Steel grey clouds clustered in the sky above the ancient city of Windhelm, their heavy bottoms weeping fluffy bits of themselves to coat the sooty dark stone framed in centuries’ worth of black dirt ground into their mortar. The new puffs of white helped add some contrast, covering the dingy, crusted snow already heaped in corners, against walls, and over the carefully stacked stone blocks piled here and there throughout the city. More grey stone rose up on either side of the street, creating a warren of unrelentingly dismal corridors beneath the black slate roofs.
Romulus Amulius, Hero of Kvatch and Daedric Prince of Madness, gazed up at the bottom of the clouds, the monochrome world around him making him long for the bright colors of Mania. Bored and depressed, he started a colony of bright yellow mold on the wall across from him, concentrating on the tiny world of fungi rather than the larger world of rot around him. It distracted him for a while, until a pair of guards crossed his vision.
“Damned Imperial,” the man muttered, giving him a dirty look beneath his helmet.
Rommy’s eyes flickered upwards briefly before he flicked his hand at the Stormcloak, making the man erupt into shrieking giggles as half a dozen small, puffy Oblivion critters appeared inside his armor, crawling desperately to find a way out. His partner stopped and stared at him, wondering what was wrong, but the man was soon convulsed on the ground, unable to stop laughing and trying vainly to remove his gambeson.
“I don’t think your fiancé would like that too much,” Sam commented idly, leaning against the wall next to his Daedric “brother.” He smelt of spilled mead and the barmaid at the Candlehearth Hall.
“You’re probably right,” Rommy sighed, banishing the critters and releasing the man, who coughed and wheezed for the breath he’d been unable to take.
“Don’t let them get to you,” Sam advised, taking a swig of his bottle of ale.
“This whole place gets to me,” the Imperial grumbled, returning his attention to his mold garden, adding some reds and oranges for variety. They were just a speck yet, but by the time morning came they would cover most of the brick they were on. If no one scrubbed them away, it would probably become an infestation within a month. An improvement, in the Mad God’s mind. He added some allergens to them out of sheer pique.
“So, when will Muffin get here? And Telki, of course Telki,” Sanguine asked as Rommy pushed off the wall and started striding toward the Grey Quarter.
“Sometime tomorrow morning, if nothing holds them up,” Romulus replied, sorting through a keyring that held more keys than there were buildings in this city, as well as various trinkets of odd design. He untangled braided unicorn hair from the crystal finger of a Knight of Order, flipping both back from a small fetish made of Hag’s feathers and a small carved eyeball. After three more keys and a tiny stuffed bear, he found the one he was looking for, just in time to stop in front of the door it opened.
Squinting at the small painted sign beside the door, Sam read, “‘Calixto's House of Curiosities. Wonderments large and small.’ Huh. What are we doing here?”
“I own the house,” Romulus replied, opening the door. He had to shove a bit--the hinges stuck. Fixing them with a wave of his hand, he lit the room with a burst of magelight to each corner, revealing a dusty interior liberally filled with oddiments, though where the promised “large” items were he didn’t care to speculate.
“You bought a house?” Sam asked, sounding surprised.
Smirking a little, he banished the dust with a thought. “Of course not. Calixto was one of mine. Rejected the Isles completely, of course, even when I offered him Relmyna’s help with his little sister problem. She was most put out at his refusal; it’s been a long time since she sensed another flesh mage with his potential. At any rate, His Royal Rebelliousness’s steward put out a search for the man’s next of kin in Cyrodiil.”
“I’ve been forging Imperial documents since I was twelve. Not hard to convince Jorlief I was a long-lost nephew,” he said absent-mindedly, looking around the house. “Well, at least he didn’t do his experiments here. I don’t have to banish anything.”
Sam tossed himself into a chair, the fire lighting by itself on the empty hearth next to him. “Why bother?” he enquired, his form rippling and changing to his more normal, seven foot Dremora appearance. The chair creaked a little under the strain.
“Honestly? I don’t like when they stare. Also, I might as well save Erandur or Gideon the effort of an exorcism. Now, hush a moment.” Closing his eyes while Sanguine watched, he spread his awareness out to the house, moving, destroying, or summoning furniture, rugs, kitchenware, the odd trinket or two to make the place more homey.
“Not that I don’t like it, but why is there a statue of Dibella carved from a giant’s femur?” Sanguine asked, going over to admire the “quality and detail” of the piece.
“Collectibles,” Rommy replied cheerfully, walking around and adding a few more “curiosities” to improve the selection. A dragon skull sat on a low table in the center of the room, and a line of jars with enchanted insects materialized along one shelf as he passed. “There’s something carved from a giant’s bone in every room of this house. Gerguun made them; matching set.”
“Who?” Sanguine asked, running his fingers over the statue.
“Nord woman that caught her giant husband cheating with the mammoths,” he explained, going over to a shelf filled entirely with the Yellow Book of Riddles. “She made a carving from every large bone in his body. I left the goblet back in New Sheoth, though. It’s too recognizable as a skull.” He adjusted the lighting a little atop a carved mammoth tusk so that the waves in the ocean scene it depicted seemed to move as one passed. Akaviri, that, and stolen right from the house of one of his mother’s contemporaries when he was just joining the Thieves’ Guild. Where it had rested for the last three centuries, he neither knew nor cared, especially given the dusty state it had just arrived in.
