Middas, 1st Sun’s Dawn, 4E 205
“Wake up, today you get to go home!”
I opened my eyes, and Silah was in a chair smiling at me, with a book in her hand.
Behind me, father said, “We are going to tell you what happened to Evermor. Then I and you will spar while Silah tells you about the current state of The Empire.”
“You want me to be able to absorb the information and keep focused.”
“Yes. We have kept you here as long as we could, but things are moving fast. It would be best if you went home. You will have to cross into Cyrodiil soon.”
“You are still unsure as to how well I have recovered.”
“Son, what would you do in our place?”
“I would make an assessment and perhaps have a contingency plan if things are not as good as I hoped.”
“It seems impersonal, but there is a lot at stake.”
“Just the existence of Mundus. Nothing major.”
“Yes, so let’s begin. Today is the start of your most important Divine Task yet.”
‘Okay, but before we start, how long have I been here? What date is it on Nirn?”
Silah said, “You came out of Scuttling Void on Morndas, 2nd First Seed, 4E 202. Your body was recovered later that day and arrived in Sovngarde on the 5th First Seed. That was achieved by Odahviing flying as quickly as he could without rest, apart from a couple of toilet breaks, across the breadth of Skyrim. He did complain about the fragility of mortal bladders.”
“Inigo probably soiled himself the minute they lifted from the ground.”
“Your soul entered your child self on the 3rd Mid Year, 4E 204. It entered your adult self on the 27th, Mid Year, 4E 204. You awoke here on the 16th Hearthfire, 4E 204. It is now Middas, 1st Sun’s Dawn, 4E 205.”
“The last time Rigmor heard from me was over three years ago! Does she know I am alive? Does she know I am returning?”
Father replied, “She still thinks you are lost. She cannot be forewarned of your return, and you know why. We will not tell you any more about Rigmor. We will tell you the basics of what has happened in those three years. You have the resources to gather more information before you cross the border. Use those and prepare yourself as best you can.”
“Father, if I were a cynic, I would say you kept me here to preserve the secret of Rigmor and me. It was always under threat of being exposed.”
“And what do you think?”
“I know you have kept me here to heal, and that was your only motivation. The Divines enabled Rigmor and me to be together, which was not part of the original plan. For that, I am eternally grateful.”
“And you have my word. That is the only reason we have kept you here. Now listen to what happened in Evermor.”
Silah said, “I will list the events, then you can ask specific questions. Okay?”
“On the 28th Sun’ Dawn, General Rikke’s Imperial troops finished replacing the old garrisons and started patrols along the main roads. The majority of her force remained on the border and were ready to cross into Evermore at a moment’s notice.
King Sigmayne was getting paranoid that martial law was about to be declared. He demanded you make an appearance and explain. When told you were not available and that General Rikke was more than happy to deputise, he went into a rage. He regarded it as an insult that a mere General was offered as liaison and not a noble.
By the morning of the first, General Rikke had established a ring of guards around The Bridge and Raven Spring. A large contingent of Legionnaires set up camp in fields near Evermor city. King Sigmayne’s paranoia grew even more.
Simultaneously, on the morning of the first, many mages from The College of Winterhold started distributing the cure for The Affliction throughout the kingdom. They gave it to citizens, nobles, Witchmen, Orcs and Exiles. Some skirmishes occurred where their help was rejected with violence. Large smoking holes were left where the aggressors had been. Instead of celebrating the cure, King Sigmayne sent several impolite messages about why Evermor no longer allowed mages. General Rikke sent one back, pointing out the fact that Sigmayne’s mages were going around burning Afflicted.
On the morning of the second, reports and rumours reached the King’s ears stating Damian had not been seen for several days and that he had last indicated he was heading for the Gavaudon Quarry. Reports also came in stating you had been seen heading for the quarry.
By midday on the second, an Ustase survivor from the quarry reported that you had flown into a rage and killed the head of the Ustase, Damian and Lord Gryphon. Apparently, you slew Damian when his sword was sheathed, and he was pleading to you to cease your rampage for the good of The Empire.
King Sigmayne declared Evermor had seceded from The Empire and ordered all available troops to attack and kick the Imperial scum out of his kingdom. He told the Ustase to do whatever was needed to secure ‘his’ kingdom. Emperor Mede had already ordered Sigmayne’s arrest and placed General Rikke as Governor. Evermor was no longer his to secede.
The citizens and guards of Raven Spring were the first to side with the Imperials. News sheets were distributed claiming the king had started a war based on a single unconfirmed report from an Ustase. That pamphlet stated they refused to believe the lies about an Envoy and his soldiers known only for the help and kindness shown. The pamphlet asked the rest of the kingdom to contemplate what would have happened if this supposed insane Envoy and his troops had not closed the Oblivion Gate. The clincher was the stated fact that the only witness was a member of the organised thugs currently murdering and raping citizens.
The rest of the Imperials surged across the border and swept the Ustase aside in an unstoppable display of skill and tactics.
Evermor city became the stronghold of the Ustase. It was also the target of all the hatred built up over the years. The streets were full of Ustase, Witchmen, Exiles and Orsimer battling each other and all of them fighting the Imperials and Evermor citizens. It was chaos, but the quality and discipline of the Imperials ground the disorganised opposition down. By the fifth, all fighting in Evermor had ceased.
Wayrest troops had amassed at their border but did not cross once it was apparent the Imperials intended to take control.”
“What happened to Sigmayne?”
“When The Sentinels reached the palace, they found an elaborate club with spas and other luxuries underneath. Senior Evermor dignitaries and visitors abused a dozen children of both genders and aged from four to twelve. The children have since been reunited with family. The men in the club had their titles stripped and are now doing time in the penal mines.
