Oblivion Книга:The Wolf Queen
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From the pen of the first century third era sage Montocai:
In the autumntide of the year, Prince Pelagius, son of Prince Uriel, who is son of the Empress Kintyra, who is niece of the great Emperor Tiber Septim, came to the High Rock city-state of Camlorn to pay court to the daughter of King Vulstaed. Her name was Quintilla, the most beauteous princess in Tamriel, skilled at all the maidenly skills and an accomplished sorceress.
Eleven years a widower with a young son named Antiochus, Pelagius arrived at court to find that the city-state was being terrorized by a great demon werewolf. Instead of wooing, Pelagius and Quintilla together went out to save the kingdom. With his sword and her sorcery, the beast was slain and by the powers of mysticism, Quintilla chained the beast's soul to a gem. Pelagius had the gem made into a ring and married her.
But it was said that the soul of the wolf stayed with the couple until the birth of their first child.
"The ambassador from Solitude has arrived, your majesty," whispered the steward Balvus.
"Right in the middle of dinner?" muttered the Emperor weakly. "Tell him to wait."
"No, father, it's important that you see him," said Pelagius, rising. "You can't make him wait and then give him bad news. It's undiplomatic."
"Don't go then, you're much better at diplomacy than I am. We should have all the family here," Emperor Uriel II added, suddenly aware how few people were present at his dinner table. "Where's your mother?"
"Sleeping with the archpriest of Kynareth," Pelagius would have said, but he was, as his father said, diplomatic. Instead he said, "At prayer."
"And your brother and sister?"
"Amiel is in Firsthold, meeting with the Archmagister of the Mages Guild. And Galana, though we won't be telling this to the ambassador, of course, is preparing for her wedding to the Duke of Narsis. Since the ambassador expects her to be marrying his patron the King of Solitude instead, we'll tell him that she's at the spa, having a cluster of pestilent boils removed. Tell him that, and he won't press too hard for the marriage, politically expedient though it may be," Pelagius smiled. "You know how queasy Nords are about warty women."
"But dash it, I feel like I should have some family around, so I don't look like some old fool despised by his nearest and dearest," growled the Emperor, correctly suspecting this to be the case. "What about your wife? Where's she and the grandchildren?"
"Quintilla's in the nursery with Cephorus and Magnus. Antiochus is probably whoring around the City. I don't know where Potema is, probably at her studies. I thought you didn't like children around."
"I do during meetings with ambassadors in damp staterooms," sighed the Emperor. "They lend an air of, I don't know, innocence and civility. Ah, show the blasted ambassador in," he said to Balvus.
Potema was bored. It was the rainy season in the Imperial Province, wintertide, and the streets and the gardens of the City were all flooded. She could not remember a time when it was not raining. Had it been only days, or had it been weeks or months since the sun shone? There was no judging of time any more in the constant flickering torch-light of the palace, and as Potema walked through marble and stone hallways, listening to the pelting of the rain, she could think nothing but that she was bored.
Asthephe, her tutor, would be looking for her now. Ordinarily, she did not mind studying. Rote memorization came easily to her. She quizzed herself as she walked down through the empty ballroom. When did Orsinium fall? 1E 980. Who wrote Tamrilean Tractates? Khosey. When was Tiber Septim born? . Who is the current King of Daggerfall? Mortyn, son of Gothlyr. Who is the current Silvenar? Varbarenth, son of Varbaril. Who is the Warlord of Lilmoth? Trick question: it's a lady, Ioa.
What will I get if I'm a good girl, and don't get into any trouble, and my tutor says I'm an excellent student? Mother and father will renege on their promise to buy me a daedric katana of my own, saying they never remembered that promise, and it's far too expensive and dangerous for a girl my age.
There were voices coming from the Emperor's stateroom. Her father, her grandfather, and a man with a strange accent, a Nord. Potema moved a stone she had loosened behind a tapestry and listened in.
"Let us be frank, your imperial majesty," came the Nord's voice. "My sire, the King of Solitude, doesn't care if Princess Galana looked like an orc. He wants an alliance with the Imperial family, and you agreed to give him Galana or give back the millions of gold he gave to you to quell the Khajiiti rebellion in Torval. This was the agreement you swore to honor."
"I remember no such agreement," came her father's voice, "Can you, my liege?"
There was a mumbling noise that Potema took to be her grandfather, the ancient Emperor.
"Perhaps we should take a walk to the Hall of Records, my mind may be going," the Nord's voice sounded sarcastic. "I distinctly remember your seal being placed on the agreement before it was locked away. Of course, I may verily be mistaken."
"We will send a page to the Hall to get the document you refer to," replied her father's voice, with the cruel, soothing quality he used whenever he was about to break a promise. Potema knew it well. She replaced the loose stone and hurried out of the ballroom. She knew well how slowly the pages walked, used to running errands for a doddering emperor. She could make it to the Hall of Records in no time at all.
The massive ebony door was locked, of course, but she knew what to do. A year ago, she caught her mother's Bosmer maid pilfering some jewelry, and in exchange for her silence, forced the young woman to teach her how to pick locks. Potema pulled two pins off her red diamond broach and slid the first into the first lock, holding her hand steady, and memorizing the pattern of tumblers and grooves within the mechanism.
Each lock had a geography of its own.
The lock to the kitchen larder: six free tumblers, a frozen seventh, and a counter bolt. She had broken into that just for fun, but if she had been a poisoner, the whole Imperial household would be dead by now, she thought, smiling.
The lock to her brother Antiochus' secret stash of Khajiiti pornography: just two free tumblers and a pathetic poisoned quill trap easily dismantled with pressure on the counterweight. That had been a profitable score. It was strange that Antiochus, who seemed to have no shame, proved so easy to blackmail. She was, after all, only twelve, and the differences between the perversions of the cat people and the perversions of the Cyrodiils seemed pretty academic. Still, Antiochus had to give her the diamond broach, which she treasured.
She had never been caught. Not when she broke into the archmage's study and stole his oldest spellbook. Not when she broke into the guest room of the King of Gilane, and stole his crown the morning before Magnus's official Welcoming ceremony. It had become too easy to torment her family with these little crimes. But here was a document the Emperor wanted, for a very important meeting. She would get it first.
But this, this was the hardest lock she ever opened. Over and over, she massaged the tumblers, gently pushing aside the forked clamp that snatched at her pins, drumming the counterweights. It nearly took her a half a minute to break through the door to the Hall of Records, where the Elder Scrolls were housed.
The documents were well organized by year, province, and kingdom, and it took Potema only a short while to find the Promise of Marriage between Uriel Septim II, by the Grace of the Gods, Emperor of the HolyEmpire of Tamriel and his daughter the Princess Galana, and His Majesty King Mantiarco of Solitude. She grabbed her prize and was out of the Hall with the door well-locked before the page was even in sight.
Back in the ball room, she loosened the stone and listened eagerly to the conversation within. For a few minutes, the three men, the Nord, the Emperor, and her father just spoke of the weather and some boring diplomatic details. Then there was the sound of footsteps and a young voice, the page.
"Your Imperial Majesty, I have searched the Hall of Records and cannot find the document you asked for."
"There, you see," came Potema's father's voice. "I told you it didn't exist."
