Of Echoes and Ghosts

 
Previously: Enchantress

My dearest Vingalmo,

Do not get excited. This letter has nothing important to report. It's just that out here, living among these mortals, I've found that my favorite part of the day--ironically--is dawn.

It's so strange. I never much cared for the dawn before, not even when I was human. There was nothing to look forward to in a life of drudge. But now, as I play this role, I find there is a strange magic in the early morning.

I stay indoors, of course, but I can hear the birds outside, smell the morning dew on the flowers, and see the sun's rays fall upon the great stone courtyard. I have to admit...I find it all very beautiful.


Even amidst slow decline, the palace is exquisite. I used to think Volkihar was the greatest castle in all the world, but that I was before I beheld the Blue Palace. Built in the Imperial style, it is elegant in all the ways you would appreciate. There are times when I drift through the rooms, seen or unseen as I wish, that I feel the presence of nobles and royals long. I can hear their voices in the distance, even smell fleeting whiffs of their perfume. Their spirits may have moved on, but their echoes most assuredly remain.

Oh, I know I could go to the library, dust off the books, and read the official histories, but they won't tell me what I really want to know. I won't read the names of all who passed through here, what their stories were. I could learn all the names of dead kings and queens, but not the lovers who kissed in shadows, nor the secrets they kept in the night. I can never know the bards who transformed delicious gossip into witty verse and song.


As a human, I often wondered what it would be like to live in a fine house; sometimes I dared to even dream of living in a castle. Imagined I would wear a fine dress, eat all the roasted pigs I wanted, and finally get to taste something rare and fine, like Emberbrand wine. A century later, I am here, at the famed Blue Palace itself, wearing a dress so fine that a Thane spent her last coin just to get one like it.

But I don't eat roasted pigs, and I can't really tell one wine from another because the only thing I actually can drink is blood from Elisif's neck.


I do it just before dawn, when she's still deep asleep, lulled by my magicks and potions. I don't take much. I anticipated light feeding so I brought several potions of blood as a  supplement. As such, I've managed to stay fit and well.

The holes in Elisif's neck close as soon as I remove my fangs and she is left none the wiser. I'm supposed to feel refreshed when I feed; that's how it always was at Volkihar. But here, I drink...and then I drift. I've come to realize I'm not real, not like these mortals. They are heartbeats, flesh and blood, pain and pleasure, and I am a ghost pretending to be a part of their world.

I wonder if that's why Sybille Stentor doesn't leave. She's accepted being a mere shadow of whoever she was in life, and now she haunts the Blue Palace, same as I.


***

Vingalmo didn't like the tone of Viktoriyah's letter.

In her official correspondence, she wrote in Harkonian, ancient dialect of the Nord tongue Harkon had created himself which no mortal could read. But this letter was written in an obscure dialect of Altmeri, which Vingalmo had taught her himself. And she sounded just as lost as the ancient noblewomen who once journaled in it.

It wasn't that the mission itself was taking a toll; spying came easily to Viktoriyah. She had posed as human several times before. But she had never been assigned to spy on nobility before and certainly not for an extended period. Life at the Blue Palace was bringing back parts of her mortal self best left dead--hopes, dreams, and longings which had no place in the vampire world.

As soon as he finished reading it, he walked over to his fireplace and promptly burned it.

After that, Vingalmo sat down at his study and began drafting a response. He wrote in a fluid, elegant hand with black ink that looked like liquid silk and smelled of perfume.

My dearest Viktoriyah,

I do not doubt you've crafted a masterful illusion, but such a feat can be a sword that cuts both ways. Pretense can become a reality of sorts if we let it. And considering the urgent nature of your assignment, you cannot be taken in by your own illusions...or despair.

You are not a ghost. You are not a young noble girl at court. Those memories you evoke belonged to a mortal who died a long time ago. She lived a different life, in a different time, in a different place. And if you recall, she even had a different name.

You, however, are Viktoriyah of Volkihar. 

***


Viktoriyah smiled to herself. She closed her eyes and inhaled the fragrance of his scented ink and beamed at the thought of Vingalmo penning her a pep talk. She wondered whom he was playing chess with these nights while she was away. She wondered what else was happening at the court of Volkihar, if Lady Serana had returned, or if any new interesting visitors had arrived. She wondered if the mages had made any new breakthroughs or if the bards had composed anything new.

Viktoriyah's mood dimmed when she suddenly wondered how much longer she'd be stuck in Solitude.

Elisif had granted her a large, luxurious chamber enough to house at least four people. At first it was the talk of all the servants until Viktoriyah realized she had a roommate, an Imperial Countess by the name Salonia Carvain. Her husband, Lord Plautis, was an envoy from the Emperor. Viktoriyah initially found it odd that the couple was sleeping in different chambers in entirely different parts of the castle...but then she remembered Lord Harkon and Lady Valerica.




It also didn't take long to see why Plautis kept his wife at a distance; the Countess Carvain was an infamous lush, drinking from sunup until sundown every single day.

"Who's making you smile like that?" the Countess smirked, her words slurring. "Is it a lover?"

Viktoriyah tried to stop smiling ad couldn't. "It is a lord," she replied, silvery eyes twinkling. "From back home."

"So not a lover," Salonia deduced, "but you want him to be."

Viktoriyah's smile became rueful. "He's a lot more mature than I. And he's a man of far greater standing."

"Is he married?" the Countess wryly inquired.

"Only to his ambition," Viktoriyah shook her head.

Salonia leaned back into her chair, intrigued. She had short light reddish hair and very pale skin for an Imperial. Her face was a little on the plain side, and was starting to age a bit (for a human).

"Explains why he is of greater standing," Salonia mused. "Reminds me of my husband," she sighed, looking into her goblet. Judging by her wistful gaze, it was probably already empty. "When he inherited the county of Bruma, his family was already financially ruined by the Great War, and the Emperor wanted to nothing more than to pretend he didn't owe them a ridiculous sum of money.

"So," she reached for a nearby jug, refilling her own goblet out of habit, "he married me. I was a mere local girl, a spinster of no great beauty, of course," Salonia chuckled. "But my father owned a small gold mine which afforded me a dowry large enough to eclipse the sun."

"Gold has such a sway over mortals," Viktoriyah murmured.

"Indeed," Salonia raised her goblet, in a mock toast. "You wave around enough gold, and all the doors open."

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