While Lydia and Inigo organised their trip to Skuldafn with Odahviing, Ghorbash entered the throne room and slaughtered four guards before knocking Sigmayne out and trussing him up. Sigmayne and the bishop went on public trial for their many crimes against the people and The Nine. They were both publicly beheaded, in front of an outraged and large crowd, thirteen months after their imprisonment.
All gryphon banners were ripped down, and all gryphon statues destroyed.”
“How many children were given to the gryphon?”
“The piles of bones were more than six feet tall. Thousands of children over a hundred years or more were escorted by men and women who were convinced the gryphon was an agent of Lady Mara. They believed the children would be given a place of privilege in Aetherius. Some of the girls were even sacrificed by their parents!”
My father watched me with his piercing gaze. I said to him, “Rigmor and I grieved for the children three years ago. I can’t do anything about their plight, but I can save others. To do so, I will have to use all my skills, not just my excellent propensity for violence.”
“This is what I tried to explain to the others. You are aware of the scrutiny and could adjust your behaviour to skew the outcome. I can see the anger in you, my son.”
“I don’t deny it, but there is no target on which my Dovah can exact revenge. Therefore, he is content to simmer in the background.”
I turned back to Silah and asked, “What about the Orsimer slaves at The Bog and Gavaudon Quarry?”
“By the time The Sentinels arrived at The Bog, local farmers and other citizens had already killed the guards and were aiding the Orsimer. Many Orsimer Legionnaires and several young mages from The College of Winterhold stayed at The Bog to assist.”
“The locals helped the hated Orcs?”
“In your journal, you said the citizens in Raven Springs seemed immune to the bullshit of Ambition. That was the case throughout Evermor. Most of the lower class had no racial hatred. On the contrary, they had great sympathy for both Witchmen and Orsimer, Afflicted and Exiled. The people of Evermor followed the Ten Commands. You did not state this in your journal, so I don’t know if you realised. The only people you saw in the temples were guards. The serfs and other citizens would gather around the many statues of Lady Mara outside of the temples.”
I stared at Silah with my mouth open. How could I have missed that observation?
Silah laughed, then said, “Close your mouth. You look like a fish out of water. It is apparent from the journal entries that you spoke to very few normal people. You dealt with the priests and the nobles and the guards.”
“Yes, that was a mistake. I should have gauged the condition of Evermor by speaking to normal people. Perhaps it would not have seemed so dark if I did.”
Father said, “One of your mottos is, ‘People are always wiser after the fact.’ None of your friends noticed either, so don’t go thinking it was some huge blunder. You had to deal with a lot of issues and pushed yourself hard. As you are happy to remind gods, you are not omnipotent!”
I asked, “Silah, what happened at the quarry?”
“Well, The Sentinels arrived there to find the Orsimer slaves had subdued the Ustase and were waiting for the soldiers to arrive. Ghorbash wept to see what they had done to the Orsimer, and the ex-slaves comforted him. The empathy of mortals was once again on display. When asked why they hadn’t killed the Ustase, Dog said the Orsimer did not want to be like them. Most of those Ustase now work the mines as criminals, and although the work is hard, they are treated humanely as Imperial laws demand and the Ten Commands outline. The rescued Orsimer from both places are now residents of New Orsinium. They work in mines for a good wage, but they will never get their voices back, and as for the castrated, that cannot be reversed.”
“The Dwemer equipment?”
“You had not told Rigmor to have the Dwemer Oblivion portal destroyed, but she added that to the list anyway. There was nothing left of that one as the pocket-plane it was connected to vanished into The Void, as you well know, being there and all. A large number of Vigilants of Stendarr converged on the other sites. One thing you can say about them is they are thorough. All Dwemer machinery was reduced to chunks of Dwemer metal with few pieces more than two inches in size. Many petitions from scholars, including some from your museum, wanted to study them first. General Rikke told them to shove their quills up their backsides and warned them they faced jail time if caught at either site.
“The Orsinium’s Sons?”
“They all decided to die a warrior’s death. Other Orsimer in Evermor were planning to release a curse on The Bridge similar to the one used on Grey Belmore. Luther asked for aid from Ghorbash. The two visited the Warchief, who agreed to abandon that plan in exchange for safe passage for his people to New Orsinium. As Ghorbash and a platoon of Legionnaires were escorting the Orsimer through The Bridge, Knight Horustair and many Evermorin Guards blocked their passage. Horustair refused to budge, and violence was likely. Luther walked up to Horustair and asked, ‘Sir Horustair, people often ask how I obtained an excellent education and comment on how much I sound like you. Should I tell them?’ Horustair quickly moved out of the way. It seems some half-orcs were more fortunate than others.”
“They have been quiet after many were killed when The Legion entered Evermor in strength.”
“Many were incarcerated for various crimes. The innocent ones who wanted to remain as priests had to start at the lowest rung of acolyte in various other temples throughout The Empire. Proper priests were assigned to each temple in Evermor.”
“Fancy name for bandits. They are dealt with when found.”
“Many merchants were planning insurrection along with Predothor and Ambition.”
“Inigo remembered your suspicions about Lisrier Gulinds. He was arrested and questioned. To save his neck, he turned informant. Most of the major merchants of Evermor lost their heads after enough evidence was gathered and trials held. Lisrier will never be a free man and is another one sent to a penal mine. The trade routes are now free to use. Khajiit who have not been able to use the relevant Moonpaths for generations are ecstatic at that turn of events.”
“What about Rados? Rigmor said he seemed changed after emerging from Scuttling Void.”
“He was a hero who wanted to be a simple blacksmith. Like his father before him, he took to the bottle. He died less than a year ago. He is buried next to the remains of Mados. A Priest of Arkay fainted when he saw Mados’ corpse propped up on display in a temple.”
“Is New Orsimer doing well?”
“It is doing very well and is a testament to the skill and work ethic of the Orsimer. It will soon be self-sufficient, which is good, as that is a necessity forced by circumstances you will soon be told.”