"But I saw it!" The Nord's voice was furious. "I was there when my liege and the emperor signed it! I was there!"
"I hope you aren't doubting the word of my father, the sovereign Emperor of all Tamriel, not when there's now proof that you must have been ... mistaken," Pelagius's voice was low, dangerous.
"Of course not," said the Nord, conceding quickly. "But what will I tell my king? He is to have no connection with the Imperial family, and no gold returned to him, as the agreement — as he and I believed the agreement to be?"
"We don't want any bad feelings between the kingdom of Solitude and us," came the Emperor's voice, rather feeble, but clear enough. "What if we offered King Mantiarco our granddaughter instead?"
Potema felt the chill of the room descend on her.
"The Princess Potema? Is she not too young?" asked the Nord.
"She is thirteen years old," said her father. "That's old enough to wed."
"She would an ideal mate for your king," said the Emperor. "She is, admittedly, from what I see of her, very shy and innocent, but I'm certain she would quickly grasp the ways of court — she is, after all, a Septim. I think she would be an excellent Queen of Solitude. Not too exciting, but noble."
"The granddaughter of the Emperor is not as close as his daughter," said the Nord, rather miserably. "But I don't see how we can refuse the offer. I will send word to my king."
"You have our leave," said the Emperor, and Potema heard the sound of the Nord leaving the stateroom.
Tears streamed down Potema's eyes. She knew who the King of Solitude was from her studies. Mantiarco. Sixty-two years old, and quite fat. And she knew how far Solitude was, and how cold, in the northernmost clime. Her father and grandfather were abandoning her to the barbaric Nords. The voices in the room continued talking.
"Well-acted, my boy. Now, make sure you burn that document," said her father.
"My Prince?" asked the page's querulous voice.
"The agreement between the Emperor and the King of Solitude, you fool. We don't want its existence known."
"My Prince, I told the truth. I couldn't find the document in the Hall of Records. It seems to be missing."
"By Lorkhan!" roared her father. "Why is everything in this palace always misplaced? Go back to the Hall and keep searching until you find it!"
Potema looked at the document. Millions of gold pieces promised to the kingdom of Solitude in the event of Princess Galana not marrying the king. She could bring it into her father, and perhaps as a reward he would not marry her to Mantiarco. Or perhaps not. She could blackmail her father and the Emperor with it, and make a tidy sum of money. Or she could produce it when she became Queen of Solitude to fill her coffers, and buy anything she wanted. More than a daedric katana, that was for certain.
So many possibilities, Potema thought. And she found herself not bored anymore.
From the pen of the first century third era sage Montocai:
A year after the wedding of his 14-year-old granddaughter the Princess Potema to King Mantiarco of the Nordic kingdom of Solitude, the Emperor Uriel Septim II passed on. His son Pelagius Septim II was made emperor, and he faced a greatly depleted treasury, thanks to his father's poor management.
As the new Queen of Solitude, Potema faced opposition from the old Nordic houses, who viewed her as an outsider. Mantiarco had been widowed, and his former queen was loved. She had left him a son, Prince Bathorgh, who was two years older than his stepmother, and loved her not. But the king loved his queen, and suffered with her through miscarriage after miscarriage, until her 29th year, when she bore him a son.
"You must do something to help the pain!" Potema cried, baring her teeth. The healer Kelmeth immediately thought of a she-wolf in labor, but he put the image from his mind. Her enemies called her the Wolf Queen for certes, but not because of any physical resemblance.
"Your Majesty, there is no injury for me to heal. The pain you feel is natural and helpful for the birth," he was going to add more words of consolation, but he had to break off to duck the mirror she flung at him.
"I'm not a pignosed peasant girl!" She snarled, "I am the Queen of Solitude, daughter of the Emperor! Summon the daedra! I'll trade the soul of every last subject of mine for a little comfort!"
"My Lady," said the healer nervously, drawing the curtains and blotting out the cold morning sun. "It is not wise to make such offers even in jest. The eyes of Oblivion are forever watching for just such a rash interjection."
"What would you know of Oblivion, healer?" she growled, but her voice was calmer, quieter. The pain had relaxed. "Would you fetch me that mirror I hurled at you?"
"Are you going to throw it again, your Majesty?" said the healer with a taut smile, obeying her.
"Very likely," she said, looking at her reflection. "And next time I won't miss. But I do look a fright. Is Lord Vhokken still waiting for me in the hall?"
"Yes, your Majesty."
"Well, tell him I just need to fix my hair and I'll be with him. And leave us. I'll howl for you when the pain returns."
"Yes, your Majesty."
A few minutes later, Lord Vhokken was shown into the chamber. He was an enormous bald man whose friends and enemies called Mount Vhokken, and when he spoke it was with the low grumble of thunder. The Queen was one of the very few people Vhokken knew who was not the least bit intimidated by him, and he offered her a smile.
"My queen, how are you feeling?" he asked.
"Damned. But you're looking like Springtide has come to Mount Vhokken. I take it from your merry disposition that you've been made warchief."
"Only temporarily, while your husband the King investigates whether there is evidence behind the rumors of treason on the part of my predecessor Lord Thone."
"If you've planted it as I've instructed, he'll find it," Potema smiled, propping herself up in the bed. "Tell me, is Prince Bathorgh still in the city?"
"What a question, your highness," laughed the mountain. "It's the Tournament of Stamina today, you know the prince would never miss that. The fellow invents new strategies of self-defense every year to show off during the games. Don't you recall last year, where he entered the ring unarmored and after twenty minutes of fending off six bladesmen, left the games without a scratch? He dedicated that bout to his late mother, Queen Amodetha."
"Yes, I recall."
"He's no friend to me or you, your highness, but you must give the man his due respect. He moves like lightning. You wouldn't think it of him, but he always seems to use his awkwardness to his advantage, to throw his opponents off. Some say he learned the style from the orcs to the south. They say he learned from them how to anticipate a foe's attack by some sort of supernatural power."
"There's nothing supernatural about it," said the Queen, quietly. "He gets it from his father."
"Mantiarco never moved like that," Vhokken chuckled.
"I never said he did," said Potema. Her eyes closed and her teeth gritted together. "The pain's returning. You must fetch the healer, but first, I must ask you one other thing -- has the new summer palace construction begun?"
"I think so, your Highness."
"Do not think!" she cried, gripping the sheets, biting her lips so a stream of blood dripped down her chin. "Do! Make certain that the construction begins at once, today! Your future, my future, and the future of this child depend on it! Go!"
Four hours later, King Mantiarco entered the room to see his son. His queen smiled weakly as he gave her a kiss on the forehead. When she handed him the child, a tear ran down his face. Another one quickly followed, and then another.
"My Lord," she said fondly. "I know you're sentimental, but really!"
"It's not only the child, though he is beautiful, with all the fair features of his mother," Mantiarco turned to his wife, sadly, his aged features twisted in agony. "My dear wife, there is trouble at the palace. In truth, this birth is the only thing that keeps this day from being the darkest in my reign."
"What is it? Something at the tournament?" Potema pulled herself up in bed. "Something with Bathorgh?"
"No, it's isn't the tournament, but it does relate to Bathorgh. I shouldn't worry you at a time like this. You need your rest."
"My husband, tell me!"
