- The Real Barenziah
 
- The Real Barenziah, Part 7 - Anonymous

"You dance on the edge of a volcano, child," Drelliane scolded, as Barenziah admired the emerald ring her lover had given her to celebrate their one month anniversary.

"How so? We make one another happy. We harm no one. Symmachus bade me to be discriminate and discreet. Who better could I choose? And we've been most discreet. He treats me as a daughter in public." Tiber Septim's nightly visits were made through a secret passage.

"He slavers over you like a dog his dinner. Have you not noticed the coolness of the Empress and her son toward you?"

Barenziah shrugged. Even before she and Septim had become lovers she'd had no more from his family than bare civility. Threadbare civility. "What matter? It is Tiber who holds power."

"It is his son who holds the future. Do not hold his mother up to public scorn, I beg you."

"Can I help it if that dry stick of a woman cannot hold her husband's interest even in conversation at dinner?"

"Have less to say in public. That is all I ask. She matters little, save that her children love her, and you do not want them as enemies. Tiber Septim has not long to live. I mean," Drelliane amended quickly, at Barenziah's scowl, "Humans are all short-lived. Temporary, as we elves say. They come and go as the seasons do, but the families of the powerful live on for a time. You must be a family friend if you would see lasting profit from your relationship. Ah, how can I make you truly see, you who are so young and human-bred as well! If you take care you and Mournhold are like to live to see the fall of Septim's dynasty, if indeed he has founded one, as you have seen its rise. It is the way of human history. They ebb and flow like the tides. Their cities and even their empires bloom like spring flowers, only to wither and die in the summer sun."

Barenziah just laughed. She knew that rumors abounded about her and Tiber Septim. She enjoyed the attention for all save the Empress and her son seemed captivated by her. Bards sang of her dark beauty and her charming ways. She was in fashion and in love and if it was temporary, well, what was not? She was happy for the first time she could remember, each day filled with joy and pleasure, and the nights yet better.

"What is wrong with me?" Barenziah lamented. "Look, not one of my skirts fit? What's become of my waist? Am I getting fat?" Barenziah regarded her thin arms and legs and her undeniably thickened waist in the mirror with displeasure.

Drelliane shrugged. "You appear to be with child, young as you are. Constant pairing with a human has brought you early to fertility. I see no choice but for you to speak with him about it. You are in his power. It would be best, I think, for you to go directly to Mournhold if he will agree, and bear the child there."

"Alone?" Barenziah placed her hands on her swollen belly, tears forming in her eyes. Everything in her yearned to share the fruit of her love with her lover. "He'll ne'er agree to that. He won't be parted from me now. You'll see."

Drelliane shook her gray head. Although she said no more, a look of sympathy and sorrow had replaced her usual cool scorn.

That night Barenziah told Tiber Septim of it when he came to her.

"With child?" He looked shocked. Stunned. "You're sure of it? I was told elves do not bear so young."

Barenziah summoned a smile. "How can I be sure? I've never --"

"I'll fetch my healer."

The healer, a high elf of middle years, confirmed that Barenziah was indeed pregnant and that such a thing had never before been known to happen. It was a testimony to His Excellency's potency, the healer said sycophantically. Tiber Septim snarled at him. "This must not be," he said. "Undo it."

"Sire," the healer gaped at him. "I cannot--."

"Of course you can," he snapped. "I command you do so."

Barenziah, wide-eyed with sudden terror, sat up in the bed. "No!" she screamed. "No! What are you saying?"

"My dear child," Tiber Septim sat down beside her with his winning smile. "I'm so sorry. Truly. But this cannot be. Your child could be a threat to my son and his sons. I will put it no more plainly than that."

"The child I bear is your child!" she wailed.

"No. It's but a possibility, a might be, not yet gifted with a soul or quickened into life. I will not have it so." He gave the healer another hard stare and the elf began to tremble.

"It is her child. Children are few among elves. No woman conceives more than four and that is very rare. Two is the allotted number. Some bear none, some only one. If I take this one from her, she may not conceive again."

"You told me she would not bear to me. I've little faith in your prognostications."

Barenziah scrambled naked from her bed, and ran for the door, not knowing where she was going, only that she could not stay. She never reached the door for blackness took her.

Barenziah awoke to pain and emptiness. Drelliane was there to soothe the pain and clean the blood that pooled between her legs, but there was nothing to fill the emptiness. Tiber Septim sent gifts and flowers, and came for short visits, always well attended. Barenziah received these visits with pleasure, but he came no more at night nor did she wish for him. After a week, when she was physically recovered, it was announced that Symmachus had requested she come to Mournhold earlier than planned, and that she would leave forthwith. She was given a splendid retinue, a wardrobe befitting a queen and a ceremonial departure from the gates of Imperial City.

"Everything I have ever loved I have lost," Barenziah thought, looking over the mounted knights behind and ahead, the tirewomen near her in a carriage, "yet have I gained a measure of wealth and power, and the promise of more to come. Dearly have I bought it. Now do I better understand Tiber Septim's love of it, if he has oft paid such prices, for surely worth is measured by the price one pays." Barenziah, by her wish, rode mounted on a shining black mare, clad as a warrior in shining chain mail of dark elf making.

As the slow days slipped by and her train rode a winding road eastward into the setting sun, around her rose the steep-sided mountain slopes of Morrowind. The air was thin and a chill late autumn wind blew constantly, but it was also rich with the sweet spice smell of the late-blooming black rose, which grew in every shadowy nook and crevice, finding nourishment even in the stoniest slopes. In small villages and towns, ragged dark elf folk gathered along the road to cry her name or simply gape. Most of her knightly escort were Redguards with a few dark elves, Nords and Bretons scattered among them. As they wove their way into the heart of Morrowind, these grew increasingly uncomfortable and clung together. Even the dark elf knights seemed somewhat uneasy. Barenziah felt at home, felt the welcome extended to her by this land.

Symmachus met her at the Mournhold borders with an escort of knights, about half of whom were dark elf in Imperial battle dress, she noted. There was a grand parade into the city and speeches of welcome from elders.

"I've had the queen's suite refurbished for you," he said, "but you can change anything not to your taste, of course." He went on about details of the coronation ceremony which was to be held in a week. He was his old commanding self, but she sensed something else as well. He was eager for her approval of the arrangements. He asked her nothing about her stay in Imperial City or Tiber Septim, although Barenziah was certain that Drelliane had told him everything in detail.

The ceremony itself, like so much else, was a mixture of old and new, parts of it dictated by Imperial format, as she was sworn to service of the Empire and Tiber Septim, as well as to the land of Mournhold and its people. She then accepted fealty from the people and the council. The council was composed of a mixture of Imperial representatives, advisors they were called, and native representatives of the people. These latter were mostly elders, in accordance with elven custom. Barenziah found that much of her time was occupied in attempting to reconcile these two forces. And the elders were expected to do most of the conciliating in the name of the reforms introduced by the Empire, such as land ownership and surface farming, which went clean against dark elven tradition, as laid down by their ancient gods and goddesses. Now, Tiber Septim, in the name of the One had decreed a new tradition, and the gods and goddesses themselves were expected to obey.

Barenziah threw herself into work and study. She was through with love and men for a long, long time, if not forever. There were other pleasures, she discovered, as Symmachus had promised, those of the mind, of power. She developed a love for dark elf history and legend, a hunger to know the people from whom she sprang, proud warriors and craftsmen.

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