Online:2920: The Last Year of the First Era
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|Veja também||Versão da Lore|
|Coleção||Tales of Tamriel|
Almalexia ficou em sua cama de peles, sonhando. Não até o sol brilhar por sua janela, infundindo a madeira clara e cores de carne de seus aposentos em um brilho leitoso, ela abriu seus olhos. Estava quieto e sereno, um oposto impressionante do sabor de seus sonhos, tão cheios de sangue e celebração. Por alguns momentos ela apenas olhou para o teto, tentando pôr em ordem as suas visões. No pátio de seu palácio havia uma piscina fervente que cozinhava no frescor da manhã de inverno. No aceno de sua mão, o vapor se desfez e ela viu o rosto e forma de seu amante Vivec em seus estudos ao norte. Ela não queria falar imediatamente, ele estava tão bonito em suas vestes vermelho escuras, escrevendo sua poesia assim como ele fazia toda manhã.
— Vivec. — disse, e ele ergueu a cabeça com um sorriso, olhando para seu rosto a milhares de quilômetros. — Eu tive uma visão do fim da guerra.
— Depois de oitenta anos, eu não acho que ninguém consiga imaginar um fim. — disse Vivec com um sorriso, mas ele ficou sério, confiando na profecia de Almalexia. — Quem irá vencer? Morrowind ou o Império Cyrodílico?
— Sem Sotha Sil em Morrowind, nós vamos perder. — respondeu.
—Minha inteligência me diz que o Império vai nos atacar pelo norte no início da primavera, em Primeira Semeadura no mais tardar. Você poderia ir à Artaeum e convencer ele a retornar?
—Eu vou partir hoje. — ela enunciou, meramente.
A Imperatriz andava por sua cela. O inverno a causou desperdício de energia, enquanto no verão ela podia apenas sentar perto da janela e ser grata por cada sopro de vento do velho pântano que vinha para refresca-la. Pela sala, sua tapeçaria de uma dança na Corte Imperial parecia zomba-la. Ela a rasgou da moldura, rasgando-a em pedaços enquanto esses se espalhavam pelo chão. Então ela riu de seu próprio gesto de provocação. Ela teria tempo de sobra para reparar e fazer centenas mais. O Imperador a trancou no Castelo Giovesse há sete anos, e pelo jeito a manteria lá até morrer.
Com um gesto, ela puxou o cordão para chamar seu cavaleiro, Zuuk. Ele apareceu na porta em minutos, todo uniformizado como é apropriado para um Guarda Imperial. A maioria dos Kothringi das tribos nativas do Pântano Negro preferia andar nu, mas Zuuk havia adquirido um apreço positivo por moda. Sua prata, reflexiva pele estava pouco visível, apenas seu rosto, pescoço e mãos.
— Vossa Alteza Imperial.— enunciou com uma reverência.
— Zuuk — clamou a Imperatriz Tavia. — Estou entediada. Vamos discutir métodos para assassinar meu marido hoje.
Os carrilhões proclamando a oração do Vento do Sul ecoaram pelas largas avenidas e jardins da Cidade Imperial, chamando todos para seus templos. O Imperador Reman III sempre comparecia a um serviço no Templo do Um, enquanto seu filho e herdeiro Príncipe Juilek achava mais político ir a um serviço em um templo diferente em cada dia religioso. Esse ano, foi na catedral Benevolência de Mara.
Os serviços da Benevolência eram misericordiosamente curtos, mas não foi até bem após o meio-dia que o Imperador pôde voltar para o palácio. Até lá, os lutadores da arena estavam esperando impacientes pelo começo da cerimônia. A multidão estava de longe mais inquieta, conforme o Potentado Versidue-Shaie havia providenciado uma demonstração de um grupo de Khajiiti acrobatas.
— Sua religião é tão mais conveniente que a minha — disse o Imperador para o seu Potentado como forma de se desculpar. — Qual o primeiro jogo?
— Uma batalha um a um entre dois guerreiros capazes — disse o Potentado, sua pele escamosa captando o sol conforme ele se erguia. — Armados conforme suas culturas.
— Parece bom — disse o Imperador e bateu suas mãos. — Que o esporte comece!
Assim que ele viu os dois guerreiros entrar na arena pelos gritos da multidão, o Imperador Reman III lembrou-se de algo que ele havia concordado há muitos meses e esquecido. Um lutador era o filho do Potentado, Savirien-Chorak, uma serpente de cintilante amarelo-marfim, apertando fortemente sua katana e wakizashi com seus finos braços, de aparência enganosamente fraca. O outro era o filho do Imperador, Príncipe Juilek, em armadura de ébano e um selvagem elmo Orquico, escudo e espada longa a seu lado “Isso será fascinante de assistir,” sibilou o Potentado, um largo sorriso por sua face estreita. “ Eu não sei se já assisti um Cyrodiil lutar com um Akaviri assim. Normalmente é exército contra exército. Pelos menos poderemos decidir qual filosofia é melhor — criar armaduras para combater espadas como seu povo faz, ou criar espadas para combater armaduras como o meu faz.”
Ninguém dentre a multidão, exceto uns poucos conselheiros Akavir espalhados e o Potentado em si queriam que Savirien-Chorak ganhasse, mas havia uma coletiva ingestão de ar a vista de seus movimentos graciosos. Suas espadas pareciam ser parte dele, uma calda saindo de seus braços para equivaler a de trás. Foi um truque de contrapeso, permitindo ao jovem homem serpente rodar em círculos e se prolongar para o centro em posição ofensiva. O Príncipe teve que avançar na forma tradicional menos impressionante.
Conforme um pulava no outro, a multidão berrava com prazer. O Akaviri era como uma lua em orbita em torno do Príncipe, sem esforço pulando sobre seu ombro para tentar um ataque pelas costas, mas o Príncipe rodava rapidamente para bloquear com seu escudo. Seu método de contra-ataque encontrou apenas ar conforme seu adversário caía chato no chão e deslizava entre suas pernas, disparando contra ele. O Príncipe caiu no chão com um baque ressonante.
Metal e ar se fundiram juntos com Savirien-Chorak disparando golpe após golpe sobre o Príncipe, que bloqueava cada um com seu escudo.
— Nós não possuímos escudos em nossa cultura — murmurou Versidue-Shaie para o Imperador. — Ele aparenta insólito para meu garoto, eu imagino. Em nossas terras, se você não quer ser atingido, você sai do caminho.
Quando Savirien-Chorak se recuperou para começar uma outra série de ataques enganosos, o Príncipe chutou sua cauda, mandando-o ao chão momentaneamente. Em um instante ele havia se recuperado, mas o Príncipe também estava de pé. Os dois circularam um ao outro, até o homem cobra girar para a frente, katana estendida. O Príncipe viu o plano de seu adversário, e bloqueou a katana com sua espada longa e a wakizashi com o escudo. Sua lâmina de perfuração curta empalou-se no metal, e Savirien-Chorak foi deixado desequilibrado.
A espada longa do Príncipe cortou através do peito do Akavir e uma repentina, intensa dor fez com que ele soltasse as duas armas no chão. Em um momento, estava acabado. Savirien-Chorak estava prostrado na poeira com a espada do Príncipe em sua garganta.
—O jogo acabou!— gritou o Imperador, quase sem ser ouvido em meio aos aplausos do estádio.
O Príncipe sorriu e ajudou Savirien-Chorak se levantar e ir a um curador. O Imperador deu um tapinha nas costas de seu Potentado, sentindo-se aliviado. Ele não havia notado quando a luta começou a pouca chance que ele havia dado a seu filho de vencer.
— Ele será um grande guerreiro — disse Versidue-Shaie. — E um grande Imperador.
— Apenas lembre-se — sorriu o Imperador. — Vocês Akaviri possuem um monte de movimentos chamativos, mas se apenas um de nossos golpe passar, está tudo acabado para vocês.
— Ah, vou me lembrar disso. — acenou o Potentado com a cabeça.
Reman pensou sobre o comentário pelo resto dos jogos, e teve dificuldades em realmente aproveitá-los. Poderia o Potentado ser outro inimigo, assim como a Imperatriz havia se tornado? A questão iria requerer observação.
— Por que você não veste aquela toga verde que eu te dei? — perguntou o Duque de Forte da Lamentação, assistindo sua jovem donzela vestir suas roupas.
— Ela não cabe — sorriu Turala. — E você sabe que eu prefiro vermelho.
— Ele não cabe por que você está engordando. — riu o Duque, puxando-a para a cama, beijando seus seios e a bolsa de seu estômago. Ela riu com as cócegas, mas se levantou arrumando sua roupa vermelha no corpo.
— Eu sou curvada como uma mulher deve ser — disse Turala. — Vou lhe ver amanhã?
— Não — disse o Duque. — Eu tenho de receber Vivec amanhã, e no dia seguinte o Duque de Coração-Ébano estará vindo. Sabe, eu nunca apreciei Almalexia e suas habilidades políticas até ela ir embora?
—É o mesmo comigo — sorriu Turala. —Você só irá me apreciar quando tiver ido embora.
—Isso não é verdade — bufou o Duque. — Eu aprecio muito você agora.
Turala permitiu ao Duque um último beijo antes de ela sair pela porta. Ela se manteve pensando sobre o que ele disse. Será que ele a apreciaria mais ou menos quando soubesse que ela estava engordando por que carregava uma criança dele? Ele a apreciaria o bastante para casar-se com ela?
