DOUBTS

Turdas, 2nd Sun’s Dawn, 4E 205

I woke early even though I fell asleep from exhaustion. I don’t think I am anywhere near one hundred per cent fit.

The day did not start well when I made the same mistake as the night before. I reached out to Rigmor, but there were no rings to aid me.

I lay, eyes wide open, till I heard the sounds of The Sentinels preparing to break their fast.

I found Olette eating before the morning meal was prepared. I suppose at the rate she is growing, that food is an obsession.

“Olette, I will be leaving in a few minutes.”

“Is it dangerous where you are going?”

“I don’t know. But The Divines need my help, and they did a lot for us. Therefore, I will return the favour.”

“What did they do for us?”

“They made the world we live on and gave up their immortality to give us life. We wouldn’t exist without them. They don’t live in big mansions but prefer a very humble existence. They spend most of their time trying to keep us safe, but they can’t do that by themselves. They need mortals, like me, to do some of the work.”

“Well, don’t get lost again, or next time you see me, I might be old and wrinkly with ten children and twenty-seven grandchildren.”

“I didn’t get lost on purpose, but I will try hard not to get lost again.”

“Good enough, Cap’n. Don’t forget to bring back some stuff. We never have enough stuff.”

“Do you think Cyrodiil stuff will be different than Skyrim stuff?”

“I won’t know till you bring some home.”

I gathered Inigo, Celestine, Erandur and Lydia. We boarded Bostin, and I looked fondly down at Silverpeak Lodge, which was currently covered in a foot of snow.

I set the course for Helgen. After Bostin finished going via the ethereal plane, I flew the airship manually and anchored outside an abandoned prison.

The snow was coming down heavily as I said goodbye. Not many words were exchanged. None of us knows what I am going to face in Cyrodiil.

The snow eased a bit as I approached the border post.

A guard in a Falkreath uniform stood and waited for me.

He said to his three companions, “Hey, here’s another one, what a beauty!”

I walked up to him and said, “I am glad you like my looks, but I am not your type. I like the ladies.”

His three friends laughed. He replied, “Looking to cross the border, friend? The price is one hundred septim.”

“I am not your friend. My friends are not allergic to soap and water. But I don’t need your services. There is a pass waiting for me inside.”

“No need for that. It could take hours! A few coins, and you’ll be over the border in no time.”

“Does Jarl Storm-Blade know of this scam? I doubt it, as he is a man of honour.”

“What scam? Just trying to do you a favour, friend.”

“Call me ‘friend’ once more, and we are going to have a problem. I am your Thane, and you will address me as such. I also have a pass with me, so there is no waiting involved. Go back and sit on your stool like a good boy.”

As I climbed the stairs, I heard the border guards discussing who I might be. They were Siddgeir’s men, as one of them clicked, that The Dragonborn had been made a Thane for killing Alduin.  

I entered and witnessed a domestic dispute between husband and wife.

“Sarmenti, my dear, I’m trying my best. Hopefully, I can get a new appointment somewhere else in the Empire.”

“Well, Stultus, your best is not good enough. We have been stuck out here for nearly two years! How much longer do I have to put up with those beasts outside?

“Oh, Sarmenti…everything is going to be just fine!”

“The way they look at me! It is only a matter of time… what are you going to do about it. I am in fear of my life….”

Entertaining as it was, I was eager to be away. A polite, “Ahem!” got Stultus’ attention.

“Oh, who’s this?”

“I am here to collect some paperwork.”

“Please, come and sit so we can conduct our business in comfort.”

We walked over and sat opposite sides of Stultus’ desk.

I said, “Good Sir, I am Viscount Wulf Primo-Barba. I believe you have some paperwork from Lady Sigunn of Bruma for me?”

“Yes, Captain Grimbold of the Bruma garrison informed us you would probably be coming. No one gets into Cyrodiil without an official pass.”

“There may be some letters from Countess Rigmor Ragnarsdottir of Bruma amongst your dead mail. I promised I would collect them since I was passing through.”

“I shall look for those while I get your border pass.”

Stultus went into the back room and spent several minutes shuffling papers and mumbling to himself. He finally returned and placed three pieces of paper on the desk.

Stultus sat then explained, “The House of Bruma signed the border pass. Be sure to show it to the New Imperial Guards when asked.”

“Don’t you mean the bandits dressed as soldiers? These passes are an insult to the citizens of The Empire. Never before have citizens needed permission to move between provinces.”

“The…uh…Emperor is very serious about immigration control and is quite ruthless in his implementation of zero tolerance. To not have an official document can be fatal.”

“It makes you wonder what he has to hide. What can you tell me about the guards your good wife is worried about?”

“Those guards are nothing more than criminal scum and people traffickers. They would wave you through for coin knowing how it would end…like it has for so many others. Those poor souls!”

“Do their victims include women and children?”

“I have seen them letting whole families through the gates. Men, women and children. All hoped for a new life, only to end up as bloody, frozen rags in the snow. It’s quite sad.”

“I assume this scam is not the duty assigned to the guards by the Jarl of Falkreath?”

“They are meant to be here to turn away the economic migrants and protect me as a diplomatic service.”

“Are the New Imperials acting on the orders of Emperor Sethius?”

“All I can say is they are more robust in their duties, hence the pass. Your friends had good cause to make sure you adhered to the official channels.”

“I have heard that others get punished for an individual’s actions.”

“Cyrodiil is a civilised province. Acts of aggression against any citizen are met with extreme prejudice. In some cases, entire families can be held responsible for the actions of one. As you now officially represent the House of Bruma…need I go on?”

I had a look at the border pass organised by Sigunn. It had Bruma’s seal on it and Stultus’ next to it. I handed him the one from Elisif and asked, “Can you please check this is in order and place your seal on it?”

Stultus took the pass from me. His eyes widened as he read it. He stammered, “This…this is from the Queen!”

“If you are referring to Her Royal Majesty, Elisif Valindius I, High Queen of Skyrim and the Nordic Tribes, Jarl of Solitude, Princess of the Haafingar, Lady of Haafingar Hold, Baroness of Fallinburg, then the answer is yes.”

“Ahh…it all looks in order, Your Eminence.”

“Does it need your seal?”

“Oh, yes, wait a minute, I will be right back.”

While Stultus quickly made his way to his back room, I opened Rigmor’s letters. The first was addressed to Lord Silverpeak at Silverpeak Lodge.

“Middas, 17th First Seed, 4E 203.

I know you probably won’t receive this letter, but I feel the need to write it anyway.

Somebody murdered Emperor Mede just over a week ago, and I am terrified! I now feel vulnerable as great uncertainty grips The Empire!

People are whispering about wars. Perhaps a civil war in a fight over the Ruby Throne or The Dominion taking advantage of the confusion and invading. Here I am, a nineteen-year-old girl responsible for the wellbeing of hundreds of thousands of citizens. What would I do if enemy soldiers marched towards Bruma? I don’t have a Quintus, or Yngol, or Cassius, or you to help!

Mutual friends from Skyrim have visited often and have been a great comfort. They have not given up on your return, but I am not as confident as they.

You have been gone for over a year. All the Priests and Priestesses of Mara could tell me is that you are lost. Lost where? Why would it take gods so long to find you?

I am starting to suspect this is all part of a plan to enforce separation. Gods lie!

And maybe you have agreed to this charade, even knowing how I will fret. If your gods demanded it, you would obey despite your protestations about free will.

Ahh, I sound bitter. But we have always been honest with each other, and these are my thoughts. The dream of our farm is fading, as is my confidence in your return.

No matter what, remember that I love you with all my heart and soul.

Rigmor.”

Stultus called from the back room, “Only be a minute or two. It is taking ages for the wax to melt to the right consistency!”

I wiped tears from my eyes as I sat and waited. The second letter was dated the 23rd of Sun’s Height, 4E 203 and was addressed to the Lord of Dragons Keep. It will remain unread until I am alone. We can’t have Viscount Wulf Primo-Barba blubbering like a baby in public, can we? Protocol and all that.

Stultus returned, sat, and handed me the approved border pass.

I held up the border pass from Sigunn, and it vanished in a puff of flame and smoke. Fine ash fell onto Stultus’ desk.

I apologised, “Sorry for the mess.”

The stunned official stared at the ash pile and then me.

I asked, “I assume I am allowed to defend myself if attacked.”

Stultus was still alternating between the ash pile and me. I clicked my fingers and immediately felt guilty as the little man was startled.

Now I had his attention, I repeated, “I assume I am allowed to defend myself if attacked.”

“Of course, Your Eminence. People do carry weapons in case of the odd renegade or wild animal. But you’ll find those inconveniences virtually eradicated apart from the border regions.”

“Why be a freelancing bandit when you can join The New Imperial Army?”

It was apparent Stultus was not used to people questioning the status of Cyrodiil. His eyes darted around as if expecting to be caught doing naughty things.

I asked, “I assume the dead letters accumulated during the troubles of 4E 203?”

“We received a lot of undelivered correspondence dating back years when we set up this border post. You must remember the last letter was sent during a most unsettling time.”

“I can imagine how chaotic it must have been.”

