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Attn: "Birthright" is a time lapsed fic, taking place both during and after the Oblivion Crisis, as well as after the Dragon Crisis in Skyrim.
Summary: Raised in secret the Septim line lingers. Now the time has come for the last Septim to reveal herself, and unite the Empire that is rightfully hers, with an unseen ally, the last Dragonborn.
"So long as you and your heirs wear the Amulet of Kings, than shall this Dragonfire burn -an eternal flame- as a symbol to all men and gods of our faithfulness..."
- Trials of St. Alessia
Children of the Gods
Screams polluted the air, men, women, children, innocent people fleeing, innocent people dying because a select few thought themselves better than the rest. The crimes of the Mythic Dawn were many, but this, this was their worst offense. The Imperial City was burning, and somehow, Adria felt she was to blame.
What if she had escaped Paradise earlier? Could she have warned them? No. There was no way she could have known that the Gates would open within the city. Daedra swarmed the districts, paying no mind to whom they slaughtered. The guards battled in lonely groups of two or three, caught by surprise by the sudden appearance of the monsters. They never had a chance to mount a defense. In her heart she knew it to be the truth… the Imperial City was lost.
All was lost.
She felt a gentle hand on her shoulder. She looked up to see Martin looking at her with concern. "By Talos," Adria croaked, holding back tears. They had been separated from the Blades in the madness of the battle, taking refuge in a dark alley. All she had done, closing the Gates, purging the Great Gate of its Sigil Stone, invading Mankar's Paradise and retrieving lost Amulet of Kings, all of it was for nothing if the Imperial City was lost.
And what if Mehrunes ****n managed to break through and reach the mortal world?
Martin frowned, his brows furrowed in concern, years of sadness etched on his face. Motioning for her to stay he glanced into the street, making sure they had not been discovered. He made his way back to Adria, placing both hands on her shoulders, and looking into her eyes. A fire burned in his eyes, one Adria had not seen in him since the Battle of Bruma, when they had tricked the daedra into opening a Great Gate. "We can do this," he said, holding her steady. "We must light the Dragonfires. It's the only way."
Adria straightened, resting her hand on his cheek. "I know."
Martin smiled with that foolish optimism that had led them through the trials of finding the Amulet of Kings. "Come then, Hero of Kvatch, we have a world to save."
Adria nodded and drew her bow, knocking an arrow as Martin drew his silver sword, a spell prepped in his off hand. It was a mad dash to the Temple District. Adria's heart ached each time she saw an Imperial Soldier fall, but they could not help. They avoided as much confrontation as they could, weaving through the path of least resistance to get to the Temple of the One, to finally light the Dragonfires.
Just as they reached the gates to the Temple District a group of Churls burst from it.
She held her breath as she drew the bow back, the arrow a whisper as it flew forward, and downing a churl as it pierced his neck. Martin stood straight as he raised his left hand before him, electricity cackling and striking forth with near perfect precision. Sometimes she forgot how powerful of a mage Martin truly was. She drew another shot, missing the heart in her haste as the daedra charged her. She ducked beneath its sword, and knocked it away with her bow hand, while it was distracted she took an arrow in her hand and stabbed it in the eye, driving the head deep into its skull. She looked up just in time to see Martin flay a Churl up the middle before blasting it away. The creature landed with a sickening thud several feet away. Martin wiped the blood from his cheek before turning to her, offering his hand. She took it, and together they pushed the gate open.
Only to have Adria's heart sink even further. The Temple still stood, but the entire eastern half of the district was in ruins. And it was no question why.
Standing there was the very avatar of Mehrunes ****n himself.
The daedric prince stood hundreds of feet tall; she could barely bend her neck high enough to see his head. His skin was red as blood, two pairs of arms swung at the warriors at ****n's feet, while he simply crushed any underfoot who dared venture too close. It was a massacre.
Adria caught the look on Martin's face before he had a chance to recollect himself. Fear. He shook his head, placing a gentle hand on her back.
"Come on!" he shouted, pushing her forward, "into the temple!"
They ran. Everything moved at a snail's pace. She shot arrow after arrow, scamps, dremora, anything and everything in their path they cut down together. At last they made it to the doors of the temple. The doors closed behind them, the sound echoing in the empty room. They caught their breath. "Mehrunes ****n," she said between breaths, "he's here, he's actually bloody here!"