“Is Evermor still under an Imperial Governor?”
“Yes, but once again, that is due to circumstances you will be made aware of soon.”
“Father, let us get on with it. I will be going home even if I prove to be a homicidal maniac who swears in Dovahzul as he slices and dices, so why delay the last test?”
“I have no idea where your sense of humour comes from, but it needs work.”
“That was sarcasm on your part, right?”
“Just get your armour on. I will get mine.”
Father was suddenly in his ancient armour. I had to spend forty minutes buckling up and adjusting everything. I was more than impressed with my new sword.
I asked, “What happened to my armour and sword from Lord Akatosh?”
“It will be returned to you at an appropriate time, as will Lady Mara’s ring. You have to be the Guardian General in action, looks and thought. Hence the armour you wore in the Battle for Whiterun is what you need. We have tweaked the dweomer on it a bit, so it is almost as powerful.”
“Why have you got a two-handed sword? I thought you hated them?”
“I was never famous for my swordsmanship. I was well above average, but any of The Sentinels could defeat me. We still don’t know how you managed to gather so many experts with their chosen weapons.”
“My Lucky Coin?”
“I don’t think so. But anyway, I am using this sword as I have been practising with some of the best, admittedly dead, swordmasters in Aetherius. You surpassed my skills with a one-handed sword by the time you were sixteen. This sparring will be a chance to compare your Board n’ Sword skills against my two-handed skills.”
“So, no cheating?”
“No cheating. I am going to use only mortal abilities.”
Silah stood with an open book and quill in hand. Being Aetherius, it was a fancy quill that did not blunt or needed dipping in ink.
The sparring began, and it was apparent father was well above average with the superb sword he wielded.
After a few minutes of taking each other’s measure, we were trading blows and blocks at an impressive speed. Silah had to use a bit of Thu’um to be heard over the clatter.
“On the 9th of First Seed, 4E 203, Emperor Titus Mede II arrived at Solitude aboard his ship, The Katariah, to attend the wedding of his niece, Vittoria Vici, to Augier Snow-Shod.”
I said, in between grunts, “He is Mavin Black-Briar’s, if that crook is still alive, business partner and was firm support of Ulfric. That sounds like a political marriage, if not a business marriage.”
“Yes, it was an arrangement between the Vici and Snow-Shod families to do two things. The first was to show no lingering animosity existed between the two sides of the Civil War. Secondly, it gave The East Empire Company distribution rights outside of Skyrim for Black-Briar beverages.”
“It was no secret Vittoria was bonking Aquillius Aerenius.”
“She probably still is, although Augier is not bad looking, apparently, since I can’t judge, being a dragon and part-time Argonian.”
Father swung his sword at an impressive speed, and I ducked just in time. He smiled at how close he got to lopping his son’s head off. I am sure I am protected somehow, but my Dovah disapproved and wanted to return the favour. Instead, I nodded to my father and smiled back.
Silah continued, “When the wedding was supposed to start, there was no sign of His Imperial Highness. Word soon spread that he had disappeared from his stateroom aboard The Katariah. No blood was found in the room, but two guards posted outside had been felled by tranquilliser darts to their necks.”
Father’s attacks became more complex and quicker.
I said, “Good assassins will not kill guards and others simply doing their duty or in the wrong place at the wrong time. A person can be tagged with a Recall spell and taken to a Mark away from the assassination spot. If no ransom was received, then the assumption would be he was killed elsewhere.”
Father asked while trying to eviscerate me, “There were dozens of handpicked Penitus Oculatus aboard The Katariah. Several Battle Mages kept a shield around Mede’s rooms to detect any teleport into them. That was a necessity after some nosey Arch-Mage rediscovered teleport spells. So, what does that tell you about the potential assassin?”
I laughed and asked, “What were you doing at the time of the wedding. I bet they can’t detect Divine avatars popping into existence.” Father staggered as I hit him on the helmet with my pommel.
Silah instructed me, “Answer your father. What does that tell you about the potential assassin?”
Subtle hints in the change of stance and grip hinted that father was planning something. I answered, “If The Katariah was anchored offshore, then the assailant must have swum to the ship. There must be a way inside the ship that kept the assailant out of the line of sight of the guards. Logic suggests it would require somebody of small stature to use such an entrance, most likely where the anchor enters the hull. The assailant would have taken their time to dry before making their way through the ship undetected and silently. The assailant might have been a very experienced and senior member of an assassin’s guild.”
Silah announced, “After a month of receiving no ransom and extensive searches finding no trace of His Imperial Highness, the Elder Council announced him dead. Mede left no documents naming a successor, and his wife and daughter had been lost at sea years before and his two sons in other circumstances. There was no valid candidate in the legal lines of succession. That left the choice of the next Emperor or Empress to the discretion of The Elder Council. They deliberated for three months.”
Father was feinting and trying to find an opening in my defence. I said, “That is a great time of profit for the members of The Elder Council. Many potential candidates would have no shame investing large bribes in their effort to secure the nomination.”
“After three months, a Bandit King invaded Cyrodiil and quickly made his way to the Imperial City. The Elder Council fled, leaving the Imperial Legion with no instructions on what to do. With a bloodless coup, this Bandit King became Emperor Sethius. Thus, the protection Rigmor once had, the affection of Titus Mede II was removed.”
My father made his move. Using strength beyond his mortal self, he started raining blows on me at a pace that left me no opening for a counter-attack. I placed as much of myself as I could behind my shield.
Father hammered away at the shield in rhythm to his words, delivered with venom and malice.
“Your beloved Rigmor with her Mede bloodline was in mortal danger from this usurper! He now had access to all of Mede’s secrets, and if there were mention of Rigmor’s lineage, he would not hesitate to drag her screaming from her castle and have her slaughtered.”
