Tiber Septim lived another half century, during
which she saw him on a few occasions, as she was bidden to
Imperial City for one reason or another. He greeted her with
warmth on these occasions and they had long talks together
about events. He seemed to have quite forgotten that there
had ever been anything more between them. He changed little
over the years. Rumor said that his mages had found spells
to extend his vitality, and even that the One had granted
him immortality. Then one day a messenger came with the news
that he was dead, and his son was now Emperor in his place.
They'd heard the news in private, she and
Symmachus. He took it stoically, as he took everything.
"It doesn't seem possible," Barenziah
"I told you. It's the way of humans.
They are a short-lived race. It doesn't really matter. His
power lives on, and his son now wields it."
"You called him your friend. Do you feel
He shrugged. "There was a time when you
called him somewhat more. What do you feel, Barenziah?"
"Emptiness. Loneliness," she said,
then she too shrugged. "That's not new."
"I know," he said, taking her hand.
"Barenziah, let me try to fill that lonely place."
He turned her face up and kissed her. It filled her with astonishment.
She couldn't remember his ever touching her before. She'd
never thought of him in that way, and yet, undeniably, an
old familiar warmth spread through her. She'd forgotten how
good it was, that warmth. Not the burning heat she'd felt
with Tiber Septim, but the warmth she associated with, with
Straw! Straw, poor Straw. She hadn't thought of him in so
long. He'd be middle-aged now if he still lived. Probably
married with a dozen children, she hoped, and a wife who could
talk for two.
"Marry me, Barenziah," he was saying,
"I've worked and toiled and waited long enough, haven't
Marriage. "A peasant with peasant dreams."
The words appeared in her mind, as if from long ago. And yet,
why not? If not him, who? The great noble families had been
destroyed in the war and its aftermath. Dark elf rule had
been restored, but not the old nobility. Most of them were
upstarts, like Symmachus and not as good as he was. He'd fought
to keep Mournhold whole and healthy when their so-called advisors
would have picked their bones, sucked them dry as Ebonheart
had been sucked dry. He'd fought for Mournhold, fought for
her, while she and it grew. She felt a sudden rush of gratitude,
and, undeniably, affection. He was steady and reliable. He'd
served her well. "Why not?" she said, smiling.
The union was a good one, both in its political
and personal aspects. While Tiber Septim's son viewed her
with a jaundiced eye, his trust in his father's old friend
was absolute. Symmachus, however, was still viewed with suspicion
by Morrowind's stiff-necked folk, suspicious of his peasant
ancestry, his close ties to the Empire, while she was quite
popular. "The Lady's one of our own in her heart,"
it was whispered, "held captive as we are." Barenziah
felt content. There was work and pleasure and what more could
one ask of life? The years passed swiftly, with crises to
be dealt with, storms and famines and failures and successes
and plots to be foiled. Mournhold prospered well enough. Her
people were secure and fed, her mines and farms productive.
All was well save that the marriage produced no children.
Now elven children are slow to come, and most
demanding of their welcome, noble children more so than others,
thus many decades had passed before they grew concerned.
"The fault lies with me, husband. I am
damaged goods." Barenziah said bitterly. "If you
want to take another..."
"I want no other," Symmachus snapped,
"nor do I know the fault to be thine. Perhaps it is mine.
Whichever, we will seek a cure. If there is damage, surely
it may be repaired?"
"How so? When we dare not entrust anyone
with my true story? Healer's oaths do not always hold."
"It won't matter if we change the time
and circumstances a bit. Whate'er we say or fail to say Jephre
never rests. His inventive mind and quick tongue are ever
busy spreading gossip and rumor."
Priests and Healers came and went, but all
their prayers, potions and other efforts produced not even
a period of bloom, let alone a single fruit. Eventually, they
put it from their minds and left it in the gods' hands. They
were yet young, with centuries ahead of them. There was time.
Elves always have time.
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