Cloud Ruler Temple—Third Era, Last Day
“It doesn’t fit. And it’s too heavy.” Maeve complained, wrenching her body around while Achille helped adjust the straps on her cuirass.
“It fits perfectly; it’s just not broken in” he replied as he grabbed the steel plates that covered the armor’s shoulders and yanked her upright, forcing her to stand up straight while she grunted and glared at him. “It’s just for the ceremony.” He stepped back and looked her over. “Well,” he said approvingly. “You look…just like the rest of us.”
Maeve’s lips twitched as she looked at her friend. Finally, she shook her head and let out an uncomfortable laugh. “I don’t think I can do this.”
“Of course you can,” came another voice from behind her. Baurus stepped up and hooked his arm around her elbow. “This is your day too. You’ll be named Champion of Cyrodiil and I bet you’ll be given the Imperial Dragon Armor, which is another set you won’t wear.”
She did not want this to be her day. In fact, the very notion filled her with dread. But looking up at Baurus and Achille, Maeve smiled in spite of herself. “You can put that katana away, Achille. I’ll wear this dreadful armor but I’m taking Oberon.” She picked up her claymore and removed it from its scabbard. “My uncle gave me this,” she said. “And then I enchanted it with my first sigil stone. It seems fitting.”
“Did you ever find your uncle?” asked Achille quietly. Dreams of Eduard Sigeweald, trapped in the planes of Oblivion had nearly driven Maeve mad. Together they closed gate after gate trying to find him, but to no avail.
She shook her head. “No,” she said quietly as she swallowed against a hard lump growing in her throat. “When I returned to Frostcrag I hoped to find him there. But…” Her voice trailed off and she dropped her head.
Achille leaned over to pull her close to him, but they were interrupted by Captain Steffan who shouted at them to report to the front of the temple.
As they walked out, Baurus turned to Maeve. “What are you going to do now?” he asked, his tone now somewhat more serious. “Emperor Martin will want you to lead his personal Blade guard will he not?”
Maeve felt her heart clutch in her chest. She chewed her bottom lip for a moment before she responded, speaking slowly so that she wouldn’t stumble over any of the words. “I don’t believe that Isobel will ever allow that.”
“I’m sorry,” said Baurus. “I shouldn’t have….” He felt terrible. He had hoped beyond all reason that Maeve would remain in their company when Martin took the throne, but he knew better and he should have kept his mouth shut. They continued on in an uncomfortable silence until they exited they Great Hall and made their way outside, where the others had gathered around the Emperor and his betrothed, Isobel Goldwine.
Maeve gasped. Martin looked resplendent in his formal Imperial robes. Isobel wore a stunning silk black and burgundy dress with gold trim. Maeve felt so awkward and unattractive in her uncomfortable armor that she was secretly pleased when Caroline brought Isobel her cloak and she didn’t have to look at the gorgeous woman in her royal finery.
“Are you okay?” asked Baurus. He looked concerned. “You look really sick all of a sudden.”
“I just….I just hate her so much.” She didn’t even look at Baurus as she replied; she simply stared at the couple, neither of whom looked particularly happy. It was, Maeve supposed, a somewhat sober occasion. When would the celebrations begin? When the Dragonfires were lit? The Coronation? Their wedding? Thankfully, she would not be here for that.
“She looks like Ogre crap,” whispered Achille. Baurus glowered at him although no one else heard. Everyone’s attention was directed at Martin and Isobel. Maeve turned to her friend and smiled weakly. As she leaned forward, Achille caught her by the forearms and pressed his forehead to hers. “You’ll always have me,” he whispered. He said this often, always without pretense or awkwardness and it warmed her heart, but little else.
“All right,” she said. “Let’s do this.” They started to walk over to where the Blades had gathered in formation. They would walk to Bruma to meet with the Countess, gather horses and carriages and then they would move on to Imperial City. In keeping with tradition, Martin wished to have his claim to the throne endorsed by Chancellor Acato and the Elder Council before lighting the Dragonfires.
