“So, Maeve Sigeweald was schtupping Martin Septim,” said Xeri, grinning mischievously and breaking the somewhat awkward silence that had settled in as everyone reflected on Nerussa’s story. “Good for her.”
“It’s not true,” said Evangeline as she shook her head. She got up and strode briskly over to a shelf from which she pulled a tattered, loosely bound book.
“Oh Evangeline, you know better than anyone what cold, lonely nights in Cloud Ruler Temple can lead to,” teased Xeri.
“That’s different,” she replied. “I wasn’t screwing the Emperor.”
“No!” exclaimed Xeri, “But you could have been.”
“It’s true. Although my intentions were never motivated by power,” said Nerussa. “I think—”
“It doesn’t matter,” Evangeline interrupted them. “Bedyn is descended from Minas, Maeve and Achille’s second born. I’m sure of it.” She brought the book over and paged through it as Xeri and Nerussa looked at her uneasily.
“Nerussa was there; I think she would remember,” said Xeri, becoming increasingly annoyed.
Evangeline ignored her and when she found the page on which it was confirmed that Bedyn descended from Vivienne, Maeve’s first-born daughter, she frowned and slammed the book shut. “I don’t care. It’s not true.” She was insistent.
Nerussa had anticipated that Evangeline would not accept the news easily, but she was not expecting such outright denial. Xeri and Nerussa exchanged knowing looks. If Evangeline intended to be stubborn, they were in for a very long night.
“Evie…” said Quaranir calmly as he stood to approach her. Xeri and Nerussa looked at each other again, both trying to conceal their astonishment. Only one other person had ever called the former Arch-mage Evie. It was not a nickname for just anyone to use.
Evangeline shot Quaranir a hard look, causing him to withdraw and sit back down. She paced the room and rubbed her hands together before stopping suddenly. “Why did you believe her? Maeve could have been with anyone of those Blades. For all we know she might have fucked a Dremora Valkynaz on one of her trips to Oblivion.” Evangeline grimaced and shuddered at what that would mean for Elspeth’s ancestry.
“Excuse me, what?” asked Nerussa. “Why would she lie about a relationship with Martin?”
“Why wouldn’t she?” retorted Evangeline. “You told us stories for years about the madness of Maeve Sigeweald. We’re talking about a woman who abandoned her family and was last seen heading into a strange door in Nibenay Bay. And I’ve got at least three Daedra scholars downstairs who will swear by Sheogorath’s beard that the last Champion of Cyrodiil defeated the Jyggalag and took throne of the Madgod for herself.”
“Evangeline,” Nerussa said slowly. “I know this is difficult to accept but—”
“No!” she shouted, interrupting her. “What I find difficult to accept is your uncritical faith in the words of an insane person!”
Evangeline was unwavering and the elves simply shifted in their seats uncomfortably. All of the points she raised were valid ones, but Nerussa knew, deep in her heart, that Maeve’s downward spiral into insanity was not characterized by delusions. She looked around. Xeri was starting to look doubtful and Quaranir’s face was impossible to read.
“What did Martin’s journal say?” asked Xeri suddenly. Evangeline jerked her head up and Nerussa shrugged her shoulders in confusion. “His journal would have confirmed their relationship, right?” Xeri continued. “Did he write of an intimate relationship with Maeve?”
Nerussa cleared her throat and spoke quietly. “I never read Martin’s journal,” she said
Xeri’s eyes grew wide in disbelief. “You had Martin Septim’s journal in your possession for two centuries and you never once read it?” She was incredulous. “I will never understand the strength of will possessed by you Altmer. Never.”
“It never occurred to me that I needed to,” she explained. “And then Thalmor stole the journal before they destroyed the rest of my papers….” Her voice trailed off and it was once again uncomfortably quiet.
“Excuse me,” said Quaranir as he stood up and walked out of the room. He returned shortly with his satchel. The women looked at him curiously as he rifled through its contents and after several moments produced an old, leather-bound book. “I think this might settle our disagreement.” He pushed it across the table toward Nerussa who let out an audible gasp as she clapped her hands over her mouth.
“Martin’s journal!” she exclaimed. She reached out and touched it gingerly, almost as if she couldn’t believe it was real. Before she opened it, she looked up at the monk. “I don’t understand. Did the Psijic Order steal this from me?”