“The good news is Cyrodiil is experiencing growth and stability under the new administration. More so after the expulsion of the Thalmor and reinstation of The Nine throughout The Empire.”

“As long as the Counts and Countesses make a profit, things like slaughtered families at the border can be ignored. That is not reinstating The Nine throughout The Empire. But I have spent too long trying to fix such blasphemy with talk. It is time to use the sword instead. I am going to kill the guards, which should please your good wife.”

“Ahem, I think I have forgotten something out back. Would you excuse me for a moment?”

I stepped outside, and the guard said, “Well, look who’s back. No pass, huh? Well, for you, the price has just doubled to two hundred septim. Hahaha!”

I walked up close, and one of the other guards said, “Look at his eyes! I told you who he was.”

“Come, draw your weapons. It is time to die.”

They attacked.

I Shouted Slow Time.

They died in seconds.

I made my way back inside and told Sarmenti, “Those guards will pose no further danger.”

She smiled and did not shy away, so I assumed my eyes were back to normal.

I walked over to Stultus, who said, “So many raids these days from Redguard nomad raiders. I’ll make an official report and have this mess cleaned up.”

“No, that won’t do. The Redguards would never reach this far nor cross into Skyrim. That story will not stand scrutiny and will result in your, what is the term, oh yeah, summary execution. Especially after I slaughter the scum on the Cyrodiil side.”

“Then what do we do?”

“Wait a minute while I write a letter of introduction. Can I have your full name?”

“Ahh…Stultus Aprilis.”

“Are you a trained clerk? Can you balance books, check inventories, etcetera?”

“Yes, and Sarmenti used to be the head housekeeper of a large estate.”

I opened my journal case and wrote a letter of introduction to the Headmistress of Dragons Keep, recommending the couple be given employment and lodging until they find their feet in Skyrim or return to Cyrodiil.

After heating wax with a bit of Magicka, I signed it, used my seal, then handed it to Stultus to read.

He read it then passed it onto Sarmenti.

I asked, “Do you have a horse and cart?”

“Yes. We use it to gather supplies from Falkreath.”

“I assume there are a lot of expensive items amongst the lost mail?”

“Yes, it is careless what people do with their wealth.”

“It would be a shame if the nasty bandits who killed the guards outside and across the border also get their grubby hands on those expensive items.”

Stultus was not slow, and he knew what I was suggesting. He replied, “Perhaps they should be removed for safekeeping?”

“Good idea. I imagine the only records of these items are written in highly flammable books?”

“Yes, and if those books were burnt by the bandits, along with this outpost, nobody would know about those expensive items taken for safekeeping.”

I fished out a couple of rubies from my gem bag. They were worth about five hundred septim each. I handed them to the wide-eyed Stultus, who held them up for Sarmenti to see.

“Take those gems with you, and when you want to exchange them for coins or goods, speak to any of the Khajiit trade caravans and tell them Wulf sent you. They are worth over a thousand septim in total, and they will give you that fair price.”

“How will we get to Dragons Keep safely?”

“Ask to see Jarl Storm-Blade and tell him Wulf killed the guards and explain what they have been doing. Tell him why you had to leave this outpost. If you then ask for guards to escort you to Dragons Keep, I am sure he will supply them.”

Sarmenti took over and ordered Stultus, “Get a move on! The wagon is not going to load itself, and I have to plan a goodbye fire. Hurry up now!”

“Yes, Sarmenti.”

I stepped outside. The snowfalls were gone, and it was a warm sunny day.

My Dovah asked, “Do you think our celestial father and the others will be worried about us slaughtering guards?”

“Not at all. I was legally entitled to pass such a sentence on those guards. However, we don’t want to break the law in Cyrodiil. Therefore, I will need your help to taunt the New Imperial Scumbags.”

“Of course, I am allowed to defend myself if attacked.”

“So, are we one person once more?”

“Yes. Well, at least until you get it wrong and I have to step in.”

“That is not what The Divines were hoping.”

“Too bad, it is what they have got!”

I summoned Hashire, who seemed unexcited at the prospect of travelling through Cyrodiil.

We slowly trotted towards the border.

We passed the old border gates. We would have used those when Rigmor first crossed into Cyrodiil if we hadn’t used the smuggler route.

I stopped and stared at the Imperial City. The last time I saw it, I was not in a good way. I lost my identity after watching Rigmor pass through the final gates and out of my life.

We had exchanged words just before she mounted Ren and rode away.

I told Rigmor, “We are one heart, one soul and one shared destiny. Nothing will get in the way of our love. We are meant to be together and will be again!”

Rigmor had replied, “I will be forever yours. You know that and never fear it will change.”

I know I can lose myself like that because of the love I have for Rigmor. That is why I am terrified of what I will find over the coming days. That first letter only added to my worries. If she has lost faith in me and The Divines, she may be in more danger than we realised.

Hashire neighed with impatience. I said, “You are correct. It is nice and sunny, and we are not being attacked by bandits or wild animals. Forward, Hashire!”

I am sure my horse is embarrassed sometimes.

My anger flared when I saw Imperial banners next to murdering parasites.

I rode up slowly and stopped. A Lieutenant shouted, “Halt! The border is closed. What business do you have here?”

I leapt of Hashire and stomped towards the frightened Lieutenant.

“Is that how you address a General? And I had already stopped before your disgusting display of insubordination! Also, can you tell me when the world became so fucked up a low ranked officer can demand that a General disclose his business? Salute, and try it again!”

The idiot did a barely passable salute, then asked, “General, the border is closed. Can I please have your border pass for inspection?”

“Certainly, here it is.”

The Lieutenant’s face paled as he read it. I casually remounted Hashire and waited.

He finally handed the pass back to me and said, “Ok, Your Eminence, all seems in order. It is a standing order that I deliver a reminder.”

“Go ahead. I am not going to growl at you for doing your duty…properly.”

“I warn you to keep your weapons sheathed. Any acts of violence will be met with the full force of the law. You may, of course, defend yourself if you are attacked, but those are the rules.”

“I advise you to remember those rules, properly called laws in civilised countries, in a few minutes.”

“Ah…open the gate!”

The gates swung open, and I could immediately see a pile of civilian bodies and a Captain astride a horse.

Hashire ambled as I inspected the scene. The gate closed behind me.

I dismounted then inspected the large area of blood. It was not the result of one murder but several.

The Captain said, “Move along quickly. There is nothing here that concerns you.”

I walked up to him and loudly said, “I am making it my business and will be reporting what I see here to Her Royal Majesty, High Queen Elisif. These deceased are from Skyrim and citizens of The Empire. I can’t imagine the diplomatic shit storm this will create, and all on your watch.”

As I approached the pile of bodies, a New Imperial drew his sword and said, “I am warning you, move away.”

As I walked past him, I asked, “Why? Are you worried I will find a septim you haven’t scavenged yet?”

Other New Imperials were sifting through pockets and clothes when I arrived. They stood and watched as I inspected the corpses. It was quickly apparent that not only were the women raped, so were the children.

I yelled, “It is bad enough killing citizens of The Empire. When I report the raping of children, the Bandit King will have a civil war on his hands!”

A New Imperial tried to attack from behind. I quickly drew my sword, swung around and killed him.

Other New Imperials ran at me. I used Slow Time and started cutting them down quickly and methodically.

I inspected the scene and checked the Captain to see if he had any orders implicating Sethius. He didn’t. A plume of smoke from the direction of the border post told me Sarmenti and Stultus were about to leave for Falkreath.

I mounted Hashire and continued with my journey.

My Dovah whined, “Unfair. I didn’t even get to taunt properly.”

“Stating the truth out loud is just as effective as name-calling.”

“But not as much fun.”

“I found nothing amusing about the situation.”

As I rode, I could not help but think. Cyrodiil has proven to be as bad as Evermor, just more picturesque.

Bruma came into view, and I could not help but feel admiration for my beloved’s home.

I halted between two Bruma guards. The one on my left said, “Welcome, General, to the Free City of Bruma.”

“Thanks for the welcome. Do you need to see my border pass?”

“Haha, no need for here, friend.”

“I am here to see the Countess. Where can I stable my horse?”

“Go through the gate, turn right and follow the road to the blacksmith. There is no agistment fee for visiting dignitaries. You can’t miss the keep. Just head up the stone steps, and you will see its entrance. And once again, welcome to Bruma.”

As I approached the gate, another guard swung it open.

The ancient city of Bruma is impressive. The houses are in neat rows, and there is no refuse or sign of poverty. To my delight, many children ran through the streets laughing and playing. That sound is always a balm for my anxiety and uncertainty.

I stabled Hashire and told him, “This is home for now. No wandering off!”

He stamped his foot and nodded his head. I should have asked father where he and Meeko originated.

Rigmor told me she had erected a statue of Azura next to her castle’s entrance. I didn’t think it would be a forty-foot tall, black marble and magnificently carved leviathan!

I wasn’t surprised Rigmor had surrounded the statue’s base with flowers.

Two guards flanked the entrance. The one on the left said, “Halt! What is your business here?”

I did not take offence at him. He is a guard and not subject to the protocols of Imperial Legion rank.