“Maeve Sigeweald!” Grandmaster Jauffre’s voice sounded loudly over the crowd as he caught up to her and pulled her away from Achille and Baurus. “You will stand with the Emperor for the procession and then ride in together from Bruma.” He was beaming and utterly oblivious to the amount of discomfort he was causing. It was just as well, she thought. Perhaps someone should retain the illusion of love and devotion that had been destroyed for everyone else.
The rest of the Blades were not so ignorant and eyes shifted between Isobel and Martin and then back to Maeve as she took her place next to the Emperor. She looked straight ahead, ignoring—though acutely aware of—the ways in which Martin and Isobel struggled to keep their respective feelings of regret and fury in check.
The procession exited Cloud Ruler Temple and ambled down toward Bruma. As they approached the battlefield where they had allowed a Great Gate to open, Maeve suddenly stepped out of formation. She had been by there once before, to honor her fallen comrades—her fellow Blades and city guards—and now it seemed inappropriate, on their way to light the Dragonfires, to simply march past without taking a moment to acknowledge the dead.
The group stopped and looked over and Martin, realizing what she was about to do, nodded to Jauffre who signaled for everyone to follow. Martin joined Maeve, with Isobel close by his side, her lips pursed and twitching, struggling holding back a scowl.
Maeve continued to ignore her and when Martin nodded she spoke, slowly and deliberately.
We remember them. At the rising of the sun and at its going down, we remember them.
At the blowing of the wind and the chill of winter, we remember them.
At the opening of the buds and in the rebirth of spring, we remember them.
At the blueness of the skies and in the warmth of summer, we remember them.
At the rustling of the leaves and in the beauty of autumn, we remember them.
At the beginning of the year and when it ends, we remember them.
As long as we live, they too will live; for they are now a part of us, as we remember them.
When we are weary and in need of strength, we remember them.
When we are lost and sick at heart, we remember them.
When we have joy we crave to share, we remember them.
When we have decisions that are difficult to make, we remember them.
When we have achievements that are based on theirs, we remember them.
As long as we live, they too will live; for they are now a part of us, as we remember them.*
By the end of the prayer, her voice was trembling. She looked back at Martin, who was staring at her intently. But just as their eyes met, Isobel stepped forward and pulled him close to her, breaking their gaze before it became uncomfortable for everyone.
When they finally arrived at Bruma’s stables, their horses and a carriage for the Countess and Isobel were waiting. Baurus sidled up next to Maeve as she readied herself to mount her steed. “The prayer was a nice touch,” he said, a touch of sarcasm in his voice. “She’ll never be able to top that. Not today anyway.” He gestured to Isobel who was being helped into the carriage by Jauffre.
Maeve was furious. “Do you really think I would exploit our fallen Blades in an attempt to show her up?”
Baurus looked sheepish, but only for a moment. “My apologies Maeve,” he replied. “But don’t tell me you don’t enjoy it. Just a little bit.”
“I’m afraid my capacity for enjoyment was shattered some where in Oblivion,” she said scathingly. “If you insist, however, I may admit to occasional bouts of smug satisfaction.” She gave him a frustrated smirk as she threw her leg over her horse.
The ride to Imperial City was long. With Isobel being occupied by the countess and her steward, Martin approached Maeve, who had ridden just slightly ahead of the group.
“Maeve,” he said cautiously when they were out of earshot from the others. “Maeve, I….” His voice lingered. There was so much he wanted to say, but what could he possibly say now? But if not now, then when? His life was soon to cease being his own. There wouldn’t be another chance for this. Not unless he wanted to attempt closure with Blades and body servants everywhere. Moreover, Isobel would certainly do everything in her soon-to-be-considerable power to prevent this conversation.
“Your Imperial Majesty,” she replied sharply. “Do you require something?” Her voice was steady, concealing all her anger and sadness, and the formality of her tone actually startled him. She was just loud enough to alert Jauffre, who had fallen behind. When he heard them, he rode up and flanked Martin on the right, nodding in apology for not keeping pace.
