiddling my thumbs while waiting to see you, even though I never sent an invitation but knew you would come?”
“Your guards are not in attendance. Therefore, it must concern something of a sensitive nature, and you are confident of your safety in my presence. Taking into consideration how I received the invite, you wish to discuss High Rock, the kingdom of Evermor to be more precise.”
“Yes, you are quite right. Let me tell you how this conversation came about. I was sitting at my desk in my room aboard Katariah, my ship. I was busy wearing out more quills, trying to keep up with the endless correspondence. I am sure Rigmor has told you of that curse.”
“Yes, and I can imagine yours is many times her burden.”
“Now, my rooms aboard Katariah are as secure as possible. I am surrounded by dozens of the best Penitus Oculatus agents, and we were anchored miles from shore. I have my head down and concentrating hard when a voice says, “Excuse me, Emperor, but we need to talk.”
“Ah… I think I know who that intruder may have been.”
“Yes, but let me finish my story. The fright aged me several years, so I have earned the dramatics.”
“Of course, please continue.”
“I am not ashamed to say I jumped with fright. I am proud that I did not scream or make any sort of squeaking sound.”
“Well done, Your Imperial Majesty.”
“Just Titus will do.”
“As you wish, Your Imperial Majesty.”
“I looked up from my desk, and a man was standing a few feet away wearing ancient Colovian armour. He had the most piercing blue eyes, like yours, and a neatly trimmed white beard. It took a few seconds, but when I finally realised who it was, I did give out a bit of a squeak.”
“I think he would have been chuffed you recognised him. After all, he doesn’t have the crow’s feet like all the statues.”
“I hadn’t noticed that! But it wasn’t his face that prompted the revelation but more his look of authority. His stance and stare were that of a leader. Truth be told, he reminded me of a sergeant who did not care that I was heir to the Ruby Throne. I still have nightmares about that man and the names he invented for his green recruits.”
“But I bet you blessed him later in life when on the battlefield.”
“Yes, he did have our best interests at heart, and his lessons proved invaluable. And you, Wulf, have distracted me once more.”
“Sorry, I do have a habit of that.”
“I will not go into details on everything we discussed. I promised him I would not even hint at much of it. Talos’ main concern was that you and I were approaching the troubles in Evermor from different perspectives and that we might trip over each other, so to speak.”
“I assume you saw Evermor as a purely political issue and now know it is far more.”
“Yes, and now I find myself dealing with things outside of my experience. The Divines sent a hero in my time of need once before. He, too, had to deal with Dark Lords and all that…What did Rigmor say your word for it is?”
“Yes, that hero had to deal with Dark Lords and all that gobblygook.”
“But that didn’t happen, according to your chief historians.”
“They can correct the histories after I die. In the meantime, I don’t want to be known as an Emperor who abandoned the Imperial City and didn’t even take it back. My popularity with the citizens influences how easily I can get things done. It is not a matter of pride.”
“I understand why this has to be, Your Imperial Majesty. And as long as the Moth Priests call the one who disclosed that information a rebel, he is easily discredited. However, these mistruths tend to remain in the official histories. The historians have to admit they fabricated history before they can correct the lies. That proves to be impossible for most.”
“I understand your dislike for political manipulation of history. I allowed lies about Ragnar to be published. I have allowed Thalmor blasphemy to become law. I do what is needed to keep the peace.”
“Please, you do not have to explain these things to me. I accept such things are necessary. And I have sent us off on another tangent.”
“Wulf, I have not had the chance to speak to you before and will get to the crux of the matter eventually. Your mind is nimble and quick, and I value your opinions. It is a pity I can’t have you as an advisor.”
“I am not good at being a sycophant. You would probably have my head on the chopping block within a week, which was not very comfortable last time. You would think it would be a common courtesy to remove the head of the previous condemned from the basket before it is your turn.”
“I don’t need sycophants! I need more like you. But let us get back to what Talos and I discussed.”
“I admit, I am intrigued.”
“I was aboard Katariah on my way to Solitude to discuss Evermor with General Tullius. With Skyrim during the civil war, there was a lack of a High King or Queen. We ended up with General Tullius acting as Governor and Ulfric pretending to be High King. It was easy for The Empire to choose sides in that conflict. We fear that if things continue to deteriorate in Evermor, there won’t be a civil war but utter chaos with many disparate groups fighting over the right to rule. We also fear that adjoining kingdoms would take advantage and invade. We have a responsibility to protect the citizens of Evermor, and the only solution we can see, if King Sigmayne is killed or deposed, would be a large military presence under a Governor. This solution would prevent other kingdoms in High Rock from invading as well as protect the citizens. I am sure you understand that such concerns are talked about in whispers in secure rooms such as this.”