I smiled behind my shield. If this had happened to Rigmor, my father would not be so callous as to use it in this test of my control.
I waited for a particularly hard blow and pretended to falter and almost drop my shield. The next blow was delayed as my father decided what to do. I sprang up and smashed the sword from the god’s hand. It clattered to the floor, and I calmly sheathed my sword.
My father looked at my eyes, then picked up and sheathed his sword. The book Silah was holding vanished.
Silah exclaimed, “That is unexpected!”
I asked, “What is? Father cheating or my counter-attack?”
Father laughed and explained, “Your eyes, my son. They were those of a Dovah before we started the spar. They are now back to normal for the first time since you arrived in Aetherius.”
“I found amusement in the transparency of what you were doing.”
“Thinking that clearly after such disturbing news and after I cheated is all the proof we need. You are ready to go back.”
“It does not mean I am not worried sick for Rigmor and The Empire. What kind of Emperor is this bandit?”
“I will not bias you with my opinion. Ask those you trust when you get home.”
“New Orsinium needs to be self-sufficient because Sethius might cut support. Evermor still had a governor because of instability in The Empire.”
Silah said, “What might cause this instability?”
“If he says he claimed the Ruby Throne by Right of Combat, he lies. There was no sitting Emperor and no combat. He usurped the throne. People are waiting to see how all this pans out.”
Father said, “We strongly advise you avoid any sort of teleporting. That includes spells, portals, Ayleid Waystones and so on. Even a brief time in the Ethereal Plane or any other plane other than Mundus may reverse some healing or cause other unwanted outcomes. The fact is, not even the smarmy bastards are sure of what might happen. This room is shielded, and that is partially why you have survived in Aetherius for an extended period.”
“So now I worship The Eight Smarmy Bastards plus One?”
“If they were like you, they would be The Eight Smartarses.”
“You also told me I have changed and can spend extended periods in Aetherius.”
“Yes, you were exposed to it in that not quite dead state for some time. You have adapted.”
“So, how do I get home?”
“Like Lady Mara shielded you from The Void. I will shield you as we travel. I suggest you start this Divine Task in your private room at Silverpeak Lodge. All The Sentinels still live there. Nobody has given up on your return, but neither have they been twiddling their thumbs.”
“Silah, I thank you for your help and look forward to seeing my friend in her stunning dragon form once more.”
“Even with my giant rump?”
“Even with your gigantic rump.”
“My son, are you ready to go?”
“Can I have something from you that I have craved for what seems like an eternity?”
My father stepped up, and we embraced father and son. It was familiar and filled me with joy.
When we parted, I was in my private room in Silverpeak Lodge, and Tiber Septim’s avatar vanished.
I opened my door, and Meeko’s excited barking let everybody know I was home.
Meeko bounded up to me and greeted me with his yips and growls.
I greeted Meeko with a nose rub and then a thorough scratch behind his ears.
The next to greet me was a fifteen-year-old Olette! She ran up then stood staring as if she couldn’t believe it was me.
I asked, “Hello young lady, I am looking for a little girl called Olette. Is she around somewhere?”
Olette threw he arms around me and squeezed as hard as she could. Then she stood back and said, “Cap’n, you have no idea how I have missed you.”
“My broken ribs say quite a bit.”
“I won’t ask ‘bout ya adventures because you will get sick of tellin’ em. So, I will listen in with the others.”
“What happened to your Netch armour?”
“I kinda grew up and out, if you haven’t noticed, and decided I wanted a more grown-up armour anyway.”
“You, my dearest Olette, are turning into a magnificently beautiful woman.”
“I know, but every suitor so far has been terrified of all my big brothers and sisters.”
“Yes, I suppose The Sentinels are like that to you.”
“Nobody gave up on you, Cap’n. All those gods would tell us is you were lost. Then they said you were found but poorly. We didn’t know when you were coming home, but we all waited.”
“I don’t know what I have done to deserve such good friends.”
“Well, it’s not because you tell good jokes.”
“And I have the worst possible judgement when it comes to orphans.”
“Come on. The others are politely waiting for you. We all guessed who Meeko went wild about.”
I followed Olette and marvelled at her height change in three years.
I did a tour of the dining tables and chatted to The Sentinels like in the old days, which was only a few days ago! They knew the whole story would be told eventually and did not push me too hard for details. Plus, soon as it started to sound gobblygook, most of them had a glazed look in their eyes.
I went looking for Inigo and found him talking with Meeko and Vick.
“Inigo! Are you three comparing flea infestations?”
“My long-lost friend, we have just been sharing the excitement of your return.”
“Come and sit with me so I can ask a million questions.”
Inigo and I sat at one of the smaller tables. He did not look happy.
“Inigo, you seem upset.”
“When you were gone, I started to have more spare time. This idleness led me to think about my family and how much I miss them. Although I love all of these people here, it is not the same. This feeling of being alone has grown over the years. I am so very pleased to have you back with us, but this melancholy is persistent.”
“I understand. I think our experiences in Evermor made us all a lot more reflective on what is important.”
“Seeing me as I was when you found me in my cell would have made my family sad. I wonder how they would feel about me now?”
“They would be very proud of you, Inigo. Just as important is how you feel about yourself.”
“Why would they be proud? I know I cannot spend my life seeking the approval of the departed, but I cannot help that their opinion of me still matters, even if they are not here to give it. What have I done with my life that is worthy of their pride? Not much.”
“It might be three years ago to you, but for me, less than a week ago, you helped save a town, a kingdom, the whole of Nirn, against a Daedric invasion. In amongst the death and destruction, you piggybacked a child to the temple. That is one example out of thousands where Inigo the Brave showed himself to be a good and caring person.
You stood by me and fought Alduin, and in the future, we shall tackle the Dream Strider side by side.
You hauled yourself out of the shadow of despair and into the light.