Sotha Sil assistiu seus aprendizes flutuarem um por um até a árvore pegando uma fruta ou flor de seus altos galhos antes de voltar ao chão com variados níveis de graciosidade. Ele tomou um momento para admirar o dia. A estátua caiada de branco de Syrabane, a qual se dizia que o grande mago havia posado para em dias antigos, se mantinha no precipício de um penhasco com vista para a baía . Além, oceano, e a fronteira mística entre Artaeum e a ilha principal de eSemprestio.
"Em geral, aceitável," ele anunciou enquanto a última estudante jogava sua fruta em sua mão. Com um agitar de sua mão, as frutas e flores estavam de volta na árvore. Com outro movimento, os estudantes haviam ficado em posição em um semicírculo ao redor do mago. Ele tirou uma pequena bola fibrosa de suas vestes brancas, de aproximadamente um pé de diâmetro.
“O que é isso?"
Os estudantes entenderam o teste. Pedia para que eles usassem um feitiço de identificação no objeto misterioso. Cada iniciante fechou seus olhos e imaginou a bola no reino da Verdade universal. Sua energia tinha uma ressonância única assim como toda matéria física e espiritual possui, um aspecto negativo, uma versão duplicada, caminhos relativos, verdadeiro significado, uma canção no cosmos, uma textura na fábrica do espaço, uma faceta de ser que sempre existiu e sempre existirá.
“Uma bola," disse um jovem Nord chamado Welleg, que trouxe risos de alguns dos iniciantes mais novos, mas uma carranca da maioria, incluindo Sotha Sil.
"Se você for estúpido, pelo menos seja divertido," rosnou o mago, e então olhou para uma jovem moça Altmer de cabelos negros que parecia confusa. "Lilatha, você sabe?"
“É grom,” disse Lilatha, incerta. “ O que os dreugh meffam depois de fazerem k-k-kr-krevinasim.”
“Karvinasim, mas muito bom, no entanto,” disse Sotha Sil. “Agora, me diga, o que isso significa?”
“Eu não sei,” admitiu Lilatha. O resto dos estudantes também sacudiram suas cabeças.
“Existem camadas para entender todas as coisas,” disse Sotha Sil. “O homem comum olha para um objeto e o coloca em um lugar de sua maneira de pensar. Aqueles habilitados nos Caminhos Antigos, no caminho de Psijic, em Misticismo, , podem ver um objeto e identifica-lo por seu papel próprio. Mas é preciso descascar mais uma camada para se atingir o entendimento. Nesse caso, essa bola é realmente grom, que é uma substância criada pelos dreugh, uma raça subaquática das partes norte e oeste do continente. Por um ano de suas vidas, eles fazem karvinasim quando andam pela terra. Após isso, eles voltam para a água e meffam, ou devoram sua pele e órgãos que precisavam para andar sobre a terra. Então eles vomitam tudo em pequenas bolas como essa. Grom. Vômito de dreugh.”
Os estudantes olharam para a bola um pouco enojados. Sotha Sil amava essa aula.
“Espiões,” murmurou o Imperador, sentando na banheira, encarando um caroço em seu pé. “Todos ao meu redor, traidores e espiões.”
Sua amante Rijja lavava suas costas, suas pernas envolvidas em sua cintura. Ela sabia após todos esses anos quando ser sensual e quando ser sexual. Quando ele estava com o humor assim, era melhor ser calmamente, suavemente, sedutoramente sensual. E não dizer uma só palavra a não ser que ele a fizesse uma pergunta direta.
A qual ele fez: “O que você pensa quando um indivíduo pisa no pé de sua Majestade Imperial e diz ‘Me desculpe, Vossa Majestade Imperial’? Você não acha ‘Me perdoe, Vossa Majestade Imperial’ é mais apropriado? ‘Me desculpe’, bem, isso soa quase como um Argoniano bastardo estava se desculpando, e eu sou Vossa Majestade Imperial. Parece que ele quer que percamos a guerra com Morrowind, isso sim é o que parece.”
“O que te faria se sentir melhor?” perguntou Rijja. “Você gostaria que ele fosse açoitado? Ele é apenas, como você diz, o Chefe de Batalha de Soulrest. O ensinaria sobre onde ele está pisando.”
“Meu pai teria açoitado ele. Meu avô o teria matado,” o Imperador resmungou. “Mas eu não me importo que todos eles pisem em meu pé, desde que me respeitem. E não conspirem contra mim.”
“Você deve confiar em alguém.”
“Apenas em você,” sorriu o Imperador, se virando ligeiramente para dar um beijo em Rijja. “ E meu filho Juilek, eu acho, mesmo que eu desejo que ele fosse um pouco mais cuidadoso.”
“E seu conselho, e o Potentado?” perguntou Rijja.
“Um bando de espiões e uma cobra,” o Imperador riu, beijando sua amante novamente. Hele sussurrou, “Desde que você seja verdadeira, eu posso lidar com o mundo.”
Turala permaneceu em frente aos negros, enfeitados portões da cidade. Um vento uivava ao seu redor, mas ela não sentia nada.
O Duque ficou furioso após ouvir que sua concubina favorita estava grávida e a mandou para fora de vista. Ela tentou de novo e de novo ver ele, mas seus guardas a enxotavam. Finalmente, ela voltou para sua família e os contou a verdade. Se ela pelo menos tivesse mentido e dito que não sabia quem o pai era. Um soldado, um aventureiro andarilho, um qualquer. Mas ela os contou que o pai era o Duque, um membro da Casa Indoril. E eles queriam que ela soubesse o que eles teriam que fazer, como honrados membros da Casa Redoran.
Sobre suas mãos foi queimado o símbolo de Expulsão que seu pai chorando havia marcado nela. Mas a crueldade do Duque a machucou muito mais. Ela olhou para o portão e para as selvagens planícies de inverno. Ela deveria ir para longe.
Com lentos, tristes passos, ela começou sua jornada.
O que o incomoda?” perguntou a Rainha Hasaama, notando o humor amargo de seu marido. No final da maioria dos Dias dos Amantes ele estava em excelente humor, dançando no salão com todos os convidados, mas essa noite ele se retirou mais cedo. Quando ela o encontrou ele estava enrolado na cama, carrancudo.
“Aquele conto do bardo sobre Polydor e Eloisa me colocou em estado podre,” ele rosnou. “Por que eles tinham que ser tão deprimentes?”
“Mas não é essa a verdade da fábula, meu amor? Eles não foram condenados por causa da natureza cruel do mundo?”
“Não importa qual é a verdade, ele fez um trabalho podre de contar uma fábula podre, e eu não vou deixar que ele faça isso novamente,” Rei Dro’Zel levantou da cama. Seus olhos estavam cheios de lágrimas. “De onde eles disseram que ele era?”
Dro’Zel estava fora do quarto com um único salto, subindo as escadas para sua torre. Se a rainha Hasaama soubesse o que seu marido estava indo fazer, ela tentaria impedi-lo. Ele tinha sido errático há um tempo, propenso à ajustes e até ocasionais convulsões. Mas ela nunca suspeitou das profundezas de sua loucura, e sua aversão ao bardo e sua fábula da crueldade e perversidade encontrada no homem mortal.
“Me ouça novamente,” disse o velho carpinteiro. “Se a cela três possui cobre vagabundo, então a cela dois possui a chave de ouro. Se a cela um possui a chave de ouro, então a cela três possui cobre vagabundo. Se a cela dois possui cobre vagabundo, então a cela um possui a chave de ouro.”
“Eu entendo,” disse a moça. “Você me disse. E então a cela um contém a chave de ouro, certo?”
“Não,” disse o carpinteiro. “Deixa eu começar do princípio.”
“Mamãe?” disse o pequeno garoto, puxando a manga de sua mãe.
“Só um momento meu querido, a mamãe está conversando,” ela disse, concentrando na charada. “Você disse ‘cela três contém a chave de ouro se a cela dois possui o cobre vagabundo’, certo?”
“Não,” disse o carpinteiro pacientemente. “Cela três possui cobre vagabundo, se a cela dois —”
“Mamãe!” berrou o garoto. Sua mãe finalmente olhou.
Uma névoa vermelha brilhante estava caindo sobre a cidade em uma onda, engolindo construções após construções em sua onda. Estridente na frente estava um gigante de pele vermelha. O Daedra Molag Bal. Ele estava sorrindo.
Almalexia parou seu corcel no vasto pântano de lama e o deixou beber água do rio. Ele se recusou, parecendo mesmo repelido pela água. Isso a pareceu estranho: eles haviam feito um tempo excelente de Forte da Lamentação, e com certeza ele estaria sedento. Ela desmontou e se juntou a sua comitiva.
“Onde estamos agora?” ela perguntou.
Uma das suas senhoras puxou um mapa. “Acho que estamos nos aproximando de uma cidade chamada Gilverdale.”
Almalexia fechou seus olhos e os abriu novamente de forma rápida. A visão era muito para suportar. Conforme seus companheiros assistiam, ela pegou um pedaço de tijolo e um fragmento de osso e agarrou eles a seu coração.
“Devemos continuar para Artaeum,” ela disse discretamente.
From their vantage point high in the hills, the Emperor Reman III could still see the spires of the Imperial City, but he knew he was far away from hearth and home. Lord Glavius had a luxurious villa, but it was not close to being large enough to house the entire army within its walls. Tents lined the hillsides, and the soldiers were flocking to enjoy his lordship's famous hot springs. Little wonder: winter chill still hung in the air.