“I understand. What I need to know is how likely the country is to collapse into chaos and who I have to negotiate with to prevent it happening.”
“The country is a mess! I should have dealt with them twenty years ago when the first rebellion occurred. However, I was too busy holding The Empire together for the first decade after The Great War. Rebellion is not strictly accurate, but that is what the nobles of Evermor will call it. Some citizens of Evermor decided to live with The Witchmen. Evermor is a feudal society where a noble’s wealth is dependent upon docile serfs. Citizens walking away from their assigned roles without their lord’s permission was regarded as a rebellion by the nobility. With righteous indignation, the nobles massacred the very serfs they were hoping to retrieve! In many ways, it is similar to what Ulfric did during The Markarth Incident but for different reasons. The result is the same. The Reachmen who were once willing to live peacefully became vengeful warriors whose savagery is at odds with who they wanted to be. The Witchmen of Evermor are willing to ally with Dark Lords to fight for the country they desire. The Forsworn have done similar.”
“And I assume the Witchmen are the enemy of all other factions?”
“Yes, and then you have the Orsimer. They are victims of the vilest racial abuses imaginable. We have secretly set up a place where, if the worst comes to be, a new Orsinium can be established. The Orsimer and the Witchmen are convenient scapegoats for all the ills besetting the Breton peasantry. The nobility deliberately fostered these racist attitudes similar to how Ulfric and others before him did with Mer and the beast races.”
“Truth starts to win through eventually. People who interact with the other races start to protest the untruths and generalisations. I assume that was another thing the nobles of Evermor were afraid of twenty years ago. If they let people live in peace with the Witchmen, they lose one of their scapegoats.”
“You have a good political mind, Wulf. So, who do you think the nobles of Evermor blamed for the massacre?”
“They would have made up stories about Witchmen depravities. The poor unfortunate citizens they tried to rescue were victims of dark, unspeakable magics and were miserable. Instead of losing one of their scapegoats, the nobles increased the public dislike for Witchmen.”
“Yes, and we watched this and did nothing. Now we may be forced to interfere as the hatreds and tensions are being manipulated. Talos told me this, and when he explained the methods used, it all made perfect sense.”
“The Divines suspect one or more Dark Lords are involved. But they can’t place spies in the realms of the Daedric Princes, so they do not know their plans. They have to react quickly with limited information and rely on mortal agents such as myself. The Forgotten Hero who took your place in the Battle of the Red Ring was needed to stop Boethia’s plans. Martin Septim and The Hero of Kvatch were needed to stop Mehrunes Dagon. The list is endless, but they all have one thing in common. Mortal agents need to do the groundwork and find out what is happening and then stop it. In military terms, The Divines can only provide limited intelligence about the enemy and their plans. The mortal agents have to fill in the missing pieces and act accordingly.”
“Talos said that is what you have to do in Evermor. The Divines know Dark Lords are helping certain factions but not the details of how and why. Talos said The Divines fear another attempt at a Daedric invasion. Like The Culling that the Forgotten Hero prevented in The Imperial City. Like you recently prevented with The New Order and Malacath.”
“Talos did not mention what Dark Lords are involved, did he?”
“No, he did not. I asked, and Talos said it is better that you discover the truth without preconceptions.”
“The Divines will provide information when they deem it is necessary. No matter how much I plead, they will not divulge other information I think is vital. I have accepted this as necessary, but it doesn’t stop me from asking questions that I know they won’t answer.”
“Talos visited and told me all this because he believes you need to have my name behind your efforts. Even as Commander Valdr of the Penitus Oculatus, you would find the nobles of Evermor reluctant to cooperate and, in some cases, deliberately obstructive. As Penitus Oculatus, you are authorised to say things like, ‘In the name of the Emperor…’ as you are my representative concerning Imperial Law matters. But it would be best if you had more authority than that while dealing with the problems of Evermor. Therefore, I am putting you in charge of all Imperial forces within that country. I am providing you with paperwork enforcing that you are acting on my behalf in all matters, both military and civil. You are Envoy Valdr, so when a noble of Evermor speaks to you, they are speaking to me. When you tell somebody to do something, it is me they obey or disobey. Knowing that I am behind your presence will greatly hinder or help, depending on the individuals you are dealing with.”