Martin said nothing, shaking his head.
"What do we do?"
"Nothing," he said finally.
Adria's eyes went wide. "What, what are you saying?"
He took her face in his hands. "I'm sorry, Adria."
Tears came, though she had no idea why. "Martin, what?"
He shook his head. "I know now what I must do." He leaned his forehead against hers. "Thank you," he said his voice no more than a whisper, "for everything." He wiped away a tear from her cheek. "I had lost hope, and you gave me it again. Everything I am, I owe that to you. I know now what it means to be Emperor, what the sacrifice is, and why only I can light the Dragonfires." She stared at him, her eyes wide. "I love you."
"Say it," he interrupted.
"Please," he choked.
She laid a hand on his cheek. "I love you."
Then he kissed her, pouring all his love into the one action, and before she could react he was gone, sprinting toward the altar, the Amulet of Kings in Hand. The world shook as the roof finally gave way, knocking Adria to the ground with its force.
The face of Destruction was staring down upon them.
He stood at the Altar, gazing at her once with forlorn eyes before he smashed the gem against the altar. As soon as the gem broke Martin was bathed in a golden light. More of the roof came crashing to the ground.
And then all Adria knew was darkness…
She felt the heat of fires consuming her, but she felt no pain. Instead she felt a rush, the daedra that had been at her heels moments ago were gone in an instant. She gripped the Sigil stone close, holding on for dear life. She had no idea what was happening. She didn't know what would happen if she dropped the stone, or if she moved too much. Soon she felt a release of air, a cool breeze on her face for a moment before she fell to her knees on solid ground. Her bow clattered on the ground in front of her as she knelt on her hands and knees.
She heard Ilend cough beside her. She extended a hand and patted him on the shoulder. "Are you all right?" she asked.
He nodded as he coughed into his hand. "You save my life. I will be forever grateful."
Adria laughed lightly. "We aren't out of this yet," she said, stumbling to her feet and offering her hand to the Kvatch guard. "We still have to take back your city."
He took her hand without a word. He was a coward. Adria knew this, but still, she couldn't leave him to die in Oblivion alone. She would not have that on her consciousness.
It was as she turned that she heard the strangest sound. Here they were, standing in the burning ruins of a besieged Kvatch.
And the city guard was cheering for her.
The guard captain, Salvian Matius was the first to reach her. "Imperial," he said, taking her arm, "who are you?"
She took his arm in turn. "Adria, and I'm just here to help."
"I'm glad you're here then!" he said with a dry smile. "You've done it, you've closed the gate!" He stepped from her and turned to the remainder of his men. "This young Imperial woman," he pointed to Adria, "has given us the chance we had thought we could only dream of! She closed the gate! This is our chance" He paused, taking in the crowd. "We held the line! But no more! Now it's time to take back our home from these monsters! We will show them our hearts! I know we all have suffered, but this is our only chance.
"Men!" he called, drawing his blade. "Let's go home!" He turned, and started forward, nodding once to Adria, who already had her bow in hand.
Cool air greeted her, brisk and clean, instead of the fires of Oblivion and the smell of carrion and smoke. Adria's body was sore, still whole, but her heart felt like it was broken into pieces. She blinked her eyes open, taking a few seconds to focus. She was lying in a bed made with green blankets. The room was richly furnished, the walls made of fine wood and stone.
Adria propped herself on her elbows, only to have a hand hold her back. She looked up to see, not Martin, as she had hoped, but Jauffre. He was still wearing his Blades armor, all illusion to him being a simple brother now pointless. The Breton had a look of relief on his face. "You're awake," he said with a relieved sigh.
The room was slowly spinning. Adria shook her head to clear her vision.
She started to sit up to have him push her back gently. "Slowly," he advised. "You've only just woken up."
"Where are we?"
"The Arcane University," Jauffre said quickly. He took a fine wooden chair and sat beside her bed.
"What happened? The city, the Gates?" She paused. "Martin?"