"I wanted to surprise you with a gift after the birth of our child, so I had the old summer palace completely renovated. It's a beautiful place, or at least it was. I thought you might like it. Truth to tell, it was Lord Vhokken idea. It used to be Amodetha's favorite place." Bitterness crept into the king's voice. "Now I've learned why."
"What have you learned?" asked Potema quietly.
"Amodetha deceived me there, with my trusted warchief, Lord Thone. There were letters between them, the most perverse things you've ever read. And that's not the worst of it."
"The dates on the letters correspond with the time of Bathorgh's birth. The boy I raised and loved as a son," Mantiarco's voice choked up with emotion. "He was Thone's child, not mine."
"My darling," said Potema, almost feeling sorry for the old man. She wrapped her arms around his neck, as he heaved his sobs down on her and their child.
"Henceforth," he said quietly. "Bathorgh is no longer my heir. He will be banished from the kingdom. This child you have borne me today will grow to rule Solitude."
"And perhaps more," said Potema. "He is the Emperor's grandson as well."
"We will name him Mantiarco the Second."
"My darling, I would love that," said Potema, kissing the king's tear-streaked face. "But may I suggest Uriel, after my grandfather the Emperor, who brought us together in marriage?"
King Mantiarco smiled at his wife and nodded his head. There was a knock at the door.
"My liege," said Mount Vhokken. "His highness Prince Bathorgh has finished the tournament and awaits you to present his award. He has successfully withstood attacks by nine archers and the giant scorpion we brought in from Hammerfell. The crowd is roaring his name. They are calling him The Man Who Cannot Be Hit."
"I will see him," said King Mantiarco sadly, and left the chamber.
"Oh he can be hit, all right," said Potema wearily. "But it does take some doing."
From the pen of the first century third era sage Montocai:
The Emperor Pelagius Septim II died a few weeks before the end of the year, on the 15th of Evening Star during the festival of North Wind's Prayer, which was considered a bad omen for the Empire. He had ruled over a difficult seventeen years. In order to fill the bankrupt treasury, Pelagius had dismissed the Elder Council, forcing them to buy back their positions. Several good but poor councilors had been lost. Many say the Emperor had died as a result of being poisoned by a vengeful former Council member.
His children came to attend his funeral and the coronation of the next Emperor. His youngest son Prince Magnus, 19 years of age, arrived from Almalexia, where he had been a councilor to the royal court. 21-year-old Prince Cephorus arrived from Gilane with his Redguard bride, Queen Bianki. Prince Antiochus at 43 years of age, the eldest child and heir presumptive, had been with his father in the Imperial City. The last to appear was his only daughter, Potema, the so-called Wolf Queen of Solitude. Thirty years old and radiantly beautiful, she arrived with a magnificent entourage, accompanied by her husband, the elderly King Mantiarco and her year-old son, Uriel.
All expected Antiochus to assume the throne of the Empire, but no one knew what to expect from the Wolf Queen.
"Lord Vhokken has been bringing several men to your sister's chambers late at night every night this week," offered the Spymaster. "Perhaps if her husband were made aware --"
"My sister is a devotee of the conqueror gods Reman and Talos, not the love goddess Dibella. She is plotting with those men, not having orgies with them. I'd wager I've slept with more men than she has," laughed Antiochus, and then grew serious. "She's behind the delay of the council offering me the crown, I know it. Six weeks now. They say they need to update records and prepare for the coronation. I'm the Emperor! Crown me, and to Oblivion with the formalities!"
"Your sister is surely no friend of yours, your majesty, but there are other factors at play. Do not forget how your father treated the Council. It is they who need following, and if need be, strong convincing," The Spymaster added, with a suggestive stab of his dagger.
"Do so, but keep your eye on the damnable Wolf Queen as well. You know where to find me."
"At which brothel, your highness?" inquired the Spymaster.
"Today being Fredas, I'll be at the Cat and Goblin."
The Spymaster noted in his report that night that Queen Potema had no visitors, for she was dining across the Imperial Garden at the Blue Palace with her mother, the Dowager Empress Quintilla. It was a warm night for wintertide and surprisingly cloudless though the day had been stormy. The saturated ground could not take any more, so the formal, structured gardens looked as if they had been glazed with water. The two women took their wine to the wide balcony to look over the grounds.
"I believe you are trying to sabotage your half-brother's coronation," said Quintilla, not looking at her daughter. Potema saw how the years had not so much wrinkled her mother as faded her, like the sun on a stone.
"It's not true," said Potema. "But would it bother you very much if it were true?"
"Antiochus is not my son. He was eleven years old when I married your father, and we've never been close. I think that being heir presumptive has stunted his growth. He is old enough to have a family with grown children, and yet he spends all his time at debauchery and fornication. He will not make a very good Emperor," Quintilla sighed and then turned to Potema. "But it is bad for the family for seeds of discontent to be sown. It is easy to divide up into factions, but very difficult to unite again. I fear for the future of the Empire."
"Those sound like the words -- are you, by any chance, dying, mother?"
"I've read the omens," said Quintilla with a faint, ironic smile. "Don't forget -- I was a renowned sorceress in Camlorn. I will dead in a few months time, and then, not a year later, your husband will die. I only regret that I will not live to see your child Uriel assume the throne of Solitude."
"Have you seen whether --" Potema stopped, not wanting to reveal too many of her plans, even to a dying woman.
"Whether he will be Emperor? Aye, I know the answer to that too, daughter. Don't fear: you'll live to see the answer, one way or the other. I have a gift for him when he is of age," The Dowager Empress removed a necklace with a single great yellow gem from around her neck. "It's a soul gem, infused with the spirit of a great werewolf your father and I defeated in battle thirty-six years ago. I've enchanted it with spells from the School of Illusion so its wearer may charm whoever he choses. An important skill for a king."
"And an emperor," said Potema, taking the necklace. "Thank you, mother."
An hour later, passing the black branches of the sculpted douad shrubs, Potema noticed a dark figure, which vanished into the shadows under the eaves at her approach. She had noticed people following her before: it was one of the hazards of life in the Imperial court. But this man was too close to her chambers. She slipped the necklace around her neck.
"Come out where I can see you," she commanded.
The man emerged from the shadows. A dark little fellow of middle-age dressed in black-dyed goatskin. His eyes were fixed, frozen, under her spell.
"Who do you work for?"
"Prince Antiochus is my master," he said in a dead voice. "I am his spy."
A plan formed. "Is the Prince in his study?"
"And you have access?"
Potema smiled widely. She had him. "Lead the way."
The next morning, the storm reappeared in all its fury. The pelting on the walls and ceiling was agony to Antiochus, who was discovering that he no longer had his youthful immunity to a late night of hard drinking. He shoved hard against the Argonian wench sharing his bed.
"Make yourself useful and close the window," he moaned.
No sooner had the window been bolted then there was a knock at the door. It was the Spymaster. He smiled at the Prince and handed him a sheet of paper.
"What is this?" said Antiochus, squinting his eyes. "I must still be drunk. It looks like orcish."
"I think you will find it useful, your majesty. Your sister is here to see you."
Antiochus considered getting dressed or sending his bedmate out, but thought better of it. "Show her in. Let her be scandalized."