“Oh no,” he said. “The Order recovered it when one of Nerien’s men infiltrated the Dominion palace in Summerset Isle some time back. He gave it to me when we began to collaborate with Evangeline and the dissident elves.” He looked around guiltily. Quaranir had every intention of returning the journal to Evangeline. With Bedyn dead, the information in the journal mattered little. But when he learned that Evangeline had a daughter by Bedyn and that Elspeth was very likely the mage the Order had been seeking and quite possibly the reason the Thalmor purged the University, he held on to it. He told himself that it would be best to present it with some sort of strategy or promise that the Order would support Elspeth and offer their protection. But in truth, he simply did not want to confront Evangeline alone with it.
“You bastard!” Evangeline bellowed as she stomped back over to the table. When she stopped, her whole body was shaking. “You brought that into my home…this whole time…and we….” Her voice had lowered considerably, but the sheer fury in her tone was clear and the tension between them was palpable. Suddenly, she turned to Xeri and Nerussa, clasped her hands together and smiled. “Would you two excuse us please?” The calmness in her voice was unsettling but they nodded and made a swift exit.
In the hallway, Xeri immediately pressed her ear up to the closed door. Nerussa glowered at her and yanked her away. “You know,” said Xeri, “I do not believe they’re quarrelling over matters of strategy.”
Nerussa continued to glare at Xeri as she rubbed her furrowed brow with her fingers. “Well…Evangeline and Quaranir,” she mused after a few moments.
“I don’t know why you are surprised,” Xeri replied. “It’s been over ten years since Bedyn died and before that….” Xeri stopped. As meddlesome as she could be at times, she knew that some stories were not hers to tell.
“But the Psijic Order?” Nerussa was perplexed.
“They aren’t an ascetic order, are they?” Xeri asked.
“Well no,” she explained. “But the commitment it takes just to be accepted into the order doesn’t leave a lot of time for romantic relationships.”
“Maybe they’re just fucking,” suggested Xeri. “That doesn’t take much time. Especially if you’re an Altmer.”
Nerussa responded with a look of disgust. She had forgotten just how utterly impertinent Xeri could be. They waited close to an hour before Quaranir opened the door to invite them back insider where they found a weary Evangeline paging through Martin Septim’s journal, her eyes red and puffy.
She didn’t look up with they entered, but she shook her head again. “I still can’t believe it. I don’t want to believe it.” She turned two more pages before she closed the journal and pushed it away. “He loved her very much,” she said before she put her head down in her arms. Nerussa slid into the chair next to her and squeezed her shoulder gently.
The group was silent for several moments before Quaranir spoke. “Are we…” he paused and considered his question very carefully. “Are we absolutely certain that Elspeth is Bedyn’s child?”
Nerussa’s eyes widened and she glowered at the monk. “Why you—”
“No,” Evangeline interrupted as she raised her head back up. “It’s a fair question. Things were, well they were really difficult for a while…but no, Elspeth is most definitely Bedyn’s daughter.” She looked toward Xeri who was nodding enthusiastically. “So this, this is why Bedyn was killed. It wasn’t because of me or because of the Blades.” She leaned back and pressed her palms against her forehead. There was a long pause before she brought her hands back down suddenly and looked over at Xeri again. “Oio Naga, Mallari Arana.”
“That message!” exclaimed Xeri. She had ruminated on those words for years. “Eternal Death, Gold Kings. Eternal death of gold kings? No more gold kings?” And she was perplexed as she ever was.
“No more Septims,” said Quaranir.
Evangeline’s face contorted. “The Thalmor murdered my husband and left behind a pun! Somehow I find that more offensive than anything else they have ever done to us.” She pushed her hand through her hair and looked at Nerussa again. “So now that you’ve dropped this on us, what does it mean? What is to be done with this knowledge?”
“And what have you been doing with this information for the past two hundred years?” asked Quaranir as he took his seat across from her again.
Nerussa sighed and leaned back. “Mostly nothing,” she admitted. “After Martin died, there was no Amulet of Kings, no Dragonfires, nothing that would confirm that Vivienne was heir to the throne. Maeve was paranoid and after Minas was born, she made me promise never to show Martin’s journal to anyone and then she refused to speak of it again. I did some research when we were at Arcane University. Then after she went missing, Achille moved us back to Wayrest and we stayed there because the Empire was falling apart and it was safer in High Rock than Cyrodiil. Achille was from a noble family and Vivienne married well. And they continued to marry well.”
Nerussa’s voice betrayed some derision at this, but she continued. “They got rich and lazy and believe me when I say that not a single one was fit to rule much apart from their bankrolls. I maintained some research when I had time, but it wasn’t until Anya decided that she had enough of her family and moved Bedyn to Chorrol that I began studying the matter with any seriousness. During the war, the Thalmor destroyed all my papers and then came after me. I spent the last twenty-five years in Skyrim completing my research—trying to figure out how we might make it known that the Septim line continues, that is, beyond rumors of bastard spawn strewn across Tamriel.”