All of these things make me proud to call you a friend, and your family would feel the same!”
“I could not have done these things without you, my friend, but yes, I now walk a better path. That is for sure! Do I honour the memory of my family, though? I cannot say.”
“You are a living testament to how wonderful they were. They brought you up correctly, and apart from some understandable and brief deviations, you have lived their ideals. You loved them dearly and were proud of them despite their previous profession. Being an ex-Skooma addict and an ex- stinky bandit is no more shameful than being an ex-assassin!”
“That is a lovely thing to say. Thank you, and I hope it is true.”
“Of course, it’s true!”
“I have heard it said that you can judge a man by the quality of his company. If that is correct, maybe I am doing all right after all.”
“This group of people are the best, bravest and most loyal imaginable. I would say you are doing more than okay.”
“I feel a little better. Anyway, that is enough about me. You have been gone three years! How are you doing?”
“The Divines are worried about me. What and how I have survived is unique, and the concern is how I will handle whatever awaits in Cyrodiil.”
“Will you need our help?”
“At first, I must enter alone to maintain the illusion that it is the Guardian General coming to see Rigmor, not The Dragonborn. I have no idea what I am heading into, so I can’t answer your question.”
“We visited Rigmor in ones and two, dressed as civilians, up until the Bandit King closed the borders. None of us has heard from or seen Rigmor since then. Nobody locks up a country so tightly unless they are hiding something.”
“I am going to visit High Queen Elisif. If there is any solid intelligence, as opposed to rumours, she will know them.”
“What about Rigmor?”
“The Divines won’t tell me anything other than Rigmor has been informed that I am not dead, just lost. I went back in time. Silah found me. That was the middle of last year, and I have been recovering since then. Rigmor has no idea I will be coming. I don’t know what I will find. She may have moved on and found somebody else.”
“No, my friend. We visited Rigmor to keep her spirits up. She loves you and will be waiting. We were all concerned about the advice she was getting from those around her. They thought that Rigmor had finally decided you weren’t coming for her and had moved on. They kept telling her what the expected duties of a countess were, and that includes finding a noble husband.”
“Please, Inigo, I don’t want to hear more as I will worry and fret too much. I must enter Cyrodiil and discover things as I go.”
“As you always have to do when The Divines ask you to do something. A bit more advice on Evermor would have been handy.”
“We did okay in the end. I was surprised to see you all dressed in Sentinel armour.”
“We did tasks as requested by Mede till he vanished and for High Queen Elisif since. The Companions have found very few people need them when The Sentinels help for free. We have had groups of children stay here for months and helped train them in domestic duties and other skills. It is always good to have their laughter in my ears, and that can keep us busy as well.”
“Were you asked to help investigate Mede’s disappearance?”
“Commander Maro asked us to help, so Serana, Lydia, Celestine and I went and inspected The Katariah. Thanks to the dweomer on our armours we could investigate the underside of the ship. A dextrous and small person could climb the chain and into the ship’s hold where the anchor chain enters. Sneaking past the many pairs of Penitus Oculatus guards would not have been easy. They were a perfect assassin, my friend.”
“There were two that I know of that escaped my purge of the Dark Brotherhood headquarters. A small man called Cicero and a Vampire Child called Babette. I would guess it was one of them and not the Morag Tong.”
“It would not be a cheap contract. The type of gold needed would help fund the establishment of a new chapter.”
“I honestly expected, after three years, that some of you would have drifted away. You know, get married, have children, that sort of thing. It is called living.”
“Oh, a few have serious relationships outside of The Sentinels, but honestly, we all feel like there is unfinished business. If you were going to return and risk all once more, we wanted to be part of it. How could we sit back knowing what you do without offering to help?”
“You, my flea-ridden friend, must have a goal you wish to achieve?”
“Despite the gloomy beginning of this discussion, I am happy and content. Good friends and honest work are all I want and need. Life is pretty good now, and I am not eager to race towards a conclusion of some sort.”
“So, next time I ask you to accompany me into mortal danger, we should stroll casually towards it and not run?”
“Yes, unless there are lots of big spiders. Then we run cheering and start splatting.”
I laughed, which belied the turmoil I felt. Every fibre of my being wanted me to run across the border and see Rigmor.
Inigo asked, “My friend, what do you want out of life?”
“On a personal level, Rigmor and I had plans. Maybe they are still valid. I do not know. But being who I am, I could not sit back and let others tackle the type of evil we saw in Evermor. Those problems will continue to happen until wealth is evenly distributed. When everybody has gainful employment, a roof over their head and sufficient food, there will be minimal incentive to become a criminal or listen to the trouble makers amongst the Dark Lords.”
“It is a shame that for us to achieve a peaceful existence, fighting is so often necessary.”
“Winning a war will only bring temporary peace. If The Divines truly want to defeat the Daedric Lords, they need to ensure the basics I mentioned are there for all.”
“You are frightened. Three years away does not change how well I know you.”
“When I see Rigmor, it will seem like a few days to me since we were together. However, it has been three years for her! I am frightened I will fail to understand things from her perspective. I am frightened of what my reaction to rejection might be. I feel the need to get things ready so that I can leave for Cyrodiil first thing tomorrow.”
“Then let us go to Solitude, and you can squeeze information out of Elisif. She is constantly asking about you.”
I gathered Lydia, Celestine and Ghorbash for the trip to Solitude.
A soon as I stepped outside, Silah appeared.
I used a bit of Thu’um so she could hear me and asked, “The cabin of my airship is shielded against the ethereal plane. Do you think it is safe for me to use it?”
She replied, “Yes, just don’t be on deck when it does its teleporting!”
“Thank you for all your help, Silah.”
“We help because we care, Wulf. Remember that when things get difficult in the days ahead.”
A loud neighing told me Hashire had enough of being ignored.
“Hello Hashire, I think we may be riding together quite a bit in Cyrodiil. Does that sound good?”