Jauffre looked at her sadly. "The Imperial City still stands. Thanks to Martin and the Amulet of Kings the daedra were pushed back into the planes of Oblivion, and never again will the Doors to Oblivion open again. "
"Martin smashed the Amulet…"
"Releasing the power sealed within. He took the form of Akatosh, and defeated Mehrunes ****n." There was something more, Adria knew. There was something behind his eyes, he wasn't telling her everything.
"He didn't make it, did he?"
"Martin is gone," he said sadly, but obviously relieved that he was simply confirming what she had already guessed. "The raw power of Akatosh was too much for a mortal to bear."
Adria held her head in her hands. "He knew," she cried softly. "He knew what would happen. " A dozen memories hit her at once. He knew before the end, that was sure… but had he known all along? "I loved him."
"He sacrificed himself to save us, save everything we know," Jauffre said simply. He patted her on the back with fatherly concern. "Martin was possibly the greatest Emperor since Tiber Septim himself. "
Adria sniffed, composing herself. "What now? Martin was the last Septim, the Empire…"
"The Empire has its leaders," Jauffre explained. "The High Council will crown a new Emperor in time, now that the Dragonfires are no longer needed. Ocato will continue to lead the Council, for now, until an Emperor is chosen. And then there is the matter of you, Adria."
Adria looked at him curiously. "What do you mean 'me'?"
"It has been a week since the Martin's death. You've been unconscious since." He took a breath. "We were worried you were damaged beyond repair, the roof of the Temple of the one collapsed on top of you. Adria, you were found in the wreckage, miraculously alive, and nearly untouched save for cuts, bruises and your unconscious state. We were worried you had injuries we could not see."
"I do not know if Martin was involved in your survival," the old Breton admitted. "It may be possible, though that is not what I was speaking of." He looked at her, like he was debating on continuing.
He shook his head. "You must understand the critical situation the Empire is in at the moment," he started. "The Empire has no Emperor. It was a quiet and little known fact that Martin was crowned Emperor, only becoming common knowledge after his passing. Barely a handful knew who he was before that. He was not married, and had no legitimate children to claim his place on the seat of the Empire."
Adria raised a brow. "Brother Jauffre, where are you going with this?"
"You are with child."
Adria looked over the walls of Cloud Ruler Temple. It was a fitting name for the fortress. From here it looked like she was looking down on Cyrodiil from the very sky itself. It was like she was the ruler of the entire world, looking down upon her kingdom. She wished she could just stay here and enjoy this vision forever. But tomorrow they would march to battle, to lure the daedra into creating a Great Gate in order to get the Great Sigil Stone.
She would be running straight into Oblivion for what seemed like the hundredth time.
She had done it, uniting the peoples of Cyrodiil, closing the Gates and bringing support to Bruma. She just hoped that it would be enough.
"What are you thinking?" said a warm voice behind her. Adria looked over her shoulder to see Martin behind her.
"You know those transport seals the Mage's Guild uses?"
He leaned on the wall beside her. "Yes?"
She looked down. "This place needs one of those," she said with a mock sigh. "This place is quite a task to keep coming back to."
He chuckled. "What makes you keep coming back?"
"You," she said simply, looking in his eyes. When she saw him grin, she breathed in and sighed, looking out over the world once more. "And the fact that if I don't daedra will destroy us all."
He laughed so loudly that Cyrus jumped a little on the watch tower across from them. Adria felt rather than saw the Blade's critical sneer, pointing it out to Martin, but it only made him laugh louder. The Blade shook his head and continued his patrol, much to their continued laughter.
After a few minutes they controlled themselves. They leaned on the wall, looking out over Bruma, gazing at the speck of the White Gold Tower far in the distance. Adria felt Martin's arm beside hers. She moved closer, and he did not shy away. "We are going to win, you know," she said to him softly.
He looked down at her, soft smile lighting up his face. "How do you know?"
"Because," she said, leaning in, "I'm never going to leave your side, Martin."
With slight hesitation he took her hand, holding it tight. "You've saved me in more ways than you know, Adria," he confessed, moving in yet a little closer. He lifted her hand to kiss it, but Adria was a move ahead of him. She pulled his chest her hers, and kissed him, releasing the passion she'd felt for months. He returned the kiss, wrapping one arm around her and the other on her cheek.