“Prince Juilek, your son, is not feeling well.”
“Poisoned, I'd wager,” grumbled Reman. “See to it he gets a healer. I told him to hire a taster like I have, but the boy's headstrong. There are spies all around us, I know it.”
“I believe you're right, your imperial majesty,” said Versidue-Shaie. “These are treacherous times, and we must take precautions to see that Morrowind does not win this war, either on the field or by more insidious means. That is why I would suggest that you not lead the vanguard into battle. I know you would want to, as your illustrious ancestors Reman I, Brazollus Dor, and Reman II did, but I fear it would be foolhardy. I hope you do not mind me speaking frankly like this.”
“No,” nodded Reman. “I think you're right. Who would lead the vanguard then?”
“I would say Prince Juilek, if he were feeling better,” replied the Akaviri. “Failing that, Storig of Farrun, with Queen Naghea of Riverhold at left flank, and Warchief Ulaqth of Lilmoth at right flank.”
The Potentate took no offense. He knew that “beastfolk” referred to the natives of Tamriel, not to the Tsaesci of Akavir like himself. “I quite agree, Your Imperial Majesty, but you must agree that they hate the Dunmer. Ulaqth has a particular grudge after all the slave-raids on his lands by the Duke of Mournhold.”
The Emperor conceded it was so, and the Potentate retired. It was surprising, thought Reman, but for the first time, the Potentate seemed trustworthy. He was a good man to have on one's side.
- 18 First Seed, 2920
- Ald Erfoud, Morrowind
“Two days' march,” replied his lieutenant. “If we march all night tonight, we can get higher ground at the Pryai tomorrow morning. Our intelligence tells us the Emperor will be commanding the rear, Storig of Farrun has the vanguard, Naghea of Riverhold at left flank, and Ulaqth of Lilmoth at right flank.”
“Ulaqth,” whispered Vivec, an idea forming. “Is this intelligence reliable? Who brought it to us?”
“A Breton spy in the Imperial Army,” said the lieutenant and gestured towards a young, sandy-haired man who stepped forward and bowed to Vivec.
“What is your name and why is a Breton working for us against the Cyrodiils?” asked Vivec, smiling.
“My name is Cassyr Whitley of Dwynnen,” said the man. “And I am working for you because not everyone can say he spied for a god. And I understood it would be, well, profitable.”
Vivec laughed, “It will be, if your information is accurate.”
The quiet hamlet of Bodrum looked down on the meandering river, the Pryai. It was an idyllic site, lightly wooded where the water took the bend around a steep bluff to the east with a gorgeous wildflower meadow to the west. The strange flora of Morrowind met the strange flora of Cyrodiil on the border and commingled gloriously.
“There will be time to sleep when you've finished!”
The soldiers had been hearing that all morning. It was not enough that they had been marching all night, now they were chopping down trees on the bluff and damming the river so its waters spilled over. Most of them had reached the point where they were too tired to complain about being tired.
“Let me be certain I understand, my lord,” said Vivec's lieutenant. “We take the bluff so we can fire arrows and spells down on them from above. That's why we need all the trees cleared out. Damming the river floods the plain below so they'll be trudging through mud, which should hamper their movement.”
“That's exactly half of it,” said Vivec approvingly. He grabbed a nearby soldier who was hauling off the trees. “Wait, I need you to break off the straightest, strongest branches of the trees and whittle them into spears. If you recruit a hundred or so others, it won't take you more than a few hours to make all we need.”
The soldier wearily did as he was bade. The men and women got to work, fashioning spears from the trees.
“If you don't mind me asking,” said the lieutenant. “The soldiers don't need any more weapons. They're too tired to hold the ones they've got.”
“These spears aren't for holding,” said Vivec and whispered, “If we tired them out today, they'll get a good night's sleep tonight,” before he got to work supervising their work.
It was essential that they be sharp, of course, but equally important that they be well balanced and tapered proportionally. The perfect point for stability was a pyramid, not the conical point of some lances and spears. He had the men hurl the spears they had completed to test their strength, sharpness, and balance, forcing them to begin on a new one if they broke. Gradually, out of sheer exhaustion from doing it wrong, the men learned how to create the perfect wooden spears. Once they were through, he showed them how they were to be arranged and where.
That night, there was no drunken pre-battle carousing, and no nervous neophytes stayed up worrying about the battle to come. As soon as the sun sank beneath the wooded hills, the camp was at rest, but for the sentries.
- 20 First Seed, 2920
- Bodrum, Morrowind
Miramor was exhausted. For last six days, he had gambled and whored all night and then marched all day. He was looking forward to the battle, but even more than that, he was looking forward to some rest afterwards. He was in the Emperor's command at the rear flank, which was good because it seemed unlikely that he would be killed. On the other hand, it meant traveling over the mud and waste the army ahead left in their wake.
As they began the trek through the wildflower field, Miramor and all the soldiers around him sank ankle-deep in cold mud. It was an effort to even keep moving. Far, far up ahead, he could see the vanguard of the army led by Lord Storig emerging from the meadow at the base of a bluff.
That was when it all happened.
An army of Dunmer appeared above the bluff like rising Daedra, pouring fire and floods of arrows down on the vanguard. Simultaneously, a company of men bearing the flag of the Duke of Mournhold galloped around the shore, disappearing along the shallow river's edge where it dipped to a timbered glen to the east. Warchief Ulaqth nearby on the right flank let out a bellow of revenge at the sight and gave chase. Queen Naghea sent her flank towards the embankment to the west to intercept the army on the bluff.
The Emperor could think of nothing to do. His troops were too bogged down to move forward quickly and join the battle. He ordered them to face east towards the timber, in case Mournhold's company was trying to circle around through the woods. They never came out, but many men, facing west, missed the battle entirely. Miramor kept his eyes on the bluff.
A tall Dunmer he supposed must have been Vivec gave a signal, and the battlemages cast their spells at something to the west. From what transpired, Miramor deduced it was a dam. A great torrent of water spilled out, washing Naghea's left flank into the remains of the vanguard and the two together down river to the east.
The Emperor paused, as if waiting for his vanquished army to return, and then called a retreat. Miramor hid in the rushes until they had passed by and then waded as quietly as he could to the bluff.
The Morrowind army was retiring as well back to their camp. He could hear them celebrating above him as he padded along the shore. To the east, he saw the Imperial Army. They had been washed into a net of spears strung across the river, Naghea's left flank on Storig's vanguard on Ulaqth's right flank, bodies of hundreds of soldiers strung together like beads.
Miramor took whatever valuables he could carry from the corpses and then ran down the river. He had to go many miles before the water was clear again, unpolluted by blood.
You have a letter from the Imperial City,” said the chief priestess, handing the parchment to Corda. All the young priestesses smiled and made faces of astonishment, but the truth was that Corda's sister Rijja wrote very often, at least once a month.
Corda took the letter to the garden to read it, her favorite place, an oasis in the monochromatic sand-colored world of the conservatorium The letter itself was nothing unusual: filled with court gossip, the latest fashions which were tending to winedark velvets, and reports of the Emperor's ever-growing paranoia.
“You are so lucky to be away from all of this,” wrote Rijja. “The Emperor is convinced that his latest battlefield fiasco is all a result of spies in the palace. He has even taken to questioning me. Ruptga keep it so you never have a life as interesting as mine.”
Corda listened to the sounds of the desert and prayed to Ruptga the exact opposite wish.
Sotha Sil proceeded as quickly as he could through the blackened halls of the palace, half-submerged in brackish water. All around him, nasty gelatinous creatures scurried into the reeds, bursts of white fire lit up the upper arches of the hall before disappearing, and smells assaulted him, rancid death one moment, sweet flowered perfume the next. Several times he had visited the Daedra princes in their Oblivion, but every time, something different awaited him.
He knew his purpose, and refused to be distracted.
Eight of the more prominent Daedra princes were awaiting him in the half-melted, domed room. Azura, Prince of Dusk and Dawn; Boethiah, Prince of Plots; Herma-Mora, Daedra of Knowledge; Hircine, the Hunter; Malacath, God of Curses; Mehrunes Dagon, Prince of Disaster; Molag Bal, Prince of Rage; Sheogorath, the Mad One.
Above them, the sky cast tormented shadows upon the meeting.
Sotha Sil's voice cried out, echoing from the cave, “Move the rock!”
Immediately, the initiates obeyed, rolling aside the great boulder that blocked the entrance to the Dreaming Cavern. Sotha Sil emerged, his face smeared with ash, weary. He felt he had been away for months, years, but only a few days had transpired. Lilatha took his arm to help him walk, but he refused her help with a kind smile and a shake of his head.
“Were you ... successful?” she asked.
“The Daedra princes I spoke with have agreed to our terms,” he said flatly. “Disasters such as befell Gilverdale should be averted. Only through certain intermediaries such as witches or sorcerers will they answer the call of man and mer.”
“And what did you promise them in return?” asked the Nord boy Welleg.
A storm buffeted the windows of the Prince's bedchamber, bringing a smell of moist air to mix with the censors filled with burning incense and herbs.
“A letter has arrived from the Empress, your mother,” said the courier. “Anxiously inquiring after your health.”
“What frightened parents I have,” laughed Prince Juilek from his bed.
“It is only natural for a mother to worry,” said Savirien-Chorak, the Potentate's son.
“There is everything unnatural about my family, Akaviri. My exiled mother fears that my father will imagine me of being a traitor, covetous of the crown, and is having me poisoned,” the Prince sank back into his pillow, annoyed. “The Emperor has insisted on me having a taster for all my meals as he does.”