“I am Viscount Wulf Primo-Barba, visiting the Countess of Bruma on behalf of Her Royal Highness, High Queen Elisif of Skyrim.”

“You’ll be lucky. She’s never here. Better off checking at the Tap&Tack.”

“Guard, I have just arrived but will provide some sound advice, not just criticism. Show respect for Countess Rigmor or hand in your uniform. You do it no justice.”

With some reverence, the guard on the right asked, “Is that you, Guardian General?”

I walked up to the guard and scrutinised his face. It was vaguely familiar, but I did not recall his name.

I replied, “It has been some time since I was called that, soldier.”

“I was with you and Countess Rigmor at the Battle of Whiterun, Casius’ Legion. I was wounded in battle.”

‘Your name?”

“I was Sergeant Ulfrin back then, Sir.”

“I can see by your stance it was an injury to your right leg. Am I correct?”

“Yes, Sir. It wasn’t an arrow to the knee, thank goodness. But one did go right through my thigh. There was a lot of blood, and pain, Sir.”

“Those were dark times, Sergeant Ulfrin. We could not have prevailed without brave men like you.”

“That is kind of you to say, Sir.”

“Please take this other guard under your wing and teach him some protocols and manners.”

“He has been warned before, Sir.”

“Were you ever a drill sergeant?”

“Oh yes, that was great fun, Sir.”

“Then you know what to do with a recalcitrant.”

“I will have to wait till he removes his helm. There is no use boxing his ears when he is wearing it.”

“Well, let my warning to him be enough for now. If the Countess is not in residence, I would like to speak to Lady Sigunn Fjonasson. Is she in attendance?”

“Yes, Sir, she is currently holding parley. You may pass, General.”

“It was a pleasure meeting you again, Sergeant Ulfrin.”

I shocked Ulfrin by giving him a salute. He returned it and said, “It was an honour and privilege to serve under you, Sir.”

I entered the castle with a little less apprehension. My meeting with Rigmor is delayed, and I found it satisfying to reward an old soldier with the respect he deserves.

As I approached the throne room, I noticed two sword maidens. They were Nords, as were most people I had seen in my brief traverse through the city. I have read that about eighty per cent of Bruma citizens are of Nord stock. The other Colovian counties, Chorrol, Anvil, Kvatch and Skingrad, have about 65 per cent Nord stock.

I walked into the room and to the left of the audience position as per protocol.

I am using my journal’s dweomer to write this observation in real-time.

A weaselly little man is berating Sigunn. He is flanked by Penitus Oculatus guards wearing very intimidating black armour. If this is Blackwell, he is a legend amongst Empire politicians and torturers. I first heard Blackwell’s name in the bowels of Helgen when escaping from Alduin and the executioner’s block.

To the right of Weasel and guards are two men waiting their turn at the parley. I am positive one of them is Jimmy Ten Fingers, the boat owner and doll part fetcher from Riften. But it has been so long since that day in Riften, and I could be mistaken.

Standing in front of them is a grizzled veteran in Bruma officer armour. I assume that is Captain Grimbold.

I have turned my attention to the throne.

Sigunn sits in a perfect ladylike posture with a straight back and hands placed flat on her thighs. There is no evidence of the slouching that all Jarls of Skyrim, of both genders, tend to do.

To Sigunn’s right is Malesam. I am glad to see he does not disgrace The College of Winterhold by donning a robe he has not earned. His black robes are expensive and a sign of status.

To Sigunn’s left is an elderly gentleman that logic dictates must be Freathof.

To the far right of Sigunn is Cerys. I am pleased to see she wears her well-deserved Master of Restoration robes.

It has only taken a couple of seconds for me to gather the information on those around me. I will now pay full attention to the heated discussion.

Weasel said, “The Emperor would like to know…no…he demands to know, why the Countess had not made time to attend? As you can see by my presence here today, it is absolutely imperative that she does.”

Sigunn confirmed Weasel’s identity by replying, “I am sorry, Lord Chancellor, I will make sure the Countess learns of the urgency to attend.”

Blackwell said in a lecturing tone, “One might think the Countess is avoiding her duties to The Empire. One might think Lady Sigunn has become the Countess in waiting…while her daughter….”

Sigunn rightly halted Blackwell’s aspersions, but at no stage did she lose her dignity. “Enough! Lord Chancellor, mind your tone and manners. Please inform the Emperor that the Countess will be forthcoming. I shall personally make sure she attends as soon as possible.”

Blackwell replied, “Please do. I would hate to have to find and escort her to the Palace myself. I think you understand the gravity of this needless situation only too well. You have one week from today to comply. Good day, Lady Fjonasson.”

As Blackwell turned to leave, Cerys approached with a smile on her face. My heart missed a beat as I realised that she might very well give my identity away.

Blackwell’s back was to us, so I quickly put my finger to my mouth in the universal sign for, “Shush!”

I said, getting into my snooty noble role, “Young lady, I am Viscount Wulf Primo-Barba and am visiting Bruma on private business. It has been a terribly long ride, and I would appreciate it if I could sit and have some refreshment whilst I wait my turn for an audience.”

Cerys performed her role flawlessly and even addressed me correctly.

“Of course, Your Eminence. Please follow me.”

I followed Cerys into a large hall with a dining table and welcome fire.

I said to the confused mage, “Well done, Cerys. Sorry for the subterfuge, but Blackwell must not know who I am.”

“Surely everybody knows The Dragonborn?”

“They do not know The Dragonborn has any association with Rigmor. You will learn the reason why this is important as I speak with Sigunn et al.”

“You seem well versed in the protocols of court.”

“Yes, so I know we must stand and wait for Sigunn before sitting. The title of Viscount is not fake. It is one of many that I am known by.”

I could hear Sigunn, and she confirmed it was Jimmy Ten Fingers. His dog had slaughtered some chickens, and the other man was asking for compensation.

I was positive Cerys expected me to ask about Rigmor. I couldn’t afford to get upset before finding out why Sigunn asked me to come to Bruma. Therefore, I kept silent as I waited for Sigunn.

A portrait of Rigmor hung over the fireplace. I was drawn to it like a moth to a candle flame. The difference was I knew it was going to hurt.

I stood and stared at the painting. If the artist captured Rigmor’s mood accurately, it was one of disinterest. It reminded me of when I first met her. Rigmor was a bitter individual with an understandably bleak outlook. To me, the painting showed a defeated young woman beaten down by circumstance once more. Where was the Rigmor who saw beauty in the world and delighted in simple pleasures? My disappearance would not be the sole cause for such regression. Perhaps I am just reading too much into a painting. Perhaps I am about to find what else contributed to her unhappiness.

I was startled out of my trance by Sigunn, who entered the room with an enthusiastic, “Dragonborn!”

I laughed and approached. I did a quick nod of my head and said, “It is of the greatest pleasure to see you once more, Lady Fjonasson.”

“Back here, there is no need for such protocol. How many years has it been?”

“Too many, Sigunn. And please, Dragonborn is one of my many titles. I would rather you call me Wulf, or, because it means so much to me, Guardian.”

“I take it you received my letter? Rigmor also tried writing to you, you know. But we could never find you.”

“Yes, I did receive your letter. There are reasons for the inability to find me, which I will explain soon. But first, our discussion must revolve around why you need my help. How is Rigmor?”

“She’s fine. You know Rigmor. When we first arrived, it took some time to get used to our new lives. She didn’t take too well to living here in the keep. Our old house is now her apartment.”

“Lord Councillor Blackwell seemed unsurprised by her absence.”

“I have been left to attend to the more mundane, courtly duties.”

“With the able assistance of Court Advisor Malesam and Master Freathof, no doubt.”

“You seem well informed?”

“More than you realise, Sigunn.”

The unwelcome and grating tones of Malesam rudely interrupted my discussion with Sigunn. He drawled, “Ah! Guardian, alive and well. I am pleased to make your acquaintance once again.”

“I have not had an opportunity to stop by The College recently. I hope your reports have been punctual and up to standard, Malesam.”

Sigunn asked with concern, “Reports?”

“Relax, Sigunn. As Arch-Mage, I am responsible for the welfare of Rigmor as per the Royal Decree with The College of Winterhold. A monthly list of expenses is submitted to ensure the stipend we pay Malesam and Cerys is put to good use. Malesam also has to let The College know of any concerns regarding Rigmor’s safety. No other information on this court is revealed.”

“So, you know of the current situation?”

“No, I have been unable to attend The College for some time. Plus, I decided it is best to get the facts first hand.”

I faced Malesam and said, “You are looking well.”

“I seem to have this preference for cold, wintry places. We feel right at home here, don’t we, Cerys?”

Silence from Cerys, but then again, Malesam did not give her time to respond before his chin started wagging once more, “Please, let me introduce you to Master Freathof, scholar and Court Mage to the Countess.”

I turned to Freathof, who had to look up at a steep angle to look into my eyes.

Freathof said, “I have heard so much about you, Guardian. It is good to meet you finally.”

“Do you like reading dusty old tombs on history and other more esoteric subjects, Master Freathof?”