The armor was heavy. Adria was grateful that the Imperial Dragon armor was merely ceremonial. She'd dread the day she would have to trade her leathers and chain for this. It was clunky and she clanked like a kitchen with each step. Two weeks after her recovery the High Council began arrangements for her title ceremony. In the wake of the disaster Ocato was desperate for any chance to raise the moral of the citizens of the Imperial City. And he felt that giving the Hero of Kvatch, who had fought at their savior's side since the beginning, the highest honor possible besides Empress would be the best way to do it.
It had been two weeks since she had learned that she was with Martin's child. The last Septim was inside her, the last of the line of the great Tiber was in her womb. The complications were disastrous. Had Martin survived it would have been something to celebrate. She was happy to have such a gift to remember him, to be a mother to his child. But this wouldn't be any child. It would be the last of the royal line. If any attempt at the throne was made, she would be cast aside, a harlot. They would say she never cared for Martin, and even if the child were his, it was an illegitimate claim. Now that she was to become Champion, the waters only grew more treacherous. Only the Blades knew, and a very confused healer. The Blades had been known of their love for each other. They had thought it a sign for hope, but even now Jauffre said that their allowance of such activities had been a mistake.
For now, she would act the part. Until her pregnancy began to show, then she would be thrust into Cloud Ruler Temple under high guard, until the child would be born. "You are an adventurer," Jauffre had explained. "They will believe you to be on a quest."
It was a decent cover. The future of the child was a matter for debate, if the child survived. Jauffre wished to have the child adopted into a common family. Immediately, Adria threw the option away. She had seen what the discovery of his parentage had done to Martin, the danger it had caused. No, she would not do that to her child, to his child. No, she would raise it, with the Blades.
The Blades were nothing but the remnants of a time now gone to the wind. Jauffre had said they would wait for the next Dragonborn. It was a fool's wait. There hadn't been a Dragonborn since Tiber Septim. Even Tiber Septims children, though often called Dragonborn, were not truly, especially if you asked a Nord. This would give them purpose again, to protect the last of the Septims, their last highly guarded secret.
Jauffre was somewhat disgusted by the idea of letting a man not of the Septim line take control of the Empire. But perhaps it was best, for now. There would be a time, Adria knew, and that the Septims would be needed again. By keeping them a secret they would be protecting them from the assassins that would surely come. When the line was strong again, maybe the Dragonborn Emperors would return, raised by their loyal Blades, and trained to rule with justice and mercy.
Evidence of the siege were everywhere throughout the city. Stone walls were blackened, walls crushed, buildings destroyed, and even the occasional remains could be found. But still the people came to see their new Champion.
They lined outside the steps of the Temple of the One, hundreds of citizens paying their respects. Legionnaires lined on each side, their armor polished and glinting in the sun. As soon as Adria saw the dragon avatar that Martin had called, looming high above the Temple of the One, the breath hitched in her throat. The Blades had already told her Ocato's plan to keep the avatar and rebuild the temple around it, a memorial to their last Septim. She knew immediately that she did not want to live under its gaze. Martin’s last act or not, it would only remind her that he was gone.
She walked slowly down the path, stepping in harmony with the cheers of the crowd. It was a show, after all. The battered doors swung wide to admit her. And soon she found herself at the feet of the dragon.
She knew nothing after that. She fell rather then moved to her knees, pain shooting up her legs at the contact with the stone. She stared at it with blank eyes. Why?! Why had he done this? They would have figured out a way, there had to have been something they could have done, together! She had no more tears. Her heart was broken, but now, so was her soul. She would carry on, but a part of her… a part of her died that afternoon as Ocato addressed the crowd, naming her the seventh Champion of Cyrodiil.
A roar broke through her ears, breaking her from her trance, "Long live the Champion!"
“We're all just songs in the end. If we are lucky.”
― George R.R. Martin, A Storm of Swords
He swore he couldn’t see his hands in front of him through the mix of falling and blowing snow. Baurus tugged his black cloak closer to his armor, though it was in vain, the wind whipped the cloak about, and it barely clung to his shoulders. The fresh snow was light and airy at least, and not damp and wet. Still, he was a Redguard, his people weren’t built for the snow and the cold; at least not like Nords were. It was times like this that he envied them. The Blade looked back, his eyes hazed as he tried to focus. A muted shadow was moving behind him. “Adria!” he shouted over the wind. He paused as the shape grew closer, becoming more defined, and soon the Imperial woman was close enough to recognize.