“There are many plots,” agreed the Akaviri. “You have been abed for nearly three weeks with every healer in the empire shuffling through like a slow ballroom dance. At least, all can see that you're getting stronger.”
“Strong enough to lead the vanguard against Morrowind soon, I hope,” said Juilek.
The initiates stood quietly in a row along the arbor loggia, watching the long, deep, marble-lined trench ahead of them flash with fire. The air above it vibrated with the waves of heat. Though each student kept his or her face sturdy and emotionless, as a true Psijic should, their terror was nearly as palpable as the heat. Sotha Sil closed his eyes and uttered the charm of fire resistance. Slowly, he walked across the basin of leaping flames, climbing to the other side, unscathed. Not even his white robe had been burned.
“The charm is intensified by the energy you bring to it, by your own skills, just as all spells are,” he said. “Your imagination and your willpower are the keys. There is no need for a spell to give you a resistance to air, or a resistance to flowers, and after you cast the charm, you must forget there is even a need for a spell to give you resistance to fire. Do not confuse what I am saying: resistance is not about ignoring the fire's reality. You will feel the substance of flame, the texture of it, its hunger, and even the heat of it, but you will know that it will not hurt or injure you.”
The students nodded and one by one, they cast the spell and made the walk through the fire. Some even went so far as to bend over and scoop up a handful of fire and feed it air, so it expanded like a bubble and melted through their fingers. Sotha Sil smiled. They were fighting their fear admirably.
Sotha Sil turned to Thargallith for only a moment, but he knew instantly from the screams what had transpired. The Nord lad Wellig had not cast the spell properly and was burning. The smell of scorched hair and flesh panicked the other students who were struggling to get out of the basin, pulling him with them, but the incline was too steep away from the entry points. With a wave of his hand, Sotha Sil extinguished the flame.
Wellig and several other students were burned, but not badly. The sorcerer cast a healing spell on them, before turning back to Thargallith.
“I'll be with you in a moment, and give Almalexia the time to shake the road dust from her train,” Sotha Sil turned back to the students, his voice flat. “Fear does not break spells, but doubt and incompetence are the great enemies of any spellcaster. Master Wellig, you will pack your bags. I'll arrange for a boat to bring you to the mainland tomorrow morning.”
The sorcerer found Almalexia and Iachesis in the study, drinking hot tea, and laughing. She was more beautiful than he had remembered, though he had never before seen her so disheveled, wrapped in a blanket, dangling her damp long black tresses before the fire to dry. At Sotha Sil's approach, she leapt to her feet and embraced him.
“Did you swim all the way from Morrowind?” he smiled.
“It's pouring rain from Skywatch down to the coast,” she explained, returning his smile.
“Only a half a league away, and it never rains here,” said Iachesis proudly. “Of course, I sometimes miss the excitement of Summerset, and sometimes even the mainland itself. Still, I'm always very impressed by anyone out there who gets anything accomplished. It is a world of distractions. Speaking of distractions, what's all this I hear about a war?”
“You mean the one that's been bloodying the continent for the last eighty years, Master?” asked Sotha Sil, amused.
“I suppose that's the one I mean,” said Iachesis with a shrug of his shoulders. “How is that war going?”
“We will lose it, unless I can convince Sotha Sil to leave Artaeum,” said Almalexia, losing her smile. She had meant to wait and talk to her friend in private, but the old Altmer gave her courage to press on. “I have had visions; I know it to be true.”
Sotha Sil was silent for a moment, and then looked at Iachesis, “I must return to Morrowind.”
“Knowing you, if you must do something, you will,” sighed the old Master. “The Psijics' way is not to be distracted. Wars are fought, Empires rise and fall. You must go, and so must we.”
“What do you mean, Iachesis? You're leaving the island?”
“No, the island will be leaving the sea,” said Iachesis, his voice taking on a dreamy quality. “In a few years, the mists will move over Artaeum and we will be gone. We are counselors by nature, and there are too many counselors in Tamriel as it is. No, we will go, and return when the land needs us again, perhaps in another age.”
The old Altmer struggles to his feet, and drained the last sip of his drink before leaving Sotha Sil and Almalexia alone: “Don't miss the last boat.”
“Your Imperial Majesty,” said the Potentate Versidue-Shaie, opening the door to his chamber with a smile. “I have not seen you lately. I thought perhaps you were ... indisposed with the lovely Rijja.”
“She's taking the baths at Mir Corrup,” the Emperor Reman III said miserably.
“Please, come in.”
“I've reached the stage where I can only trust three people: you, my son the Prince, and Rijja,” said the Emperor petulantly. “My entire council is nothing but a pack of spies.”
“What seems to be the matter, Your Imperial Majesty?” asked the Potentate Versidue-Shaie sympathetically, drawing closed the thick curtain in his chamber. Instantly all sound outside the room was extinguished, echoing footsteps in the marble halls and birds in the springtide gardens.
“I've discovered that a notorious poisoner, an Orma tribeswoman from Black Marsh called Catchica, was with the army at Caer Suvio while we were encamped there when my son was poisoned, before the battle at Bodrum. I'm sure she would have preferred to kill me, but the opportunity didn't present itself,” The Emperor fumed. “The Council suggests that we need evidence of her involvement before we prosecute.”
“Of course they would,” said the Potentate thoughtfully. “Particularly if one or more of them was in on the plot. I have a thought, your imperial majesty.”
“Yes?” said Reman impatiently. “Out with it!”
“Tell the Council you're dropping the matter, and I will send out the Guard to track this Catchica down and follow her. We will see who her friends are, and perhaps get an idea of the scope of this plot on Your Imperial Majesty's life.”
“Yes,” said Reman with a satisfied frown. “That's a capital plan. We will track this scheme to whomever it leads to.”
“Decidedly, Your Imperial Majesty,” smiled the Potentate, parting the curtain so the Emperor could leave. In the hallway outside was Versidue-Shaie's son, Savirien-Chorak. The boy bowed to the Emperor before entering the Potentate's chamber.
“Are you in trouble, father?” whispered the Akaviri lad. “I heard the Emperor found out about whatshername, the poisoner.”
“The great art of speechcraft, my boy,” said Versidue-Shaie to his son. “Is to tell them what they want to hear in a way that gets them to do what you want them to do. I need you to get a letter to Catchica, and make certain that she understands that if she does not follow the instructions perfectly, she is risking her own life more than ours.”
- 13 Second Seed, 2920
- Mir Corrup, Cyrodiil
Rijja sank luxuriantly into the burbling hot spring, feeling her skin tingle like it was being rubbed by millions of little stones. The rock shelf over her head sheltered her from the misting rain, but let all the sunshine in, streaming in layers through the branches of the trees. It was an idyllic moment in an idyllic life, and when she was finished she knew that her beauty would be entirely restored. The only thing she needed was a drink of water. The bath itself, while wonderfully fragrant, tasted always of chalk.
“Water!” she cried to her servants. “Water, please!”
A gaunt woman with rags tied over her eyes ran to her side and dropped a goatskin of water. Rijja was about to laugh at the woman's prudery—she herself was not ashamed of her naked body—but then she noticed through a crease in the rags that the old woman had no eyes at all. She was like one of those Orma tribesmen Rijja had heard about, but never met. Born without eyes, they were masters of their other senses. The Lord of Mir Corrup hired very exotic servants, she thought to herself.
In a moment, the woman was gone and forgotten. Rijja found it very hard to concentrate on anything but the sun and the water. She opened the cork, but the liquid within had a strange, metallic smell to it. Suddenly, she was aware that she was not alone.
“Lady Rijja,” said the Captain of the Imperial Guard. “You are, I see, acquainted with Catchica?”
“I've never heard of her,” stammered Rijja before becoming indignant. “What are you doing here? This body is not for your leering eyes.”
“Never heard of her, when we saw her with you not a minute ago,” said the captain, picking up the goatskin and smelling it. “Brought you neivous ichor, did she? To poison the Emperor with?”
“Captain,” said one of the guards, running up to him quickly. “We cannot find the Argonian. It is as if she disappeared into the woods.”
“Yes, they're good at that,” said the captain. “No matter though. We've got her contact at court. That should please His Imperial Majesty. Seize her.”
As the guards pulled the writhing naked woman from the pool, she screamed, “I'm innocent! I don't know what this is all about, but I've done nothing! The Emperor will have your heads for this!”
“Yes, I imagine he will,” smiled the captain. “If he trusts you.”
The Sow and Vulture Tavern was the sort of out-of-the-way place that Zuuk favored for these sorts of interviews. Besides himself and his companion, there were only a couple of old seadogs in the shadowy room, and they were more unconscious from drink than aware of what was going on around them. The grime of the unwashed floor was something you felt rather than saw. Copious dust hung in the air, unmoving in the sparse rays of dying sunlight.
“You have experience in heavy combat?” asked Zuuk. “The reward is good for this assignment, but the risks are great as well.”
“Certainly I have combat experience,” replied Miramor haughtily. “I was at the Battle of Bodrum just two months ago. If you do your part and get the Emperor to ride through Dozsa Pass with a minimal escort on the day and the time we've discussed, I'll do my part. Just be certain that he's not traveling in disguise. I'm not going to slaughter every caravan that passes through in the hopes that it contains Emperor Reman.”
Zuuk smiled, and Miramor looked at himself in the Kothringi's reflective face. He liked the way he looked: the consummate, confident professional.
