Delphine’s heart was in her throat as she turned the corner into a small alleyway behind two houses. Emilia had been missing for three hours now. The child had disappeared whilst she and Marcus had taken the opportunity to resupply before leaving the town. Falkreath was a nice enough town, large enough to hide in, but small enough that they didn’t feel overwhelmed by the number of eyes following them. Winter was coming, and snow clung to the ground in patches. They had been in the town for two days, and even though Delphine had not yet seen any Imperial or Thalmor activity in the town, but that didn’t ease her worries. The town was too close to Cyrodiil. Even though Skyrim was technically part of the Empire it had always maintained its own rule, its own personality. The High King was the law in Skyrim, some would say before the Emperor.
Delphine cursed when she heard a scream coming from behind one of the houses. She sprinted the rest of the alley, fearing the worst had come to pass, only to stop dead in her tracks. There in the yard a dozen children were playing some sort of game. They were chasing each other about; some were waving sticks, while others ran away, weaving and twisting. Delphine’s blood started to boil when she saw one boy had a hand on Emilia’s shoulder, a stick in his hand. “Stop! You’ve violated the law! Pay the court a fine or serve your sentence!” she overheard the boy say.
Delphine kept her eyes on the girl as she marched over to her. Emilia just smiled back at her captor. “You’ll never take me alive!” she called as she squirmed away from his grip, Delphine catching a familiar dip of her shoulder as a move that the Blade had taught the young girl no less than a year ago. Within seconds the girl had turned on the boy and with a quick snatch, had disarmed him of his stick. Showing off! Delphine fumed. Again!
“Ha!” the girl shouted in triumph, pointing the stick at the boy’s chest while he stared at her dumbfounded.
“Whoa, how’d you do that?!”
Emilia smirked. “Doesn’t matter, but I think that means I win right?”
“I think,” Delphine said curtly, “that it means you are in a lot of trouble.” Delphine saw the girl freeze. She knew she was in trouble. Delphine gave the boy a cold stare and he took the hint to leave, the other children following his lead, leaving the Blade and the young Septim alone in the yard.
Delphine snatched the stick from the girl’s hand. She snapped it in half and tossed it aside before pointing at the girl. “What do you think you were doing?”
The girl’s face turned red. “I was just playing guard and guild with them, they invited me in a the market and-“
“And nothing!” Delphine interrupted. “Do you have any idea what could have happened to you?! Or how worried your father and I have been?!”
“I’m sorry,” Emilia murmured.
“Sorry doesn’t cut it, girl!” Delphine nearly shouted. “You are not to leave our sight, do you understand?”
“I was just playing!”
“I don’t care what you were doing Emilia! You are to stay at our side at all times!”
The girl scowled, her little fists balling at her side in defiance. “You not my mother!” Delphine froze before she could start her next reprimand. “You’re not even my aunt!” the girl said, finding her voice.
Barely controlling her frustration, Delphine put a hand on the girl’s shoulder, squeezing just enough to see discomfort in the child’s eyes. “I may not be your mother, or your aunt, but that does not mean that you will disrespect me by running off! Do you understand!?”
Tears of frustration were beginning to fall. “I just want to be normal for once! You’re just mean!” Emilia paused, her small mind obviously picking her next words with care. She shrugged out of Delphine’s grip, pushing the Blade away. “I hate you.”
A pit grew in the Blade’s stomach; did the child really hate her? Logically she knew the girl was just upset at not getting her way, but that didn’t mean the harsh words affected her any less. “Emilia-” she started.
“What in Oblivion did I just hear you say, Emma?” a voice interrupted her. Marcus had found them, his fists, just like little Emilia’s, were balled at his sides. He marched to his daughter, his cheeks red and his eyes hard. He didn’t kneel, instead he stood, towering over her. “Well?” he prompted.
The girl suddenly seemed very interested in her feet.
“Answer me, Emilia,” Marcus repeated. He must be upset; he hardly ever uses her full name. Delphine stood, letting Marcus take over. The child mumbled something under her breath. Marcus crossed his arms. “What was that?”
“Nothing,” she squeaked.
He frowned. “Nothing, huh? That’s not what I heard. I heard you say something very rude to Delphine.” He paused taking in the look on his daughter’s face before continuing, “Didn’t you?”
The girl shook her head, her fists at her sides again. “You always take her side!”
Marcus’ eyes went wide in shock. “What did you just say?”
“You always take her side! I was just playing!”
“You were just gone, Emma!” he shouted. Emilia stepped back, shocked that her father had actually raised his voice. Marcus sighed. “One second you were there, and then you were gone,” he said a little more calmly. “Anything could have happened to you. You had me worried sick.” He and Delphine shared a glance. “Delphine too.”
