Enchantress

 
Previously: The Blue Palace

Your Graces,

When posing as human, we all know there are some very simple rules to follow, the first and foremost being the simplest: do as humans do.

Most humans rise with the sun and sleep in the dark. They eat food with friends and family, and generally speaking, they don't drink human blood nor walk about with red eyes. And they certainly don't remain the same age as the decades rolled by.

And yet, I find it both surprising (and amusing) that the Blue Palace's court mage--and resident vampire--cares not for this most basic tenet of feigning humanity.

Her name is Sybille Stentor, and she's originally from High Rock. Elisif tells me she first came to court during the reign of Istlod, Torygg's father. It was Istlod who hired her as a his mage, and allowed her to care for his son. Twenty-five years, she served him, and yet neither he nor his son, nor anyone else at court bothered to question her...eccentricities.



Even now, they cannot see what's staring right at them in the face. Sybille leaves immediately after every morning briefing, and sleeps in her chamber 'til the sun goes down. I've seen her! She doesn't bother to disguise her eyes, and I overheard a certain gossipy housecarl mention that she visits the prison dungeons of Castle Dour every night.

Do the courtiers find her odd? Why, certainly yes. But these Nords simply chalk it all up to her being practitioner of magic, which they admit they neither trust nor fully understand.

Despite Sybille's apparently agelessness, she is still quite young by our standards. And despite being a talented mage, my illusions affect her the same as any mortal.

I would have thought a vampire in her position would have achieved more by now, but instead she has settled for an admittedly fine chamber and a simple life as a mage in a court of mortals. She actually appears to be...happy.

When I first arrived at the Blue Palace, and realized another vampire was already living here, I initially viewed her as a threat. Now, not so much.

***


"I'll be the first to admit Sybille isn't everyone's cup of tea," Elisif chuckled as she warmed herself by her chamber hearth, "but she supported my marriage to Torygg and even tried to help us have a child."

Viktoriyah was surprised to hear that. She was still working on some of the Jarl's dresses. She enjoyed neither tailoring nor embroidery and wanted to get it all over as quickly as possible. She also made a mental note to try to avoid chores in the futures. Doing Elisif's bidding was bringing back all sorts of memories she rather remained buried.

"Oh?" the vampire asked nonchalantly. "Was His Majesty having trouble?"

"No," the Jarl blushed. "It was me. I started bleeding later than most girls, and when I did, it turned out I wasn't as fertile as everybody had hoped." She paused, glancing back the flames as a shadow crept into her gaze. "It was a disaster. King Istlod wanted to annul our marriage."


"And what did your family say?" Viktoriyah asked, working to untangle some gold thread.

Elisif flashed a rueful smile. "I don't have any. Not anymore. My mother died when I was young, and my father was a sea merchant. When his ship sank in a storm, I was studying at the Bard's College. That's also where I met Torygg."

Who was no doubt struck by your beauty and probably talked his father into letting him marry you, Viktoriyah mused.

"So you were an heiress," the vampire deduced.

Elisif nodded. "My father left me over fifty thousand septims, which Istlod claimed as my dowry. When he mentioned annulling my marriage, Falk reminded him he'd have to pay my entire dowry back. That's when Sybille began plying me with tonics and such. She swore she could help conceive. But then Ulfric came to the Blue Palace, murdered my husband, and now here I am...childless and alone." Her eyes darkened again and she glanced back at the fire.

"But surely the pressure is off now," Viktoriyah prodded. "You can't conceive a child all by yourself."

Elisif's head snapped back towards her. "Oh, no," she shook her head. "The pressure is most definitely on. Falk tells me that the Emperor is more displeased with the rebellion than he's letting on. He's demanding I prove my loyalty by marrying an Imperial of royal blood."

Viktoriyah paused in mid-stitch. "Is he?" she blinked, head cocked to the side.

"If I do, and I still can't produce a heir, the Emperor will use my childlessness as an excuse to replace me with a Jarl who favors him more, like Balgruuf of Whiterun or Igmund of the Reach." The young Jarl looked genuinely disturbed, which quickly turned to bitterness. "Balgruuf already has three children, all of them healthy and strong. He's older, wiser, and more respected than I am. I already know there are many who would love to see him replace him. I've heard people say that had he been High King instead of my husband, Ulfric would've never dared to challenge him."