“Agreed,” said Zuuk. “And then you shall have the rest of your gold.”
Zuuk placed the large chest onto the table between them. He stood up.
“Wait before leaving,” said Zuuk. “I don't want you following me. Your employers wish to maintain their anonymity, if by chance you are caught and tortured later.”
“Fine by me,” said Miramor, ordering more grog.
Zuuk rode his mount through the cramped labyrinthine streets of Gideon, and both he and his horse were happy to pass through the gates into the country. The main road to Castle Giovese was flooded as it was every year in springtide, but Zuuk knew a shorter way over the hills. Riding fast under trees drooping with moss and treacherous slime-coated rocks, he arrived at the castle gates in two hours' time. He wasted no time in climbing to Tavia's cell at the top of the highest tower.
“What did you think of him?” asked the Empress.
“He's a fool,” replied Zuuk. “But that's what we want for this sort of assignment.”
- 30 Second Seed, 2920
- Thurzo Fortress, Cyrodiil
Rijja screamed and screamed and screamed. Within her cell, her only audience was the giant gray stones, crusted with moss but still sturdy. The guards outside were deaf to her as they were deaf to all prisoners. The Emperor, miles away in the Imperial City, had likewise been deaf to her cries of innocence.
She screamed knowing well that no one would likely hear her ever again.
- 31 Second Seed, 2920
- Kavas Rim Pass, Cyrodiil
It had been days, weeks since Turala had seen another human face, Cyrodiil or Dunmer. As she trod the road, she thought to herself how strange it was that such an uninhabited place as Cyrodiil had become the Imperial Province, seat of an Empire. Even the Bosmer in Valenwood must have more populated forests than this Heartland wood.
She thought back. Was it a month ago, two, when she crossed the border from Morrowind into Cyrodiil? It had been much colder then, but other than that, she had no sense of time. The guards had been brusque, but as she was carrying no weaponry, they elected to let her through. Since then, she had seen a few caravans, even shared a meal with some adventurers camping for the night, but met no one who would give her a ride to a town.
Turala stripped off her shawl and dragged it behind her. For a moment, she thought she heard someone behind her and spun around. No one was there. Just a bird perched on a branch making a sound like laughter.
She walked on, and then stopped. Something was happening. The child had been kicking in her belly for some time now, but this was a different kind of spasm. With a groan, she lurched over to the side of the path, collapsing into the grass. Her child was coming.
She lay on her back and pushed, but she could barely see with her tears of pain and frustration. How had it come to this? Giving birth in the wilderness, all by herself, to a child whose father was the Duke of Mournhold? Her scream of rage and agony shook the birds from the trees.
The bird that had been laughing at her earlier flew down to the road. She blinked, and the bird was gone and in its place, a naked Elf man stood, not as dark as a Dunmer, but not as pale as the Altmer. She knew at once it was an Ayleid, a Wild Elf. Turala screamed, but the man held her down. After a few minutes of struggle, she felt a release, and then fainted away.
When she awoke, it was to the sound of a baby crying. The child had been cleaned and was lying by her side. Turala picked up her baby girl, and for the first time that year, felt tears of happiness stream down her face.
She whispered to the trees, “Thank you” and began walking with babe in her arms down the road to the west.
“The Imperial army is gathered to the south,” said Cassyr. “They are a two week march from Ald Iuval and Lake Coronati, heavily armored.”
Vivec nodded. Ald Iuval and its sister city on the other side of the lake Ald Malak were strategically important fortresses. He had been expecting a move against them for some time. His captain pulled down a map of southwestern Morrowind from the wall and smoothed it out, fighting a gentle summer sea breeze wafting in from the open window.
“They were heavily armored, you say?” asked the captain.
“How about spellcasters and boats?” asked Vivec.
“A horde of battlemages,” replied Cassyr. “But no boats.”
“As heavily armored as they are, it will take them at least two weeks, like you said, to get from Bethal Gray to Lake Coronati,” Vivec studied the map carefully. “They'd be dragged down in the bogs if they then tried to circle around to Ald Marak from the north, so they must be planning to cross the straits here and take Ald Iuval. Then they'd proceed around the lake to the east and take Ald Marak from the south.”
“They'll be vulnerable along the straits,” said the captain. “Provided we strike when they are more than halfway across and can't retreat back to the Heartland.”
“Your intelligence has once again served us well,” said Vivec, smiling to Cassyr. “We will beat back the Imperial aggressors yet again.”
- 3 Mid Year, 2920
- Bethal Gray, Cyrodiil
“Will you be returning back this way after your victory?” asked Lord Bethal.
Prince Juilek barely paid the man any attention. He was focused on the army packing its camp. It was a cool morning in the forest, but there were no clouds. All the makings of a hot afternoon march, particularly in such heavy armor.
“If we return shortly, it will be because of defeat,” said the Prince. He could see down in the meadow, the Potentate Versidue-Shaie paying his lordship's steward for the use of the village's food, wine, and whores. An army was an expensive thing, for certes.
“My Prince,” said Lord Bethal with concern. “Is your army beginning a march due east? That will just lead you to the shores of Lake Coronati. You'll want to go south-east to get to the straits.”
“You just make certain your merchants get their share of our gold,” said the Prince with a grin. “Let me worry about my army's direction.”
- 16 Mid Year, 2920
- Lake Coronati, Morrowind
Vivec stared across the blue expanse of the lake, seeing his reflection and the reflection of his army in the cool blue waters. What he did not see was the Imperial Army's reflection. They must have reached the straits by now, barring any mishaps in the forest. Tall feather-thin lake trees blocked much of his view of the straits, but an army, particularly one clan in slow-moving heavy armor, could not move invisibly, silently.
“Let me see the map again,” he called to his captain. “Is there no other way they could approach?”
“We have sentries posted in the swamps to the north in case they're fool enough to go there and get bogged down,” said the captain. “We would at least hear about it. But there is no other way across the lake except through the straits.”
Vivec looked down again at his reflection, which seemed to be distorting his image, mocking him. Then he looked back on the map.
“Spy,” said Vivec, calling Cassyr over. “When you said the army had a horde of battlemages, what made you so certain they were battlemages?”
“They were wearing gray robes with mystical insignia on them,” explained Cassyr. “I figured they were mages, and why else would such a vast number travel with the army? They couldn't have all been healers.”
“You fool!” roared Vivec. “They're mystics schooled in the art of Alteration. They've cast a spell of water breathing on the entire army.”
Vivec ran to a new vantage point where he could see the north. Across the lake, though it was but a small shadow on the horizon, he could see gouts of flame from the assault on Ald Marak. Vivec bellowed with fury and his captain got to work at once redirecting the army to circle the lake and defend the castle.
“Return to Dwynnen,” said Vivec flatly to Cassyr before he rode off to join the battle. “Your services are no longer needed nor wanted.”
It was already too late when the Morrowind army neared Ald Marak. It had been taken by the Imperial Army.
The Potentate arrived in the Imperial City amid great fanfare, the streets lined with men and women cheering him as the symbol of the taking of Ald Marak. Truth be told, a greater number would have turned out had the Prince returned, and the Versidue-Shaie knew it. Still, it pleased him to no end. Never before had citizens of Tamriel cheered the arrival of an Akaviri into their land.
The Emperor Reman III greeted him with a warm embrace, and then tore into the letter he had brought from the Prince.
“I don't understand,” he said at last, still joyous but equally confused. “You went under the lake?”
“Ald Marak is a very well-fortified fortress,” explained the Potentate. “As, I might add, the army of Morrowind has rediscovered, now that they are on the outside. To take it, we had to attack by surprise and with our soldiery in the sturdiest of armor. By casting the spell that allowed us to breathe underwater, we were able to travel faster than Vivec would have guessed, the weight of the armor made less by the aquatic surroundings, and attack from the waterbound west side of the fortress where their defenses were at their weakest.”
“Brilliant!” the Emperor crowed. “You are a wonderous tactician, Versidue-Shaie! If your fathers had been as good at this as you are, Tamriel would be Akaviri domain!”
The Potentate had not planned to take credit for Prince Juilek's design, but on the Emperor's reference to his people's fiasco of an invasion two hundred and sixteen years before, he made up his mind. He smiled modestly and soaked up the praise.
- 21 Mid Year, 2920
- Ald Marak, Morrowind
Savirien-Chorak slithered to the wall and watched through the arrow slit the Morrowind army retreating back to the forestland between the swamps and the castle grounds. It seemed like the idea opportunity to strike. Perhaps the forests could be burned and the army within them. Perhaps with Vivec in their enemies' hands, the army would allow them possession of Ald Iuval as well. He suggested these ideas to the Prince.
“What you seem to be forgetting,” laughed Prince Juilek, "is that I gave my word that no harm to the army or to their commanders during the truce negotiations. Do you not have honor during warfare on Akavir?”
“My Prince, I was born here in Tamriel, I have never been to my people's home,” replied the snake man. “But even so, your ways are strange to me. You expected no quarter and I gave you none when we fought in the Imperial Arena five months ago.”
“That was a game,” replied the Prince, before nodding to his steward to let the Dunmer battle chief in.
Juilek had never seen Vivec before, but he had heard he was a living god. What came before him was but a man. A powerfully built man, handsome, with an intelligent face, but a man nonetheless. The Prince was pleased: a man he could speak with, but not a god.
“Greetings, my worthy adversary,” said Vivec. “We seem to be at an impasse.”