“Did you mean for Bedyn to take the Ruby Throne?” asked Xeri.
“Perhaps,” she replied, looking around cautiously. “After the war I wasn’t particularly concerned about his rise to power. I was more interested in what the continuation of the Septim line would mean for the White-Gold Concordat.”
“Probably very little,” said Evangeline. “One could argue that Septim blood isn’t inherently divine. Although I understand why you left Elspeth in Skyrim. If word of this got out, there is no population more devoted to Tiber Septim than the Nords and she could find protection there.” The tension in her face had lessened considerably, although her expression still betrayed much anxiety.
“Yes of course,” said Xeri facetiously. “Perhaps Jarl Ulfric could take her on as a ward, a covenant between the houses Stormcloak and Sigeweald. In exchange for her protection, Evangeline and her dissident elves won’t annex Eastmarch hold.” Xeri had hoped this would diffuse some of the tension in the room but Evangeline appeared not to be paying attention to anyone other than Nerussa.
“Why would we do that?” asked Quaranir who was baffled by this suggestion.
“It was a—never mind,” said Xeri as she rolled her eyes at the humorless monk. “So what have you uncovered, Nerussa? If this is true—how could we possibly authenticate this? Surely, Martin’s journal and genealogical records, however carefully maintained, are not enough to substantiate such a claim?” It was taking every ounce of self-restraint Xeri had not to shriek in sheer delight that her vision was confirmed, that Elspeth would heal the wounded Empire by ushering in a new Septim dynasty.
Evangeline narrowed her eyes at Xeri’s query and looked back to Nerussa. She was dreading the answer to this. When she said good-bye to Elspeth over ten years ago, she knew her daughter would be trained as a battlemage and she always imagined that Xeri’s visions would bring her back home or to one of the revolutionary militias where she would rise to a more moderate level of leadership—relatively speaking.
Nerussa took a deep breath before opening her satchel and removing several texts and journals, which she carefully placed in a pile. When she spoke, she did so very deliberately, paying close attention to the way her words were received. “I believe I have uncovered a way to authenticate Elspeth’s ancestry. It may take us a little time, however.”
“Us?” Xeri was intrigued but also concerned for Evangeline. The combination of dread, anxiety, and sadness she felt from the Breton was beyond emotion and bordered on sickness. She looked back at Evangeline who was pouring herself another goblet of wine in an attempt to maintain her composure. “What would you have us do?”
“We’re going to reforge the Amulet of Kings,” she replied. “I found—”
She was interrupted by a spray of red wine, spewed across the table as Evangeline choked on her drink. The elves looked at her as she sputtered and coughed and tried to talk. When she calmed down somewhat, she shook her head and sighed. “Oh my dear, dear Nerussa,” she said. “I know better than anyone the effects that being in exile can have on one’s mind. Delusions of grandeur abound in those of us forced to live away from civilized society—”
“Evie, why not let Nerussa show us her research?” Quaranir was practically pleading with her as he procured a rag to clean up the mess she’d made.
“The Amulet of Kings cannot be reforged!” she exclaimed. “It was imbued with the soul of St. Alessia and when it was destroyed, her soul was destroyed as well.” Evangeline looked around at everyone, astonished that she had to explain any of this. “Even if it was possible, do you have any idea of the sheer amount of power it would take to conjure the destroyed soul of a deity?”
“True,” agreed Nerussa. “Perhaps, it is not the Amulet of Kings we will be forging, but we can forge a cnosle, which is the ancient type of blood-line talisman on which the Amulet of Kings was based. Once we have that, all we have to do is complete the trials of St. Alessia. The amulet will be blessed by the Divines and then only Elspeth will be able to wear it.”
“The Trials of St. Alessia?” Evangeline threw her arms up in disbelief. “Am I the only sane person in this room?”
Who is we?” asked Xeri, ignoring Evangeline. “Us?” she gestured between herself and Nerussa. “Why wouldn’t Elspeth perform the trials?”
“It’s dangerous,” said Nerussa. “But more important, failure to complete the trials leaves one in debt to the Divines for the rest of his or her life. If we fail, it’s our debt—and she’s free to pursue the matter of her Septim ancestry on her own. Or not.”
Quaranir nodded but his face betrayed concern. “You can’t create a cnosle on just any forge,” he said. “Perhaps an atherium forge, in which case then you’ll need atherium….”