“Indeed, that keeps me entertained when not performing my duties for the Countess.”

“Then we shall get on famously. I look forward to long discussions about gobblygook and mumbo jumbo.”

“So, you are the source of those words that Rigmor sprung upon me.”

“She helped me with parts of the Alduin prophecy and heard me use those terms quite often.”

“The discussions must include a good selection of cheeses and wines.”

“Indubitably!”

Sigunn said, “Come, let’s sit. Help yourselves to refreshments.”

Sigunn sat at the head of the table as per protocol.

Malesam sat to her left with Cerys standing behind him like a handmaiden. I thought it was disrespectful, especially since she is a Master Mage and outranks him.

I sat to the right of Sigunn. Freathof sat to my right.

Everybody looked at me expectantly, so I started the conversation.

  • Wulf: Sigunn, what is this all about and why did Lord Chancellor Blackwell have his knickers in a knot?
  • Sigunn: First, can you explain your claim to be Viscount, whatever it was?
  • Wulf: I am not here at your summoning. I was already planning on coming to Bruma for reasons that I will, once again, explain later. But we must concentrate on why you asked me to come here. That may lead to the other.
  • Malesam: The Lord Chancellor is a dangerous man, Guardian. He heads a very secretive and powerfully spy network.
  • Wulf: And he was Lord Chancellor to Titus Mede II. Yes, I know who he is, Malesam. I am surprised the usurper kept him alive. His skills must be exceptional.
  • Malesam: His loyalties lie in the sworn oath to protect and serve the Imperial Throne, no matter who’s bottom rests upon it. After failing to find Titus Mede II, he became bitter and left a rather long and blood trail behind him. He blamed the Dark Brotherhood and crushed the underground ring here in Cyrodiil. He is cruel and devious, and we have reasonable cause to fear him.
  • Wulf: The Bruma Sanctuary of the Dark Brotherhood was destroyed in 4E 186. The only assassin to survive moved to Bravil. The Bravil Sanctuary was destroyed in the Skooma War of 4E 188. The last survivor of that Sanctuary moved to Falkreath with the most precious cargo, the corpse of The Night Mother. It was the same assassin who survived the Bruma Sanctuary extermination. If there were any Dark Brotherhood members in Cyrodiil, they would have been small in number and without a Listener or proper coordination. They would not have had the resources or skilled assassins to undertake such a task. Blackwell was looking in the wrong place! Each Dark Brotherhood sanctuary has a specified territory of operation. Members of the Falkreath Sanctuary would have been assigned the job of Medes assassination as The Katariah was moored in Solitude. I killed nearly all the assassins of the Falkreath Sanctuary months before Mede was assassinated. Two were not there and survived. The first was the last survivor of the Bruma and Bravil Sanctuaries. He survived three times, and I think that is due to his position of Keeper. The Night Mother most likely gave him forewarning on each occasion. The second assassin to survive from Falkreath was a pre-pubescent girl vampire. The killer of Mede was likely one of those two.
  • Freathof: You are remarkedly well informed!
  • Wulf: I am sorry, I tend to go into lecture mode and deviate from the main topic. As for being well informed, I have attended to many crises and have aid from gods and mortals.
  • Sigunn: We have been immersed in running Bruma and are admittedly ignorant of much that has occurred in Skyrim and elsewhere.
  • Wulf: None of what I have done matters, Sigunn. What does matter is why you asked me to come here and why Blackwell is involved. And I have made us deviate from that.
  • Sigunn: Before Sethius can be coronated, The Emperor needs Rigmor to sign the Noble Decree.
  • Malesam: Yes, our ‘Bandit King’ is to bestow upon himself the title of Titus Mede the third. Rigmor has yet to sign the decree, but she would have to enter the nest of vipers to do so. We cannot be sure if they know of Rigmor’s true ancestry. If they do, she would be considered a pretender to the Imperial Throne.

My Dovah expressed what I thought, “What a load of utter hogwash!”

“I know. Now keep quiet while I listen to some more.”

  • Freathof: Sethius is a common bandit, and although powerful, he is no noble. As far as we know, Titus Mede II left no living heir. As the noble houses of Cyrodiil bickered and argued, Sethius took the throne by right of combat, as Titus Mede I took the throne from Thules two hundred years ago. If Sethius discovered Rigmor’s ancestral link to Titus Mede I, she would be in grave danger.
  • Sigunn: If all she had to do was sign this document, so be it, but we cannot let her go alone. However much I hate what has happened to Cyrodiil, this Bandit King becoming Emperor by right of combat is something we cannot change and don’t want to.
  • Wulf: You didn’t want to end up like Leyawiin, but you declared Bruma a Free City as you were not willing to show full support for the usurper. The other Counties did not object to your stance and would not have accepted another Leyawiin. Before coming here, I had a long discussion with Her Royal Highness, High Queen Elisif I, and did some extensive reading.
  • Malesam: After Leyawiin, all the nobles, including ourselves, took the chance of amnesty. We laid down our arms and signed the ‘White-Gold Settlement’ of the year 4E 203. We were left as a free city until very recently. Sethius now wants us to sign the ‘Noble Decree’ as well. Apparently, he needs it to become part of the Mede dynasty legally. Bruma is, after all, part of Cyrodiil and The Empire.
  • Wulf: So not only is Rigmor signing the decree, she is forfeiting Bruma’s status as a Free City?
  • Malesam: Yes. We have all agreed this is the best way forward.
  • Wulf: I want honest opinions. What do you think of Sethius?
  • Freathof: He was always causing problems in Cyrodiil. After the disappearance of Mede II, his bandit army grew so big, not even the Legions could contain it. His army would attack and plunder at will. The Imperial Court, in the absence of The Emperor, sent for Quintus Vitalis of The Northern Army.
  • Malesam: By the time Quintus arrived, it was all but over. Sethius had marched into the Imperial City with five thousand men. Quintus couldn’t cross the bridge.
  • Freathof: The Imperial Court surrendered the City. Quintus was sent with The Northern Legion to the Hammerfell border to protect Anvil. Thereby effectively stopping Redguard Nomad Bandits from the Brena River area.
  • Wulf: Three legions now reside in High Rock and Two in Skyrim. They have taken themselves out of Cyrodiil to avoid a civil war.
  • Freathof: You see Guardian, now there is peace in Cyrodiil. What was destroyed is being rebuilt. There are no raids and attacks on the counties anymore. The bandit army became, overnight, The New Imperial Army. Out only concern is Rigmor’s welfare.
  • Sigunn: But by her nobility, Rigmor is now caught up in this ridiculous powerplay. We just want her to sign the document and return home. But as Jonte says, if they know, she might not return at all, and we cannot risk the chance that they do.
  • Wulf: Don’t worry, Sigunn, I will escort Rigmor to the palace. But first I need to find her. Where is she?
  • Sigunn: If only I knew. I must apologise, Wulf. I’m so tired and must retire. I’ll let Jonte fill you in on the current situation with my daughter.
  • Wulf: Please, Sigunn, I shall endeavour to be as brief as possible, but you must hear what I have to tell you all. Malesam, what is happening with Rigmor?
  • Malesam: Ahh, yes, the errant Countess. Rigmor is a law unto herself. I had hoped she might someday take responsibility for her newfound position, but it’s not going to be anytime soon, is it, really, I’m afraid.
  • Wulf: Did she not take full responsibility for many months? Did she not broker trade deals with Solstheim and outdo The East Empire Company by doing so? Did she not sit in that throne day after day dealing with every minor and major complaint and problem presented? Remember, Malesam. I have your reports to The College. Or were you lying to keep your position?
  • Cerys: He was not lying, Dragonborn. But Rigmor changed. She seemed less interested in her duties and even stopped doing those tasks for The Emperor.
  • Wulf: Oh, and what tasks were they?
  • Cerys: She never said. It was all hush-hush. She used to wear a Penitus Oculatus outfit.
  • Sigunn: Because she was doing things on behalf of Mede, we did not pry too much. She did spend some time away but for a good reason. We could not begrudge her that.
  • Wulf: Please continue, Malesam.
  • Malesam: Of late, Rigmor spends her time between the Tap & Tap&Tack Alehouse and The Roxey Inn.
  • Wulf: The Roxey Inn was the favourite haunt of Rigmor’s Four Times Great Grandmother, Rigmor of Bruma. It was not difficult to find Imperial intelligence reports on her bandit activities.
  • Freathof: Esoteric subjects indeed! I had better stock more wine and cheese.
  • Wulf: Deviating again. Please continue.
  • Malesam: When Rigmor does frequent Bruma, she abodes at her apartment or the Tap&Tack.
  • Wulf: There is no harm in enjoying a few social drinks with her citizens!
  • Malesam: Ask about, and you will find she keeps unruly company and has been in the company of Count Leyawiin’s son, Ser Robere de Medalius.
  • Wulf: Rigmor is keeping company with Bruce de Medalius’ son? A bandit?
  • Malesam: Sigunn and I tried to advise Rigmor he was not of noble character. We had hoped to match her with the Count of Chorrol’s son, and she took absolutely no notice whatsoever and did what she always does, which is her own thing, essentially.
  • Wulf: Oh, Lady Mara, what has happened here?
  • Malesam: Guardian, as long as she’s happy, or as happy as can be considering her traumatic past, we are happy too. However, you feel or felt for Rigmor, and I know you became close; you were, after all, her Guardian, time moves on.