Pausing a moment, Sanguine cast him a look, “What are you going to do when she realizes just how mad you really are?”
Shrugging uncomfortably, Romulus examined the floor, noting the mice living beneath the boards and deciding to leave them. “Some part of her already knows. She’s seen the inside of my head, after all, even if she hasn’t consciously sorted through it all yet.”
“But it’s one thing to hear that your new fiance is the embodiment of every kind of madness, and another to know it,” Sanguine pointed out with that keen intellect he rarely showed anyone, and even more rarely put to more use than creating his next entertainment.
“How sober are you?” Rommy lifted an eyebrow testily.
“Far too,” the Prince of Debauchery replied, melting back into his human guise and throwing an arm around the Imperial. “Let’s go get some mead!”
Smiling slightly, the other Prince extinguished the lights and followed his friend out into the snow-laden streets. It looked as if Sanguine were up to mischief, and he was itching for some distraction himself. Nothing too Nirn-shattering, unfortunately. After all, the Dragonborn would be in town by morning.
Telki rode into town with Her Boys bright and early in the morning. The heavy clouds of yesterday had finally blown through in the night, leaving crystal clear blue skies with that brisk bite in the air that always put Telki in mind of new beginnings and fresh starts. A few lamb-white high clouds wisped across the sky, backlit by morning sun. It was the perfect morning sky every master painter strived for, and just missed. The morning sun lit up the carefully stacked timbers and fresh stone that could be easily seen in each quarter.
The projects first assigned to Rolf in the Grey Quarter had started an improvement frenzy in all of them. No Quarter wanted to be the reason for Ulfric’s harsh words, nor did they want to look shabby in comparison to where those ‘filthy greyskins’ lived. Slow changes, but they were changes, and Telki thought it was past high time they had started.
“Did you hear? The museum’s opening up again. Jorlief found a nephew,” Telki’s sensitive ears couldn’t help but overhear. Off to her side, a Nord woman with heavy baskets stopped to talk to an elderly woman practically vibrating with her news.
“Have you seen him? He’s pretty as an Aedra, I heard tell.”
“And related to Calixto? I don’t buy it.”
“What, that he’s related, or that pretty?”
“Take your pick.” The practical Nord woman waved off her chatty neighbor with both hands, picked up her piled baskets, and left, leaving Telki the perfect opportunity to talk to the apparent town gossip.
“Pardon me, but did you say Calixto’s was opening up again?”
“Oh yes! Young Shattershield saw him come in last night. I’ve not seen the girl so lively since, well, you know. Apparently, the young man quite caught her eye.” Telki was amused. Leave it to Rommy to try to come in quietly, and still cause a stir.
“You don’t think?” Mercutio was the first to speak after the wide and motherly older woman finally toddled off, her budget of news spent and a kindly gift against the cold from Telki snug in her arms on her way back to her own home.
“Oh, let me count the ways, shall we?” Telki’s voice was as dry as the cold wind blowing across their cloaks. Sheer mischief lit her eyes. “Anybody wanna go surprise a Daedra?”
They found, sure enough, that the old curiosity museum was due to open, but the building itself shut up tight.
“Nuts,” Telki groused. “I wanted to surprise him.”
“You’re forgetting, Love, who’s probably traveling with him.” Gideon smirked as all eyes drifted to him. “Sanguine.”
“Okay, which is more likely? Candlehearth or New Gnisis?”
“Oh that’s easy,” Erandur grinned. “Which one has the bigger wine cellar?”
They found Candlehearth drunk dry, and the owner having to order a new shipment of everything. Telki was impressed the owner was in such jovial spirits.
“And why not? I and my staff will have fewer customers tonight, and we made enough last night we won’t feel the pinch!” Telki had to admit it made sense.
“So, must have been a big party last night?” She leaned against the counter, as if eager for a good tale. She hoped the man’s high spirits would oblige. She wasn’t disappointed.
“Well,” the innkeeper said, leaning in conspiratorially as he wiped a mug dry, “Apparently, that Calixto had a nephew in Cyrodiil. None of us believed it at first, but apparently his sainted sister wasn’t as pure as driven snow like he used to say, and left a man down there with their kid! Not that he said this, mind, that was all his talkative friend of his. He was very circumspect about it. Nice, respectful young man, that one.”
“Are they still here? Can I meet them? They sound like an interesting pair.” Telki put on her best curiously innocent air. It worked, sometimes.
He laughed, putting the mug aside. “I’d say so! They only got in yesterday, and the lad said he wanted to see the house. I think he might be considering staying for a while. I’m sure if you went to the carpenter’s or up to Jorlief, you’d find him buying furniture or something.”
She left the owner still chuckling behind her, and stood thinking on the doorstep.
“New Gnisis?” Mercutio was rubbing his hands. Apparently, heat enchants that could keep up with the cold waters in Dawnstar’s bay weren’t quite enough for the cold winds whipping Windhelm.
“There’s a chance Sam passed out there, but did Rommy decide to stay, or did he haul him back to Calixto’s? There’s the question,” Erandur was rubbing his chin in thought.
“I have a better idea.” All three men shuddered. They knew that particular tone.