The girl crossed her arms, mimicking her father so closely that Delphine raised a brow. Like father like daughter apparently. Marcus threw his arm forward, pointing back toward the street. “Start walking to the cart, we’ll discuss your punishment later.” Emilia hesitated. “Move!” he stated. The girl started walking, dragging her feet as Marcus and Delphine followed a small distance behind her.
The two adults were quiet for a few seconds before Marcus sighed. “I’m sorry she said that.”
Delphine shook her head. “Don’t be, she’s just getting to that age.”
Marcus grunted. “Don’t remind me.”
Delphine looked at him. She was surprised to see how much he seemed to have aged in the five years they had been traveling. By the tiredness in his eyes it could have easily been ten. “Maybe it’s time we found somewhere, Marcus.”
The Imperial just kept staring ahead at his daughter as he asked, “What do you mean?”
“A place to call a home,” Delphine said, “if we make the proper precautions…”
He stopped to look at her. “We can never stop running,” he said, his voice low.
The ride was quiet as they left the town far behind them. Papa sat in front with Delphine who was driving the horse. Meanwhile, Emilia sat in the back, deep in her own thoughts. Why couldn’t she play with others her own age? Every time they stopped in a town she would watch them play, and ever since she could remember she would always dream about one of them coming and inviting her to join. But when it had finally happened she was torn away from it by Delphine, and then her own father got angry with her for defending herself! Nothing bad had happened. In fact, Emilia was sure she was about to win.
She was ten years old, and could take care of herself. Her father had taught her to hunt, how to shoot a bow and how to move around without behind heard or seen, and Delphine had taught her how to defend herself. Why couldn’t they see that? No, they still saw a little toddler. She was ten.
Of course, she knew why her guardians were so nervous all the time. She’d never seen them, but late at night she would hear them talking about them; the Thalmor, the evil high elves that had killed her mother and forced them to run. She’d hear how they took some place called Cloud Ruler Temple, and how they had killed all the Blades, like Delphine. She had heard how they were slowly trying to take over everything.
The sky was getting dark when they stopped the cart to make camp. It was a ritual that Emilia knew well. With a groan she hopped gingerly from the cart. She saw Delphine and her father do the same. Emilia wrapped her arms around herself. Skyrim was cold. She felt something heavy sit on her shoulders, and to see Delphine walk away, a batch of firewood under her arm. Emilia wrapped the Blade’s cloak around her. It was still too big for her, but she knew someday she’d fit into it.
“Emma,” she heard her father call. She turned to see him looking at her expectantly. “Grab your bow and quiver, let’s get some practice in.” It was then she saw he already had his quiver on his back and his bow in his hand. She took off Delphine’s cloak and put it on the cart, and instead grabbed her gear, jogging after her father.
He was still quiet from earlier. She followed directly behind him, not making a sound either. He led her a little ways into the woods. He motioned for her to stop, and Emilia watched as he drew his knife and walked toward a tree. He carved off the bark in a small circle, showing the white wood beneath. She couldn’t help but smile a little as he stepped back to admire his work, but when he turned around she quickly hid it.
He made his way back to her. “Aim for the mark,” he directed. She nodded, “Draw.” She drew an arrow. “Aim and loose when you’re ready.” She nodded again, pulling the string and aiming at the small white dot her father had carved into the tree. “Keep that elbow up,” she heard him advise. She did so, and she held her breath as she aimed for the mark, releasing her breath as she released the arrow.
It landed on the tree, but above the mark.
“Again,” he said simply. Once again she drew, nocked, and loosed, this time barely hitting the spot. She smiled, and looked to him, but he didn’t return the glance, instead he crossed his arms. “Keep going.”
A few minutes and an empty quiver later she looked to him again. This time he nodded. “Retrieve your arrows and come with me.” Without a word she did so. This was it, she realized, he’d decided her punishment for running off today. He led her to a stream. He sat on a large boulder, motioning for her to join him. She sat next to him, her arms wrapped around herself, anticipating what was to come.
Instead of hearing him shout, she felt a gentle hand on her shoulder. She looked up to see him looking at her sadly. “You scared me today, Emma, you know that?” When she didn’t say anything he sighed. “Believe it or not, I was your age once.” Emilia saw a small smile on his face. “I lived with the Blades; they raised me, and my father before me, and my grandpa before him. I was never allowed to leave the Temple. Instead of playing with the other kids I was always training, always having lessons to learn. I was busy learning about dead men instead of having a childhood.” He ruffled her hair. “I wanted to get away too. I just wanted to have fun. But, just like me, you need to be careful; there are people out there who want to hurt us, because of who we are.”