“As you can see, I am not in uniform. I still think I should travel to Evermor without people knowing it is me. I was planning to spend some time posing as a merchant with bodyguards. But if I have such authority represented by my uniform, I will wear it after I enter Evermor.”
“Yes, the different factions will have people keeping a lookout at all the known border crossings. It may take two or three days to cross the mountains, and messages sent by pigeons or other means might give people of interest time to plan and cover their tracks. You just appearing on their doorstep will give you a distinct advantage.”
“It would also be advantageous if I could have your advice on certain matters.”
“That will not happen. You must deal with this yourself. We have trusted your instincts many times before and will do so again. Talos emphasised that you must be free to make these decisions.”
“Is there anything else, Your Imperial Majesty?”
“Talos warned me how dangerous this task may prove to be. Don’t get yourself killed, Envoy Valdr.”
“I try not to make a habit of it. Once was enough.”
“Can you leave here without being seen?”
“Yes. I will teleport out of here.”
“My Battlemages are keen to learn what you have rediscovered.”
“All they have to do is ask Master Mage Tolfdir at the College of Winterhold. He will pass on the spells to them.”
“Here is the paperwork. One for the military authorities and one to show civilians.”
I took the envelopes from Mede, bowed and then teleported to Vlindrel Hall. I summoned The Sentinels, and we made our way to the Markarth Stables.
As we walked, I contacted Rigmor.
“Can you talk?”
“Yes, I have some time before I am whisked away to inspect some flood damage.”
“I met Mede this morning.”
“He is such a lovely person and has been keen to meet you.”
“Mede had a visit from my father, and they discussed Evermor. I am now Envoy Valdr and also in charge of all Imperial forces in Evermor.”
“Wow! Baa’Ren-Dar worked for decades to reach Envoy status, and you get there in less than a year!”
“Yes, well, circumstances and not competence earned me the title.”
“When are you leaving?”
“The Merchant is supposed to be waiting on deliveries. I am just about to talk to him and see when he plans to leave. It can take two to three days to cross, depending on how cautious you are and the trail you use.”
“Well, fill me in on the details when you know them.”
We found the merchant beside the Markarth stables.
- Wulf: Morning, good merchant. I find myself in urgent need of transport to High Rock. A young Priestess of Mara heard of my plight and suggested you might be my saviour. Her guardian also spoke highly of you.
- Lisrier: Sister Jeana and Oliver recommended me? Then I hope I can live up to their praise.
- Wulf: When are you leaving?
- Lisrier: As soon as I can find a suitable guard. I thought I would be stuck here for a few more days awaiting delivery, but the goods are now being sent to Arnima.
- Wulf: Didn’t you have a guard with you when you entered Skyrim?
- Lisrier: The fool who escorted me here turned out to be a drunken moron. If you are going to put your life in someone’s hands, it better be someone you trust.
- Wulf: How about a deal. We escort you this trip, and you get five guards for the bargain price of zero gold pieces.
- Lisrier: Well, they look like they can handle themselves.
- Wulf: You will never meet more exemplary warriors than these. Please have a look at the weapons we carry. I could buy Evermor if I wished. I don’t hire amateurs.
- Lisrier: Are you also a merchant?
- Wulf: I buy and sell rare alchemical reagents. So yes, in a way, I am a merchant. I am Lord Silverpeak.
- Lisrier: Never heard of you, but then again, chemical reagents are not my area of expertise.
- Wulf: And your name?
- Lisrier: Oh, it is Lisrier Gulinds.
- Wulf: When can you be ready to leave, Merchant Gulinds?
- Lisrier: Immediately, but you aren’t carrying sleeping rolls or any other travel gear.
- Wulf: We shall return, ready to travel in about one hour. So, do we have a deal?
I held out my hand, and the smiling merchant shook it with enthusiasm.
We headed back to Vlindrel Hall. From there, I teleported to my room at the College of Winterhold and summoned Celestine. She fetched Tolfdir for me.
“Master Tolfdir, it is good to see you.”
“As always, it is a pleasure to see you, Arch-Mage.”
“Have you heard of those who call themselves Afflicted?”
“Yes, our colleagues in High Rock have made enquiries with us. We have been researching the disease.”
“Good, then here are samples of various fumes, liquids, plants and seeds we found in a haven for Afflicted. Please, get our best alchemists to study them. I want to know the method of transmission and theories on potential cures. Daedric Prince Peryite created the disease.”
“I will get them working on it immediately.”