“Don’t. Whatever it is, don’t.” Gideon knew they’d fall on deaf ears, but the paladin in him had to try.
“Where, oh where, oh where’s my Rommy?” Telki sang out impishly. “And if he knows what’s good for him, it’ll work, too.”
Mercutio was bowled over sideways as an enthusiastic Sam fairly materialized, clinging to his current favorite mortal. “Nice to see you, Sam.” There was only a faint tremor in the mage’s voice.
“Are you cold? I’ll help keep you warm!” he cried, quite causing a scene as he rubbed up and down the mage’s arm.
“Sam, shug, nice to see you, where’s my Rommy?” Telki thought it was past time to distract the enthusiastic Daedra. Poor Merc’s cheeks were fit to burst into flames.
“He had to go yell at someone. He’ll be back soon. Well, back at the house, anyway,” he brightened. “Did you know he has a wheel of cheese from the Merithic Era? It was stuck in a peat bog! I bet it would go great with some wine!”
“After being stuck in a bog?” Telki had to admit she couldn’t imagine any food being fit to eat after that. She subtly pulled Sam off Merc, taking his arm and getting him walking towards Calixto’s house.
“It was in a thing of wax. Apparently people--hic!--do that with cheese. Which explains why I sometimes wake up feeling like I was chewing on a candle,” he shrugged. “So there’s a rather big bed upstairs. Why don’t you four...relax? I’ll keep watch.”
“Eh, we need to settle from the road, first. Why don’t you tell us what all you’ve been up to?” Telki bobbed her head at Sam when he ushered her into the door. Thank heavens he actually used a key like a mortal.
“Well…” Sam hesitated, fiddling with the key by poking it in and out of the keyhole a few times before finally turning it. “I’m not entirely sure what Rommy did--I went to a moonsugar festival in Elswyre--but he’s been pretty broody, and had to go throw some crystal idiots off his Fringes, so I’d say he got in an argument with Jyggalag again.”
“Poor Rommy. Maybe he needs to let me come along next run-in with that quartz slagmonkey.”
“Ummmmm...” It really bothered her when all three of her guys did that together. Their lack of faith was sometimes disturbing.
“I wouldn’t,” Sam advised, sounding entirely too sober. He pushed the door open and went right to the kitchen, grabbing an ale.
“Sam, what’s troubling you?” Erandur, always the most perceptive, asked.
“My best friend is yelling at a Daedra so obnoxious the rest of us cursed him to get him out of our hair, and my last forty-five drinks wore off,” Sam grumbled, shutting the door with a wave and slipping into his more comfortable guise, winking at Merc, who flushed.
“Y’know, I tried something just for you when I got home.” Telki pulled out a bottle, and waved it in Sam’s general direction. “Since I could make Sober Mead, thought I’d try my hand at its opposite.”
Sanguine stared at the bottle for a moment in complete disbelief, then at Telki, then at the bottle, then suspiciously at the other men to see if they were hiding smirks. “Alright,” he said slowly, taking the bottle, uncorking it, and sniffing it.
"There was no way to test it, you’ll be the first. Pretty sure it’d kill my guys with one sip; you’ve been warned.” Telki shrugged.
Convinced it wouldn’t make him more sober than the thought of the Daedra of Order already did, Sanguine took an experimental swallow, and promptly fell to the floor on his butt, staring at the bottle in his hand. “‘Hish ish--hic!--yummy!” Leaning over against her leg, he wrapped his arms around it like a child wanting to be pulled across the floor and stared up at her adoringly. “Marr’ me.”
“How about I just keep you supplied with Super Mead, eh?” Telki grinned feeling accomplished.
Nuzzling his face around her knee as if he were the kitty person, he mumbled happily. “Besh--hic!--sis ev’r.”
“Aww, thanks sweetie.” Telki gingerly patted his head, trying her best not to spike her hand on the horns. “This would be so much easier were you a little less horny.” The snigger that elicited could probably be heard in the Cloud District of Whiterun.
“Why are you snuggling Telki’s leg?”
Sanguine grinned, looking up as a blue blur crossed his vision, whirling in the center of the floor before solidifying into what he could only assume was the Daedric Prince of Madness, but it was hard to tell at the moment.
“I made him a present, the opposite of Sober Mead. I can’t even taste test it,” Telki supplied. “Now hug me, I missed you.”
Rommy grinned, pulling her into a tight hug that predictably ended in a searing kiss that had Telki purring appreciatively. Flushing happily, he stepped back slightly, turning towards the others. “So,” he said, gesturing, “do you all like what I’ve done with the place?”
“Looks interesting, what I’ve been able to see.” Telki wrapped herself around Rommy’s arm. “Want to give us the five septim tour?”
“I’ll give you a free tour, but it’s not really free. I need some more junk that people here will find interesting, and since you’re the Dragonborn, they will probably find your stuff interesting. Anything you’d like to donate?” he asked, giving her an arch look.
Telki gave her other guys a look, especially when Mercutio started snickering. “Well, I suppose I can return that flute I took from here…”
That startled a laugh out of him. “You stole from the museum? Naughty Telki.”
“Well, it’s not like the old owner needed it anymore, so was it really stealing? Besides, total fraud, it did absolutely nothing extra when I played it.” Telki sniffed defensively.