“Not necessarily,” said the Prince. “You don't want to give us Morrowind, and I can't fault you for that. But I must have your coastline to protect the Empire from overseas aggressions, and certain key strategic border castles, such as this one, as well as Ald Umbeil, Tel Aruhn, Ald Lambasi, and Tel Mothrivra.”
“And in return?” asked Vivec.
“In return?” laughed Savirien-Chorak. “You forget we are the victors here, not you.”
“In return,” said Prince Juilek carefully. “There will be no Imperial attacks on Morrowind, unless in return to an attack by you. You will be protected from invaders by the Imperial Navy. And your land may expand by taking certain estates in Black Marsh, whichever you choose, provided they are not needed by the Empire.”
“A reasonable offer,” said Vivec after a pause. “You must forgive me, I am unused to Cyrodiils who offer something in return for what they take. May I have a few days to decide?”
“We will meet again in a week's time,” said the Prince, smiling. “In the meantime, if your army provokes no attacks on mine, we are at peace.”
Vivec left the Prince's chamber, feeling that Almalexia was right. The war was at an end. This Prince would make an excellent Emperor.
O Imperador Reman III e seu Potentado Versidue-Shaie davam uma volta pelos Jardins Imperiais. Preenchidos de estátuas e fontes, o jardins do norte refletiam o humor do imperador, assim como eram o lugar mais fresco na Cidade durante o calor do verão. Canteiros de flores azuis acinzentadas e verde circulavam eles conforme andavam.
“Vivec concordou com os termos de paz do Príncipe,” disse Reman. “Meu filho retornará em duas semanas.”
“Essas são notícias excelentes,” disse o Potentado com cuidado. “Eu espero que os Dunmer honrem os termos. Nós poderíamos ter pedido por mais. A fortaleza em Portão Negro, por exemplo. Mas eu acredito que o Príncipe sabe o que é razoável. Ele não aleijaria o Império apenas por paz.”
“Eu estive pensando recentemente sobre Rijja e o que a fez conspirar contra minha vida,” disse o Imperador, parando para admirar uma estátua da Rainha Escrava Alessia antes de continuar. “A única coisa em que consigo pensar é que ela admirava demais meu filho. Ela pode ter me amado pelo meu poder e personalidade, mas ele, contudo, é jovem e belo e um dia irá herdar meu trono. Ela deve ter pensado que se eu estivesse morto, ela poderia ter um Imperador que tivesse tanto juventude quanto poder.”
“O Príncipe ... estava na trama?” perguntou Versidue-Shaie. Era um jogo difícil de jogar, antecipando onde é que a paranoia do Imperador atacaria em seguida.
“Há, eu não acho,” disse Reman, sorrindo. “Não, meu filho me ama muito.”
“Morwha?” perguntou o Imperador. “Eu me esqueci: qual deus é esse?”
“Estou farto de mulheres sensuais. A Imperatriz, Rijja, todas muito sensuais, uma sede por amor leva até uma sede por poder,” o Imperador encolheu os ombros. “Mas uma sacerdotisa em treinamento com um certo apetite saudável me parece ideal. Agora, o que você estava dizendo sobre Portão Negro?”
- 6 Zênite Solar, 2920
- Fortaleza Thurzo, Cyrodiil
Rijja permanecia em silêncio olhando para o chão frio de pedra enquanto o imperador falava. Ele nunca a havia visto tão pálida e deprimida antes. Ela poderia pelo menos ficar grata de que estava sendo libertada, retornada à sua terra natal. Porque, se ela saísse agora, ela poderia estar em Martelfell por volta do Festival do Vendedor. Nada que ele disse pareceu registrar qualquer reação nela. Um mês e meio na Fortaleza de Thurzo parecia ter matado seu espírito.
“Eu estive pensando,” disse o Imperador finalmente. “Em ter sua irmã mais nova Corda no palácio por um tempo. Acho que ela irá preferir lá ao conservatório em Hegathe, você não acha?”
Reação, finalmente. Rijja olhou para o Imperador com um ódio animal, se arremessando nele em fúria. As unhas de suas mãos cresceram muito desde que ela foi aprisionada e ela as passou pelo rosto dele, em seus olhos. Ele uivou de dor, e seus guardas a afastaram, batendo nela com o cabo das espadas, até que ela caiu inconsciente.
Um curador foi chamado na hora, mas o Imperador Reman III havia perdido seu olho direito.
Vivec pulou da água, sentindo o calor do dia lavado de sua pele, pegando uma toalha de um dor servos. Sotha Sil assistia seu velho amigo da varanda.
“Parece que você coletou mais algumas cicatrizes desde a última vez que te vi,” disse o feiticeiro.
“Azura abençoe que eu não tenha mais por um tempo,” gargalhou Vivec. “Quando você chegou?”
“Mais ou menos uma hora atrás,” disse Sotha Sil, descendo as escadas até a beira da água. “Eu pensei que estivesse chegando para acabar com uma guerra, mas parece que você o fez sem mim.”
“Sim, oitenta anos é muito tempo para batalhas sem cessar,” respondeu Vivec, abraçando Sotha Sil. “Fizemos concessões, e assim eles fizeram. Quando o velho Imperador estiver morto, deveremos entrar em uma era dourada. Príncipe Juilek é muito sábio para sua idade. Onde está Almalexia?”
“Se encontrando com o Duque de Forte da Lamentação. Eles devem estar aqui amanhã de tarde.”
Os homens foram distraídos por um movimento no canto do palácio — uma cavaleira estava se aproximando pela cidade, seguindo para a entrada. Era evidente que a mulher havia cavalgado rápido por muito tempo. Eles a encontraram na sala, quando ela entrou, ofegando.
“Nós fomos traídos,” essa soltou. “O Exército Imperial atacou Portão Negro.”
Era a primeira vez em dezessete anos que os três membros do Tribunal Tribunal de Morrowind se encontravam no mesmo local, desde que Sotha Sil havia partido para Artaeum. Todos os três queriam que as circunstâncias da reunião fossem diferentes.
“Do que nós aprendemos, enquanto o Príncipe estava voltando para Cyrodiil pelo sul, um segundo Exército Imperial veio pelo norte,” disse para seus compatriotas com rostos de pedra. “É razoável assumir que Juilek não sabia sobre o ataque.”
“Também não seria irracional supor que ele planejou ser uma distração enquanto o Imperador lançava o ataque à Portão Negro,” disse Sotha Sil. “Isso deve ser considerado uma quebra do trato.”
“Onde está o Duque de Forte da Lamentação?” perguntou Vivec. “Gostaria de ouvir a ideia dele no assunto.”
“Ele vai envolver a Morag Tong? Em assuntos estrangeiros?” Vivec balançou a cabeça, e olhou para Sotha Sil: “Por favor, faça o que puder. Assassinato só irá gerar retrocesso. Esse assunto deve ser tratado com diplomacia ou batalha.”
A Mãe Noite encontrou Sotha Sil em seu salão, iluminado apenas pela lua. Ela era cruelmente bela, vestida com um simples traje preto de seda and esticada em seu divã. Com um gesto, ela dispensou seus guardas vestidos em vermelho e ofereceu um vinho ao feiticeiro.
“Eu estive a pouco tempo com seu amigo, o Duque,” ela sussurrou. “Ele estava bastante infeliz, mas eu acho que vamos resolver o problema dele.”
“Ele contratou a Morag Tong para assassinar o Imperador?” perguntou Sotha Sil.
“Você é bem direto, não? Isso é bom. Eu adoro homens que falam diretamente: economiza tanto tempo. É claro, eu não posso discutir com você o que o Duque e eu conversamos,” ela sorriu. “Seria ruim para os negócios.”
“E se eu te pagar uma quantia igual de ouro para não assassinarem o Imperador?”
“A Morag Tong mata pela glória de Mephala e por lucro,” ela disse, falando em sua taça de vinho. “Nós não apenas matamos. Isso seria um sacrilégio. Uma vez que o ouro do Duque tiver chegado em três dias, nós faremos nossa parte do trato. Temo que nem sonharíamos em entreter uma oferta contrária. Apesar de sermos um negócio como uma ordem religiosa, nós não nos submetemos a oferta e demanda, Sotha Sil.”
Sotha Sil esteve vigiando as águas por dois dias até então, esperando uma embarcação em particular, e agora ele a avistou. Um navio pesado com a bandeira de Forte da Lamentação. O feiticeiro pegou o ar e interceptou o navio antes que chegasse ao porto. Uma membrana de chamas eclodiu de sua figura, disfarçando sua voz e forma nos de um Daedra.
“Abandonem o navio!” ele berrou. “Ou vocês afundarão com ele!”
Na verdade, Sotha Sil poderia ter explodido a embarcação com uma única bola de fogo, mas ele decidiu tomar tempo, para dar à tripulação uma chance de pular na água. Quando ele tinha certeza de que não tinha ninguém mais abordo, ele focou sua energia em uma onda destrutiva que balançou o ar e a água conforme ela descarregava. O navio e o pagamento do Duque para a Morag Tong naufragaram até as profundezas do Mar Interno.
“Mãe Noite,” pensou Sotha Sil, enquanto flutuava até a costa para avisar o mestre do porto que alguns marinheiros precisavam de socorro. “Todos se submetem a oferta e demanda.”
They were gathered in the Duke's courtyard at twilight, enjoying the smell and warmth of a fire of dry branches and bittergreen leaves. Tiny embers flew into the sky, hanging for a few moments before vanishing.