And if he does replace you, Viktoriyah raised an eyebrow, he certainly won't be interested in my counsel.

"Do you know," she calmly inquired, "exactly whom they want you to marry?"

Elisif shrugged. "Titus Mede is ancient. It'll probably be one of his grandsons." She tilted her head, gazing longingly into her hearth. "I knew Torygg when I married him. We studied the lute together. He was completely tone deaf and my fingers were horribly uncoordinated. But I knew he loved swordfish with leeks and snowberry tortes...I knew he couldn't stand the taste of spiced wine nor listening to the old stories about the dragons," she chuckled.

"You knew him," Viktoriyah nodded sympathetically. "But whomever you marry next...."

"--will be a complete stranger," Elisif sighed. "And I know these types of marriages exist. I understand that to be a High Queen, a Jarl, or even a Thane, sometimes these sacrifices are required. It's just...I married at fifteen, was widowed at nineteen, and now that I'm twenty, my country's at war." She looked up at Viktoriyah, eyes clouded with doubt. "I don't think I'm strong enough for all this."

"You are strong," Viktoriyah nodded assuringly. "There are others in your place who would've drowned themselves in the sea years ago, but you're still here." And as she spoke the words, she realized they were true.

Elisif chuckled softly. "Enough about me," she shook her heard. "I don't know why we're always talking about me. Let's talk about you. Did you notice how Bryling went and got herself a dress just like yours?"

"I most certainly did," Viktoriyah smirked.

"Must have cost a fortune," the Jarl snickered. "Which we all know she doesn't have. I wonder if Falk helped pay for it, no doubt as a consolation. They've been fucking for years."

Viktoriyah blinked, eyes widening to not only hear Elisif use such language, but at the gossip itself. 

"Falk?" she asked. "And Bryling?"

"She wants to marry, but he keeps putting it off," the Jarl went on. "He keeps plying her with excuses. First it was Istlod's death. Then it was Torygg's death. Now it's the war." She reached for her goblet of alto wine. Viktoriyah realized her spell to loosen to the Jarl's tongue was working much better than she'd expected. So much that now she was starting to hear things she wasn't sure she wanted to hear. "Some people just never know when to take a hint."

"You think he's holding out for someone better?" Viktoriyah asked.

"More likely someone richer," Elisif snorted. "Bryling owns an iron mine in Hjaalmarch that hasn't turned a profit in ages. I don't think she even has a servants left. Unlike other people in her position, she wants to marry for love rather than make an advantageous match like Erikur or Igmund or even Balgruuf or his brother. She could  have an Imperial lord if she wanted, instead she pines over Falk...while her body dries up."

The Jarl took a long swig before continuing. "I think Falk is gonna try marry Erikur's sister Gisli. She might be a plain-looking spinster, but her brother shits gold. Falk could've gone for Vittoria Vici, but she's betrothed some Nord from Riften...though I hear she's fucking her business partner and keeps changing the wedding date."

"Vici?" Viktoriyah's ears pricked up. "That sounds like an Imperial name."

Elisif nodded. "She's the Emperor's cousin, lives in a manor right here in Solitude. Another one of my subjects who's richer than I am."

"Does she have any siblings?" Viktoriyah asked. "Cousins of her own?"

Elisif's brow furrowed. "Why?"

"Well, the way I see it," Viktoriyah casually shrugged, leisurely pulling her needle through the fabric, "the problem with getting remarried is not the fact that you have to marry an Imperial royal. It's marrying the wrong royal, one who's too wealthy, too influential. If you wait until the end of the war like a good little girl, and marry a direct descendant of Titus Mede, you'll be little more than a puppet. But if you marry one of his distant, lesser relations now, you get to remain in control."

Elisif's eyes widen in surprise. It chased the clouds from her face and she suddenly sat up straight.

"By the gods, Viktoriyah," she blinked. "You're so clever. How is it that you're so clever?"

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