If Potema was scandalized, she did not show it. Swathed in orange and silver silk, she entered the room with a triumphant smile, followed by the man-mountain Lord Vhokken.
"Dear brother, I spoke to my mother last night, and she advised me very wisely. She said I should not battle with you in public, for the good of our family and the Empire. Therefore," she said, producing from the folds of her robe a piece of paper. "I am offering you a choice."
"A choice?" said Antiochus, returning her smile. "That does sound friendly."
"Abdicate your rights to the Imperial throne voluntarily, and there is no need for me to show the Council this," Potema said, handing her brother the letter. "It is a letter with your seal on it, saying that you knew that your father was not Pelagius Septim II, but the royal steward Fondoukth. Now, before you deny writing the letter, you cannot deny the rumors, nor that the Imperial Council will believe that your father, the old fool, was quite capable of being cuckolded. Whether it's true or not, or whether the letter is a forgery or not, the scandal of it would ruin your chances of being the Emperor."
Antiochus's face had gone white with fury.
"Don't fear, brother," said Potema, taking back the letter from his shaking hands. "I will see to it that you have a very comfortable life, and all the whores your heart, or any other organ, desires."
Suddenly Antiochus laughed. He looked over at his Spymaster and winked. "I remember when you broke into my stash of Khajiiti erotica and blackmailed me. That was close to twenty years ago. We've got better locks now, you must have noticed. It must have killed you that you couldn't use your own skills to get what you wanted."
Potema merely smiled. It didn't matter. She had him.
"You must have charmed my servant here into getting you into my study to use my seal," Antiochus smirked. "A spell, perhaps, from your mother, the witch?"
Potema continued to smile. Her brother was cleverer than she thought.
"Did you know that Charm spells, even powerful ones, only last so long? Of course, you didn't. You never were one for magic. Let me tell you, a generous salary is a stronger motivation for keeping a servant in the long run, sister," Antiochus took out his own sheet of paper. "Now I have a choice for you."
"What is that?" said Potema, her smile faltering.
"It looks like nonsense, but if you know what you're looking for, it's very clear. It's a practice sheet -- your handwriting attempting to look like my handwriting. It's a good gift you have. I wonder if you haven't done this before, imitating another person's handwriting. I understand a letter was found from your husband's dead wife saying that his first son was a bastard. I wonder if you wrote that letter. I wonder if I showed this evidence of your gift to your husband whether he would believe you wrote that letter. In the future, dear Wolf Queen, don't lay the same trap twice."
Potema shook her head, furious, unable to speak.
"Give me your forgery and go take a walk in the rain. And then, later today, unhatch whatever other plots you have to keep me from the throne." Antiochus fixed his eyes on Potema's. "I will be Emperor, Wolf Queen. Now go."
Potema handed her brother the letter and left the room. For a few moments, out in the hallway, she said nothing. She merely glared at the slivers of rainwater dripping down the marble wall from a tiny, unseen crack.
"Yes, you will, brother," she said. "But not for very long."
Note: This book contains an error. The Iachesis in the text should really be Celarus.
From the pen of the first century third era sage Montocai:
Ten years after being crowned Emperor of Tamriel, Antiochus Septim had impressed his subjects with little but the enormity of his lust for carnal pleasures. By his second wife, Gysilla, he had a daughter in the year 104, who he named Kintyra, after his great-great-great grandaunt, the Empress. Enormously fat and marked by every venereal disease known to the Healers, Antiochus spent little time on politics. His siblings, by marked contrast, excelled in this field. Magnus had married Hellena, the Cyrodiil Queen of Lilmoth -- the Argonian priest-king having been executed -- and was representing the Imperial interests in Black Marsh admirably. Cephorus and his wife Bianki were ruling the Hammerfell kingdom of Gilane with a healthy brood of children. But no one was more politically active than Potema, the Wolf-Queen of the Skyrim kingdom of Solitude.
Nine years after the death of her husband, King Mantiarco, Potema still ruled as regent for her young son, Uriel. Their court had become very fashionable, particularly for rulers who had a grudge to bear against the Emperor. All the kings of Skyrim visited Castle Solitude regularly, and over the years, emissaries from the lands of Morrowind and High Rock did as well. Some guests came from even farther away.
Potema stood at the harbor and watched the boat from Pyandonea arrive. Against the gray, breaking waves where she had seen so many vessels of Tamrielic manufacture, it looked less than exotic. Insectoid, certainly, with its membranous sails and rugged chitin hull, but she had seen similar if not identical seacraft in Morrowind. No, if not for the flag which was markedly alien, she would not have picked out the ship from others in the harbor. As the salty mist ballooned around her, she held out her hand in welcome to the visitors from another island empire.
The men aboard were not merely pale, they were entirely colorless, as if their flesh were made of some white limpid jelly, but she had been forewarned. At the arrival of the King and his translator, she looked directly into their blank eyes and offered her hand. The King made noises.
"His Great Majesty, King Orgnum," said the translator, haltingly. "Expresses his delight at your beauty. He thanks you for giving him refuge from these dangerous seas."
"You speak Cyrodilic very well," said Potema.
"I am fluent in the languages of four continents," said the translator. "I can speak to the denizens of my own country Pyandonea, as well as those of Atmora, Akavir, and here, in Tamriel. Yours is the easiest, actually. I was looking forward to this voyage."
"Please tell his highness that he is welcome here, and that I am entirely at his disposal," said Potema, smiling. Then she added, "You understand the context? That I am just being polite?"
"Of course," said the translator, and then made several noises at the King, which the King reacted to with a smile. While they conversed, Potema looked up the dock and saw the now familiar gray cloaks watching her while they spoke with Levlet, Antiochus's man. The Psijic Order from the Summerset Isle. Very bothersome.
"My diplomatic emissary Lord Vhokken will show you to your rooms," said Potema. "Unfortunately, I have some other guests as well who require my attention. I hope your great majesty understands."
His Great Majesty King Orgnum did understand, and Potema made arrangements to dine with the Pyandoneans that evening. Meeting with the Psijic Order required all of her concentration. She dressed in her simplest black and gold robe and went to her stateroom to prepare. Her son, Uriel, was on the throne, playing with his pet joughat.
"Good morning, mom."
"Good morning, darling," said Potema, lifting her son in the air with feigned stain. "Talos, but you're heavy. I don't think I've ever carried such a heavy ten-year-old."
"That's probably because I'm eleven," said Uriel, perfectly aware of his mother's tricks. "And you're going to say that as an eleven-year-old, I should probably be with my tutor."
"I was fanatical about studying at your age," said Potema.
"I am king," said Uriel petulantly.
"But don't be satisfied with that," said Potema. "By all rights, you should be emperor already, you understand that, don't you?"
Uriel nodded his head. Potema took a moment to marvel at his likeness to the portraits of Tiber Septim. The same ruthless brow and powerful chin. When he was older and lost his baby fat, he'd be a splitting image of his great great great great great granduncle. Behind her, she heard the door opening and an usher bringing in several gray cloaks. She stiffened slightly, and Uriel, on cue, jumped down from the throne and left the stateroom, pausing to greet the most important of the Psijics.
"Good Morning, Master Iachesis," he said, enunciating each syllable with a regal accent that made Potema's heart soar. "I hope your accommodations at Castle Solitude meet with your approval."