“I was rash,” agreed the Duke, soberly. “But Lorkhan had his laugh, and all is well. The Morag Tong will not assassinate the Emperor now that my payment to them is at the bottom of the Inner Sea. I thought you had made some sort of a truce with the Daedra princes.”
“What your sailors called a Daedra may not have been one,” said Sotha Sil. “Perhaps it was a rogue battlemage or even a lightning bolt that destroyed your ship.”
“The Prince and the Emperor are en route to take possession of Ald Lambasi as our truce agreed. It is certainly typical of the Cyrodiils to assume that their concessions are negotiable, while ours are not,” Vivec pulled out a map. “We can meet them here, in this village to the northwest of Ald Lambasi, Fervinthil.”
“But will we meet them to talk,” ask Almalexia. “Or to make war?”
No one had an answer to that.
- 15 Last Seed, 2920
- Fervinthil, Morrowind
A late summer squall blew through the small village, darkening the sky except for flashes of lightning which leapt from cloud to cloud like acrobats across high wires. Water rushed down the narrow streets ankle-deep, and the Prince had to shout to be heard by his captains, who were but a few feet away from him.
“There's an inn up ahead! We'll wait there for the storm to pass before pressing on to Ald Lambasi!”
The inn was warm and dry, and bustling with business. Barmaids were rushing back and forth, bringing greef and wine to a back room, evidently excited about a famous visitor. Someone who was attracting more attention than the mere heir to the Empire of Tamriel. Amused, Juilek watched them run until he overheard the name of “Vivec.”
“My Lord Vivec,” he said, bursting into the back room. “You must believe me, I knew nothing about the attack on Black Gate until after it happened. We will, of course, be returning it to your care forthwith. I wrote you a letter to that effect at your palace in Balmora, but obviously you're not there,” he paused, taking in the many new faces in the room. “I'm sorry, let me introduce myself. I'm Juilek Cyrodiil.”
“My name is Almalexia,” said the most beautiful woman the Prince had ever seen. “Won't you join us?”
“Sotha Sil,” said a serious-looking Dunmer in a white cloak, shaking the Prince's hand and showing him to a seat.
“Indoril Brindisi Dorom, Duke-Prince of Mournhold,” said the massively built man next to him as he sat down.
“I recognize that the events of the last month suggest, at best, that the Imperial Army is not under my control,” said the Prince after ordering some wine. “This is true. The army is my father's.”
“I understood that the Emperor was going to be coming to Ald Lambasi as well,” said Almalexia.
“Officially, he is,” said the Prince cautiously. “Unofficially, he's still back in the Imperial City. He's met with an unfortunate accident.”
Vivec glanced at the Duke quickly before looking at the Prince. “An accident?”
“He's fine,” said the Prince quickly. “He'll live, but it looks like he'll lose an eye. It was an altercation that has nothing to do with the war. The only good news is that while he recovers, I have the use of his seal. Any agreement we make here and now will be binding to the Empire, both in my father's reign and in mine.”
“Then let's start agreeing,” smiled Almalexia.
The tiny hamlet of Wroth Naga greeted Cassyr with its colorful houses perched on a promontory overlooking the stretch of the Wrothgarian mountain plain and High Rock beyond. Had he been in a better mood, the sight would have been breathtaking. As it was, he could only think that in practical terms, a small village like this would have meager provisions for himself and his horse.
He rode down into the main square, where an inn called the Eagle's Cry stood. Directing the stable boy to house and feed his horse, Cassyr walked into the inn and was surprised by its ambience. A minstrel he had heard play once in Gilverdale was performing a jaunty old tune to the clapping of the mountain men. Such forced merriment was not what Cassyr wanted at that moment. A glum Dunmer woman was seated at the only table far from the noise, so he took his drink there and sat down without invitation. It was only when he did so that he noticed that she was holding a newborn baby.
“I've just come from Morrowind,” he said rather awkwardly, lowering his voice. “I've been fighting for Vivec and the Duke of Mournhold against the Imperial Army. A traitor to my people, I guess you'd call me.”
“I am also a traitor to my people,” said the woman, holding up her hand which was scarred with a branded symbol. “It means that I can never go back to my homeland.”
“Well, you're not thinking of staying here, are you?” laughed Cassyr. “It's certainly quaint, but come wintertide, there's going to be snow up to your eyelashes. It's no place for a new baby. What is her name?”
“Bosriel. It means 'Beauty of the Forest.' Where are you going?”
“Dwynnen, on the bay in High Rock. You're welcome to join me, I could use the company.” He held out his hand. “Cassyr Whitley.”
“Turala,” said the woman after a pause. She was going to use her family's name first, as is tradition, but she realized that it was no longer her name. “I would love to accompany you, thank you.”
- 19 Last Seed, 2920
- Ald Lambasi, Morrowind
Five men and two women stood in the silence of the Great Room of the castle, the only sound the scrawl of quill on parchment and the gentle tapping of rain on the large picture window. As the Prince set the seal of Cyrodiil on the document, the peace was made official. The Duke of Mournhold broke out in a roar of delight, ordering wine brought in to commemorate the end of eighty years of war.
Only Sotha Sil stood apart from the group. His face betrayed no emotion. Those who knew him best knew he did not believe in endings or beginnings, but in the continuous cycle of which this was but a small part.
“My Prince,” said the castle steward, unhappy at breaking the celebration. “There is a messenger here from your mother, the Empress. He asked to see your father, but as he did not arrive—”
Juilek excused himself and went to speak with the messenger.
“No,” said Almalexia, shaking her head sadly. “Her husband has imprisoned her in Black Marsh, fearing that she was plotting a revolution against him. She is extremely wealthy and has powerful allies in the western Colovian estates so he could not marry another or have her executed. They've been at an impasse for the last seventeen years since Juilek was a child.”
The Prince returned a few minutes later. His face betrayed his anxiety, though he took troubles to hide it.
“My mother needs me,” he said simply. “I'm afraid I must leave at once. If I may have a copy of the treaty, I will bring it with me to show the Empress the good we have done today, and then I will carry it on to the Imperial City so it may be made official.”
Prince Juilek left with the fond farewells of the Three of Morrowind. As they watched him ride out into the rainswept night south towards Black Marsh, Vivec said, “Tamriel will be much healed when he has the throne.”
The moon was rising over the desolate quarry, steaming with swamp gas from a particularly hot summer as the Prince and his two guard escort rode out of the forest. The massive piles of earth and dung had been piled high in antiquity by some primitive, long-dead tribe of Black Marsh, hoping to keep out some evil from the north. Evidently, the evil had broken through at Dorsza Pass, the large crack in the sad, lonely rampart that stretched for miles.
The black twisted trees that grew on the barrier cast strange shadows down, like a net tangling. The Prince's mind was on his mother's cryptic letter, hinting at the threat of an invasion. He could not, of course, tell the Dunmer about it, at the very least until he knew more and had notified his father. After all, the letter was meant for him. It was its urgent tone that made him decide to go directly to Gideon.
The Empress had also warned him about a band of former slaves who attacked caravans going into Dorsza Pass. She advised him to be certain to make his Imperial shield visible, so they would know he was not one of the hated Dunmeri slavers. Upon riding into the tall weeds that flooded through the pass like a noxious river, the Prince ordered that his shield be displayed.
“I can see why the slaves use this,” said the Prince's captain. “It's an excellent location for an ambush.”
Juilek nodded his head, but his thoughts were elsewhere. What threat of invasion could the Empress have discovered? Were the Akaviri on the seas again? If so, how could his mother from her cell in Castle Giovesse know of it? A rustle in the weeds and a single sharp human cry behind him interrupted his ponderings.
Turning around, the Prince discovered that he was alone. His escort had vanished.
The Prince peered over the stretch of the moonlit sea of grass which waved in almost hypnotic patterns to the ebb and flow of the night wind billowing through the pass. It was impossible to tell if a struggling soldier was beneath this system of vibrations, a dying horse behind another. A high, whistling wind drowned out any sound the victims of the ambush might be making.
Juilek drew his sword, and thought about what to do, his mind willing his heart not to panic. He was closer to the exit of the pass than the entrance. Whatever had slain his escort must have been behind him. If he rode fast enough, perhaps he could outrun it. Spurring his horse to gallop, he charged for the hills ahead, framed by the mighty black piles of dirt.
When he was thrown, it happened so suddenly, he was hurtling forward before he was truly conscious of the fact. He landed several yards beyond where his horse had fallen, breaking his shoulder and his back on impact. A numbness washed over him as he stared at his poor, dying steed, its belly sliced open by one of several spears jutting up just below the surface of the grass.
Prince Juilek was not able to turn and face the figure that emerged from the grass, nor able to move to defend himself. His throat was cut without ceremony.
Miramor cursed when he saw the face of his victim more clearly in the moonlight. He had seen the Emperor at the Battle of Bodrum when he had fought in His Imperial Majesty's command, and this was clearly not the Emperor. Searching the body, he found the letter and a treaty signed by Vivec, Almalexia, Sotha Sil, and the Duke of Mournhold representing Morrowind and the Prince Juilek Cyrodiil, representing the Cyrodilic Empire.
“Curse my luck,” muttered Miramor to himself and the whispering grass. “I've only killed a Prince. Where's the reward in that?”
Miramor destroyed the letter, as Zuuk had instructed him to do, and pocketed the treaty. At the very least, such a curiosity would have some market value. He disassembled the traps as he pondered his next step. Return to Gideon and ask his employer for a lesser reward for killing the heir? Move on to other lands? At the very least, he considered, he had picked up two useful skills from the Battle of Bodrum. From the Dunmer, he had learned the excellent spear trap. And abandoning the Imperial Army, he had learned how to skulk in the grass.