“Let me see,” he instructed, curious. Telki readily pulled the old flute out of her pack and handed it to him. “Oh, this,” he said, taking it with an air of surprise. “Haskill’s been looking for this for years.”
“Haskill? Why would he?”
“Haskill’s in charge of the Palace’s entertainments. Honestly, I don’t know how Old Sheo found the time, but he used to have entertainers come perform at Court at least once a week, supposedly,” Rommy shrugged and handed Telki the flute. “Were you planning to return this, then, or keep it for yourself?”
“You’re more than welcome to it.” Telki wrinkled her nose at him. “Really, I only took it the first time because it’s a beautifully crafted instrument that didn’t deserve to sit dusty and forgotten in a dead man’s abandoned house.”
“Interesting you should say that,” he chuckled, putting it on a shelf. “It was made by a Bosmer. In Valenwood,” he added, in case she was missing the significance.
“And that’s neither ivory nor antler, is it? I feel I need to scrub my lips now.” She self consciously rubbed her mouth with the back of her hand.
“If it makes you feel any better, it wasn’t anything sentient,” he said, patting her on the shoulder.
“Not helping, since I know your opinion on Stormcloaks,” she cracked back.
“Anyway, I’m going to assume you all know the Book of Fate?” he asked, gesturing to the book on a pedestal. “Once part of the Arcane University, now here, for some reason I don’t know but appreciate.”
“Wait, wait wait, you mean it’s all real? Really?” Telki asked, even as Mercutio, her ever curious and skeptical Mercutio, opened the book.
“Er...Sam was at it earlier,” Rommy chuckled at Mercutio’s expression as he took in whatever Sam had drawn in there earlier. The Daedra of Debauchery was a surprisingly talented and thorough artist.
“By the Nines!” Telki flinched when his voice hit that register. She was pretty sure she saw a bat fall out of the sky through the half open window.
“Speaking of which,” Romulus added hastily, leading them to an armor stand with a faded white gambeson on it, a piece clearly meant for someone nearly Telki’s size, with a red diamond on it, “This is a copy of the Cuirass of the Crusader. Gideon, I think you’ve already seen a piece of that gear, though I doubt this will fit you.”
Gideon shrugged, “The shield fits me fine, and does the job.”
“I think she’d approve of you having it,” Rommy said cryptically, then moved on before they could ask for clarification, despite Telki’s tug on his arm. “This is an Akaviri carving on a mammoth tusk of crossing the seas between Akavir and Tamriel. I stole this from my mother’s friend when I was sixteen as my introduction into the Thieve’s Guild.”
“You were in the Thieve’s Guild? Why am I not surprised?” Telki admired the artistry of the piece. “Have you had it all this time? It’s well preserved, all considered.”
“I sold it to help buy the pottery,” he said, far-away look on his face. Telki gave him his moment. He was obviously remembering a happier time with another love of his life. Shaking off the memories after a moment, he pointed to the bee statue below it. “Got that from a man named Delvin. Nice man. Good at finding things.”
“This Delvin, wouldn’t have been in a place called the ‘Ragged Flagon,’ would he?” Telki snickered.
“I met him caught in a pass between Skyrim and Morrowind,” Rommy shrugged. “Apparently angry husbands run fast. Or perhaps it was an angry woman. Hard to tell, he just kept chanting ‘vex’ or ‘vexing’ or something over and over.”
Telki laughed. “Etienne mentioned a friend of his, beautiful woman named Vex. One of his favorite stories was how she was going to turn someone named Delvin inside out if she caught him watching her bathe. Guess what I think happened?”
“Judging from the black eye he was sporting, I’d probably guess the same,” he replied, eyes shining. “That replica of the Emperor’s ship is from him, too.”
“It’s beautiful. Very detailed. I’d almost expect the sails to billow in the wind, were it not solid gold.” Telki let go of his arm long enough to trace the delicate rigging. “What’s next on the tour?”
“These,” he showed them a pair of ancient, falling apart boots, “are the Boots of Springheel Jak!”
“He was real, then?” Apparently, Telki was incapable of looking at items without touching, as she thoroughly examined the old boots.
“Real enough to leave a ‘descendant’ who was a colossal pain in the backside,” Romulus replied, rolling his eyes.
“Oh, you have to give me details now, boyo. Spill it!” Telki was back and tugging on his arm, bouncing in front of him.
“Once upon a time there was a thief named Springheel Jak. He was a huge pain in the rear, and did not get less so after some vampire bit him. I set him on fire. The end.”
“But you mentioned a descendant? How’d he have a descendant, if a vampire bit him?”
“He was his own descendant,” Romulus revealed, leaning against the shelf and crossing his arms. “Had a whole coven of vampires to boot. That was...not a fun day.”
“Well then, I’m glad you set him on fire.”
“Me, too,” he said earnestly. “These are samples of every butterfly in Tamriel,” he said, gesturing to jars with enchanted insects in them, their delicate wings fluttering in flashes of bright color.
“How pretty! Are they Illusions?” Telki asked, trying to puzzle out the enchantments on the jars.
“No, they’re real. Don’t worry, though, they aren’t unhappy in there. I figured this was better than tacking them up. Well, Murril did, really. She was pretty upset when she found the original collection.”