Martin pursed his lips and narrowed his eyes at her, but she was done. At this point, she could not feel any worse and was thus impervious to his anger. Martin Septim, she decided, would never get under her skin again.
The rest of the ride was silent until they passed by Bleaker’s Way, where citizens scrambled to look upon the young Emperor, first in reverence and then in excitement as they followed behind the procession. The same thing happened in Aleswell and Weye, and by the time they reached Chestnut Handy stables, their following had more than tripled. Maeve scanned the crowed for Nerussa, but she was nowhere to be seen.
When they arrived at the Imperial Palace, Jauffre ordered the Blades to keep the now considerable crowd under control, while he escorted Martin, Isobel, Maeve, and the Countess into the Palace, where a delighted Chancellor Acato was waiting.
“I have been expecting you,” he said. “The full Council has already considered the matter of Martin’s claim in detail.” The Chancellor stepped forward and bent at knee in front of Martin. “Martin Septim, on behalf of the Elder Council, I accept your claim to the throne.” He stood and beamed. “We should arrange the coronation ceremony as soon—”
“Jauffre! Maeve!” Blades Jena and Arturus rushed into the Palace hollering and interrupted the Chancellor. “The city is under attack! Oblivion gates have opened and Daedra are inside the city. The Blades and the guard are overwhelmed.”
“Your Highness!” exclaimed Acato, “What are your orders? Shall the guard fall back to the Palace?”
Martin took but a moment to consider their course of action. “No! If we let ourselves get besieged in the Palace, we’re doomed. We must get to the Temple of the One immediately.” Martin turned back and took Isobel by the arm. “Jena! You and Arturus take Isobel back to Cloud Ruler Temple and do not return until someone comes for you. Countess Narina, you best go with them. Take as many Blades as you need; we’ll utilize the guard.”
Maeve drew her sword as they exited the Palace. Outside, the sky had turned a fiery red and the courtyard was swarming with Daedra. It was a familiar site, but Maeve had never seen so many in one place. She killed several clannafears and one particularly difficult Xivilai before looking back to find the guards and the Blades completely overwhelmed. Martin was barely hidden in the throng of guards surrounding him. She lunged forward and grabbed his arm. “Run!” she shouted, pulling him out to her and the two of them rushed to the Temple district.
“We’re too late!” screamed Martin. “Mehrunes Dagon is here!”
Maeve looked up and saw the biggest, most terrifying Daedra she had ever seen. The Daedric Prince of Destruction had come from his Deadlands to destroy the world. He was twice as tall as the highest building in the district and he wielded a massive, monstrous axe. His red, blistered skin betrayed the pain and suffering he was determined to inflict on all of Nirn. Her entire body grew cold. They were too late. Lighting the Dragonfires would do nothing now. The barriers between Oblivion and Nirn were breeched. It was the end. Everything. Over.
She stepped ahead of Martin with her sword raised. If she was going out, she was going out fighting. But Martin grabbed her shoulder. “This way,” he said and practically shoved her into the temple.
“What are you doing?” exclaimed Maeve, as she recovered her breath.
“You can’t kill him, not with normal weapons” he said. “But I have an idea.” The calmness in his voice was almost more terrifying than the Daedric Prince wrecking havoc outside. He raised his hand to touch the amulet that hung from his neck. “The Amulet of Kings was given to mortals by Akatosh. It contains his divine power.”
“I don’t understand,” she said as she looked around the empty temple. The thick stone wall muffled the sounds of chaos but she could still hear everything and she was desperate to get back in the fight.
“I do,” he replied. “I know now what I was born to do. But I need to tell you something.” He grasped her upper arm and pulled her close.
Her muscles tensed as tears welled up in her eyes. “No…please don’t,” she whispered desperately, shaking her head. Whatever he had to say, she couldn’t bear it. Not now.