"They do, King Uriel, thank you," said Iachesis, delighted and charmed.
Iachesis and his Psijics entered the chamber and the door was shut behind them. Potema sat only for a moment on the throne before stepping off the dais and greeting her guests.
"I am so sorry to have kept you waiting," said Potema. "To think that you sailed all the way from the Summerset Isles and I should keep you waiting any longer. You must forgive me."
"It's not all that long a voyage," said one of the gray cloaks, angrily. "It isn't as if we sailed all the way from Pyandonea."
"Ah. You've seen my most recent guests, King Orgnum and his retinue," said Potema breezily. "I suppose you think it unusual, me entertaining them, as we all know the Pyandoneans mean to invade Tamriel. You are, I take it, as neutral in this as you are in all political matters?"
"Of course," said Iachesis proudly. "We have nothing to gain or lose by the invasion. The Psijic Order preceded the organization of Tamriel under the Septim Dynasty and we shall survive under any political regime."
"Rather like a flea on whatever mongrel happens along, are you?" said Potema, narrowing her eyes. "Don't overestimate your importance, Iachesis. Your order's child, the Mages Guild, has twice the power you have, and they are entirely on my side. We are in the process of making an agreement with King Orgnum. When the Pyandoneans take over and I am in my proper place as Empress of this continent, then you shall know your proper place in the order of things."
With a majestic stride, Potema left the stateroom, leaving the grey cloaks to look from one to the other.
"We must speak to Lord Levlet," said one of the grey cloaks.
"Yes," said Iachesis. "Perhaps we should."
Levlet was quickly found at his usual place at the Moon and Nausea tavern. As the three grey cloaks entered, led by Iachesis, the smoke and the noise seemed to die in their path. Even the smell of tobacco and flin dissipated in their wake. He rose and then escorted them to a small room upstairs.
"You've reconsidered," said Levlet with a broad smile.
"Your Emperor," said Iachesis, and then corrected himself, "Our Emperor originally asked for our support in defending the west coast of Tamriel from the Pyandonean fleet in return for twelve million gold pieces. We offered our services at fifty. Upon reflection on the dangers that a Pyandonean invasion would have, we accept his earlier offer."
"The Mages Guild has generously -- "
"Perhaps for as low ten million gold pieces," said Iachesis quickly.
Over the course of dinner, Potema promised King Orgnum through the interpreter, to lead an insurrection against her brother. She was delighted to discover that her capacity for lying worked in many different cultures. Potema shared her bed that night with King Orgnum, as it seemed the polite and diplomatic thing to do. As it turned out, he was one of the better lovers she had ever had. He gave her some herbs before beginning that made her feel as if she was floating on the surface of time, conscious only of the gestures of love after she had found herself making them. She felt herself like the cooling mist, quenching the fire of his lust over and over and over again. In the morning, when he kissed her on the cheek, and said with his bald white eyes that he was leaving her, she felt a stab of regret.
The ship left harbor that morning, en route to the Summerset Isles and the imminent invasions. She waved them off to sea as she footsteps behind her. It was Levlet.
"They will do it for eight million, your highness" he said.
"Thank Mara," said Potema. "I need more time for an insurrection. Pay them from my treasury, and then go to the Imperial City and get the twelve million from Antiochus. We should make a good profit from this game, and you, of course, will have your share."
Three months later, Potema heard that the fleet of the Pyandoneans had been utterly destroyed by a storm that had appeared suddenly off the Isle of Artaeum. The home port of the Psijic Order. King Orgnum and all of his ships had been utterly annihilated.
"Sometimes making people hate you," she said, holding her son Uriel close, "Is how you make a profit."
From the pen of Inzolicus, Second Century Sage and Student of Montocai:
For twenty-one years, The Emperor Antiochus Septim ruled Tamriel, and proved an able leader despite his moral laxity. His greatest victory was in the War of the Isle in the year 110, when the Imperial fleet and the royal navies of Summerset Isle, together with the magical powers of the Psijic Order, succeeded in destroying the Pyandonean invading armada. His siblings, King Magnus of Lilmoth, King Cephorus of Gilane, and Potema, the Wolf Queen of Solitude, ruled well and relations between the Empire and the kingdoms of Tamriel were much improved. Still, centuries of neglect had not repaired all the scars that existed between the Empire and the kings of High Rock and Skyrim.
During a rare visitation from his sister and nephew Uriel, Antiochus, who had suffered from several illnesses over his reign, lapsed into a coma. For months, he lingered in between life and death while the Elder Council prepared for the ascension of his fifteen-year-old daughter Kintyra to the throne.
"Mother, I can't marry Kintyra," said Uriel, more amused by the suggestion than offended. "She's my first cousin. And besides, I believe she's engaged to one of the lords of council, Modellus."
"You're so squeamish. There's a time and a place for propriety," said Potema. "But you're correct at any rate about Modellus, and we shouldn't offend the Elder Council at this critical juncture. How do you feel about Princess Rakma? You spent a good deal of time in her company in Farrun."
"She's all right," said Uriel. "Don't tell me you want to hear all the dirty details."
"Please spare me your study of her anatomy," Potema grimaced. "But would you marry her?"
"I suppose so."
"Very good. I'll make the arrangements then," Potema made a note for herself before continuing. "King Lleromo has been a difficult ally to keep, and a political marriage should keep Farrun on our side. Should we need them. When is the funeral?"
"What funeral?" asked Uriel. "You mean for Uncle Antiochus?"
"Of course," sighed Potema. "Anyone else of note die recently?"
"There were a bunch of little Redguard children running through the halls, so I guess Cephorus has arrived. Magnus arrived at court yesterday, so it ought to be any day now."
"It's time to address the Council then," said Potema, smiling.
She dressed in black, not her usual colorful ensembles. It was important to look the part of the grieving sister. Regarding herself in the mirror, she felt that she looked all of her fifty-three years. A shock of silver wound its way through her auburn hair. The long, cold, dry winters in northern Skyrim had created a map of wrinkles, thin as a spiderweb, all across her face. Still, she knew that when she smiled, she could win hearts, and when she frowned, she could inspire fear. It was enough for her purposes.
Potema's speech to the Elder Council is perhaps helpful to students of public speaking.
She began with flattery and self-abasement: "My most august and wise friends, members of the Elder Council, I am but a provincial queen, and I can only assume to bring to issue what you yourselves must have already pondered."
She continued on to praise the late Emperor, who had been a popular ruler, despite his flaws: "He was a true Septim and a great warrior, destroying -- with your counsel -- the near invincible armada of Pyandonea."
But little time was wasted, before she came to her point: "The Empress Gysilla unfortunately did nothing to temper my brother's lustful spirits. In point of fact, no whore in the slums of the city spread out on more beds than she. Had she attended to her duties in the Imperial bedchamber more faithfully, we would have a true heir to the Empire, not the halfwit, milksop bastards who call themselves the Emperor's children. The girl called Kintyra is popularly believed to be the daughter of Gysilla and the Captain of the Guard. It may be that she is the daughter of Gysilla and the boy who cleans the cistern. We can never know for certain. Not as certainly as we can know the lineage of my son, Uriel. The eldest true son of the Septim Dynasty. My lords, the princes of the Empire will not stand for a bastard on the throne, that I can assure you."