“She’s a smart one. I bet she was. It probably reminded her of something unpleasant from home.” Telki murmured, almost to herself, trying to figure out the spells on the jars.
Shadows flickered across his face momentarily before he gave her a wan grin. “She’s letting me borrow them until I find more things to fill the shelves. Well, things that won’t horrify people. I wanted to put Pelagius’s Hipbone up here, but someone still has it.”
Telki turned from the jars, a teasing smile on her face. “Oh? But it’s a memento of our first meeting. What’ll you give me in return?”
“I fixed your Wabbajack,” he said with a grin, wondering if she’d had occasion to notice yet.
“Well, the problem with the Wabbajack as a memento is that I have to keep it put up out of reach of curious hands.”
Shaking his head, he lightly lifted his hands to brush just the tips of his fingers against her temples. “Not that one. The one you use to fight the dragons in your head.”
Telki’s eyes widened. “Woah... You never mentioned... The fight was that close? I nearly? Yikes.” Telki found a handy crate to sit on. Her knees felt all kinds of wobbly. “Some Dragonborn I am, I have to have my bacon saved from a dead dragon.” Telki soon found her crate surrounded by concerned men, and a concert of “Telki, no.” Her guys were so awesome. Wrong, but awesome.
“Telki, name another person at any time in history that personally scared off the Daedric Prince of Nightmares, not once, but twice,” Erandur reminded her.
“Or anyone that can defeat a Dwarven Centurion without a scratch,” Gideon put in. “You also have a penchant for ending bandits before I get to them.”
“You learn spells faster than I can teach you,” Mercutio added. “Not to mention you have the strongest True Sight I’ve ever encountered.”
Rommy nodded, reinforcing their words. “You’re the sixth Dragonborn I’ve met, and the only one I’ve seen battle dragons. I don’t think you have anything to be worried about.”
“You make me--hic!--happy!” Sanguine shouted from under the kitchen table.
Telki gave them a watery smile. “Yeah, but how hard is it to make you happy, Sam?” Curiosity visibly crept across her face, until it overshadowed her self pity party. “Waitaminute, Rommy! I know it’s a distraction attempt, consider it successful, but you personally knew six Dragonborn? Details.”
Taking in the curious, incredulous looks of his soon-to-be family (were other husbands considered in-laws? He didn’t know), Rommy anxiously rubbed the back of his neck, glancing around. “Oh! And here we have a mirror of True Sight. Funny you should mention that, Mercutio. And you might want to get off that crate, Telki; it’s one of the exhibits.”
“Rommy!” Telki huffed at him. “Shall we converse privately? Cause apparently, we need to converse privately.”
He slanted her a look. “Seriously, get off the box.”
She raised her arms up for him to help her up. “We can discuss there whatever it is you’re not wanting to discuss. Cause really, we need to deal with it.”
“Why?” he asked her baldly, sighing.
“If it wasn’t important, would it bother you so much?” Telki gave him a ‘duh’ look. “If it weren’t important, you could talk about it like you talk about cheese or Ulfric’s good sense.”
“Cheese is very important,” he protested, offended. “And…” he ran his hand through his hair again, brushing it off his face. “It’s not that it bothers me, it’s that I think it will bother you.”
“Is this like thinking the Shivering Isles were going to scare me off? Oh look, it didn’t. Come on, I thought you wanted me off this crate.” Telki made grabby hands at him. “My knees are still refusing to cooperate. Something about nearly losing what little mind I have really scares them.”
The box started screaming. Rommy hastily lifted her off it, and it stopped, sitting there innocently. Telki huffed. “Really? I’m not that heavy.”
“That’s your reaction?” Rommy laughed, incredulous.
“I’ll ask why it’s screaming after you tell me how you knew, personally, six Dragonborn. You’re not distracting me from your previous distraction.” Telki booped his nose.
He sighed. “It’s not all that complicated. I just saw the last of the Septim line die one by one right in front of me.”
“Oh honey,” Telki hugged him close. “And this was going to scare me off, why?”
“Didn’t say ‘scare.’ I said ‘upset,’” he reminded her. “And...I only thought one of them died.” She’d get it out of him sooner or later, anyway. Might as well let them know now exactly who they were all searching for when they helped him find the remnants of his family. Whether Tyr was Dragonborn as well…he’d not been able to tell. Telki might well be able to tell him.
“Your son?” Telki gave him a quizzical look. “Is that why you said I was close when I called you part of a lost Septim line? ” Telki’s eyes widened, remembering a certain set of books. “Waitaminute, Felicia was Dunmer, and purple eyes...Dragonborn. Holy mothering wrong side of the blankets!”
“What?” Erandur looked at Telki as if she’d taken that last step to becoming one of Sheo’s.
“Remember that series I have at home? The ones you really really don’t like? Apparently, we’re hunting confirmation they’re true, at least about Barenziah’s lost baby.”
“It wasn’t lost, it was aborted,” he said flatly. Erandur never forgave Tiber Septim for that alone.
“The baby was apparently close enough to term to survive the attempt, and had a baby of his or her own.” Telki displayed Rommy as if proof. “When we find Tyr, you can see for yourself.”