“I have to,” he said as he put his hand around her and pressed his face to hers. “I love you Maeve. I only wanted you. I’m so sorry…for everything.” He held her as she sank into his embrace. “There is something else.” He paused and he buried his face in her neck before bringing his lips back up to her ear. “Isobel is pregnant.”
She yanked her head up and tried to pull away, but Martin gripped her tightly. “I need you to protect them,” he pleaded.
“Gods…Martin…I can’t…fuck…why?” her voice cracked as she felt every last nerve in her body collapse.
“You’re the only one I trust,” he replied, his voice now tinged with desperation.
She shut her eyes and looked down, but within moments she was nodding. He pulled her chin up and pressed his lips to hers. “Thank you,” he whispered before pushing her gently away. He turned around and hurried up to the alter. Within moments the temple’s ceiling caved in as Mehrunes Dagon stomped his way inside. He looked down at Martin and roared. Maeve started shaking uncontrollably in terrified anticipation of what was going to happen. Just as Dagon raised his axe, she saw the Amulet of Kings light up as Martin was lifted into the air. Within moments his body disappeared into a flash of hot flame and was transformed into a bright fiery red dragon—the Avatar of Akatosh.
Mehrunes Dagon let out a Nirn-shattering screech so loud, it caused Maeve—who had otherwise hardened herself to the terrifying sounds of Oblivion—to cover her ears and duck. Peering up, she saw Dagon swipe at Martin with his axe. His reach was long and powerful, but he could not hit the swiftly moving dragon, who flew up and then down and in one fell swoop, he landed and sunk his jaws into the Daedric Prince’s neck—breaking it. Dagon took another swing and Martin pulled back and spewed a breath of fire, killing the Dagon and sending his corpse into the air in a cloud of black smoke. Maeve hurried to her feet and approached the dragon. He was looking down at her and appeared almost out of breath. But as she raised her hand to his wing, she heard another terrible crash that sent her stumbling back. Within moments, the Avatar of Akatosh transformed, this time into a massive statue. As the last of his fiery skin turned to stone, Maeve found herself bawling on her hands and knees.
“Good-bye Martin,” she whispered, stumbling forward. She touched the statue and received its blessing. Though still weary and sad, she stopped crying as she felt the warmth of the Akatosh’s magic infuse her soul.
After she picked up and sheathed her sword, she walked out and scanned the devastated district. Dead bodies of Daedra, nameless guards, and Blades littered the street. She could feel her chest sink again and more tears welling up as she found her friends among the dead. Jauffre, Baurus, Roliand, Caroline. She ignored the stares of the citizens who survived as she trudged along. Just before she turned to leave the district, she noticed someone in Blades armor struggling to move. She rushed over and pulled the corpse of a dead clannafear up and kicked it away. Then she knelt by the Blade, his body so covered in soot and blood that she didn’t recognize him at first.
“Achille!” she exclaimed as she wiped his face clean.
“Maeve,” he groaned. “Gods Maeve…it hurts.” He was wounded and bleeding heavily.
She quickly found a healing potion in her satchel. When he was stable she left briefly and found J’mhad, a healer who lived in the district. He assured her that Achille would be fine, but it would take him a while to tend to each wound. Maeve took her friend’s face in her hands and kissed his forehead. “I have to go,” she whispered. “Come find me when you are healed.”
With that she left the city; she had to return to Cloud Ruler Temple although the thought of confronting Isobel made her heart sink and her stomach wrench. She rode along and in Weye she stopped at Wawnet Inn, where Nerussa greeted her with her usual affection and warmth. In the privacy of Nerussa’s bedroom, where she had spent many nights on her treks between Oblivion gates, Maeve broke down completely and told her everything.
“I will accompany you to the temple,” said Nerussa and before Maeve could protest she explained that her father could take care of the inn. She was insistent. Nerussa had seen Maeve at her worst and yet she had never seen her friend quite as despondent as she was at that moment.