Nerussa grinned and started to pull some more things out of her satchel. “I’ve located just such an ancient forge in some ruins in the Rift,” she said as she carefully laid a velvet bag down on the table. From this bag, she produced three blue luminescent crystals.
“Atherium,” gasped Xeri. “But where…”
“That’s a story for later,” she said. “I still need one more piece, but I know where we can find it. The only other thing we need is an Ayleid soul gem, like the one adorning the Staff of Worms, which Maeve recovered from Mannimarco and left here.” She glanced knowingly at Evangeline who simply scowled but after several moments her face softened somewhat and she nodded.
“So,” said Quaranir. “I understand that you can act as a proxy for the trials, like an acolyte performs rituals for another, but how can you forge the amulet without Elspeth? Such a talismen requires the individual who is to wear it, correct?
Evangeline’s face brightened somewhat at this. Perhaps, Nerussa’s preposterous idea meant that she would soon be reunited with her daughter. But the Altmer simply shook her head. “We don’t need Elspeth,” she explained as she unwrapped and revealed Trygve’s arrow and some soiled bandages. “We just need her blood.”
Xeri and Quaranir gasped while Evangeline stretched her fingers forward before bringing her hands back to her chest, clutched together in two tight fists. “Why,” she began, struggling to keep her voice steady, “do you have an arrow and several bandages covered with my daughter’s blood?”
“I promise it wasn’t intentional,” she explained. “It was simply a coincidence.”
“I’m starting to think that there are no coincidences,” said Xeri firmly.
“The timing of everything is astonishing,” agreed Quaranir. “A dragon in Skyrim, the revelation of a living Septim….” His voice trailed off as he rested his chin in his hand and started looking through Nerussa’s notes again.
“Indeed!” said Nerussa. “And Elspeth was in Helgen when the dragon attacked.” She was suddenly giddy at the prospect that the Divines were uniting and intervening on their behalf and without thinking added, “to hear her tell it, the dragon basically interrupted her execution.” A soon as the words left her mouth, however, she regretted them and she braced herself for another outburst from Evangeline.
But Evangeline simply stared at her. All the color had drained from her face and she looked like she was going to collapse. She opened her mouth to say something and then thought better of it. After pushing herself violently away from the table, she stormed across the room and exited to the balcony.
Xeri opened her mouth to reprimand Nerussa but stopped herself—there was no reason to believe she wouldn’t make the next gaffe. The elves looked at each other uncomfortably, none of them certain who should follow her. Finally, Xeri stepped up and found Evangeline outside sitting cross-legged on one of the old guild portals, staring out over the mountains.
She didn’t look over when Xeri sat down; she just wiped her eyes on her robe. “You know,” she said after some time, “I didn’t think Elspeth would have much more than the Spire to inherit and now….” She chewed on her lip for a moment before reaching into her robe and removing her amulet from her neck. It was the Sigeweald family amulet, a stunning piece that had been in the family for generations. “This was the amulet I wanted to give her when we were reunited.” She ran her thumb around the inlaid star pattern and the emeralds that flanked the star’s smaller points. “It’s got a rare enchantment that’s supposed to bring guidance.”
“Bedyn gave that to you when you were betrothed.”
“Against your advice,” she said, smirking a little. Xeri had done everything she could to discourage Bedyn from pursuing Evangeline, to no avail.
Xeri smiled. “I may have been mistaken about that. You were good together. And you brought Elspeth into the world.”
Evangeline swallowed against the lump growing in her throat before asking, “What is she like?” She looked over at Xeri with a weak grin that betrayed both eagerness and anxiety.
“Powerful, but you knew that,” Xeri replied. “A bit zealous at times but she’s good with a blade and quick on her feet. She’s a bit more sensitive than I’d like but it’s served her well; Runa saw to that.” Xeri frowned, unsure if she should relay only Elspeth’s strengths. But Evangeline was her mother, and would want to know everything. “She’s stubborn, like you. She has no regard for social convention. It’s not that she’s rude; it’s simply that etiquette rituals don’t make any sense to her. And she’s a bit self-absorbed.”
“I can’t imagine why.” Evangeline responded sardonically. There was a brief pause as Evangeline worked up the nerve to reveal her next concern. Finally, she looked intently at Xeri and said, “Let’s say Nerussa forges this amulet. Even if Elspeth doesn’t take the throne—surely something will be expected of her. Can she lead?”
Xeri let out a long breath and thought about this for a moment. “Perhaps with good counsel,” she said finally. “Runa was in charge of teaching civics and history and politics and all that. But I can say that she has no tolerance for tyrants. She’s smart—she’s got an expansive set of facts in her head, thanks to Runa. But she’s not always thoughtful. Of course, she’s never really had to be.”