Rommy only sighed, holding her a little tighter. Felicia had made him promise not to tell, and he hadn’t. Her forced birth nearly too early had been quite the sore spot for her, and that neither of her parents could know she survived it had made her bitter towards either part of her heritage. He hoped, wherever she was, she didn’t mind.
“So your grandson might be Dragonborn?” Gideon decided to try to steer the subject.
“Dragon blooded, at least,” Rommy capitulated. “Orien...he was able to wear the Amulet of Kings.” He swallowed, looking away. He wasn’t able to remember the last time he’d even been able to think his son’s name, let alone say it.
“Awwww, Rommy.” Telki wondered if that was what got Felicia to admit her ancestry to Romulus. Dunmer, in her experience, were a closed mouth lot about the things that mattered. She cuddled closer to Rommy, gently running her fingers soothingly down the back of his head.
“I imagine that’s when you found out exactly who Felicia was.” Erandur sat down heavily--not on the crate, but in a nearby chair. Only Telki could find the one flat surface that would scream at her for sitting on it.
“Uh...that’s Darius Shano’s cursed chair,” Rommy told him, giving him an apologetic look when he leapt back up. “I meant to put a plant pot on it or something.”
“Darius Shano…I have a book about him,” Telki’s brows drew down. “Was he before or after you took over?”
“Slightly before,” Rommy told her. “All of them were before. Erm...except the one with Hircine. He’s fun to poke, really. Far too serious.”
“Remind me to tell you about poor Sindig. Hircine is a jerk, and I told him so. “ Telki nodded her head. “Think you could help me twist his arm to de-wolf the poor man?”
“I’m due to blackmail someone, so sure.” Telki squealed happily and kissed him, hard. After a moment of surprise, he returned the kiss, forgetting for a moment they had an audience.
Mercutio hmpfted and looked around for a distraction. “What’s this?” Mercutio asked, lifting a strange white ball from the shelf.
The front of the ball opened like an eye, staring at him. “Spaaaaaaace!” it yelled joyfully.
Mercutio startled, almost dropping the thing. “What the? How’d they ever get it to talk? Is it a sound Illusion? Where’s the soul gem? Those Dwemer were brilliant. Can I dismantle it to see how it works?”
Telki giggled. She loved when Mercutio’s inner schoolboy enthusiasm broke through the arrogant ass persona he put on so often. She felt it was much more the ‘real Mercutio’ than anything else.
“It’s not Dwemer,” Rommy revealed, sounding a bit too happy about that. “It fell out of the sky. There’s another one bouncing around Aurbis, but I can’t catch him.”
“Him?” Telki asked. “They have genders?” She turned towards Rommy, trying to see more of his face than just chin. “And it’s bouncing around Aurbis? How?”
“No idea,” he answered, gleeful. “I can’t touch his mind very well. Something about some mute woman and the color white. And a moon.”
“A moon, not Masser or Secunda?” Telki was really intrigued now.
“I think it’s from one of the sideways worlds on the Hub,” he replied. “Anyway, I saved him from some Nord that wanted to put horns on him and make him into a helmet.”
“Of course, because we don’t have enough horned helmets.” Telki thumped her head against his neck. It was back up in a trice. “Waitaminute, hub? Sideways world? What?”
While Romulus continued to confuse Telki, Gideon had been walking around, looking at things. He wondered why a set of two forks and a spoon were set out, as if important. He was almost afraid to ask. Firstly, they probably belonged to some famous cannibal or something. Secondly, Telki had been missing Rommy. They deserved a few moments to enjoy each other’s company. It’s not like he hadn’t enjoyed his own special moments alone with her whenever he’d been away for any length of time.
“So, did you stop in to see Ulfric first, or did you come right after me?” Rommy asked.
“Pfft, you first, of course. Duh.” Telki wrinkled her nose at him. “What’s the point of seeing Ulfie without you?”
Laughing so hard he almost dropped her and needed to sit down on thin air, Rommy echoed, “Ulfie? You call him Ulfie? Please tell me you do this to his face.”
“He makes the funniest face when I do, too. It’s half the reason I keep doing it.”
Sanguine squinted at her. “It’s like she was made for you,” he muttered, letting his horned head fall back to the floor. “Weird.”
“It might be different in Skyrim, but in Cyrodiil generally the nobility has to be asked for an audience. Also...he might remember me. Unfondly.”
“Well, there are perks to being Stormblade and Dragonborn, and the woman who got him his High Throne, blah blah blah. Thank god I’m Khajiit, or someone might have tried to marry me off to him. I like him, but um, no.” Telki narrowed her eyes at him. “Wait, you met him? When?”
“Right about the time he and Tyr raced off to join the Imperial Legion,” Rommy shrugged. “Tyr...doesn’t know who I am. He thinks we’re cousins, and since I looked the right age, they...well, it doesn’t matter. We were friends for a while. Tyr and I, I mean. Ulfric didn’t like me from the start.”
“Sweetheart, I swear, I think you collect guilt like I collect old ballads.”
“And husbands,” Sam chortled.
“I don’t know what you mean,” he admitted, letting himself sink to the floor to sit cross-legged with her in his lap.
Telki nuzzled his chin. “Pfft, don’t know what I mean indeed. Do you really want me to spell it out for you?”