She ended mildly, but with a call to action: "Posterity will judge you. You know what must be done."
That evening, Potema entertained her brothers and their wives in the Map Room, her favorite of the Imperial dining chambers. The walls were splashed with bright, if fading representations of the Empire and all the known lands beyond, Atmora,, Akavir, Pyandonea, Thras. Overhead the great glass domed ceiling, wet with rain, displayed distorted images of the stars overhead. Lightning flashed every other minute, casting strange phantom shadows on the walls.
"When will you speak to the Council?" asked Potema as dinner was served.
"I don't know if I will," said Magnus. "I don't believe I have anything to say."
"I'll speak to them when they announce the coronation of Kintyra," said Cephorus. "Merely as a formality to show my support and the support of Hammerfell."
"You can speak for all of Hammerfell?" asked Potema, with a teasing smile. "The Redguards must love you very much."
"We have a unique relationship with the Empire in Hammerfell," said Cephorus's wife, Bianki. "Since the treaty of Stros M'kai, it's been understood that we are part of the Empire, but not a subject."
"I understand you've already spoken to the Council," said Magnus's wife, Hellena, pointedly. She was a diplomat by nature, but as the Cyrodilic ruler of an Argonian kingdom, she knew how to recognize and confront adversity.
"Yes, I have," said Potema, pausing to savor a slice of braised jalfbird. "I gave them a short speech about the coronation this afternoon."
"Our sister is an excellent public speaker," said Cephorus.
"You're too kind," said Potema, laughing. "I do many things better than speaking."
"Such as?" asked Bianki, smiling.
"Might I ask what you said in your speech?" asked Magnus, suspiciously.
There was a knock on the chamber door. The head steward whispered something to Potema, who smiled in response and rose from the table.
"I told the Council that I would give my full support to the coronation, provided they proceed with wisdom. What could be sinister about that?" Potema said, and took her glass of wine with her to the door. "If you'll pardon me, my niece Kintyra wishes to have a word with me."
Kintyra stood in the hall with the Imperial Guard. She was but a child, but on reflection, Potema realized that at her age, she was already married two years to Mantiarco. There was a similarity, to be certain. Potema could see Kintyra as the young queen, with dark eyes and pallid skin smooth and resolute like marble. Anger flashed momentarily in Kintyra's eyes on seeing her aunt, but emotion left her, replaced with calm Imperial presence.
"Queen Potema," she said serenely. "I have been informed that my coronation will take place in two days time. Your presence at the ceremony will not be welcome. I have already given orders to your servants to have your belongings packed, and an escort will be accompanying you back to your kingdom tonight. That is all. Goodbye, aunt."
Potema began to reply, but Kintyra and her guard turned and moved back down the corridor to the stateroom. The Wolf Queen watched them go, and then reentered the Map Room.
"Sister-in-Law," said Potema, addressing Bianki with deep malevolence. "You asked what I do better than speaking? The answer is: war."
From the pen of Inzolicus, Second Century Sage:
The fifteen-year-old Empress Kintyra Septim II, daughter of Antiochus, wason the 3rd day of First Seed. Her uncles Magnus, King of Lilmoth, and Cephorus, King of Gilane, were in attendance, but her aunt, Potema, the Wolf Queen of Solitude, had been banished from the court. Once back in her kingdom, Queen Potema began assembling the rebellion, which was to be known as the War of the Red Diamond. All the allies she had made over the years of disgruntled kings and nobles joined forces with her against the new Empress.
The first early strikes against the Empire were entirely successful. Throughout Skyrim and northern High Rock, the Imperial army found themselves under attack. Potema and her forces washed over Tamriel like a plague, inciting riots and insurrections everywhere they touched. In the autumn of the year, the loyal Duke of Glenpoint on the coast of High Rock sent an urgent request for reinforcements from the Imperial Army, and Kintyra, to inspire the resistance to the Wolf Queen, led the army herself.
"We don't know where they are," said the Duke, deeply embarrassed. "I've sent scouts out all over the countryside. I can only assume that they've retreated up north upon hearing of your army's arrival."
"I hate to say it, but I was hoping for a battle," said Kintyra. "I'd like to put my aunt's head on a spike and parade it around the Empire. Her son Uriel and his army are right on the border to the Imperial Province, mocking me. How are they able to be so successful? Are they just that good in battle or do my subjects truly hate me?"
She was tired after many months of struggling through the mud of autumn and winter. Crossing the Dragontail Mountains, her army nearly marched into an ambush. A blizzard snap in the normally temperate Barony of Dwynnen was so unexpected and severe that it must certainly have been cast by one of Potema's wizard allies. Everywhere she turned, she felt her aunt's touch. And now, her chance of facing the Wolf Queen at last had been thwarted. It was almost too much to bear.
"It is fear, pure and simple," said the Duke. "That is her greatest weapon."
"I need to ask," said Kintyra, hoping that by sheer will she could keep her voice from revealing any of the fear the Duke spoke of. "You've seen the army. Is it true that she has summoned a force of undead warriors to do her bidding?"
"No, as a matter of fact, it's not true, but she certainly fosters that rumor. Her army attacks at night, partly for strategic reasons, and partly to advance fears like that. She has, so far as I know, no supernatural aid other than the standard battlemages and nightblades of any modern army."
"Always at night," said Kintyra thoughtfully. "I suppose that's to disguise their numbers."
"And to move her troops into position before we're aware of them" added the Duke. "She's the master of the sneak attack. When you hear a march to the east, you can be certain she's already on top of you from the south. But listen, we'll discuss this all tomorrow morning. I've prepared the castle's best rooms for you and your men."
Kintyra sat in her tower suite and by the light of the moon and a single tallow candle, she penned a letter to her husband-to-be, Lord Modellus, back in the Imperial City. She hoped to be married to him in the summer at the Blue Palace her grandmother Quintilla had loved so much, but the war may not permit it. As she wrote, she gazed out the window at the courtyard below and the haunted, leafless trees of winter. Two of her guards stood on the battlements, several feet away from one another. Just like Modellus and Kintyra, she thought, and proceeded to expound on the metaphor in her letter.
A knock on the door interrupted her poetry.
"A letter, your majesty, from Lord Modellus," said the young courier, handing the note to her.
It was short, and she read it quickly before the courier had a chance to retire. "I'm confused by something. When did he write this?"
"One week ago," said the courier. "He said it was urgent that I make it here as quickly as possible while he mobilized the army. I imagine they've left the City already."
Kintyra dismissed the courier. Modellus said that he had received a letter from her, urgently calling for reinforcements to the battle at Glenpoint. But there was no battle at Glenpoint, and she had only just arrived today. Then who wrote the letter in her handwriting, and why would they want Modellus to bring a second army out of the Imperial City into High Rock?
Feeling a chill from the night air at the window, Kintyra went to shut the latch. The two guards on the battlements were gone. She leaned over at the sound of a muffled struggle behind one of the barren trees, and did not hear the door open.
When she turned, she saw Queen Potema and Mentin, Duke of Glenpoint, in the room with a host of guards.
"You move quietly, aunt," she said after a moment's pause. She turned to the Duke. "What turned you against your loyalty to the Empire? Fear?"
"And gold," said the Duke simply.