They set out first thing in the morning. The journey back to Cloud Ruler Temple from Weye always felt longer to Maeve, but this time it was almost unbearable. The towns they passed, the little villages that were earlier teeming with excitement and hope were now quiet, likely mourning not only the loss of the Emperor but also the citizens who had joined him in the city, in hopes of sharing in the celebration of the Dragonfires only to be slaughtered in Dagon’s devastation.
In Cloud Ruler Temple, the mood was beyond solemn. The few remaining Blades wandered around the grounds. They were pleased to see that Maeve was alive, but were otherwise distraught. It would take them a long time to recover, but they would. And then they would face a new challenge—the protection of a Septim with no amulet. The notion filled her with dread, which she shook off as she entered Martin’s suite, where Isobel was sitting on the bed, clutching a leather bound journal.
“You’re alive,” she said flatly as she stood up slowly, offering a half-hearted greeting to Nerussa and glaring at Maeve.
“I am,” she replied. She looked around awkwardly, not certain how to broach the subject of her pregnancy and Martin’s final request. “He told me about your…condition,” she said finally.
“Of course he did.” Isobel sucked in a deep breath. “And I suppose he asked you to look after me.”
“He did,” said Maeve quietly. They looked at each other intently, the discomfort between growing.
Isobel shook her head. “That won’t be necessary,” she said. “I intend to leave for Skyrim. I was betrothed to Martin—that was common knowledge in Kvatch. It won’t be safe for me and my baby in Cyrodiil.” Maeve simply glowered. It seemed that she was intent on making this as difficult as possible. Before she could respond, however, Isobel continued. She spoke slowly and deliberately. “I would also like for my child to grow up amongst his kin.”
It was awkwardly quiet for a moment before Nerussa finally spoke up. “Lady Isobel,” she said. “Of course Skyrim was the home of Tiber Septim but I don’t think—”
She was interrupted by the silver wine goblet that flew past her shoulder and hit Isobel just under the eye. “You fucking whore!” screamed Maeve. Her face was red and the veins in her neck and forehead were throbbing. Nerussa gasped and grabbed Maeve’s wrist as she readied to throw another dish—this time a pitcher—at Isobel.
“Okay,” yelled Nerussa, as she struggled to bring Maeve’s arm down. “Let’s not throw all the silver at the pregnant lady.” Maeve was so freaking strong and Nerussa was struggling. “Maeve, please,” she pleaded. Finally, Maeve released her grip and the pitcher crashed to the floor. “What is going on here?” Nerussa looked back at Isobel who was desperately trying to hold back tears.
“It’s not Martin’s baby,” Maeve explained, her voice was raw. “It’s Roliand’s, right?” Roliand was the only Nord in their contingent. Maeve had observed that they were quite friendly, but thought nothing of it. She assumed their friendship was platonic, similar to her friendship with Achille. She was shocked although she shouldn’t have been. If Martin was to believed, his relationship with Isobel was one that was fraught with conflict. He said that he joined the temple to get away from Daedra worship, but she often wondered if he had hoped to get away from her as well. Isobel nodded slowly, her lip quivering as she looked away from the other women.
“Are you certain?” Nerussa directed this question to Isobel carefully, not quite certain how shewould receive such an inquiry.
“Yes,” she sobbed. “I’ve not been with child for quite as long as Martin believed.”
“GAH—You fucking bitch!” Maeve was screaming again, but she managed to hold her fists at her side.
Isobel wiped her face, wincing as she caught her swollen eye on her wrist. “How dare you judge me!” she bellowed back. “You two were—” She paused, not able to get the words out without gagging.
“We stopped!” Maeve yelled. “As soon as you arrived we were done!”
“So, you didn’t fuck him when he went chasing after you in Frostcrag Spire?” She was furious now. “Tell me, Maeve. Look me in the eye and tell me you didn’t fuck Martin then.”
Maeve looked sheepish. “It wasn’t supposed to happen.” She shuddered at the memory of the last night she spent in Martin’s arms—she couldn’t even recall how they went from screaming and fighting to thrusting and gasping though she suppose it had something to do with all wine and brandy they drank.