“But I was just-“
“No ‘buts’ Emma,” he said sternly. With a sigh he knelt down in front of her, holding her chin in his hand gently. “You know, Delphine has given up a lot for us. And even though she isn’t your mother, or even your aunt, she is still the closest thing to family we have. “Emilia nodded. “ And you’re going to apologize to her, got it?”
He smiled. “Good. Now let’s see what we can make for dinner, eh?”
“So no punishment?”
“No punishment,” he said with a sly grin, and before she knew it Emilia was in the air and on his shoulders, just like how he used to carry her. As they walked, he father taught her a new song he’d heard from a bard at the inn.
But then all of a sudden, he stopped. “Papa, what’re we-“she started to ask, but he put her down, a finger to his lips. “Emma, hide, now,” he whispered, “go!”
As quickly as she could, Emilia hid beneath the underbrush, where she lay watching her father with fearful eyes. She watched as he drew his sword. The long thin katana flashed white as it left its sheath.
Her heart skipped a beat as she heard two more swords draw. Out of nowhere two tall warriors in golden armor came. She recognized them from Delphine’s stories. It was the Thalmor! Her father said nothing, but followed them with the point of his sword. Another Thalmor had come, this one dressed in black and gold robes. It was the first time she’d ever really seen a high elf. He had yellow-gold skin, a really big forehead, and pointy ears. He smiled with unnaturally white teeth. “So, looks like the little brats were right.”
The two warriors chuckled. “It’s been a long time,” he said, looking at her father, “Marcus Septim.”
“Not long enough if you ask me,” he countered.
“Oh, don’t be that way Marcus,” the Thalmor mused. “Where is that beautiful daughter of yours, hmm? We know the Blade ***** is at the camp just across the stream, we’ll take care of her next. After all it would be rude to not let royalty go first.”
“Leave them out of this,” her father said calmly. “It’s me you want.”
“Do you forget how this works? We need to get rid of you pesky Septims once and for all. We can’t have you revealing yourselves later now can we?”
“You’ll have to get past me first.”
“Works for me,” the Thalmor said with a smirk. He glanced at each of the golden armored warriors. “Kill him.”
Emilia had seen her father spar with Delphine before, but she had never seen him move like this. Before the two Thalmor warriors could charge he had already started, making his way directly to the one in robes. He caught him by surprise. Emilia flinched as her father cut the high elf’s head off. By that point the two warriors had surrounded him, one on either side. The one on the right swung at him, but her father was too quick, and the elf was weighed down in his heavy armor. Her father parried easily, spinning his sword with a flourish. Then the one on the left swung, and her father countered that too, and soon her father was in a sort of dance with the two warriors, meeting them blow for blow.
But even Emilia could see he was slowing down. One of the warriors managed to break through his defense, cutting his shoulder. Her father hissed as blood started to stain his tunic. No! She had to do something. Emilia stood, drawing her bow. She aimed for the one that had cut her father. She loosed the arrow, and smiled when she saw one of the Thalmor stagger, an arrow in his shoulder.
Seeing the arrow her father glanced at her, their eyes met. His eyes… she’d never seen them like that before. They were wide, watery… he was scared. Once of the warriors took advantage of his distraction and buried his sword in her father’s stomach.
This was the second time that day that Delphine had head Emilia scream, but this time, her heart told her it was real. Without a second thought she had drawn her katana and charged after the sound, praying to Talos that the worst hadn’t happened.
As she crested the hill she saw a fight. Marcus was barely standing, one hand holding his stomach, and the other blocking the swords of the two Thalmor attacking him. Her heart sank when she saw the amount of blood on his shirt, and on the sword of one of the Thalmor. She charged with her sword high as she pierced the nearest Thalmor through the neck. The other, reacting to her sudden appearance, turned toward her, and it was Marcus who struck first, his sword protruding from the Thalmor’s shoulder as Delphine slit the warrior’s throat.
“Papa?” said a little voice behind her. Delphine turned and there stood Emilia, her bow in hand and her face as white as snow.
Beside her, Marcus smiled, limping forward, his hand still on his stomach. But as he took a step forward he stumbled to his knees. He coughed. “Emma,” he said, blood dripping from his lips, “it’s okay honey, stay back.” Immediately Delphine was beside him, forcing him to lie down. But when she lifted his tunic, she knew that it was too late, the damage was too much. She cradled his head, tears forming in her own eyes. “No,” she said, holding back sobs, “not you, not you too.”
He smiled that crooked smile of his. “I’m sorry.” Slowly he reached up, and took her hand. He squeezed softly. “Take care of her,” he said in between coughs. “The letters,” he gasped, “make sure she gets them, the ones Adria wrote. Make sure…”
“Marcus? Talos no! Marcus?!”