The Blue Palace

 
Previously: Volkihar

Falk Firebeard had served at the Blue Palace under two kings, and now a possibly future queen, and every day as he walked through its increasingly empty halls, he marveled at how the great castle was a shadow of its former self.

It was once a place of light, music, and wine, teeming with Thanes, visiting Jarls, barons, baronesses, and even counts and countesses from Cyrodiil. Now it was a tomb of cobwebs and dust, down to a skeleton crew of servants, guards, and two bickering Thanes.

The first thing Falk noticed about Jarl Elisif today at court was how much better she was looking. The war was taking its toll on Skyrim, and that was reflected in its future High Queen. She'd been looking paler and thinner than usual, but today she was all aglow. There was color in her cheeks and two large braids in her hair. 

"You are looking well, Your Grace," the redhaired Nord cautiously greeted. He tried not to sound alarmed when he asked, "Is that a new dress?"

"This?" she beamed from her wooden throne. "Oh, no. Viktoriyah found a chest full of old dresses belonging to Torygg's mother. Apparently, she was a Breton. Do you like?"

Falk relaxed a little. Elisif's dress was beyond exquisite and intricate. It was made from a lush green velvet and embroidered in gold, and exactly the sort of thing she couldn't afford right now.

"It's quite beautiful," he murmured. "Your mother-in-law had very good taste."

"So does Viktoriyah," the Jarl sighed blissfully.

"Viktoriyah," Falk echoed. "Is that a Breton name?"

"Yes, but she's a Redguard," Elisif told him. "And she has the most charming accent, so prim and proper! She's exactly the sort of attendant a queen should have."

"Your Grace, I'm not sure the court can afford an attendant just now," the steward began tentatively.

"Viktoriyah isn't some common servant earning a wage, Falk," Elisif laughed, rolling her eyes. "She's the daughter of a very rich lord of something from somewhere, and she just needed a safe place to wait out the war. Don't you remember?"

***


"You summoned me, Your Grace?"

Falk looked up to see a stunning young woman with clear brown skin and reddish brown hair. She had silvery gray eyes, dressed in the Imperial fashion of silk and lace, and smelled of fresh dew and meadows. He was briefly rendered speechless, but then suddenly, strangely, he began to remember....

He remembered meeting with her in his study and reviewing papers of some sort. He recalled thinking she was extraordinarily beautiful and well-bred.

"Miss Viktoriyah," he greeted, blinking rapidly as his mind seemed to fog. "Of course. How are you today, my lady?"

"Quite well, my lord," she replied politely, with a slight bow of her head. She turned back to Elisif. "Your Grace?"



"Viktoriyah, be a dear and send the rest of those dresses you found to Radiant Raiment," Elisif told her. "Tell the elves I need them all taken in at the waist."

"Your Grace," Falk interjected quietly, leaning in slightly, "Taarie and Endarie tend to overcharge for such requests."

"I can alter the dresses myself if you like," Viktoriyah piped up. "It's no trouble at all. When I was a child, my governess taught me tailoring and embroidery."

"You're such a gem," Elisif grinned, eyes alight.


Their conversation was interrupted by Thane Bryling, who approached the throne wearing a dress quite similar to that of Viktoriyah's.

"Good morning, Your Grace," the Nordic noblewoman greeted in a deep thrumming voice. "I bring news from Dragon Bridge regarding our outer defenses."

Falk's eyes immediately flew to Viktoriyah. "That will be all, Miss Viktoriyah."

Viktoriyah curtsied and left the hall and returned to Elisif's quarters, not that it mattered. She could hear everything that happened on this floor. And as it turned out, Bryling didn't really have any special news to report.

She just wanted to be seen in her new dress, Viktoriyah mused, rifling through the late queen's gown collection. Mortals are so vain.

***

Your Graces,

Apologies for the long silence. The journey and prerequisite reconnaissance took some time.

But you will be happy to know that I've seamlessly joined the court of the Blue Palace. I'm posing a young lady-in-waiting to Jarl Elisif. I initially thought of posing as a servant, but they tend to spend of most their time as far away from the throne room as possible.

Infiltrating the upper echelon was much easier than I anticipated. The war has made the mortal elite rather desperate. The Jarl's court is in dire straits; the palace has few guards and even fewer servants. The steward is struggling to stretch every single septim. He routinely cautions the Jarl against any unnecessary purchases.

So they were more than content to welcome a young girl of means into their world. Of course, I will have to play the part in full. My appeal is that I cost nothing, but have the ability to bring much. Ergo, Your Graces, I must request an increase of my weekly allowance to twenty-five hundred septims. Not only must I maintain my impeccable dignity, but I need to be able to acquiesce to any request for "favors" that may arise.

Lady Valerica sighed as she set down Viktoriyah's letter on the table in her alchemy lab. "First letter we get from that child and she's asking for more money."

"Her request is quite reasonable, my lady," Vingalmo assured her. "Lord Harkon has already approved the increase."

"Then by all means, arrange to move the funds," Valerica grumbled. "Weekly deposits directly into the Bank of Solitude." She paused, sighing wearily once more. "This is very first letter since she began her mission, she's demanding more money, and yet she's told us nothing of worth."

"On the contrary," the elf vampire raised a white eyebrow, "she's told us much. Elisif and her courtiers are growing desperate. Desperate times make pliable people."

"Why do we care if that...child is pliable? That steward sounds like he's in charge of everything anyway."

Valerica had never been a politician and preferred to keep her own company. She most of her days in her dark, dank lab, poring over tomes and conducting experiments. It was no wonder that despite her great age, she sometimes had trouble putting two and two together.

"That steward has served under two kings," Vingalmo patiently clarified. "The first was headstrong and unyielding. The second was a bit more malleable than his father, and it was most likely during Torygg's brief reign that Falk Firebeard began to gain power at court. Through Elisif, he stands to gain yet more power, but not Elisif can take her power back. And if she can do that with Viktoriyah whispering in her ear--"

"--then the Blue Palace will effectively be ruled from Volkihar," Valerica nodded. After a pause, she asked, "Can Viktoriyah handle such a monumental responsibility?"

"I've schooled her well," Vingalmo assured her. "Of all the young vampires I've offered my knowledge, she's been the most receptive. Salonia Caelia has no head for politics or literature, and Modhna only cares for the hunt."

"Modhna is dreadfully common," the ancient vampire scowled. "Soemtimes I wonder how she even got here."

"As I recall, she was a thrall sired by Stalf as a joke," Vingalmo snorted. "I guess his bed was a little lonely."

Valerica chuckled for the first time in a long time. "Thank you, Vingalmo; I needed that. Proceed with the funds transfer and send Modhna up to me. If she absolutely has to be here, I might as well put her to some use."

The tall vampire bowed. "My lady."

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