Hashire shook his head. I laughed as I gave him a good pat and scratch.
My friends came outside, and we headed for Bostin’s ladder.
“So, Inigo, I hear you are fond of flying on the back of dragons. I am sure Silah will take you to Solitude if you ask.”
“I will ignore you and enter Bostin with dignity. Do not listen to any lies from Lydia.”
We entered Bostin, and I set a course for Solitude. For the next two hours, I sat and talked with my friends. By the time we docked, I was up to speed on most of the significant events of the last three years, and they knew about my time travelling and rehabilitation.
Silah popped out of the ether as we disembarked.
I said to her, “Don’t scare the citizens!”
“It has been almost four years since a town or city of Skyrim had been attacked by a dragon. All I can see is curiosity, especially from the children pointing to the pretty, beautiful dragon. I must find a place to land so they can adore me while I wait for you.”
“You will have to find a structure strong enough to support your ego and that humongous rump of yours.”
When we got to the main street of Solitude, Silah thumped down on top of Erikur’s house.
“Great, of all the houses available, you decide to destroy Thane Erikur’s. He is the most pompous, up himself and annoying person in this entire city!”
“I could swallow him and excrete him somewhere else if you wish.”
“I don’t think he would come out looking any different.”
“Look at the children running over to talk to me! Off you go now. I don’t want you to scare them away.”
As we continued our walk to The Blue Palace, Lydia remarked, “I like Silah. I wonder if she has any juicy gossip to share?”
We entered and approached the throne. We had just caught Elisif on the way back from her midday meal, and she was holding a goblet of very dark wine.
“WULF! It is good to see you!”
“And I am mighty pleased to see you once more, Your Highness.”
“Is this a social visit, or am I guessing correctly that you wish to discuss the current political situation?”
“Yes, a discussion we need to have out of earshot of nosy Thanes.”
“Falk, I am going to my sitting room with Wulf. Please keep Thane Erikur away from the door.”
I gave a hand signal, and The Sentinels mingled with Thane Bryling and other dignitaries, including the fuming Erikur. It was apparent they had become well known amongst the elite while I was away.
We entered Elisif’s sitting room then sat to talk.
Elisif said, “I can give you a summary. Then you can ask questions to expand on things.”
“First, Your Highness, let me tell you what I have to do.”
“Yes, that would be best.”
“I am entering Cyrodiil at the request of The Divines, as I entered Evermor over three years ago. I was warned years ago that there is a danger in Cyrodiil that threatens us all. I do not know what that danger is, only that Countess Rigmor and myself are crucial to Divine plans to counter the danger. I am not going there to cause civil unrest or problems for Emperor Sethius.”
“The horrible tales I have heard about Evermor from The Sentinels and General Tullius are enough to keep me awake at night. Do you think it is anything like those problems?”
“I simply don’t know, Your Majesty.”
“Well, let me start by telling you this. Emperor Sethius has not visited Skyrim or High Rock. He exiled the Elder Council, who had run away, and expelled The Dominion. He ripped up the White-Gold Concordat. He has created ‘The New Imperial Army,’ his bandit friends dressed in Legionnaire uniforms. Each County had a personal legion of five thousand soldiers sworn to them and not The Empire. Correspondence is hardly ever answered, and tensions are high.”
“What did he do with the real Legionnaires?”
“There is a single legion on the Hammerfell border. The other five that existed when Mede lived have scattered to other provinces, not at Sethius’ orders. Two reside in Skyrim, three across the kingdoms of High Rock. They removed themselves, fearing a clash with The New Imperial Army was inevitable.”
“Do you regard him as the legitimate Emperor?”
“He sits on The Ruby Throne, so we must recognise him. The Empire cannot afford to have a civil war with The Dominion ready to pounce on the leftovers. So, Emperor Sethius he is.”
“Did anybody object to him usurping The Ruby Throne?”
“Count Venedus Caro of Leyawiin was very vocal in his objection, stating quite correctly that the throne was stolen, not won in right of combat. Sethius and his bandits fell upon the County of Leyawiin in force. Reports received say well over sixty per cent of the population were slaughtered, with only a small percentage being armed combatants. These same murderers and rapists are what constitute The New Imperial Army.”
“Did anything happen to Bruma?”
“They accepted Sethius as the Emperor but became an independent County. They do not have a legion of bandits inside their borders and are excluded from many benefits bestowed upon the other counties. But Bruma is rich in crops and has the strongest trade ties with Skyrim and High Rock. Large tariffs are placed on these goods, but Bruma is still wealthy and safe.”
“How tight are the borders?”
“You cannot cross the border without an official pass, and once in Cyrodiil, you are subject to several new laws. If you break the law, whoever sponsored your pass, their entire family in some cases, is held responsible.”
“Mm…that is a problem. I don’t want to sneak over as I assume being caught without a pass is not a healthy thing.”
“It is well publicised that anybody crossing the border without a pass will be summarily executed.”
“Well, some Blades owe me a favour, and they are good at forgeries.”
“No need, you shall be my diplomat, visiting Countess Ragnarsdottir of Bruma on matters of trade. If you have to crack a few heads, I doubt Sethius is going to hold myself and my family responsible.”
“He would have a civil war on his hands if he dared try and harm Her Royal Majesty, Elisif Valindius I, High Queen of Skyrim and the Nordic Tribes! The Valindius family have married into most of Tamriel’s nobility and would not stand by why ‘their’ queen was insulted. Also, your mother was a Mede, and you could be seen as a more legitimate ruler of The Empire than Sethius. He would not want Skyrim threatening to secede.”
“What shall be your title for this most important trip?”
“Guardian General Wulf Primo-Barba.”
“That is Colovian for Early Beard.”
“Of course, you would have had to learn classic languages along with other useless things as part of your upbringing.”