The Empress Tavia lay across her bed, a hot late summer wind she could not feel banging the shutters of her cell to and fro against the iron bars. Her throat felt like it was on fire but still she sobbed, uncontrollably, wringing her last tapestry in her hands. Her wailing echoed throughout the hollow halls of Castle Giovese, stopping maids in their washing and guards in their conversation. One of her women came up the narrow stairs to see her mistress, but her chief guard Zuuk stood at the doorway and shook his head.
“She's just heard that her son is dead,” he said quietly.
“Your Imperial Majesty,” said the Potentate Versidue-Shaie through the door. “You can open the door. I assure you, you're perfectly safe. No one wants to kill you.”
“You're certainly correct, Your Imperial Majesty,” replied the Potentate, expunging any mocking qualities from his voice while his black-slitted eyes rolled contemptuously. “And we must find and punish the evildoer responsible for your son's death. But we cannot do it without you. You must be brave for your Empire.”
There was no reply.
“At the very least, come out and sign the order for Lady Rijja's execution,” called the Potentate. “Let us dispose of the one traitor and assassin we know of.”
A brief pause, and then the sound of furniture scraping across the floor. Reman opened the door just a crack, but the Potentate could see his angry, fearful face, and the terrible mound of ripped tissue that used to be his right eye. Despite the best healers in the Empire, it was still a ghastly souvenir of the Lady Rijja's work in Thurzo Fortress.
“Hand me the order,” the Emperor snarled. “I'll sign it with pleasure.”
The strange blue glow of the will o' the wisps, a combination, so she'd be told, of swamp gas and spiritual energy, had always frightened Tavia as she looked out her window. Now it seemed strangely comforting. Beyond the bog lay the city of Gideon. It was funny, she thought, that she had never stepped foot in its streets, though she had watched it every day for seventeen years.
“Can you think of anything I've forgotten?” she asked, turning to look back on the loyal Kothringi Zuuk.
“I know exactly what to do,” he said simply. He seemed to smile, but the Empress realized that it was only her own face reflected in his silvery skin. She was smiling, and she didn't even realize it.
“Make certain you aren't followed,” she warned. “I don't want my husband to know where my gold's been hiding all these years. And do take your share of it. You've been a good friend.”
The Empress Tavia stepped forward and dropped from sight into the mists. Zuuk replaced the bars on the tower window, and threw a blanket over some pillows on her bed. With any luck, they would not discover her body on the lawn until morning, at which time he hoped to be halfway to Morrowind.
The strange trees on all sides resembled knobby piles crowned with great bursts of reds, yellows, and oranges, like insect mounds caught fire. The Wrothgarian mountains were fading into the misty afternoon. Turala marveled at the sight, so alien, so different from Morrowind, as she plodded the horse forward into an open pasture. Behind her, head nodding against his chest, Cassyr slept, cradling Bosriel. For a moment, Turala considered jumping the low painted fence that crossed the field, but she thought better of it. Let Cassyr sleep for a few more hours before giving him the reins.
As the horse passed into the field, Turala saw the small green house on the next hill, half-hidden in forest. So picturesque was the image, she felt herself lull into a pleasant half-sleeping state. A blast of a horn brought her back to reality with a shudder. Cassyr opened his eyes.
“Where are we?” he hissed.
“I don't know,” Turala stammered, wide-eyed. “What is that sound?”
“Orcs,” he whispered. “A hunting party. Head for the thicket quickly.”
Turala trotted the horse into the small collection of trees. Cassyr handed her the child and dismounted. He began pulling their bags off next, throwing them into the bushes. A sound started then, a distant rumbling of footfall, growing louder and closer. Turala climbed off carefully and helped Cassyr unburden the horse. All the while, Bosriel watched open-eyed. Turala sometimes worried that her baby never cried. Now she was grateful for it. With the last of the luggage off, Cassyr slapped the horse's rear, sending it galloping into the field. Taking Turala's hand, he hunkered down in the bushes.
“With luck,” he murmured. “They'll think she's wild or belongs to the farm and won't go looking for the rider.”
As he spoke, a horde of Orcs surged into the field, blasting their horns. Turala had seen Orcs before, but never in such abundance, never with such bestial confidence. Roaring with delight at the horse and its confused state, they hastened past the timber where Cassyr, Turala, and Bosriel hid. The wildflowers flew into the air at their stampede, powdering the air with seeds. Turala tried to hold back a sneeze, and thought she succeeded. One of the Orcs heard something though, and brought another with him to investigate.
Cassyr quietly unsheathed his sword, mustering all the confidence he could. His skills, such as they were, were in spying, not combat, but he vowed to protect Turala and her babe for as long as he could. Perhaps he would slay these two, he reasoned, but not before they cried out and brought the rest of the horde.
Suddenly, something invisible swept through the bushes like a wind. The Orcs flew backwards, falling dead on their backs. Turala turned and saw a wrinkled crone with bright red hair emerge from a nearby bush.
“I thought you were going to bring them right to me,” she whispered, smiling. “Best come with me.”
The three followed the old woman through a deep crevasse of bramble bushes that ran through the field toward the house on the hill. As they emerged on the other side, the woman turned to look at the Orcs feasting on the remains of the horse, a blood-soaked orgy to the beat of multiple horns.
“That horse yours?” she asked. When Cassyr nodded, she laughed loudly. “That's rich meat, that is. Those monsters'll have bellyaches and flatulence in the morning. Serves 'em right.”
“Shouldn't we keep moving?” whispered Turala, unnerved by the woman's laughter.
“They won't come up here,” she grinned, looking at Bosriel who smiled back. “They're too afraid of us.”
Turala turned to Cassyr, who shook his head. “Witches. Am I correct in assuming that this is Old Barbyn's Farm, the home of the Skeffington Coven?”
“You are, pet,” the old woman giggled girlishly, pleased to be so infamous. “I am Mynista Skeffington.”
“What did you do to those Orcs?” asked Turala. “Back there in the thicket?”
“Spirit fist right side the head,” Mynista said, continuing the climb up the hill. Ahead of them was the farmhouse grounds, a well, a chicken coop, a pond, women of all ages doing chores, the laughter of children at play. The old woman turned and saw that Turala did not understand. “Don't you have witches where you come from, child?”
“None that I know of,” she said.
“There are all sorts of wielders of magic in Tamriel,” she explained. “The Psijics study magic like it's their painful duty. The battlemages in the army on the other end of the scale hurl spells like arrows. We witches commune and conjure and celebrate. To fell those Orcs, I merely whispered to the spirits of the air, Amaro, Pina, Tallatha, the fingers of Kynareth, and the breath of the world, with whom I have an intimate acquaintance, to smack those bastards dead. You see, conjuration is not about might, or solving riddles, or agonizing over musty old scrolls. It's about fostering relations. Being friendly, you might say.”
“Well, we certainly appreciate you being friendly with us,” said Cassyr.
“As well you might,” coughed Mynista. “Your kind destroyed the Orc homeland two thousand years ago. Before that, they never came all the way up here and bothered us. Now let's get you cleaned up and fed.”
With that, Mynista led them into the farm, and Turala met the family of the Skeffington Coven.
Rijja had not even tried to sleep the night before, and she found the somber music played during her execution to have a soporific effect. It was as if she was willing herself to be unconscious before the ax stroke. Her eyes were bound so she could not see her former lover, the Emperor, seated before her, glaring with his one good eye. She could not see the Potentate Versidue-Shaie, his coil neatly wrapped beneath him, a look of triumph in his golden face. She could feel, numbly, the executioner's hand touch her back to steady her. She flinched like a dreamer trying to awake.
The first blow caught the back of her head and she screamed. The next hacked through her neck, and she was dead.
The Emperor turned to the Potentate wearily, “Now that's done. You said she had a pretty sister in Hammerfell named Corda?”
The horse the witches had sold him was not as good as his old one, Cassyr considered. Spirit worship and sacrifice and sisterhood might be all well and good for conjuring spirits, but it tends to spoil beasts of burden. Still, there was little to complain about. With the Dunmer woman and her child gone, he had made excellent time. Ahead were the walls surrounding the city of his homeland. Almost at once, he was set upon by his old friends and family.
“How went the war?” cried his cousin, running to the road. “Is it true that Vivec signed a peace with the Prince, but the Emperor refuses to honor it?”
“That's not how it was, was it?” asked a friend, joining them. “I heard that the Dunmer had the Prince murdered and then made up a story about a treaty, but there's no evidence for it.”
“Isn't there anything interesting happening here?” Cassyr laughed. “I really don't have the least interest in discussing the war or Vivec.”
“You missed the procession of the Lady Corda,” said his friend. “She came across the bay with full entourage and then east to the Imperial City.”
“But that's nothing. What was Vivec like?” asked his cousin eagerly. “He supposed to be a living god.”
“If Sheogorath steps down and they need another God of Madness, he'll do,” said Cassyr haughtily.
“And the women?” asked the lad, who had only seen Dunmer ladies on very rare occasions.
Cassyr merely smiled. Turala Skeffington flashed into his mind for an instant before fading away. She would be happy with the coven, and her child would be well cared for. But they were part of the past now, a place and a war he wanted to forget forever. Dismounting his horse, he walked it into the city, chatting of trivial gossip of life on the Iliac Bay.