My rival for Rigmor’s affection was a bandit! Cerys looked at me pleadingly, for she wanted to protect her friend from scandal. I had to direct my fear and anger elsewhere. I had to finish this conversation when I felt like screaming with frustration.

  • Wulf: I apologise in advance, Sigunn. Not one of you has done Rigmor justice! From the moment she entered this place, all you have done is ram home her responsibilities as a Countess. She lost her formative years to The Thalmor and was then consumed by vengeance and the need to find her mother. Then they hunted her down! When Rigmor emerged from the terrors inflicted on her by The New Order, she led The Sons of Talos to war! If you saw the speech she gave to the veterans in Yngol’s camp, your hearts would have burst with pride. She travelled with me through ancient crypts to aid with the Alduin prophecy and demonstrated outstanding courage. Ragnar would be proud beyond description! I am privy to some of the things she did whilst part of the Penitus Oculatus. Rigmor has put her life on the line for others on many occasions!

I had to stop for a second. My Dovah was trying to surface, and that would be a disaster. With shaking hands, I poured myself some water and sipped it. There was dead silence from the others.

  • Wulf: Then things changed, and I know why they changed. But you lot continued to pressure her instead of letting her adjust. Ser Robere is a bandit and helped massacre and rape over half of Leyawiin’s population. That is hundreds of thousands dead, and Rigmor can’t see past that? But before Leyawiin, Ser Robere was one of the bandits raping and looting across Cyrodiil. And now you say Rigmor finds contentment in his presence? She killed hundreds of people just like him when travelling with me as her Guardian. She killed many more in her duties as Penitus Oculatus. Ask yourselves what you have done to change her from the confident woman proud to be Countess of Bruma and efficient in her duties into what you consider a selfish brat. And Malesam, if you ever say Rigmor only does what she likes ever again, your official position here will be terminated by The College, and I will punch you in the face.

I stood up and said, “Rigmor is the least selfish person I have ever met. You have failed to understand her or why she was hurting so much three years ago! You have not let her be a twenty-two-year-old with interests outside of responsibilities thrust upon her without making her feel guilty. You want her to hand over the legacy gifted to her as compensation for Ragnar’s treatment to the first noble with a cock! No wonder she stays away and hides in her own space when she returns!”

I sat back down, and Cerys smiled at me. The others looked abashed. I struggled to keep tears at bay. It was Sigunn who broke the silence that seemed as dark and lonely as The Void.

  • Sigunn: What did happen three years ago?
  • Wulf: Rigmor hoped we could be together once more. That hope was dashed when she learnt I was lost and might never be found. I was not lost on Nirn. I was lost in time and within The Void. When Lady Azura rescued me from The Void, it took three days to recover and rescue Rigmor from Oblivion. This time I was in The Void and then Aetherius for three years. That is what changed! That is why you couldn’t find one of the most famous people in Tamriel at any of his many estates.
  • Sigunn: Oh, Wulf, I am sure there is more to this than you admit. But we are not perfect and have all tried our best.
  • Wulf: Trying your best involves listening and demonstrating empathy, and I see no evidence of that. You have all failed to realise that Rigmor is also imperfect. Concentrating on and emphasising her flaws is not what she needs! Try seeing things from Rigmor’s perspective and be amazed at how quickly her attitude changes.
  • Freathof: You have given us much to ponder. What is next?
  • Wulf: We try and figure out what other danger lurks. I am hoping to get a clue about that from this discussion. What else can you tell me about Sethius?
  • Malesam: Ariel Sethius is a weak Emperor and is not the true power behind the throne. If it were a simple case of escorting Rigmor to the Imperial Court for the signing, we would have sent an escort from the Bruma garrison, which would have sufficed.
  • Wulf: Cut the dramatics. If there is another perceived danger, what is it?
  • Malesam: As you know, as a disciple of my beloved mistress, I have certain privileges and insight, and there is indeed a genuine concern Rigmor would be in danger at the court. We believe Sethius’ wife is a Daughter of Coldharbour.
  • Wulf: And some of the pieces of the puzzle fall into place. It does not take a god to detect a Daughter of Coldharbour. Within seconds of meeting her, I would be able to tell. Is there any evidence that she is what you claim?
  • Freathof: Rumours are that she is three hundred years old, yet her skin maintains a likeness akin to porcelain.
  • Wulf: Rumours are not facts. What is her name?
  • Malesam: Morag is her name, and we believe she is behind Sethius’ rise through the bandit ranks and ultimately responsible for the usurpation of The Imperial Throne. My mistress believes she is a Daughter of Coldharbour. As far as we know, Morag is never seen in daylight at all.
  • Wulf: Then Morag is a second-rate Daughter of Coldharbour. I know a couple, and one of them is a close friend who lives in one of my estates. She walked in sunlight without harm.
  • Sigunn: You have a Daughter of Coldharbour as a friend?
  • Wulf: Not all vampires are evil. They still have free will and can choose their path. But we can discuss such things another time.
  • Freathof: More wine and cheese. This could get expensive!
  • Wulf: When I rescued Sorella from the Bloodlet Throne, the vampires encountered were unique. They could control children from a distance. Children would walk many miles, oblivious of danger and discomfort, and willingly enter the vampire lair. Some children they would devour. Both flesh and blood were consumed by these vampires, which is rare but not unique. Other children they would send alive and healthy elsewhere for some purpose unknown. One of the vampires said about Sorella, ‘The Broodmother has chosen the child.’ I found a written set of instructions for this vampire coven. It was signed with the initials ‘M.S’.
  • Cerys: Morag Sethius!
  • Wulf: We can conclude that Morag has been with Ariel Sethius for at least four years, crediting the idea that she has helped orchestrate his rise through the ranks. We can surmise she is probably the Broodmother. Therefore, I must ask, have children been vanishing in Cyrodiil?
  • Freathof: There used to be, many years ago. But it stopped all of a sudden after the…after the catastrophe…

Freathof stared into the distance. Whatever he is about to say pains him.

  • Malesam: Continue Freathof, it’s alright, you have nothing to be ashamed of. Freathof was the tutor to the former Countess of Bruma, Guardian, and can explain how his position with Rigmor came about.
  • Wulf: He is not ashamed, Malesam, but the memories are painful. Please, take your time, Freathof.
  • Malesam: Rigmor said you could read people like a book.
  • Wulf: A necessity for my survival.
  • Freathof: For many years, I served Count and Lady Carvain. I schooled their only child, a daughter, in the ways of nobility, etiquette and math.
  • Wulf: Count Carvain lost his life in a riding accident.
  • Freathof: Yes, and then…and then…
  • Wulf: Take your time. Even the tired Sigunn can wait.
  • Sigunn: Impertinent but true.
  • Freathof: I can’t bring myself to say her name…one night, Sofia just disappeared. Oh, how we searched! I never gave up, but as the weeks turned into months, Lady Carvain became withdrawn. She lost the will to live and died of a broken heart.
  • Wulf: And thus ended the long line of Carvain rulers of Bruma.
  • Freathof: When milady Rigmor arrived, she told me all about what had befallen her in Skyrim. She described how you had rescued Sorella and how a similar thing that happened to Sofia also happened to Sorella. That she, too, had terrible dreams and heard voices calling her. Oh, how I wish I had taken more notice of the poor child.
  • Wulf: Freathof, I have an orphanage of over one hundred and twenty children. On any given night, a good percentage of them will have terrible nightmares. Sofia had recently lost her father, and nightmares would be an expected result. You had no way of knowing their origin or the danger they presented. A favourite and true saying of mine is, ‘Everybody is wise after the event!’
  • Sigunn: One hundred and twenty orphans!
  • Wulf: Deviating!
  • Sigunn: Oh, sorry, please continue, Freathof.
  • Freathof: Rigmor told me how you rescued Sorella after an encounter with a coven of witch-devils.
  • Wulf: Every single one died by my sword, Thu’um and spells. But it was not all doom and gloom, and over even more cheese and wine, I will tell you the heart-warming end of that encounter.
  • Freathof: After investigating the disappearance of children in Cyrodiil, I discovered it stopped altogether when the Skyrim coven was destroyed. Sofia was the last.
  • Wulf: Then valid speculation says Morag has enough children for whatever purpose she needs them or if killed, needed them. Sethius was also rising through the ranks at that time. Now I have some idea of why I was sent here, and the real danger Rigmor faces. I can tell you some things, but others will have to remain secret for now.
  • Sigunn: Please, tell us what you can.
  • Wulf: I have many titles, but the one that dominates my life is Dragonborn, Champion of The Divines. I am not like the Dragonborn descended from Saint Alessia. They had the blood of Lord Akatosh, dragon blood. That bloodline allowed the wearing of The Amulet of Kings and control over the Dragonfires. I have the blood and soul of a dragon. Freathof, do you know why Dragonborn such as myself exist?
  • Freathof: You are placed on Nirn in times of crisis to act as a mortal champion of The Divines.
  • Wulf: Correct, and the defeating of Alduin was only one of many tasks given to me by The Divines. I have come to Cyrodiil as The Divines know something that threatens the very existence of Nirn is imminent. Rigmor was also told of this threat by Talos himself.
  • Malesam: What is this threat?
  • Wulf: The Divines do not know. They have some idea, but the plans of Daedric Princes are hidden from them. Like in the past, they advised that I may have to rely on help from Daedric Princes to thwart this plan. If I did not know Boethia’s animosity for Molag Bal is eternal and immeasurable, I would not have this discussion in front of you, Malesam.
  • Malesam: Before anybody comes to my defence, The Guardian has valid reasons that we have discussed on another occasion.
  • Wulf: Rigmor is aware that she and I must be together in some capacity to thwart this plan. Similar to how we worked together to defeat The New Order and Malacath, we must join forces to defeat Morag and Molag Bal.
  • Freathof: Rigmor mentioned that The Divines give you tasks but leave you to discover the details and decide on the resolution.
  • Wulf: Yes. I must investigate and use mortal intuition and empathy to resolve the issues encountered. Too much information might bias me and crucial facts missed or ignored.
  • Sigunn: We know you saved us from Alduin and Malacath. Have there been other occasions?
  • Wulf: Yes, including the one that caused me to spend three years in The Void and Aetherius. Can you recall what happened in Evermor three years ago?
  • Freathof: An Oblivion Gate opened, and Daedra invaded. You closed that gate, didn’t you?
  • Wulf: Yes, but that was the least of the evils that beset that kingdom. I will not spend time telling the story here, but in the end, my soul was involved in a tug of war between Lady Mara and a powerful and unique Daedra. That resulted in me being lost in The Void. My dragon soul caused me to be lost in time. A female dragon called Silah found my soul. My body, which still retained a part of my soul, was placed in Sovngarde a long time before that. Lord Akatosh had a plan to fix the problem, but I pre-empted that by my soul finding my body and re-entering it by itself. I then spent years in Aetherius as my soul repaired itself. I was aided in this by Silah and Lord Talos.
  • Freathof: Were you aware at all times in The Void and Aetherius?
  • Wulf: No, and there is no way of telling how long I was in The Void. I was like Alduin and could have emerged thousands of years in the future. Rigmor was aware of this. I was not just lost to her; I was as good as dead. As for my time in Aetherius, I was only awake for short periods as Lord Talos assessed my soul’s health. To me, those three years are less than a few days. I was placed back on Nirn yesterday morning.