She stumbled in the snow drifts. Baurus offered his arm, and she took it with a weak smile of thanks. He placed a gauntleted hand on her shoulder. “Are you doing alright?” he asked loudly.
She touched her showing belly with a soft nod. “My feet are killing me, but otherwise we’re alright.”
Baurus nodded back. They started walking together, his hand on her back, helping push her forward, his sword hand ever on his weapon. “You didn’t need to come.”
She sighed, giving him that annoyed glance that he knew so well. “I told you already. I wanted to be there to hear this myself.” He shook his head. He knew she wouldn’t budge. She was just as, maybe even more, stubborn than Martin had been about these things. Just like when Martin insisted upon leading the Battle for Bruma, despite the advice of his trusted Blades, even against Adria’s own advice against it. “Besides,” she said, breaking him from his thoughts, “I was losing my mind, sitting in that damned fortress every blasted day and night. I think sore feet and a little cold are more than welcome compared to insanity don’t you think?”
Baurus chuckled. “Fair enough.” In an instant, he stopped. He held out his arm to stop Adria as well. She gazed at him, confused for a moment before she heard it herself. Baurus drew his katana, stepping in front of Adria. His brow furrowed in concentration. Humming. Someone was humming a song, and they were coming closer. The snow and the wind made it hard to pin point the direction, but Baurus was ready for anything. From the corner of his eye he saw Adria draw her short silver sword.
The humming stopped, but the sound of muffled footsteps still drew closer, until a shadow appeared just at the edge of the Blade’s vision. Baurus pointed at the shadow with his sword. “In the name of the emperor,” he called out, his voice threatening, “declare yourself!” The shadow stepped closer, coming fully into sight. It was a middle aged Nord. He wore intricate blue and grey robes and a faint grin on his face. Baurus scowled. “Don’t come any closer,” he warned, aiming the blade tip at the man’s throat.
The man opened his arms. “Sorry to worry you, sir Blade. I am Brother Holger, caretaker to my fellow brothers.” The Redguard’s blade didn’t move an inch. “I watched as you descended the mountain, and I wish to escort you to the Temple of the Ancestor Moth.”
“Thank you, Brother,” Adria said behind him as she put away her weapon. He felt her step forward, but again he threw his arm out to block her.
“Say the code,” Baurus ordered, his eyes never leaving the Moth Priest. “The jaws of Oblivion have been closed.”
Holger sighed. “Dawn’s new day has been ended.”
Only then did Baurus lower his blade. He nodded, sheathing his weapon. Brother Holger bowed and turned on his heels without another word. Baurus and Adria looked at each other, the Champion giving a small shrug and following, the Blade following shortly behind her. Baurus was silent as they followed the monk, but Adria was never one for silence. “I thought the Moth Priests were blind?”
The man didn’t turn around. “It is a… result of reading the Elder Scrolls, yes. Over time the Scrolls take their toll on the reader’s eyesight. When this happens, the reader retires, and comes here, to one of the Temples.”
“Then who is reading this prophecy we have come to hear?”
“You misunderstand,” Brother Holger says with a sigh, “they are not truly blind, not at first. Before true blindness settles in, they can only read the Scrolls, see the hidden truths, nothing more. They call themselves blind long before that, wearing blindfolds to secure their vision, saving themselves only to read the Scrolls for as long as possible.” He pauses. “Brother Hjar will read this prophecy, and it will be his last, for his visions fade.”
They were silent for a time, following the monk down a rough path in the snow, until they reached a small group of buildings. A Temple of the Nine stood tall in the center, around it numerous buildings of all different sizes; even an entrance to a crypt.
The snow wasn’t as thick here in the small valley, in fact, it seemed like spring. The sky was brilliant with stars. The moons were huge, red and pale in the midnight sky. Brother Holger smiled. “I will take you now to Brother Hjar in the Temple.”
Baurus shook the show off his cloak, lowering the hood and taking in the room, seeing Adria do the same. The temple was simple. It had a rustic feel. Normally, Baurus was used to temples, they were a part of everyday Blade life, but here he felt like he was intruding somehow. Pews lined on either side of the main isle, and all around the room candles and torches flickered, making the shadows of statues dance along the walls. Purple banners hung along the walls, and the air was thick with the smell of incense. Here and there a brother sat in the pews, chanting an ancient song that Baurus didn’t recognize.