"What happened to my army?" asked Kintyra, trying to look Potema steadily in the face. "Is the battle over so soon?"
"All your men are dead," smiled Potema. "But there was no battle here. Merely quiet and efficient assassination. There will be battles ahead, against Modellus in the Dragontail Mountains and against the remnants of the Imperial Army in the City. I'll send you regular updates on the progress of the war."
"So I am to be kept here as your hostage?" asked Kintyra, flatly, suddenly aware of the solidity of the stones and the great height of her tower room. "Damn you, look at me! I am your Empress!"
"Think of it this way, I'm taking you from being a fifth rate ruler to a first rate martyr," said Potema with a wink. "But I understand if you don't want to thank me for that."
From the pen of Inzolicus, Second Century Sage:
The exact date of the Empress Kintyra Septim II's execution in the tower at Glenpoint Castle is open to some speculation. Some believe she was slain shortly after her imprisonment in the 121st year, while others maintain that she was likely kept alive as a hostage until shortly before her uncle Cephorus, King of Gilane, reconquered western High Rock in the summer of the 125th year. The certainty of Kintyra's demise rallied many against the Wolf Queen Potema and her son, who had been crowned Emperor Uriel Septim III four years previously when he invaded the under-guarded Imperial City.
Cephorus concentrated his army on the war in High Rock, while his brother Magnus, King of Lilmoth, brought his Argonian troops through loyal Morrowind and into Skyrim to fight in Potema's home province. The reptilian troops fought well in the summer months, but during the winter, they retired south to regroup and attack again when the weather was warm. At this stalemate, the War lasted out two more years.
Also, in the 125th year, Magnus's wife Hellena gave birth to their first child, a boy who they named Pelagius, after the Emperor who fathered Magnus, Cephorus, the late Emperor Antiochus, and the dread Wolf Queen of Solitude
Potema sat on soft silk cushions in the warm grass in front of her tent and watched the sun rise over the dark woods on the other side of the meadow. It was a peculiarly vibrant morning, typical of Skyrim summertide. The high chirrup of insects buzzed all around her and the sky surged with thousands of fallowing birds, rolling over one another and forming a multitude of patterns. Nature was unaware of the war coming to Falconstar, she surmised.
"Your highness, a message from the army in Hammerfell," said one of her maids, bringing in a courier. He was breathing hard, stained with sweat and mud. Evidence of a long, fast ride over many, many miles.
"My queen," said the courier, looking to the ground. "I bring grave news of your son, the Emperor. He met your brother King Cephorus's army in Hammerfell in the countryside of Ichidag and there did battle. You would be proud, for he fought well, but in the end, the Imperial army was defeated and your son, our Emperor, was captured. King Cephorus is bringing him to Gilane."
Potema listened to the news, scowling. "That clumsy fool," she said at last.
Potema stood up and strolled into camp, where the men were arming themselves, preparing for battle. Long ago, the soldiers understood that their lady did not stand on ceremony, and she would prefer that they work rather than salute her. Lord Vhokken was ahead of her, already meeting with the commander of the battlemages, discussing last minute strategy.
"My queen," said the courier, who had been following her. "What are you going to do?"
"I'm going to win this battle with Magnus, despite his superior position holding the ruins of Kogmenthist Castle," said Potema. "And then when I know what Cephorus means to do with the Emperor, I'll respond accordingly. If there's a ransom to be paid, I'll pay it; if there's a prison exchange needed, so be it. Now, please, bath yourself and rest, and try not to get in the way of the war."
"It's not an ideal scenario," said Lord Vhokken when Potema had entered the commander's tent. "If we attack the castle from the west, we'll be running directly into the fire from their mages and archers. If we come from the east, we'll be going through swamps, and the Argonians do better in that type of environment than we do. A lot better."
"What about the north and south? Just hills, correct?"
"Very steep hills, your highness," said the commander. "We should post bowmen there, but we'll be too vulnerable putting out the majority of our force."
"So it's the swamp," said Potema, and added, pragmatically. "Unless we withdraw and wait for them to come out before fighting."
"If we wait, Cephorus will have his army here from High Rock, and we'll be trapped between the two of them," said Lord Vhokken. "Not a preferable situation."
"I'll talk to the troops," said the commander. "Try to prepare them for the swamp attack."
"No," said Potema. "I'll speak to them."
In full battlegear, the soldiers gathered in the center of camp. They were a motley collection of men and women, Cyrodiils, Nords, Bretons, and Dunmer, youngbloods and old veterans, the sons and daughters of nobles, shopkeepers, serfs, priests, prostitutes, farmers, academics, adventurers. All of them under the banner of the Red Diamond, the symbol of the Imperial Family of Tamriel.
"My children," Potema said, her voice ringing out, hanging in the still morning mist. "We have fought in many battles together, over mountaintops and beach heads, through forests and deserts. I have seen great acts of valor from each one of you, which does my heart proud. I have also seen dirty fighting, backstabbing, cruel and wanton feats of savagery, which pleases me equally well. For you are all warriors."
Warming to her theme, Potema walked the line from soldier to soldier, looking each one in the eye: "War is in your blood, in your brain, in your muscles, in everything you think and everything you do. When this war is over, when the forces are vanquished that seek to deny the throne to the true emperor, Uriel Septim III, you may cease to be warriors. You may choose to return to your lives before the war, to your farms and your cities, and show off your scars and tell tales of the deeds you did this day to your wondering neighbors. But on this day, make no mistake, you are warriors. You are war."
She could see her words were working. All around her, bloodshot eyes were focusing on the slaughter to come, arms tensing around weapons. She continued in her loudest cry, "And you will move through the swamplands, like an unstoppable power from the blackest part of Oblivion, and you will rip the scales from the reptilian things in Kogmenthist Castle. You are warriors, and you need not only fight, you must win. You must win!"
The soldiers roared in response, shocking the birds from the trees all around the camp.
From a vantage point on the hills to the south, Potema and Lord Vhokken had excellent views of the battle as it raged. It looked like two swarms of two colors of insect moving back and forth over a clump of dirt which was the castle ruins. Occasionally, a burst of flame or a cloud of acid from one of the mages would flicker over the battle arresting their attention, but hour after hour, the fighting seemed like nothing but chaos.
"A rider approaches," said Lord Vhokken, breaking the silence.
The young Redguard woman was wearing the crest of Gilane, but carried a white flag. Potema allowed her to approach. Like the courier from the morning, the rider was well travel-worn.
"Your Highness," she said, out of breath. "I have been sent from your brother, my lord King Cephorus, to bring you dire news. Your son Uriel was captured in Ichidag on the field in battle and from there transported to Gilane."
"I know all this," said Potema scornfully. "I have couriers of my own. You can tell your master that after I've won this battle, I'll pay whatever ransom or exchange --"
"Your Highness, an angry crowd met the caravan your son was in before it made it to Gilane," the rider said quickly, "Your son is dead. He had been burned to death within his carriage. He is dead."
Potema turned from the young woman and looked down at the battle. Her soldiers were going to win. Magnus's army was in retreat.
"One other item of news, your highness," said the rider. "King Cephorus is being proclaimed Emperor."
Potema did not look at the woman. Her army was celebrating their victory.