Cerys gasped. She understood how that revelation affected my feelings for Rigmor. I hadn’t had years to get used to the separation but mere days.

  • Sigunn: We have all heard of the atrocities in Evermor. It must have been terrible to deal with such evil.
  • Wulf: Yes, it was, and within minutes of crossing into Cyrodiil, I saw the save evil out in the open and with the blessing of Sethius.
  • Freathof: What do you mean?
  • Wulf: You are aware of the immigration policies in place. Otherwise, you would not have arranged a border pass.
  • Sigunn: Yes, without a valid border pass, you can be arrested and summarily executed.
  • Wulf: On the Skyrim side, some Falkreath guards had set up a scam where they sold fake border passes to those wishing to start a new life in Cyrodiil. They were once Siddgeir’s men, and I doubt Yngol had any idea of what they were doing.
  • Sigunn: Oh my! What happened to the people who crossed with the fake border passes?
  • Wulf: New Imperials raped and murdered the women and children. I think they just killed the men, but who knows. My purpose on Nirn is to defend all mortals. I could not ignore such a crime. The border guards on both sides are now dead.
  • Malesam: You have endangered all of us with your impetuous actions!
  • Wulf: I have done no such thing. I used a border pass issued by Her Royal Highness, High Queen Elisif I. I was in my legal rights as Thane of Falkreath and other titles to execute the guards on the Skyrim side. The New Imperials attacked me after I told them I would report their actions to Elisif. I do believe that was self-defence. Not only that, they drew weapons on a superior officer. I burnt the border pass from Bruma before I proceeded with these actions. If they wish, they can try and persecute the High Queen of Skyrim and her family, the richest land owners in Cyrodiil. But there were no witnesses. And Malesam, you continue to cast aspersions without all the facts. That is not what I expect of an advisor to Rigmor.
  • Freathof: And why is this atrocity so much like the evils of Evermor?
  • Wulf: There are no bandit raids to worry about because, as you said, the bandits are now The New Imperial Army. The largest organisation of law enforcers in Evermor also happened to be bandits called the Ustase. I am willing to believe that Bruma was ignorant of this border activity as Rigmor would not have let it be, no matter the danger to herself or the House of Bruma. But I am positive other Counts knew of this and ignored it. Similar to the nobles of Evermor, any atrocity is acceptable as long as the profits roll in. Meanwhile, a Daedric Lord plans in the background by taking advantage of mortal greed and lust for power. Exactly like Evermor!
  • Malesam: Do you think Rigmor being forced by the Emperor to sign the Noble Decree is part of Molag Bal’s plans?
  • Wulf: No. However, many of the tasks I undertake for The Divines have dangers resulting from a set of coincidences, not a well thought out plan. This whole thing with the Noble Decree stinks of coincidence. There is illogic in much of what you have told me.
  • Freathof: How so?
  • Wulf: You say that you are unsure if Sethius and Morag are aware of Rigmor’s bloodline. Malesam tells me how good of a spy network that Blackwell has. Blackwell was Mede’s confidant, and his reputation is well known and well earned. If Blackwell, Sethius or Morag had the slightest suspicion of Rigmor’s bloodline, they would not wait for her to walk into the Imperial Palace. They would hunt her down! Not a difficult task since even the guards outside know where Rigmor frequents.

The astonished looks on their faces told me this simple logic had eluded them.

  • Wulf: Rigmor is a first cousin, five times removed of Emperor Mede II. Unless Mede named her Heir Presumptive, she has no legal claim to the Ruby Throne, even if the tenuous connection to the Septim bloodline of Titus Mede II is accepted. Such a declaration of Heir Presumptive would be announced far and wide and not a secret. Mede wanted to scrutinise Rigmor’s bloodline for himself. The College of Winterhold provided enough proof to satisfy him. Therefore, he did not ask Imperial scholars to research Rigmor’s bloodline. Therefore, there is nothing on record to show he suspected or proved her association by blood.
  • Freathof: What about Morag’s connection with Molag Bal? Would he know of the bloodline?
  • Wulf: He may be able to find out. Remember, the gods, both Divine and Dark Lord, are not omnipotent. Even Lady Azura relies on mortals inflicted with foresight. If he already knew, he would have already told Morag. If she asks about Rigmor’s bloodline in the future, there is no guarantee Bal has mortal agents that can provide an answer.
  • Sigunn: Do you think Rigmor is in danger if they do discover her bloodline?
  • Wulf: Yes, simply because she is a well-liked and competent Countess who appears to have been favoured by Mede. The victors not only write history, but they also make up the laws. There are dozens of people with Mede bloodlines closer to Titus’ than Rigmor. High Queen Elisif is Titus Mede II’s niece. Vittoria Vici is a first cousin, once removed. I could quote dozens of others with closer blood ties to Titus. If Sethius and Morag declare Rigmor a usurper by bloodline, then that will be a new law. They have no Elder Council to enforce the correct sequence of scrutiny needed. The sycophant nobles making a good living from his rule will not argue with Sethius on a legal point.
  • Freathof: No, that did not turn out well for the Count of Leyawiin!
  • Wulf: Did the Count of Leyawiin point out that Sethius is not Emperor by Right of Combat? For a start, if that was all that was required, then the assassin who took Titus Mede II’s life could claim The Ruby Throne. Defeating a token resistance of confused city guards and Legionnaires without orders is not conquest and does not fit the definition of the right of combat laws. Mede I lopping off Thule’s head was! What Sethius achieved was a pleasant stroll to the throne room. Since Saint Alessia first founded the Empire, the succession of an Emperor without legitimate blood relatives or a named Heir Presumptive has been decided by The Elder Council. They were making that decision when they got wind of Sethius’ approach and fled. Sethius is a usurper by every definition of the ancient laws of The Empire. 
  • Freathof: Yes. I am sure the other nobles are aware of this fact, but the Count of Leyawiin was the only one brave enough to voice it.
  • Wulf: If Rigmor knew of this farce, or you knew and informed her, I don’t think she would have spoken up either. Her concern has always been for her citizens. Her silence would have been an act of compassion, not greed or cowardice. Am I correct?
  • Sigunn: Yes, Wulf. You know her well.
  • Malesam: What are the coincidences that make this is similar to other tasks?
  • Wulf: The three potential protagonists are going to be in the same place at the same time. Rigmor and I are mortal agents for The Divines. Morag is the mortal agent for Molag Bal. This proximity of yet undeclared enemies could be the catalyst for events that endanger us all. But we have one advantage, don’t we, Cerys?
  • Cerys: They do not know you are The Dragonborn.
  • Wulf: Aedriath’s plans came unstuck as he had not planned for me. Morag, Sethius and Blackwell will not know I am The Dragonborn and will not have planned for my presence. The Guardian General disappeared after escorting Rigmor to the border of Cyrodiil. The Dragonborn emerged soon after. Any records connecting the two heroes have been expunged. The Divines have many mortal agents in many important positions. They did this methodically and thoroughly. Before you scoff at this, consider how Ragnar was turned from hero to villain in all official records.
  • Sigunn: I am scared, Wulf. Rigmor is in far more danger than we thought.
  • Wulf: I will protect Rigmor till my dying breath. I have prevailed against far worse than a Usurper and second-rate vampire. There is no hiding from what The Divines warned is coming. We should face it head-on, don’t you think?
  • Sigunn: Yes, you walked into Oblivion for our Rigmor. I trust you in this.
  • Wulf: Also, place trust in The Divines as they will aid where they can. Azura will help as she does not want the Dark Lords to destroy Nirn or enslave its inhabitants. Boethia will help because she hates Molag Bal even more than she hates Malacath. There was more than one Dark Lord at play in Evermor. Their rivalry aided me in that instance as well.
  • Freathof: What next?
  • Wulf: We have surmised that Morag finished collecting children about four years ago. We need to know why. Malesam, while I escort Rigmor to the Imperial Palace, perhaps you can get together with Freathof and Sethri and figure out where we can start looking for Morag’s coven. I have no idea how you can reach Sethri, but there is a chance Azura has told him to come running back here. She would well and truly have detected ripples in the void by now. In other words, she would have looked through the foresight dreams of her seers and figured out what was happening.
  • Malesam: We have a plan of attack and can go to bed!
  • Wulf: One last thing. I am not trying to garner sympathy for Morag, but knowing your enemy increases your chance of victory. Do any of you know how somebody becomes a Daughter of Coldharbour?
  • Freathof: Only conflicting accounts in several texts on the subject.
  • Wulf: Molag Bal is credited with inventing rape, but that is nonsense. Females have always been the prey of males with ill intent. On the 20th of Evening Star each year, masses of young girls are taken to a small part of Coldharbour and raped by Molag Bal. He prefers young virgin females, but even grown men, like my friend’s father, can be raped by that Dark Lord. Those that survive, which is very few, then become Daughters of Coldharbour. Molag uses rape to insult the tenets of Lady Dibella. The Daughters of Coldharbour are considered his spouses to mock the tenets of Lady Mara. They are made undead to mock The Divine he despises the most, Lord Arkay. Some of those raped are volunteers. Many, like my friend, were sacrificed by their parents in a quest for power. We do not know Morag’s story. She has chosen her actions using free will, whether a volunteer or a sacrifice, for Bal does not force his followers into actions.
  • Sigunn: I know you will tell us many more shocking revelations when the time is right.