They stood around and stared at each other a bit longer, both full of rage and sorrow. Finally, Isobel shook her head and held her book out. “You should take this,” she said. “It’s Martin’s journal. There is barely a mention of me, but you….” Her voice faded as Maeve looked at her sternly, ignoring the book.
When it became clear that Maeve wasn’t going to move, Nerussa stepped forward and took the journal from Isobel. “Will someone be accompanying you to Skyrim? Do you have somewhere to go?” she asked, desperately trying to ease at least some of the tension in the room.
“Yes,” she replied. “Several of the Blades have offered. And I’ve got some of my family’s money stashed. Thank you for your concern.”
Nerussa packed Martin’s journal into her satchel and dragged Maeve out of the suite. After gathering her belongings and changing armor, they left, this time for Chorrol, where Nerussa planned to tuck her despondent friend into bed and stay with her as long as she needed.
The ride was long and tedious with little more than a couple of imps and some wolves to distract them. When they arrived at home, Maeve stumbled into the door of Arborwatch and dropped everything before collapsing on the floor. Nerussa expected her to break down but she didn’t. She simply rolled on to her back and stared at the ceiling.
“What are you thinking about?” Nerussa asked as she took a seat beside her on the floor.
“That I am very glad that I do not have to spend the rest of my life looking after another bastard Septim.” She attempted a weak grin and took a deep breath. “I’m going to miss him.”
“I know,” Nerussa replied. “Come on love, let me put you to bed.”
“I’m going to sleep for a month.”
“Good. I’ll be back after I let my father know I’m going to stay with you.”
Normally Maeve would have protested, but she couldn’t. She desperately needed her and she wouldn’t deny it this time.
Maeve was nothing if not true to her word and she did, in fact, spend a month in bed—leaving for the occasional light meal or bath. Nerussa was pleased to be back in Chorrol and happily doted on her friend while she recovered. On Tirdas of the fifth week, there was a knock at the door.
“Achille!” Nerussa embraced him warmly and brought him into the house. “You look good. Are you all healed?”
“Yes,” he said. “I’ve been to Cloud Ruler Temple and they said that Maeve came home. Is she here?”
“She’s been indisposed for many weeks now, but I think she will get out of bed for you.” Nerussa was certain that Maeve would make the effort for Achille. Apart from Martin and herself, there was no one that she loved more. “She’s been eating better so I made a large breakfast. Help yourself to food and I’ll get her.”
Achille happily served himself some cured meat and porridge and poured himself a cup of tea from the kettle. He smiled when he heard Maeve and Nerussa coming downstairs. Maeve looked weary and thin, but he was so happy to see her that he leaped up from the table and threw his arms around her. She hugged him tightly and hobbled over to the table, where Nerussa had made up a plate for her. When they sat down, however, Maeve took one look at the food and pushed it away. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I can’t eat this.”
“That’s okay,” replied Nerussa. “I’ll make you something else. Do you want eggs or maybe something simple, like toast?” She hurried around the kitchen looking to see what she could cook.
Maeve shook her head and closed her eyes as waves of nausea overtook her. Achille touched her arm. “Are you okay?”
She opened her eyes and looked at him strangely before she rolled off the bench and crawled over to the corner, where she found a bucket and vomited. “Oh gods,” she cried. And then she threw up again.
“Oh no!” exclaimed Nerussa.
Achille got up from the table and stood alongside Nerussa. “What is it? What’s wrong with her.”
“Oh dear gods…mother Mara in Atherius,” Maeve groaned, “why does everything have to have a smell?” Then she threw her face into the bucket and vomited again.
Nerussa’s face went pale as she looked at Achille. “She’s…pregnant.”
Author note: This chapter was originally penned in 2007.
*I don’t know where this prayer is from. I found it on the internet and could not find a definitive source. Suffice to say, I did not write it.