Barenziah stood at the open tower window,
waiting. She could sense her familiar's nearness, but though
the night sky was clear as day to her eyes she could not yet
see him. Then suddenly he was there, a swift moving dot beneath
the wispy night clouds. A few more minutes and the great nighthawk
was there, wings folded, talons reaching for her thick leather
armband. She carried the bird to its perch where it waited,
panting, while her impatient fingers felt for the message
secured in a capsule on one leg. It drank, then ruffled its
feathers and began to preen, secure in her presence. A tiny
part of her consciousness shared its satisfaction with a job
well done, rest earned ... yet beneath that was an unease.
Things were not right, even to its bird mind.
Her fingers shook as she unfolded the thin
sheet and pored over the sheet of cramped writing. Not Symmachus'
bold hand! Barenziah sat, slowly, fingers smoothing the document
while she prepared her mind and body to accept disaster calmly.
The Imperial Guards had deserted Symmachus
and joined the rebels. The loyal troops had suffered a decisive
defeat. The rebel leader had been recognized as king of Morrowind
by the Emperor. Symmachus was dead. Barenziah and the children
had been declared traitors of the Empire and a price set on
"My lady?" Barenziah jumped, startled
at her servant's approach. "The Breton is here. King
Eadwyre," the woman added helpfully, noting Barenziah's
puzzlement. "Is there news, my lady?" she said,
nodding at the nighthawk.
"Nothing that will not wait," Barenziah
said quickly. "See to the bird."
King Eadwyre greeted her gravely and courteously,
if rather fulsomely. He claimed to be a great admirer of Symmachus,
who figured prominently in his family legends. Gradually he
turned the conversation to her business with the Emperor.
Finding her noncommittal, he suddenly blurted out, "My
Lady Queen, you must believe me. The man posing as the Emperor
is an impostor! I know it sounds mad, but I -- "
"No," Barenziah said, with sudden
decisiveness. "You are correct. I know."
Eadwyre relaxed back into his seat for the
first time, eyes shrewd. "You know? You're not just humoring
a madman? My lady I -- we -- need your aid."
Barenziah smiled grimly at the irony. "Of
what assistance might I be, my lord?"
Quickly he outlined a plot. The Imperial Sorceress
Ria Silmane had been killed and declared a traitor by the
false emperor, yet she retained a bit of her power and could
yet contact a few of those she had known well on the mortal
plane. She had chosen a Champion who would undertake to assemble
the missing staff pieces and use the staff's power to destroy
Jagar Tharn, who was otherwise invulnerable, and rescue the
true Emperor, who was being held prisoner in another plane.
However, the chosen Champion languished now in the Imperial
Dungeons. Tharn's attention must be diverted while he freed
himself with Ria's help. Barenziah had Tharn's ear and eye.
Could she provide the necessary distraction?
"I suppose I could obtain another audience
with him. Would that be sufficient? What do you mean, his
Eadwyre looked uncomfortable. "It was
whispered among the servants that Jagar Tharn kept your likeness
in a sort of shrine in his chambers. That surprises you?"
"Yes. And no."
"Our chosen one may need a few days to
"You trust me in this? Why?"
"We are desperate, my lady. We have no
choice. But yes, I do trust you. Symmachus -- "
"Is dead." Barenziah explained quickly
"My Lady. What dreadful news!" For
the first time Eadwyre's urbane poise was shaken. "Under
the circumstances, we can hardly ask -- "
"Nay, my lord king. Under the circumstances
I must do what I may to avenge myself upon the murderer of
my childrens' father. In return I ask only that you protect
my orphaned children as you may."
"Most willingly do I so pledge, most
brave and noble lady!"
Old fool, Barenziah thought. She did not sleep
that night, but sat in a chair beside her bed, hands folded
in her lap, thinking long deep thoughts. She would not tell
the children, not yet, not until she must.
She had no need to seek another audience with
the "Emperor" for a summons came in the morning.
She told the children she expected to be gone a few days,
bade them give the servants no trouble and kissed them goodbye.
Morgiah whimpered a bit, for she was bored and lonely in Imperial
City. Helseth looked dour but said nothing. He was very like
At the palace, Barenziah was escorted not
into the great hall, but to a small parlor where the Emperor
sat at a solitary breakfast. He nodded a greeting, and waved
his hand at the window. "Splendid view, isn't it?"
Barenziah stared out over the towers of the
great city. It dawned on her that this was the very chamber
where she'd first met Tiber Septim and a strong wave of inchoate
feeling swept over her. When she turned back at last Uriel
Septim had vanished and Nightingale sat in his place, laughing.
"You knew," he said accusingly,
scanning her face. "I wanted to surprise you. You might
at least pretend."
Barenziah spread her arms, "I'm afraid
my skills at pretense are no match for yours, my liege."
"You're angry with me." He pretended
"Just a little," she said icily.
"I do find betrayal offensive."
"How human of you."
"What do you want of me?"
He wiped his mouth and stood erect. "Now
you are pretending. You know what I want of you, my love."
"You want to tantalize and torment me.
Go ahead. I'm in your power."
"No, no, no. I don't want that at all,
Barenziah." He came near, speaking low in the old caressing
voice that sent shivers over her body. "Don't you see?
This was the only way." His hands closed on her arms.
"You could have taken me with you!"
Tears gathered in her eyes.
He shook his head. "I didn't have the
power. Ah, but now, now I have it all. Mine to have, mine
to share -- with you." He waved his hand toward the window
and the city beyond. "All Tamriel to lay at your feet
-- and that is only the beginning."