Cerys hurriedly stifled a giggle by pretending to cough.

  • Wulf: Correct. If I am not careful what I say, my ability to protect Rigmor may be reduced.
  • Sigunn: Then let us call it a night. I assume you will look for Rigmor first thing tomorrow?
  • Wulf: I try not to travel unfamiliar territory at night. I could call on a dragon to be my scout, but the people of Cyrodiil are not as comfortable with them as the citizens of Skyrim.
  • Freathof: That is an understatement!
  • Wulf: So yes, at first light, I will start looking for Rigmor.
  • Sigunn: Cerys, will you be so kind as to show Wulf to his room?
  • Cerys: Of course.

I watched the three leave the room. I was not eager to proceed with the next logical step of this Divine Task.

Cerys stood patiently and waited. The young mage is just the sort of person Rigmor needed when the others misinterpreted.

Captain Grimbold was witness to the whole conversation. I will introduce myself to him later and ask his opinion. The wisdom of veterans is often overlooked.

I finally approached Cerys and said, “Cerys, please show me to my room.”

“Of course. Please follow me Dra…I mean Wulf.”

Cerys chatted away as we walked. I welcomed the distraction from my fretting and anxiety.

“It is so good to see you again. Malesam prefers the College to the keep, but I like it here.”

“The College is all I have ever known…mostly…and I still go there sometimes. But the keep feels so much more secure and not ready to fall into the sea.”

“This is the Lords Hall. Malesam and I share the same room in the lower part of the living quarters along with Freathof.”

“Here, this is your room.”

We entered, and as soon as I closed the door, Cerys aired her worries.

“Wulf, it’s going to be hard for her when she sees you again. Don’t think you can just walk into her life and begin where you left off.”

“Cerys, I know that. I have had discussions with gods about this very subject. I am aware Rigmor tried to write to me, and now you know why I never received those letters or replied. You are going to say she has moved on. I know all that, so I am asking out of concern. Please, tell me about Robere.”

“You have to hear me out, for I am afraid you will break her heart once more. She loved you with all her heart. But now she is happy again and is finding her own way, whatever that way may be. If you really love her, really in your heart, you will accept her as she is now.”

“I would never do anything to hurt Rigmor deliberately. But it is inevitable that seeing me once more with cause her pain. I am sorry, but that is a fact.”

“Rigmor told me she was intimate with you, but you must let her go, and gods forbid you tell anyone! It would be best if you never told anyone. Not Malesam, Sigunn, no-one!”

“That is old fashioned bullshit! Do you think your morals or worth as a bride should be judged on whether or not you are a virgin? Would any of the suitors put forward by Sigunn be expected to be a virgin on their wedding night?”

“But…she is nobility, and she is with Bobby now.”

“I have many noble titles. They are real ones earned for my sacrifices and dedication to help the citizens of Nirn. Bobby is no noble. Bobby is a bandit! I will regard him as a threat to Rigmor until it is shown otherwise.”

“Wulf, he really is a nice, charming man. He tried, although Rigmor can be a handful. He is good for her.”

“A charming and handsome prince in Evermor was the perfect male in physique and manners. He was a Daedra in disguise who was planning mass murder and slavery with another demon. He is the one who caused me to lose three years! Do not be fooled by good acting and a pretty face!”

“And don’t you assume Bobby is anything but what I described!”

“Cerys, do you know what Coverture is?”

“No.”

“If Rigmor were to marry Ser Robere, she would no longer be Countess. She would lose all rights to this keep and would have no say in the running of Bruma. Ser Robere could kick you and Malesam and Freathof and Sigunn into the gutter with only the clothes you wear, and nobody could do a thing about it. Do you know Ser Robere so well, you would risk that scenario?”

“No. Not at all.”

“So now you understand why I have to check him out. As Rigmor’s Guardian, that is my duty, no matter what my personal feelings for her are.”

“This must be difficult for you.”

“I am going to confide in you. You need to know the truth as Rigmor has felt guilty for not telling you.”

“You can trust me, Wulf. I understand what is at stake and would not risk it all by blabbing.”

“I know what Rigmor was doing with the Penitus Oculatus because she was with me, every single time. We shared everything for all those months before I got lost. We could even talk to each other over thousands of miles because Lady Mara gave us special rings.”

“Everything?”

“Danger, laughter, tears and a bed.”

“Oh my!”

“You think this reunion will be hard for Rigmor? You realised when I was talking that I experienced a shorter separation than Rigmor. The last time I held Rigmor in my arms was three days ago!”

“So, hearing about Ser Robere is like….”

“It is like discovering the person you love more than life itself has chosen somebody else without prior warning. Then you are expected to be with that person, by both mortals and gods, without time to digest that bitter fact!”

“What are you going to do?”

“What I have always done because whatever my sacrifice, it is insignificant to what The Divines have sacrificed. I will find Rigmor and be her Guardian. If Ser Robere is genuine and Rigmor chooses him, then I will wish them well. After we have saved Nirn once more, I will get lost, but this time I will choose not to return. For without Rigmor, my life would be meaningless.”

Tears came unbidden. Cerys was at a loss at what to say or do.

“You had better get some sleep, Cerys. And I thank you for being the only one who listened to and understood Rigmor.”

Cerys quickly made her way out of the room. A room I hadn’t even looked at and still didn’t. I wiped my eyes and made my way outside. I looked up at the stars and heard the familiar rise and fall of indecipherable conversation.

It was no use asking them for answers, so I made my way to Bruma’s temple instead.

First, I approached Lord Akatosh’s shrine. It was no use asking him. He never speaks to mortals since the Liminal Barrier was put in place.

I approached Talos’ shrine but already knew he would advise me to speak to Lady Mara.

I stood in front of Lady Mara’s shrine and found myself unable to admit my fears.

I sat dejected and worked to build up my courage.

Finally, I opened Rigmor’s second letter and read it.

“Loredas, 23rd of Sun’s Height, 4E 203

Dear Wulf,

Another futile attempt at contacting you but once again, I feel compelled to write down my thoughts. In a way, I think of it as talking via our rings but one-sided and delayed by who knows how long.

You are so not going to believe this, but the crap has totally hit the fan over here in Cyrodiil.

Some badass bandit king has taken the Citadel, and I have been advised by Freathof and Malesam to declare Bruma a free city.

