Barenziah felt the weight of sorrow for several
days, but by the third day out her spirits had begun to rise
a bit. She found that she enjoyed being on the road again,
although she missed Straw's companionship more than she would
have thought. They were escorted by a troop of Redguard knights,
with whom she felt comfortable, although these were much more
disciplined than the guards of the merchant caravans. They
were cordial but respectful towards her despite her attempts
to flirt with the men. Symmachus scolded her privately, saying
a queen must maintain a royal dignity at all times.
"You mean I'm never to have any fun?"
"Not with such as these. They are beneath
you. Graciousness is to be desired in those in authority.
Familiarity is not. You will remain chaste and modest while
you are in Imperial City."
Barenziah screwed up her face. "I might
as well be back in Black Moor. Elves are promiscuous by nature.
Everyone says so."
"'Everyone' is wrong, then. Some are,
some aren't. The emperor -- and I -- expect you to show both
discrimination and discretion. Let me remind you that you
will hold the throne of Mournhold not by right of blood but
solely at the pleasure of Tiber Septim. If he judges you unsuitable
your reign will end ere it begins. He requires intelligence,
obedience, discretion and total loyalty in all his appointees,
and he favors chastity and modesty in women. I suggest you
model your deportment after Drelliane."
"I'd liefer be back in Black Moor,"
Barenziah said indignantly.
"That is not an option. If you are of
no use to Tiber Septim he will see to it that you are of no
use to his enemies either," Symmachus said coldly. "If
you would keep your head upon your shoulders take warning.
Let me add that power offers pleasures other than those of
carnality and low company." He spoke of art, literature,
drama, music, and grand balls. Barenziah listened with interest
spurred by his threats, but after asked if she might continue
her study of spellcasting while in Imperial City. Symmachus
seemed pleased and promised to arrange it. Pleased with this
she then said that she noted that three of their knights were
women, and asked if she might train a little in combat with
them, just for the sake of exercise. Symmachus looked less
than pleased, but agreed she might, although only with the
The late winter weather held fair but cold
for their journey, so that they travelled quickly over firm
roads. On the last day, spring seemed to come at last for
there was a thaw, and the road grew sloppy underfoot, and
everywhere one could faintly hear the sound of water trickling
They came to the great bridge that crossed
into Imperial City at sunset. The rosy glow turned all the
stark white marble buildings a delicate pink. It all looked
very new and grand and immaculate. A broad avenue led straight
north to the Palace. There was a crowd of people of all sorts
in the streets. Lights winked out in the shops and on in the
inns as dusk fell and the stars came out one by one. Even
the side streets were broad and brightly lit. Near the palace
the towers of a grand Mage Guild reared to the east while
westward the stained glass windows of a great temple glittered.
Symmachus had an apartment in a great house
two blocks from the palace, past the Temple, the Temple of
the One, he said, as they passed it, an ancient Nordic cult
which Tiber Septim had revived. He said that Barenziah would
be expected to become a member, should she prove acceptable
to the Emperor.
Symmachus' apartment was very grand, although
little to Barenziah's liking. The walls and furnishings were
stark white, relieved only by touches of bright gold, the
floors of gleaming black marble. Barenziah's eyes ached for
color and shadow.
In the morning Symmachus and Drelliane escorted
her to the Imperial Palace. Barenziah noted that everyone
they met greeted Symmachus with a deferential respect which
in some cases bordered on obsequiousness. He took it quite
for granted. She and Symmachus were ushered directly into
the Imperial presence.
Morning sun flooded the small room through
a large window with tiny panes, washing over the breakfast
table and the single man who sat there, dark against the light.
He leapt to his feet as they entered and hurried toward them,
"Ah, Symmachus, my friend, I welcome thy return most
gladly." His hands touched Symmachus shoulders briefly,
fondly, interrupting the deep bow the elf had begun. Barenziah
curtsied as Tiber Septim turned to her.
"Barenziah, my naughty little runaway,
how do you, child? Here, let me have a look at you. Why, Symmachus,
she's charming, absolutely charming. Why have you hidden her
from us all these years? Is the light too much? Shall I draw
the hangings? Yes, of course." He waved aside Symmachus
protests and drew the curtains himself, not troubling to summon
a servant. "You will pardon me for this discourtesy to
my guests. I've much to think of, but that's scant excuse
for inhospitality -- ah, pray join me. There's some excellent
fruit from the Black Marsh."
They settled themselves at the table. Barenziah
was astonished. Tiber Septim was nothing like the grim grey
giant warrior she'd pictured. He was only of middle height,
half a head shorter than tall Symmachus, although he was well
knit of figure and lithe in movement. He had a winning smile,
bright, indeed piercing, blue eyes, and a full head of stark
white hair above a lined and weathered face. He might have
been of any age from forty to sixty.
He pressed food and drink upon them, then
repeated his question: why had she left her home? Had her
guardians been unkind to her?