“It comes in handy when reading some old manuscripts, but other skills, such as needlework and embroidery, have not proven to be of much use.”
Elisif walked over to her writing desk and sat. She used some of her stationery for my border pass.
She then came over and sat next to me once more. Elisif then handed me the border pass.
I read it then asked, “Viscount Wulf Primo-Barba?”
‘You are a Lord of several large estates within Skyrim and acting in an administerial capacity. Therefore, I legally name you Viscount. So, Your Eminence, you can play at being a stuck up noble once more. The Sentinels said you quite enjoyed that charade in Evermor.”
“What base-born uttered such nonsense? I shall have them flogged within an inch of their lives!”
“Very good! Is there nobility in your family?”
“Very much so on one side, at least. Maybe one day I can disclose who my parents are. However, it is a secret best kept at the moment.”
“It is impossible to insert spies in Sethius’ court. I know it sounds terrible that I want to spy on my own Emperor, but something stinks. Why close the borders and remove any level of scrutiny, The Elder Council, for example, if you have nothing to hide?”
“Surely people have returned with good information?”
“But it is hearsay. Vittoria Vici says the captains and crews of her ships gossip all sorts of far-fetched things about Sethius and his wife.”
“As you said, it is hearsay. I will wait till I see for myself before passing judgment. Evermor was opposite to what a province of The Empire should be, and they did not hide all of their unlawful activities. I do not want to plunge The Empire into some civil war. I am not going there to remove Sethius and might not have anything to do with him.”
“What of Rigmor? We were becoming quite close friends, and I considered her a confidant. But she has not been to Skyrim since just after Mede vanished.”
“I am afraid I know nothing about what she is doing or how she is going. I think my arrival will be a bit of a shock.”
“The way she used to speak about you always reminded me of myself and Torygg. Some couples are meant to be.”
“We shall see. I thank you for the information and the pass, Your Majesty.”
“If you meet any of my cousins in Cyrodiil, say hello for me.”
“I would be there for years if I did that!”
“Yes, that is accurate. There are a few of us. Oh, and while I was at my desk, I spotted this. Here you are….”
Elisif handed me the deed to Castle Volkihar.
“Your Majesty, I would rather this be given to Serana, Count Volkihar’s daughter. Is there a title to go with the estate?”
“Yes, she would be Her Ladyship Serana Harkonsdottir, Baroness of Volkihar Island. Send me the paperwork, and I will arrange the change of title. Serana will be entered into the peerage and would be considered nobility.”
“I wish I could gift each Sentinel something as grand.”
“The Companions have been complaining to Jarl Balgruuf and me about The Sentinels.”
“How dare they help others without charging a fee!”
“I had better go before Silah destroys Erikur’s house or craps on it.”
“A beautiful dragon. She has decided to be my bodyguard. I will have to convince her not to follow me to Cyrodiil. They are not used to dragons.”
“And she has perched on Erikur’s house? I like her already.”
“She loves to gossip. Invite her for lunch or afternoon tea.”
“I don’t think our dining hall is quite big enough.”
“She can transform into an Argonian.”
“That would cause enough of a stir by itself. Some of the die-hard Ulfric minded Nords would die of apoplexy! The High Queen inviting an Argonian to The Blue Palace? Tell her to expect an invite soon.”
I ignored the gloating Silah, who had quite a large audience listening to her gossip. I have no idea what news sheets she reads, but most of it has to be made up. Doesn’t it?
After Bostin arrived at Silverpeak Lodge, a few Sentinels came outside and said they needed to do some shopping in Whiterun. I decided to retire to my bedroom and read the large number of news-sheets accumulated while I was away. Lydia manually flew Bostin to Whiterun.
A few hours later, Inigo knocked on my bedroom door and informed me I had a guest.
I was shocked to find Sethri, in his Robes of Azura, standing next to Lydia.
Lydia said, “Look who I found knocking on the door of Breezehome.”
“Greetings Dragonborn, you don’t know the trouble I’ve had finding you! Bloody nice place you have here. And an airship!”
“Tendril Sethri, what a pleasant surprise, and just in time for dinner. Come, sit and talk.”
Sethri followed me to one of the dining tables. He sat then started piling his plate with enough food to feed Ghorbash.
I waited till he was at the dipping bread in soup and hoping there was enough room stage. Olette was sitting to my right and was giggling at the gluttony on display.
Sethri belched then said, “I got a letter ‘ere for ya. Special delivery.”
Sethri wiped his greasy hands on his robe, then patted himself all over, trying to locate the letter. He finally reached inside his robe and then handed over a somewhat crumpled letter with the seal of Bruma intact.
“Tendril Sethri, thief, disciple, messenger, mage, landlord and now courier. For you to be personally sent instead of using a normal courier or mail, this letter must be of importance.”
“It’s for your eyes only, straight from Bruma. I don’t suppose you’ve heard what’s been going on in Cyrodiil these last couple of years?”
“I have been busy. You would not have found me looking in Skyrim.”
Olette piped up, “You would have had to be dead lucky to find him.”
I told her, “That was quite good, Olette. Bards need to have a good sense of humour.”
“Well, there go your chances then!”
“Please continue and try to ignore the brat with the mouth.”
Olette did a wonderful raspberry then got stuck into her desert.
I asked Sethri, “Why didn’t you ask Lady Azura where to find me?”
“I did, and she had no idea.”
“No, she wouldn’t. But I have caught up on a lot of the important news.”
“Have you heard from Rigmor?”
“No. Is this letter from her?”
“Not this one. Although I do know Rigmor did try to write.”
“Why would she do that? She must have known I would never receive them.”
“Yeah, well, the letters never got returned, so it’s worth checking to see if they are in the dead mail at the border post. You have to do there anyway, to acquire the border pass from the official.”
“Okay, I had better read this letter so that I know what is going on.”