They totally burned and trashed Leyawiin, and the nobles are all bummed out calling for a peace treaty, as I write. If you try to come over the border, be careful, the whole of Cyrodiil is pretty much in a state of anarchy. Everyone’s running around like headless chickens. 

It’s actually quite invigorating, and I’m loving it.

Malesam had to sit down due to heart palpitations. He was like, ‘Oh, oh, oh!’ I totally cried laughing, oh poor Cerys. However, I would feel a lot safer if you were around.

Wulf, when are you going to come and take me to pick a site for our farm?

I still don’t understand how you could be lost or if the gods are lying.

If I don’t hear from you after this letter, I’ll have to start thinking about moving on and giving up hope we will ever see each other again.

Whatever happens, remember this:

I WILL NEVER FORGET YOU, AND I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU!

Rigmor.”

I sat, staring at nothing, thinking of nothing. I had no skills, strength or desire to fight the lethargy. I might as well have been in The Void. Sorry Divines, you will need a new champion.

I did not notice the petite woman walk past me and sit to my left. I was still staring into infinity when her voice startled me back to the here and now.

“Wulf, I am Uravasa Mona, Senior Priestess of Mara. I am Primate of the Great Chapel of Mara in Bravil.”

“It is a privilege to meet one so favoured by The Nine.”

“That was amazing! You said a whole sentence devoid of all emotion. I shouldn’t be surprised as it matches your face.”

“Why are you here, Primate Mona?”

“For centuries, I have received instructions from Lady Mara and sent help to those seeking her wisdom on affairs of the heart. You are the first supplicant I have attended to myself in over one hundred years!”

“I haven’t asked for help.”

“And that is exactly why you need it!”

“Are The Nine worried about their broken champion? Are you here to glue me back together so I can do their bidding once more?”

“I was warned you can be an idiot and stubborn as an ox.”

“I am not interested in Aunty Uravasa’s famous recipe for mending a broken heart.”

“Would you be interested in Rigmor’s real feelings about Ser Robere?”

“Wouldn’t that be breaking some sort of Divine rule? Aren’t I supposed to figure all this out myself?

“To do that, you have to be able to think clearly. As Lady Mara predicted, you can’t think at all.”

“Well, if the question was not rhetorical, then yes, I want to know with what I am dealing. For Lady Mara is correct. I do not have the knowledge, courage or skills to figure this out.”

“You are also afraid of hurting Rigmor with angry words. You fear that savage side of you will dominate.”

“My heart is already breaking. Hurting Rigmor with bitter words would be the end of my sanity. Rigmor does not deserve anger from me but understanding. I know this, but it is theoretical. I cannot risk testing my ability to do what is right, for I will fail to do so. Of that fact, I have never been more certain about anything in my life!”

“Rigmor has prayed to all the gods she is aware of, both Divine and other. She prays for news of you. Her heart and soul yearn for you. In her way, she loves Ser Robere. But in her prayers to The Divines, she raises doubt about his sincerity. In her prayers, she pleads how much you mean to each other and that if they were empathetic gods, they would value that love and help her. Her faith is severely tested, yet every night she talks to any god that will listen.”

“What creates this doubt?”

“They have been courting for just over a year. During that time, Ser Robere has not introduced Rigmor to his father. Ser Robere has listened to Rigmor for hours but contributed little to the conversation. He has not spoken of his aspirations for the future. He refuses to speak of his time as a bandit. He has never tried to seduce Rigmor nor shown any interest in intimacy.”

“Rigmor’s intimacy is none of my business. Lady Mara’s love is not a requirement for intimacy nor a guaranteed outcome of intimacy. According to Lady Dibella, all is fair if the participants consent and are mature enough to understand the commitment.”

“You and Rigmor made vows of body and soul. Rigmor bedding another would seem like a violation of those vows to you. So cut out the nonsense about Rigmor’s intimacy not being your business.”

“I have no right to ask. You have no right to tell me. Telling me of Rigmor’s prayers violates their sanctity.”

“You are correct about the first. My duty to help you negates the second. As for the third, you and Rigmor were told of people’s prayers when you were acolytes. Using that knowledge, you helped people. The Divines cannot physically aid those who pray. They rely on mortal agents to act upon those prayers. Such aid would be impossible if there were this mythical sanctity about what is said in prayer.”

“I will take your word for it. The morality of The Divines and their priests and priestesses took a battering in Evermor.”

“I can see why you are worried about your reactions with Rigmor. Your pettiness is on full display at the moment. I am used to it. Love can bring out the best and worst in people.”

“I am truly sorry, but I am as the vagaries of chance have made me. Sometimes a mortal’s free will is trounced by chance.”

“Rigmor often told you of her favourite memories and the places within those memories. She promised on several occasions to visit them with you when you finally crossed the border into Cyrodiil. In a year, she has not taken Ser Robere to a single one. That is one of the reasons she questions her feelings for Ser Robere.”

“So why be with him if she has doubts about his sincerity and he does not fulfil her needs?”

“Lady Mara has informed me that your logic, moral integrity, empathy and intelligence are immense. Now, apply all you know of Rigmor’s current circumstances and what you know about her. Then answer that question. Why does Rigmor need Ser Robere?”

“The first answer to that is the most likely. Ser Robere is fun. Rigmor wants to enjoy life, and she finds that hard to do with the constant pressure to act like a Countess from her advisors and mother. Like the peace we share, Ser Robere is an escape from the reality of those constant pressures and expectations. He might not be everything Rigmor craves, but what he provides is valuable enough.”

“Lady Mara has told me about the peace that envelopes Rigmor and yourself. Even The Divines do not understand how or why that occurs. They all consider it evidence of strong synergy between your souls.”

“Yep. More theories. It is hard to squeeze facts out of them.”

“That is a legitimate reason why Rigmor might need Ser Robere. However, you said it was the first answer. What is another?”

“Ser Robere is a rejection of the expectations thrust upon her. People like the son of the Count of Chorrol will never appeal to Rigmor. Yet those around her continually considered such people suitable, while people like Ser Robere are not. There is never any mention of love, just an advantageous match required by people of her status. This hypocrisy ignores how Rigmor received Mede noble blood. An Emperor loved a bandit woman. Why can’t a Countess love a bandit? I have told Rigmor of Emperors who married commoners. Yet those around her persist with their bullshit.”

“An excellent answer. Perhaps a combination of the two is the exact answer? Do you have another?”

“Ser Robere is playing her. He has studied her and knows what strings to pull. Rigmor is like a marionette dancing to his manipulations. The rules of Coverture provide the chance for a ruthless, ambitious arsehole to leap up the social and wealth ladder so important to shallow nobility. If he is willing to kill and rape for a living, such manipulation of a young woman will not cause a single pang of guilt. If he is like that and I can recognise it, but Rigmor cannot, I will be caught between the desire to protect her and the desire not to cause her emotional harm.”

“I can’t advise you which of any single one or combination is the correct answer. The motivations of Ser Robere are not known to The Divines or me. But even if they were, you know you would need to discover the answer for yourself.”

“I am way too familiar with that process.”

“I will leave you with Aunty Uravasa’s famous recipe for mending a broken heart. Do what you do best and listen to Rigmor. Try and understand what her words mean and why she says them. Do not act purely on the literal meaning of words and sentences. If you do this, the correct answer will come.”

“If the correct answer is Ser Robere is a nice guy and the love is genuine, what then? I say I could wish them well and walk away. Yes, I could probably do that. But then what? I would be like you found me.”

“Wulf, what are the odds of that being the outcome? What percentage chance do you give Ser Robere of being a reformed and outstanding citizen? Deal with whatever eventuates and do not refuse to act out of fear.”

“I have no choice. There is too much at stake, and I cannot risk all over my discomfort.”

“As good a motivation as any to try.”

“I have one more question, Aunty Uravasa.”

“I am going to regret playing on that name. But yes, what is your question?”

“How did you know I was going to be in here? I only just made up my mind seconds before heading this way.”

“Lady Mara didn’t know if you would speak to her or not. She was certain you would come to this temple sooner or later. I arrived a couple of days ago and have been staying in the Tap&Tack. I paid the many children running around and a few adults to come and tell me if somebody fitting your description entered the temple.”

“Wow, a no gobblygook or mumbo jumbo answer from a priestess!”

“Get some sleep, Wulf. You look like death warmed up.”

“Well, maybe I am. I sincerely thank you, Primate Mona. You have provided what I need to move forward.”

I escorted Primate Mona to the Tap&Tack then made my way to my room.

As I walked, I looked up at the stars and said, “Thanks for your help!”

I collapsed on my bed.

I know not what time I fell asleep.

2 thoughts on “DOUBTS

  1. Well that was bloody brilliant. I have so looked forward to reading these entries for the RoC reboot. I like Freathofs comments about more cheese and wine. Thank you Mark. I have started reading Rigmor in Skyrim again while waiting for the next which will be a good one. I kept Rose as a companian.

  2. Sometimes all we need is someone to listen and to repeat back what we already know. Confirmation that we are thinking with an open mind and using what we know to be possibilities that we already thought of. Thank You Mark

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