"It's too late. Too late. You left me
"He's dead. A scant few years...what
does it matter?"
"The children -- "
"I'll adopt them. We'll have others together,
Barenziah. I have powers you do not dream of!" He moved
to kiss her but she slipped his grasp and turned away.
"I don't believe you."
"You do, you know. You're still angry,
that's all." His smile did not reach his eyes. "What
do you want?"
She shrugged. "A walk in the garden.
A song or two."
"Ah. You want to be courted."
"Why not? You do it so well. It's been
long since I've had the pleasure."
And so they spent their days in courtship,
walking, talking, singing and laughing together, while the
Empire's business was left to underlings.
"I'd like to see the staff," Barenziah
said idly one day. "I only had a glimpse of it."
"Nothing would give me greater pleasure,
heart's delight, but that's impossible."
"You don't trust me," Barenziah
pouted, but she softened her lips for his kiss.
"Nonsense, love. It isn't here. In fact,
it isn't anywhere." He laughed and kissed her again,
"Now you're talking in riddles again.
I want to see it. You can't have destroyed it."
"Ah, you've gained in wisdom, since last
"You piqued my interest somewhat. The
staff can't be destroyed and it can't be removed from Tamriel,
not without the direst consequences to the land itself."
"Ahhh. All true. And yet, as a I said,
it isn't anywhere. Can you solve the riddle?" He pulled
her to him and she leaned into his embrace. "Here's a
greater riddle still," he whispered, "how to make
one of two. That I can and will show you." Their bodies
merged, limbs tangled together. Later, when they'd drawn a
bit apart and dozed, she thought, sleepily. "One of two,
two of one, three of two...what cannot be destroyed or banished
might be split apart, perhaps..."
Nightingale kept a diary. He scribbled entries
in it each night after quick reports from his underlings.
It was locked but the lock was a simple one, so Barenziah
managed to sneak quick looks at it while he was occupied in
toileting himself. She discovered that the first staff piece
was hidden in an ancient dwarven mine called Fang Lair, although
its location was given only in vague terms. The diary was
crammed with jotted events in an odd shorthand, and was very
hard to decipher.
All Tamriel, she thought, in his hands and
mine, and more perhaps, and yet ... For all his surface charm
there was a cold emptiness where his heart should have been,
an emptiness of which he was quite unaware, she thought. One
could glimpse it now and then, when his eyes would go blank
and hard. Peasant dreams, Barenziah thought, and Straw flashed
before her eyes, looking sad, and then Therris, with a mocking
smile and empty eye sockets. Symmachus, who did what must
be done, quietly and efficiently. Nightingale. Nightingale,
who would rule all, and more, and yet spread chaos in the
name of control.
Barenziah got reluctant leave from Nightingale
to go to her children, who had to be told of their father's
death and of the emperor's offer of his protection to them.
Eadwyre called on them while she was there, and she told him
what she had discovered so far, and explained that she must
remain awhile yet and learn more as she could.
Nightingale teased her about her elderly admirer.
He was quite aware of Eadwyre's suspicion, although as he
said, no one took the old fool seriously. Barenziah managed
to arrange a reconciliation of sorts between them. Eadwyre
publicly recanted his suspicions and his "old friend"
forgave him. Thus he was invited to dine with them at least
once a week. The children liked Eadwyre, even Helseth, who
disapproved of his mother's liaison with the "Emperor"
and consequently detested Nightingale. He had become surly
and temperamental and frequently quarreled with both of them.
Eadwyre was not happy either and Nightingale
delighted in publicly displaying his affection for Barenziah.
They could not marry, of course, for Uriel Septim was already
married. He had exiled the true Empress shortly after taking
Septim's place, but had not dared to harm her. She was held
by the Temple of the One. It had been given out publicly that
she was in ill health, and rumors had been circulated that
she had mental problems. The Emperor's children had also been
dispatched to various prisons disguised as "schools".
"She'll grow worse in time," Nightingale
said carelessly, eying Barenziah's swollen breasts and belly
with satisfaction. "As for his children ... well, life
is full of hazards, isn't it? We'll be married. Your child
will be my true heir." He did want the child. Barenziah
was sure of that. She was far less sure of his feelings for
her. They quarrelled, often violently, usually about Helseth,
whom he wanted to send away to school. Barenziah made no effort
to avoid these quarrels. Nightingale had no interest in a
peaceful life and he thoroughly enjoyed making up afterwards.
Occasionally Barenziah would take the children and retreat
to their old apartment, declaring she wanted no more to do
She was six months pregnant before she finally
deciphered the location of the last staff piece -- an easy
one, since every dark elf knew where Dagoth-Ur was. When next
she quarrelled with Nightingale she simply left the city with
Eadwyre and they rode hard for High Rock and Wayrest.
Nightingale was furious, but there was little
he could do. His assassins were rather inept, and he dared
not leave his seat of power to pursue them in person, nor
could he openly declare war on Wayrest. He had no legitimate
claim on her on her unborn child. The nobility had disapproved
of his liaison with Barenziah and were glad that she had gone.
Wayrest was equally disapproving and distrustful of her, but
Eadwyre was much beloved by his prosperous little city, and
allowances were readily made for his eccentricities.
Barenziah and Eadwyre were married a year
after the birth of her son by Jagar Tharn. Eadwyre doted on
her. She did not love him, but she was fond of him, and that
was something. It was nice to have someone, and Wayrest was
a very pleasant place, a good place for children to grow up,
while they waited, and hoped, and prayed for their Champion's
success in his long mission.
to book index