“I am a mage and enjoy spells immensely.”
“Careful, I’m just a hedgewitch. Self taught. I could turn you purple.”
“Really?” he asked, sounding as if he’d quite enjoy that.
“Doesn’t mean I’d know how to turn you back. But yes, you guys and that Breton I met on the road have been my only teachers. The rest I’ve puzzled out for myself.”
Glancing up at Mercutio and Erandur, he stated firmly, “We must fix this.”
“Fix what?” She stared from one husband to the next, wondering what in tarnation needed fixing. “Rommy, fix what?”
“If nothing else, you need to know the foundations and theories of magic. That will enable you to experiment and grow on your own, as well as ensure you don’t accidently rip a hole in the fabric of the universe.”
“Really? I thought that was Alduin’s job, not mine.” Telki tilted her head at Rommy. “Wait, people actually write theories about magic? How boring.”
“It’s actually rather fascinating,” he told her, eyes bright with the same enthusiasm that had shown briefly when showing her the “plum” ward, as she termed it. “Understanding the structures of magic is key to understanding magic itself.”
“Huh, you’d think they could just look at the way the spell’s put together to see the structure?”
Laughing, he gave her a gentle squeeze. “That is magic theory.”
“I’m missing something, here.” Telki fixed him with her “rhythm solving” gaze. “Okay, to teach me that ward, you showed me the spell structure. I studied it, then copied it. You’re telling me there’s more to magic theory than that, right?”
He nodded, “The reasons the structure works, its strengths and weaknesses, all of those are part of theory. I think you’ve gotten magic theory and magic philosophy confused at some point.”
“Um, but isn’t all that obvious from the spell itself? I mean, you showed it to me, it was all right there...?” Telki felt she was missing something, again. She hated that feeling.
Eyebrows rising toward his hairline, he looked up at the other two mages in the room. “This is actually why they made her Archmage, isn’t it?”
“Pretty much. I got quite the surprise the first time I taught her a healing spell,” Erandur shivered at the memory. “It was more of a shock than finding out she experienced my past in the Dreamstride.”
Even the mention of Vaermina couldn’t knock Rommy from the glee he felt at that moment. “So you’re telling me she naturally intuited the structure and theory of every spell you’ve ever taught her?”
“No, I see it, it’s right there. Can’t you guys? I mean, can’t you?”
Pausing, he glanced down at her. “See? You can see the structure of magic?”
“Yes? It’s kinda like, a woven basket or a knitted sweater, depending on what you’re building out of it.” Telki scrunched her face as she tried to put what she saw into words. “Let me guess, not everyone can see the glow around you guys, either?”
“True Sight,” Mercutio muttered from where he was still studying the curious eyeball thing.
“Spaaaaaaccccceeeee!” it yelled, rolling madly.
Delighted, Rommy simply kissed her soundly, wrapping his fingers in her hair and mussing it thoroughly. The purring was probably audible from the street, despite the wind.
Sam propped himself up on one elbow to watch, smirking. “Hey! Weren’t you two going to go start the search for the last Septim?”
Telki eventually had to come up for air. “Sooner we go talk to Ulfie, sooner we find your grandson.”
“Just remember, he can’t know what I am,” Rommy urged. “I...really don’t want to put that burden on anyone else.”
“What? You’re a mage with one motherlode of a talent. What else does he need to know?”
Relaxing slightly, Rommy floated to his feet, placing her lightly on hers. “Let’s go talk to His Royal Rebelliousness, then.”
“Oooh! I like that even better than Ulfie! I’m using it!” Behind them, money changed hands.
“As long as I get to see his face the first time you use it,” he chuckled. “So, am I dressed right for this?” He had made an effort to look normal, anyway, though most mage robes weren’t that bright a green.
“I’m wearing this, so I suppose?” Telki gestured down at her usual traveling leathers. “Like I’d ever wear a bearhead. Only Galmar can pull that look off.” Telki wrinkled her nose.
“You’re right. I’ll wear the purple,” he said decisively, and his robes went through an eye-watering morph to a more subdued shade, but definitely in purple.
“You just did that because you know purple’s my favorite.” Telki kissed his ear, reaching up on tiptoe to do it.
“I will admit to no such thing. Here’s a mountain flower. Let’s go.” Telki giggled at him, tucking the purple flower in her hair. Offering her his arm, he glanced at the others. “Are you coming?”
“Do you want us there? I thought you might not prefer an audience.” Gideon shrugged, then gave a proper predatory grin. “But if you think you’ll need backup, we’ll be happy to provide.”
“Well….your Aedra-infused auras may help keep me from disemboweling him and using his small intestine as a skipping rope,” Rommy said frankly.
“Then we’ll be happy to leave you...I mean, of course, we’ll be happy to help.” Erandur received a telling nudge from Gideon. A lifetime of belief was not going to be overturned so easily.
“Glad I’m not the only one,” Rommy grumbled, opening the door for them.
“Time to go make the gossips happy,” Sam muttered, levering himself up and stumbling over to Mercutio, shrinking into his Breton guise. He fluttered his eyelashes at the Imperial, offering his arm.
“I can’t believe I’m doing this.” Mercutio muttered, taking the arm. “Keep the groping to a minimum, please?”