Evangeline nodded sadly and let her gaze wander downward in the direction of the village. “You know, I’ve been so consumed with what this means for Elspeth that I haven’t even considered what it could mean for my mages. This could be what we’ve been preparing for. Although, I can’t….” Her voice trailed off again. For all her leadership and strategic prowess, Evangeline could not yet comprehend what this would mean for the dissidents and their allies.
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” said Xeri. “We should probably go back inside and listen to Nerussa’s insane plan.”
Evangeline stood up and stretched. “And to think,” she said as she opened the door to her suite, “all those years I thought you were the crazy Mer.”
At the table, Quaranir was reviewing Nerussa’s research notes. Nerussa had laid out the supplies, flawless gems, precious metals—all the things she had gathered in order to forge the Amulet. Evangeline approached and ran her fingers along the gold ingot. Then she picked up a flawless diamond and inspected it before she looked at Nerussa intently. “So, you and Xeri really mean to do this.”
“Yes,” she replied. “And I hoped you would come as well.”
Evangeline’s eyes widened and she shook her head ardently. “I can’t leave here,” she said.
“Why not?” asked Nerussa.
“Well, for one thing it’s against the terms of my exile,” she explained. “Not to mention that I’m needed here.”
“Quaranir tells me that you have commanders now. Captains and the like.” She looked back at him and he nodded in confirmation. “Surely they can manage without you.”
Quaranir smiled warmly toward Evangeline. “Evangeline still provides inspiration and leadership. It is, of course, her words that continue to bring dissidents from all over Tamriel,” he explained. “And she is still their best conjuration and alteration instructor. However, I’m sure there is business that might take you from the Village. And if you were to find yourself in Hammerfell, for example, there is nothing Mede can do.”
“Tell me Evangeline,” said Xeri. “Will you be able to focus on leading and inspiring and teaching knowing the journey on which Nerussa and I have embarked?”
Evangeline looked around the room before she lowered and shook her head. “No,” she whispered.
“Three is better anyway,” said Xeri.
“There is one other thing,” said Quaranir. “What will you tell Elspeth?”
It was uncomfortably quiet for several moments as the women looked at each other. Finally, Nerussa and Evangeline’s gazes settled on Xeri. As loath as they were to admit it, she was the only one who could answer this question. She knew her best.
“I don’t think we should tell her anything just yet,” Xeri said after thinking it over. “If she’s not to accompany us, then she would simply ruminate on the matter. Then she’ll get restless and zealous and wind up doing something incredibly stupid that will get a Jarl killed or something.” Xeri was clearly exaggerating, but her point stood. “Of course, she’s going to get restless regardless. We can’t leave her to do nothing—she’ll join Ulfric Stormcloak’s rebellion out of boredom.”
“The Order will call on her soon to settle the matter of the orb,” said Quaranir. “After that however….” He paused and thought about his next statement carefully. “On this matter, however, I’m not sure we should have the Order involved—not without proof.” Even with proof, Quaranir knew that they would be divided on the matter of supporting the revival of a long-thought-dead dynasty. He was going to have to think long and hard on how he would approach the Order with this. The apotheosis of Talos was one thing. His line of succession was another matter entirely.
“Won’t she be expecting the Order to follow up on the matter of the purge and the Thalmor?” asked Nerussa.
“We could ask her to represent the dissidents in the North,” suggested Quaranir.
“If she knows you’re associated with the dissidents, she’ll want to see Evangeline,” said Xeri. She paused for a moment and looked thoughtfully back at the group. “Nords don’t particularly care for mages and elves, dissidents or not. Let’s say she were to represent either the Order or the dissidents in the North, she would have to curry favor with the citizens. Nerussa says that she and Lydia have done work for several of the Jarls. She could keep doing that. It’s not particularly heroic at this point, but it will keep her busy.”
“Very well,” said Quaranir. “I’ll have Nerein relay that to her.”
“No!” said Evangeline. She turned to face Quaranir and took his hands in hers. “I want you to talk to her from now on. No one else. Please.” Quaranir opened his mouth to protest. Nerein believed Elspeth and the college to be his responsibility and would be displeased at Quaranir’s interference. But when he saw how desperate she looked and heard the pleading in her voice, he agreed.
“Very well,” said Evangeline, gesturing to the other women. “We have an armory and an apothecary here. We’ll ready our supplies this evening and ride out tomorrow before dawn. Let’s do this. Let’s bring Elspeth to her destiny.”