"No, excellency," Barenziah replied,
"in truth, no, although I fancied so at times."
Symmachus had made up a lie for her and Barenziah told it,
although with misgivings. The stableboy, Straw, had convinced
her that her guardians, unable to find a suitable husband
for her, meant to sell her as a concubine in Rihad, and when
a Redguard had indeed come, she had panicked and fled with
him. Tiber Septim seemed fascinated and listened raptly as
she provided details of her life as a merchant caravan guard.
"Why, 'tis like a ballad," he said.
"By the One, I'll have the court bard set it to music.
What a charming boy you must have made."
"Symmachus said--" Barenziah stopped
in some confusion, "he said, well, that I no longer look
much like a boy. I have grown in the past few months."
She lowered her gaze in what she hoped looked like maiden
"He's a very discerning fellow, is my
"I know I've been a very foolish girl.
I must crave thy pardon, and that of my kind guardians. I
-- I realized that some time ago, but I was too ashamed to
go home. And I do long for Morrowind. My soul pines for my
"My dear. You shall go home, I promise
you, but I pray you remain with us a little longer, that you
may prepare yourself for the stern task with which I shall
charge you." Barenziah gazed at him earnestly, heart
beating hard. It was all working just as Symmachus had said
it would. She felt a warm flush of gratitude toward him, but
was careful to keep her attention focused on the Emperor.
"I am honored, Excellency, and wish most earnestly to
serve you and this great Empire you have forged in any way
I can." It was the politic thing to say, but Barenziah
really meant it. She was awed by the magnificence of the city
and the discipline and order everywhere evident, and was excited
at the prospect of being a part of it all. Plus she felt quite
drawn to Tiber Septim.
After a few days Symmachus left for Mournhold
to take up his duties as governor until Barenziah was ready
to assume the throne, after which he would become her Prime
Minister. Barenziah, with Drelliane as chaperone, took up
residence in a suite at the Palace. Several tutors were provided
for her. During this time she became deeply interested in
the magical arts, but she found the study of history and politics
not at all to her taste.
On occasion she met Tiber Septim in the Palace
gardens and he would unfailingly inquire politely as to her
progress, and chide her, although with a smile, over her disinterest
in matters of state. However, he was always happy to instruct
her on fine points of magic, and he could make even history
and politics seem interesting after all. "They're people,
child, not dry facts in a dusty book," he said. As her
understanding broadened their discussions became longer, deeper
and more frequent. He spoke to her of his vision of a united
Tamriel, each race separate and distinct but with shared ideals
and goals, all contributing to the common weal.
"Some things are universal, shared by
all sentient folk of good will," he said. "So the
One teaches us. We must unite against the malicious and the
brutish, the mis-created, the orcs, trolls, goblins and other
worse creataures, not strive 'gainst one another."
His blue eyes would light as he stared into
his dream, and Barenziah was delighted just to sit and listen
to him. If he drew close to her, the side of her body next
to him would glow as if he were a fire. If their hands met
she would tingle all over as if his body were charged with
a small shock spell. One day, quite unexpectedly, he took
her face in his hands and kissed her gently on the mouth.
She drew back after a few moments, astonished by the violence
of her feelings, and he apologized instantly. "I didn't
mean to do that. It's just -- you are so beautiful, my dear.
So very beautiful." He was looking at her with a hopeless
yearning in his face. She turned away, tears streaming down
her face. "Are you angry with me? Talk to me."
Barenziah shook her head. "I could never
be angry with you. I love you. I know it's wrong, but I can't
"I have a wife," he said. "She
is a good and virtuous woman, and the mother of my children.
I could never put her aside, yet there is nothing between
us, no sharing of the spirit. She would have had me be other
than what I am. I am the most powerful man in all Tamriel,
and, Barenziah, I think I am the most lonely as well. Power!"
he said with contempt. "I'd trade a goodly share of it
for youth and love if the gods allowed it."
"But you are strong and vigorous and
vital, more than any man I've ever known."
He shook his head. "Today, perhaps. Yet
I am less than I was yesterday, last year, ten years ago.
I feel the sting of my mortality and it is painful."
"If I can ease thy pain, let me do so."
Barenziah moved towards him, hands outstretched.
"I would not take thy innocence from
"I'm not that innocent."
"How so?" Tiber Septim's voice grated
harshly, his brow knitted. Barenziah's mouth went dry. What
had she done?
"There was Straw," she faltered.
"I -- I was lonely, too. Am lonely. And not so strong
as you." She cast her eyes down in embarassment. "I'm
"No, no, not so. Barenziah, it cannot
last for long. You have a duty in Mournhold. I must tend my
Empire. Shall we share what we may and pray the One forgives
us our frailty?"
Tiber Septim held out his arms and, wordlessly,
Barenziah stepped into his embrace.
to book index