From the pen of Inzolicus, Second Century Sage:
Following the Battle of Ichidag, the Emperor Uriel Septim III was captured and, before he was able to be brought to his uncle's castle in the Hammerfell kingdom of Gilane, he met his death at the hands of an angry mob. This uncle, Cephorus, was thereafter proclaimed emperor and rode to the Imperial City. The troops formerly loyal to Emperor Uriel and his mother, the Wolf Queen Potema, pledged themselves to the new Emperor. In return for their support, the nobility of Skyrim, High Rock, Hammerfell, the Summerset Isle, Valenwood, Black Marsh, and Morrowind demanded and received a new level of autonomy and independence from the Empire. The War of the Red Diamond was at an end.
Potema continued to fight a losing battle, her area of influence dwindling and dwindling until only her kingdom of Solitude remained in her power. She summoned daedra to fight for her, had her necromancers resurrect her fallen enemies as undead warriors, and mounted attack after attack on the forces of her brothers, the Emperor Cephorus Septim I and King Magnus of Lilmoth. Her allies began leaving her as her madness grew, and her only companions were the zombies and skeletons she had amassed over the years. The kingdom of Solitude became a land of death. Stories of the ancient Wolf Queen being waited on by rotting skeletal chambermaids and holding war plans with vampiric generals terrified her subjects.
Magnus opened up the small window in his room. For the first time in weeks, he heard the sounds of a city: carts squeaking, horses clopping over the cobblestones, and somewhere a child laughing. He smiled as he returned to his bedside to wash his face and finish dressing. There was a distinctive knock on the door.
"Come in, Pel," he said.
Pelagius bounded into the room. It was obvious that he had been up for hours. Magnus marveled at his energy, and wondered how much longer battles would last if they were run by twelve-year-old boys.
"Did you see outside yet?" Pelagius asked. "All the townspeople have come back! There are shops, and a Mages Guild, and down by the harbor, I saw a hundred shops come in from all over the place!"
"They don't have to be afraid anymore. We've taken care of all the zombies and ghosts that used to be their neighbors, and they know it's safe to come back."
"Is Uncle Cephorus going to turn into a zombie when he dies?" asked Pelagius.
"I wouldn't put that past him," laughed Magnus. "Why do you ask?"
"I heard some people saying that he was old and sick," said Pelagius.
"He's not that old," said Magnus. "He's sixty years old. That's just two years older than I."
"And how old is Aunt Potema?" asked Pelagius.
"Seventy," said Magnus. "And yes, that is old. Any more questions will have to wait. I have to go meet with the commander now, but we can talk at supper. You can make yourself busy, and not get into any trouble?"
"Yes, sir," said Pelagius. He understood that his father had to continue to hold siege on aunt Potema's castle. After they took it over and locked her up, they would move out of the inn and into the castle. Pelagius was not looking forward to that. The whole town had a funny, sweet, dead smell, but he could not get even as close as the castle moat without gagging from the stench. They could dump a million flowers on the place and it wouldn't make any difference at all.
He walked through the city for hours, buying some food and then some ribbons for his sister and mother back in Lilmoth. He thought about who else he needed to buy gifts for and was stumped. All his cousins, the children of Uncle Cephorus, Uncle Antiochus, and Aunt Potema, had died during the war, some of them in battle and some of them during the famines because so many crops had been burned. Aunt Bianki had died last year. There was only he, his mother, his sister, his father, and his uncle the Emperor left. And Aunt Potema. But she didn't really count.
When he came upon the Mages Guild earlier that morning, he had decided not to go in. Those places always spooked him with their strange smoke and crystals and old books. This time, it occurred to Pelagius that he might buy a gift for Uncle Cephorus. A souvenir of Solitude's Mages Guild.
An old woman was having trouble with the front door, so Pelagius opened it for her.
"Thank you," she said.
She was easily the oldest thing he had ever seen. Her face looked like an old rotted apple framed with a wild whirl of bright white hair. He instinctively moved away from her gnarled talon when she started to pat him on the head. But there was a gem around her neck that immediately fascinated him. It was a single bright yellow jewel, but it almost looked there was something trapped within. When the light hit it from the candles, it brought out the form of a four-legged beast, pacing.
"It's a soul gem," she said. "Infused with the spirit of a great demon werewolf. It was enchanted long, long ago with the power to charm people, but I've been thinking about giving it another spell. Perhaps something from the School of Alteration like Lock or Shield." She paused and looked at the boy carefully with yellowed, rheumy eyes. "You look familiar to me, boy. What's your name?"
"Pelagius," he said. He normally would have said "Prince Pelagius," but he was told not to draw attention to himself while in town.
"I used to know someone named Pelagius," the old woman said, and slowly smiled. "Are you here alone, Pelagius?"
"My father is... with the army, storming the castle. But he'll be back when the walls have been breached."
"Which I dare say won't take too much longer," sighed the old woman. "Nothing, no matter how well built, tends to last. Are you buying something in the Mages Guild?"
"I wanted to buy a gift for my uncle," said Pelagius. "But I don't know if I have enough gold."
The old woman left the boy to look over the wares while she went to the Guild enchanter. He was a young Nord, ambitious, and new to the kingdom of Solitude. It took little persuasion and a lot of gold to convince him to remove the charm spell from the soul gem and imbue it with a powerful curse, a slow poison that would drain wisdom from its wearer year by year until he or she lost all reason. She also purchased a cheap ring of fire resistance.
"For your kindness to an old woman, I've bought you these," she said, giving the boy the necklace and the ring. "You can give the ring to your uncle, and tell him it has been enchanted with a levitation spell, so if ever he needs to leap from high places, it will protect him. The soulgem is for you."
"Thank you," said the boy. "But this is too kind of you."
"Kindness has nothing to do with it," she answered, quite honestly. "You see, I was in the Hall of Records at the Imperial Palace once or twice, and I read about you in the foretellings of the Elder Scrolls. You will be Emperor one day, my boy, the Emperor Pelagius Septim III, and with this soul gem to guide you, posterity will always remember you and your deeds."
With those words, the old woman disappeared down an alley behind the Mages Guild. Pelagius looked after her, but he did not think to search behind a heap of stones. If he had, he would have found a tunnel under the city into the very heart of Castle Solitude. And if he had found his way there, he would have found, past the shambling undead and the moldering remains of a once grand palace, the bedroom of the queen.
In that bedroom, he would find the Wolf Queen of Solitude in repose, listening to the sounds of her castle collapsing. And he would see a toothless grin growing on her face as she breathed her last.
From the pen of Inzolicus, Second Century Sage:
Potema Septim died after a month long siege on her castle. While she lived, she had been the Wolf Queen of Solitude, Daughter of the Emperor Pelagius II, Wife of King Mantiarco, Aunt of the Empress Kintyra II, Mother of Emperor Uriel III, and Sister of the Emperors Antiochus and Cephorus. At her death, Magnus appointed his son, Pelagius, as the titular head of Solitude, under guidance from the royal council.
The Emperor Cephorus Septim died after falling from his horse. His brother was proclaimed the Emperor Magnus Septim.
Pelagius, King of Solitude, is recorded as "occasionally eccentric" in the Imperial Annals. He marries, Duchess of Vvardenfell.
The Emperor Magnus Septim dies. His son, who will be known as Pelagius the Mad, is coronated.