In front of the altar of the Nine an old priest knelt, his eyes covered by a red blindfold. He seemed to be leading the chant, his back to the altar. Brother Holger motioned for them to stay there before he made his way down the center aisle. He knelt beside the priest at the altar and whispered in his ear. The old priest nodded. Brother Holger made his way back to Baurus and Adria. “Brother Hjar is ready to read the Scroll for you.”
Baurus looked at Adria, who nodded. Baurus went first down the aisle, his hand wavering over his blade out of habit. When they reached the monk he did not stand, but instead motioned in front of him. Baurus and Adria shared another glance before she knelt in front of the old Nord priest. They were silent for a time. Finally the priest broke the silence, “Such fire I see in you.” He nodded as if confirming something to himself. “The fire of one who has faced the realm of Oblivion and returned to tell the tale.”
Adria moved to introduce herself, but the Moth Priest raised a hand to stop her. “I know who you are, Hero of Kvatch. After all, wasn’t it our order that requested to speak with you?” The old man paused. “And you, Blade, the loyal friend and guard, standing to defend what is left of your reason for existence; or at least the shadow of it.”
“How did you know all this?” Adria asked, her voice barely more than a whisper.
Hjar smiled. “You told me, your very essence speaks more than words or sight ever could. You are here because those of our order who still reside in the White Gold Tower have seen what is to be, and have decided to share it with those who would bear witness to it. The future contained,” the monk explained, “in the lives of your descendants, the last of the line of Tiber Septim.”
Adria’s eyes went wide. “How-“
The priest interrupted, “Why else would you travel here, instead of the Imperial City? You do not wish the world to know. A wise choice, given the political state of the Empire. But you did not come to hear an old man rant.” At that the monk reached into his robes, revealing what Baurus instantly knew to be an Elder Scroll. It was larger than he had expected it to be. It was inlaid with gold and jewels, and was at least the length of his forearm. With reverence, Brother Holger removed Brother Hjar’s blindfold. The older monk kept his eyes firmly closed as the blindfold fell away.
Adria stared at the Moth Priest kneeling before her. Baurus was watching Holger who had stepped the altar and pulled on a white rope that lead to the ceiling. Within minutes of pulling the rope Baurus began to see them. Hundreds of them. Black moths came from the ceiling. Ancestor Moths, he realized, literally, they’re moths. They seemed drawn to Hjar, and the old Moth Priest welcomed them.
The Moth Priest nodded. “Now, we begin,” he said. Then he opened the Elder Scroll, his eyes opening, revealing clouded blue eyes. The priest paused a moment before beginning, “I see before me a line spanning generations, the line of Akatosh blessed, the line of Talos, Tiber Septim; represented by a golden thread. I see words written, no, carved in the bones of dragons, ‘Birthright'. A bright blue thread crosses that of the gold, a separate prophecy, coinciding with the fate of this one. I will try to see that prophecy.” The priest paused, a slight scowl etched on his face, and was that worry? “All I see is a dragon, black, with red eyes. The vision changes. The threads intertwine. Their goals become one, and a deep voice whispers these words; “That which was willingly lost will be returned. The past, long forgotten will be remembered. The End’s bane will join the Bane of Mer. The crownless will once again be made king.” The old man paused again, and he closed the Scroll. “And that is where I see no more.”
Delphine threw another log onto the fire, the meager flames picked at the fuel eagerly. She stood straight, her muscles complaining after the long day's ride. She watched the flames for a few seconds, watching the tongues of fire twist and bend, the smokeless fire was weak, but served its purpose, if somewhat halfheartedly. It had been two days since Esbern left; he said it was, "Too dangerous to keep all our eggs in the same basket." Delphine agreed, though she did not like it. They were stronger together than apart. The Thalmor would not give up in their hunt for the Blades, the last of the sacred order that once were the most dangerous organization in all of Tamriel. Even though they were remnants of what they once were, the legendary were now nothing but legends themselves.