“I would love to chat, but we have urgent business elsewhere.”
“Travel safe, Arch-Mage.”
I teleported to Vlindrel Hall then summoned Celestine. The other Sentinels had been to the market and purchased good quality equipment. We made our way back to the Lisrier and bundled everything in the back of his wagon. It had started to rain heavily.
“Merchant Gulinds, are we ready to go?”
“Yes, I just have to hitch up Jenna, and we are off.”
“Will we travel quicker if we walk beside the carriage?”
“Yes, if you can ask your guards to do that, we would travel a lot faster.”
“We shall take it in turns, two at a time in the carriage, the other three walking.”
“Are you going to take your turn walking?”
“When they gave me the title of Lord, my legs did not drop off.”
“No, no… it is just not what I expect from the nobility.”
“Not all nobility has a wooden stake up their arse like those milk-drinkers of High Rock.”
“Oh, um, of course not. Haha.”
“Now, Merchant Gulinds, while we hitch up Jenna, tell me about what we can expect on the road.”
Lisrier looked stunned that a noble would get their hands dirty. But he soon relaxed and answered my question as we hitched his horse.
“Well, my previous ventures haven’t seen much spilling of blood save for a passenger getting leery with another. My route is one of the safer paths of travel but a bit longer to traverse. We will have to pick up the pace through certain stretches. There are bandits and the like springing traps from above on any uncaring traveller making their way to the province. Once we reach the Easternmost part of Evermor, then we should be safe. They have the guards there meting out justice with an iron fist. Scoundrels stay well clear. Most of the time anyway.”
“Most of the time?”
“Well, I don’t want to startle you, but we’ve got a problem with these savages, north of Evermor. They like to call them Witchmen.”
“They are Reachmen. The name Witchmen is derogatory, along with the term savages.”
“I will stick to Witchmen if you don’t mind. Rumours are stirring that these Witchmen are getting agitated. There are sporadic attacks all across the kingdom. They have made the wilds near impossible to dwell in because of their savagery. But that is a problem you’ll have to deal with once you reach the kingdom, not on your way there, so don’t fret about the journey itself. We’ll be fine!”
“I pity any bandits, Witchmen or other undesirables that tests our mettle.”
“So, Merchant Gulinds, tell me about Evermor.”
“Evermor is renowned most of all for its colourful cast of characters and deviants. You’ll run the gamut of Bretonic experience in that cluster of people. The first settlement you’ll come across if you stay the course once you depart from my wagon is The Divide, a hulking bridge jutting from its watery locale.”
“That would be Bjoulsae Bridge spanning the Bjoulsae River. Correct?”
“It hasn’t been called that for a long time, but yes.”
“Well, if you stand atop that stony juggernaut, you will be rewarded with a vista of the Reach’s mires and towns. Most notably Arnima, and if you squint hard enough, Evermor itself.”
“So, like our counties are named after their capital city, the kingdom is named after Evermor, the city.”
“Evermor itself beats as the heart and centre of royal affairs. The place where The Reach consolidates its authority and, ahem, reach over the east. It used to be a backwater not too long ago, yet recent times have spoiled the city with inordinate wealth and power. A power that they’ve used to conquer and subjugate their comparatively less civilised neighbours. Now any Breton dwelling east of the city walls sports their banner.”
“The rampant Griffon.”
“Yes, you will see it on your arrival.”
“Tell me about Arnima.”
“There is nothing pleasant to say about the place, I can assure you. Most outside their miserable hole regard it as a stain on the kingdom and with good reason. Most of the guards are nothing but thugs looking to shake down us humble merchants when given a chance, and they routinely terrorise those unfortunate sods that don’t have the means to leave.”
“And who is the Lord of Arnima?”
“A strange character called Lord Mortifayne. I have heard tales of sordid acts and strange punishments disseminated upon those beneath him and weren’t wise enough to escape. Most of those tales smack of madness, and I choose to ignore them.”
“It is hard to imagine such things happening within any civil residence. I never risked finding out for myself. Arnima dampers my mood, and that isn’t good when you are travelling on your lonesome. Damn, that reminds me. I have to pass by that decaying dump. I have a client within their walls. Hopefully, the guards are drunk. They are their meanest when sober.”
“That sounds exactly like the place to sell my reagents.”
“Okay, Jenna is ready to go!”
I said to The Sentinels, “Molger, Celestine, it is your turn on the carriage. The rest of you, get your walking legs on!”
With that, we started our trek to Evermor.