“I’m in public!” he protested. “That is a great excuse to grope! You can’t yelp without drawing attention to yourself.”
“Sam, I’m not above using the Sober Mead spell for other reasons.” Telki warned. “He’s willingly holding your arm, count your wins.”
“What if I were a girl? Would you feel better with a girl? I haven’t been a girl in...I don’t remember...but I could pull it off,” Sam said, then scowled. “Though the Dunmer’s not a girl....What if I were Dunmer? Do you just like Dunmer boys? What’s your kink?”
“People that don’t grope me.” Mercutio muttered.
“Everyone on this street is not groping you, myself included,” Sam grumbled.
“They’re not interested or interesting, either.” Mercutio paused and hurriedly amended what he said. “That’s not including you.”
“If I didn’t find your obstinance so adorable, my feelings might be hurt,” Sam replied.
“What? Can’t stop groping?” Mercutio teased twisting away from a grab someplace sensitive. “Sam! We’re not even three yards from the door!”
Sam reached around and slapped a skinny wrist, “Mine,” he censured, but the pickpocket had already vanished into the crowd. “Might want to check to see if ghostly fingers absconded with anything,” he advised, patting Merc’s chest.
“Oh, we’d know if anything did. I put a minirune on my coinpurse.”
“I do love intelligent men. And dumb ones too, if I’m honest,” Sam replied, watching the people around them. “Oh, look. Shattershield’s heart just broke. I think I’ll go...comfort her. Catch you later, Muffin,” he said, slipping off into the crowd. Mercutio waited until he was there by the girl before giving a relieved sigh. He was, after all, intelligent.
Telki hung back to get Mercutio’s attention. “Mercutio! Come! We’re seeing the king!” Just as suddenly, she put her bardic flair up to run back to hang on Rommy’s arm. The imposing doors of Palace of Kings were just there.
“Maybe I should have gone to see the Greybeards first. They do that thing where you sit and breathe, right?” he asked, staring at the doors. The guards on either side regarded them curiously.
“Yes, but sitting and breathing is boring. Come oooon, they’re just a pair of doors, and if you hit ‘em right with your hip,” Telki bumped them, “They both swing open just so!”
“Your irreverence is adorable,” he told her, chuckling.
“Admit it, it’s half the reason you love me.”
“I didn’t make a pie chart or anything,” he protested. “If I had, it would just be one color, and it would probably be purple, and labeled, ‘Telki.’”
“If you did, and you probably did, it was a real pie of jazzberry cheesecake.” Telki razzed back.
“I confess. The Seducers ate it, though. They really like purple, too.”
“I love you so much, you silly, silly man.” Telki giggled. “Oh look, Galmar.” Cupping her hands to her mouth, she bellowed across the room. “How’s my favorite bugbear?”
“One of these days, little cat, your nine lives will run out.” He grumbled, even as he accepted a hug after crossing the room quickly at her first hollered word.
“Oh hush, you love me. How’s that liniment I left with you holding out?”
“I won’t complain if you leave more.”
Telki laughed outright. “Galmar, I’d like to introduce you to Rommy. Rommy, this old bugbear is Galmar.”
Feeling decidedly awkward, Rommy said, “How do you do?” Politely. With no political overtones or undertones, and definitely not entertaining images of suggesting to Hircine that the man would make a wonderful werebear.
“And you already know Gideon, Erandur, and Mercutio.” Telki gestured to the rest of them. “We really need to see Ulfie. I want to make sure I don’t promise more than he’s willing to give to Brighthand.”
Galmar snorted. “He’s in the warroom. Thrice-pierced brought in the latest intel on Thalmor movements.”
“Binty crows.” Telki mumbled, pulling her men along towards the room Ulfric barely ever left. “Thanks Galmar.”
“And no turning him into a Dunmer this time!” Galmar boomed after her.
“I makes no promises!” she bellowed back.
“She turned him into a Dunmer?” he muttered lowly to Gideon, not sure he’d heard that right.
“Rather than tell him about the problem in the Grey Quarter, she decided to show him. One night, she put an illusion of Erandur on him. It ended with him laying Rolf out in the street, and making Freewinter his new Captain of the Guard.” Gideon whispered back.
After a few steps, Rommy just shook his head, “You know, I really love this woman more all the time.” Gideon shared a knowing smile with Rommy in response.
“Hey Your Royal Rebelliousness, how goes the Thalmor hunt?” Telki bounded into the room, knowing Rommy was right behind her.
Yrsarald Thrice-Pierced did his best to hold back a snicker, while Ulfric bowed his head low to the table. “Ah, Stormblade, to what do we owe the honor of your…presence?” Telki got the impression it took him a while to find a nice word rather than a more accurate word.
“Well, two things, if we can borrow you from Thrice-Pierced?” Telki gave Yrsarald her patented wide eyed kitty look, and he bowed himself out.
“I’ve finished my business, if my king permits?”
“Yes, I prefer any further humiliations did not have an audience.” Ulfric eyed the rest of the men that came in with Telki. Three he knew to belong to the Stormblade, but the last one. He knew that last one!
“Well, Ulfric, um, …” Telki felt the temperature in the room drop ten degrees, and it had been cold in the first place.“What is he doing here?”