"Auntie Delly," said a small voice, breaking her from her thoughts. She looked across the fire; Emilia's small form was sitting cross legged, her arms wrapped close around her. The little girl spoke again, "Where's my papa?"
Off being a fool. Marcus insisted on hunting, saying he was feeling 'cooped up'. How, she wondered, could he feel cooped up when they never stayed at the same place twice? "He will be back soon," she said shortly.
The little girl held her legs closer to her chest. "Why can't we have a bigger fire?"
"Because we might be seen."
"By the tall people with pointy ears?"
Delphine looked at the girl sadly. She was so innocent, too innocent to know the true nature of the Thalmor. "Yes, the bad elves."
"'Elves'," she repeated, taking in the word.
Delphine kept a hand on her blade, scanning the trees for any sign of danger. Marcus should have been back by now. Silence hung, save for a few birds chirping nearby. The girl piped up again, "I'm cold."
Delphine gazed at her. Maybe this was the power of her heritage, guilting people with sad eyes. Without a word, the last Grandmaster of the Blades took her own cloak and draped it over the girl. The girl was absolutely swimming in it. "Better?"
Delphine couldn’t help but smile as the pile of wool nodded.
Delphine's hand went straight to her weapon when she heard footsteps approaching. She turned, to find Marcus strolling into the campsite, his line full of salmon, and his black hair and leathers drenched. Her childhood friend smiled. "I'm back," he said with a silly grin. Within seconds the fish was in Delphine's hands and Emilia was in Marcus'. He situated her so she sat on his hip. He nodded towards the salmon in Delphine's hand. "How about some fish?"
Delphine cooked the fish, watching Marcus play with Emilia with a wary eye. Marcus was teaching her swordplay, each of them wielding a carved stick, while he showed her the steps passed down by his Blade teachers. Marcus touched her with the stick for what seemed like the tenth time. His daughter threw down her stick and fell to the ground, pouting. "I'll never be good at this," she cried.
Marcus smiled softly. He threw his stick into the woods before kneeling down and putting a gentle hand on her shoulder. "We will find you something else," he said cheerfully.
"What about archery?"
"Archery?" she repeated, chewing on the foreign word.
"Bow and arrow?"
Her eyes lit up. "Oh yes, papa, please!"
He smiled warmly. "Next town we stop at we will get you your own bow, how's that?"
"Thank you," she repeated over and over, running circles around him.
Marcus stood and laid a soft hand on her head, halting her celebrations. "Now, why don't you go wait in the tent for dinner?"
"Yes, Papa," she said, still brimming with excitement. He knelt down and hugged her. She gave him a kiss on the cheek before skipping to the tent they shared.
Marcus watched her go with pride. "She's growing up," he said sadly.
Delphine glanced away from the fish. “Children tend to do that.”
Marcus gave her a look, but merely laughed lightly as he gazed back at the tent. “I almost forget that sometimes. Someday I’ll be fighting off suitors and assassins.”
Delphine smiled. “Well, if you deal with suitors the same way you deal with assassins...” Marus laughed. "Archery?"
Marcus planted himself beside the small fire. "It makes sense," he said with a sigh. "Every other child of Adria has been male and been trained in swordsmanship."
"What does that have to-?"
Marcus interrupted, "Emma is the first Septim female in nearly two centuries, and, just like our many greats grandmother, she'll be a master of the bow. I'm sure of it."
Soon dinner was finished and their bellies full. Delphine was on watch, patrolling the campsite and eyeing the tree line. Marcus sat beside the fire, Emilia in his lap as he told her stories. "Maybe it's time for a new story, " Marcus declared, ”the story Hero of Kvatch perhaps?"
Her eyes went wide. Marcus grinned.
Delphine looked at him. "She's only seven, Marcus do you really -"
"I think she's ready to know," he interrupted. At that he reached into the pack at his waist, revealing an orb the size of his fist. It was black, orange, red, and gold, the colors swirling beneath its glass-like surface. "My father gave this to me," Marcus explained. "Can you guess what it is?"
She stared at it with wide eyes. "Can I hold it?"
Marcus shook his head. "It's not a nice thing Emma. This is a Sigil Stone,"
Marcus said with pride. “This is the proof that the story I’m about to tell you is real, more real than anything.” His daughter looked at him curiously. “I say that, because it’s our own family history.”
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?!”