"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
"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
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
"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
"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.
"Sire," the healer gaped at him.
"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!"
"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
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
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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