“Fredas, 27th Morning Star, 4E 205
If you are reading this, then we have at last managed to find you. You must have heard of the recent events in Cyrodiil, and although some stability has returned, freedom has not. We must speak in private, and certain names have been omitted in this correspondence, but I am sure you know to whom I am referring.
She did try to write to you, but you could not be located, and she gave up on ever seeing you again. I don’t think she ever got over losing you. But she is fine and well and has moved on. You know her, never one to sit still, always looking for trouble if it doesn’t find her first. And trouble has found her. Of course, she just waves it off, talks tough, and I do realise you have moved on with your life, but I have no choice but to contact you for help.
We fear she is in grave danger, Dragonborn!
Would you please come to visit us at our residence so we can talk further?
Show the border guards the official pass.
Sigunn of Bruma.”
“Okay, Tendril, listen to me carefully. I am Viscount Primo-Barba, on a trade delegation from Her Majesty, High Queen Elisif I. You are not to call me Dragonborn. There are reasons for this which I will explain one day, but not now.”
“Viscount Primo-Barba. Got it!”
“I will not be picking up the border pass, which I assume is from Sigunn, as I already have one from the High Queen. I have known for years that I will need to cross into Cyrodiil on an important task for The Divines. Rigmor is somehow involved in that task. As for how Rigmor is involved, that I don’t know yet. By using the pass from Elisif, I won’t be putting Bruma and Sigunn in danger if I break any laws.”
“That’s a relief. Trouble seems to follow you.”
“No, I get sent to where the trouble already is.”
“This must be like a blast from the past, right?”
“Not at all. It only seems like a week since I last talked to Rigmor. How is the Countess?”
“Haha, ah, yer well…all will be revealed Dra…oops.”
“Wulf, or if in public, Your Eminence.”
“All will be revealed, Wulf, all will be revealed.”
“Have you visited them often?”
“Not at all. Only once or twice since they crossed the border, I just happened to drop by on my way to visit some business associates.”
“Did you have some pilfered rings to sell?”
“Them days are well behind me!”
“And you have no idea why Sigunn needs to see me?”
“No, but I’m sure it’s nothing you can’t handle. It must be important, seeing as you ain’t had no contact with anyone from back then in a few years. But I advise you, just keep your weapon sheathed and try not to whip it out, and you’ll be fine.”
“Are there strange laws in Cyrodiil since Sethius took control?”
“Cyrodiil ain’t like ‘ere, they’s all civilised. They got a big thing about it, apparently. But something ain’t right. I can feel it in me water like.”
“The last lot of nobles I dealt with who claimed to be civilised were savages. I will be interested to see what the Bandit King thinks is civilised.”
“There was nothing civilised about what I saw crossing the border.”
“What did you see?”
“Just make sure you keep a cool head!”
“Tendril Sethri, I will hang you by your ankles upside down over my balcony if you don’t tell me what you saw.”
“The border guards on this side sell fake border passes. The New Army or New Legion or whatever they are on the Cyrodiil side summarily execute entire families who cross with the fake passes.”
“Well, that will soon cease.”
“They are Falkreath men on this side. I don’t think Jarl Yngol Storm-Blade knows what they are up to.”
“Yngol is the Jarl of Falkreath! What happened to Jarl Siddgeir?”
“He was some sort of crook. You have been out of the loop, haven’t you?”
“That wasn’t mentioned in the news sheets.”
“Apparently, there is some argument that Siddgeir was working undercover for The Empire and that the change of Emperor meant the paperwork was lost. I am sure it will sort itself out, eventually.”
Olette said, “Cap’n, it is my turn to help with the washing up. Make sure you say goodbye before you leave tomorrow!”
“I promise, Olette.”
Olette grabbed a bunch of dirty plates then headed off to do her chores.
Sethri asked, “Whose is the young girl?”
“One of my orphans. I have about a hundred and twenty, although there might be more since I last checked.”
“In my castle, or one of my castles. You can see it on top of a mountain west of Whiterun.”
“Wulf, how rich are you?”
“Oh, and a noble?”
“I have a few noble titles, yes. So, what have you been up to since I last saw you?”
“Oh, a bit of this, a bit of that. Still livin’ at the ol’ farmhouse on the lake. I tried renting one of the rooms to make a bit of coin, but they don’t stay long. I dunno why….”
“Perhaps you should look for tenants without noses?”
“Hahaha! As it ‘appens, I’m going on a kind of pilgrimage to Winterhold. To the shrine of my mistress, Azura. There’s a pretty young thing there ‘as took a bit of a shine to me. Aranea ‘er name is. So, I’ll be taking my leave and seein’ how far I can get my feet under the table with Miss Lenith and try warmin’ ‘er up a bit.”
Aranea was sitting a few feet behind Sethri. She stood, came over and sat next to him.
She growled, “Tendril Sethri, I told you to stay away, or I would turn your privates to ash with a Fireball. That is the only way you will ever warm me up!”
“Oh, ah…I didn’t know you worked for Wulf.”
“We don’t work for Wulf. We work with him doing far more useful things than making up stories. Lady Mara told Priestess Dinya about your lies and how you claimed to have bedded her. Dinya told Maramal, her husband. Maramal came straight to Lady Azura’s shrine and demanded to be told where he could find you. It takes some effort to rile a Priest of Mara but be was, and probably still is, going to throttle you if he catches you.”
I laughed and said, “I will leave you two to work this out. No bloodshed! The carpets are expensive.”
I retired to my room and continued to read the pile of news sheets on my desk. I am glad nobody cancelled my subscriptions!
I eventually crawled into bed and was going to have a quick talk with Rigmor. Then I realised I couldn’t, and I was hit with the same realisation I had earlier. Rigmor has had three years without me while I have had less than a week without her. It is going to be difficult.
I know not what time I fell asleep.