Epilogue: Lesson Learned

 
Previously: Unto the Breach

"And no one's seen or heard from her?"

Falk Firebeard solemnly shook his head. "No, Your Grace. The guards at Castle Dour recall that her nightly...session was interrupted, but nothing beyond that. I searched her room and found her robes on the floor, but again...nothing beyond that."

Jarl Elisif's jaw tightened as she bit out, "What are you saying?"

The steward tried to be delicate. "It seems she may have been...taken."

"By whom?" Elisif demanded. "Erikur?"

"They had rather lucrative dealings," Falk shook his head. "Neither of them wanted to disrupt that."

"General Tullius?"

"Possibly, but unlikely. He never comes to the palace. In fact, I can't think of anyone who cared enough or was brave enough to harm her."

"So what now?"

"Melaran is moving his things in as speak," the steward grumbled.

"I've never liked that man," Elisif scowled. "Sybille was many things, but she was loyal, Falk. Her...friendship was essential to us. She was a powerful ally. Where the hell are going to find that now?"

"Lady Vici sent a courier this morning," Falk replied. "It seems her family would like to maintain a presence at court. Shall I send an invitation?"

"Yes," Elisif nodded, panicking. "Yes, of course. Tell Vittoria that the House of Vici is most welcome at the Blue Palace."

***


"Do you like it, Your Grace?"

The first thing Viktoriyah did upon returning to the Blue Palace was change her clothes. But she didn't just change her own; she'd set out a new gown for the Jarl as well.

Distracted, Elisif suddenly looked up. "What? Yes...of course. It's very lovely, Viktoriyah." She paused. "Though...this isn't one of Torygg's mother's gowns."

"No, but it's probably best we don't tell Falk," Viktoriyah shook her head. "It's new, and it's my gift to you." In truth, it had belonged to princess or some such, and wasn't serving much purpose at Volkihar.

"And you?" the Jarl looked her over. "What of your new dress? It's so understated. What happened? Last time I saw you, you were wearing a gown fit for a jarl."

"I'm not a jarl," Viktoriyah shrugged. This was where Sybille Stentor had gone wrong, even as her own observation in the dungeon rang true. Viktoriyah had no intention of making the same mistakes as the mage. "I'm not a thane; I'm not even a permanent member of this court. I am a lady-in-waiting, and I'm content with that. Because when this war over, I get to go home, to my real home, where my beloved family waits for me."

"Such a shame," Elisif smiled sadly. "A woman like you could do so well at the Blue Palace, even during a war."

"Are you well, my Jarl?" Viktoriyah asked, changing the subject and refusing to listen to her own words echoed back at her, lulling her into the age-old trap. "You seem rather unhappy this morning."

The Jarl hesitated before admitting, "My friend is gone. Things won't be the same without her."

"Friend?"

"You never knew her, I don't think. Sybille Stentor, my court mage. She's, uh...been replaced."

That was quick. The two of them had actually discussed Sybille at length, of course, but Viktoriyah had wiped most of the conversations from the Jarl's memory.

"I'm so sorry for your loss, Your Grace," Viktoriyah humbly bowed her head. "Shall I have kitchens make a snowberry torte to cheer you up?"

***


If anyone aside for Elisif was mourning the loss of Sybille, it certainly wasn't Melaran. While servants moved his things into her old room for him, he showed up to court in brand new silk robes, even more striking than the last. By his stance alone, it was clear his days of answering to Erikur were over.

"I understand congratulations are in order," Viktoriyah beamed at him. "I hear you are our new court mage."

"Now that Sybille Stentor is out of the picture, I am indeed," he smirked back. "And the court is, well, free of her...eccentricities. I hear Stentor had been alive for a long, long time. Moving into her quarters was an interesting process."

Viktoriyah's mind immediately jumped to the giant skeleton in Sybille's closet. She inwardly chuckled at how Melaran must've looked the first time he saw that thing. "A place in court seems to suit you," she raised her eyebrow.

"It does indeed," he nodded confidently. "You know, I have the strangest feeling you had something to do with her miraculous disappearance...and yet I don't know how or why."

She drilled her eyes into his. He wasn't going to remember this next part of the conversation, but its impact would remain nonetheless.

"It makes no difference," she assured him. "I'm already thinking of all the ways you're going to pay me back."

***


As court began for the day, Viktoriyah took her seat off to the side of the throne. She wasn't alone; Nythriel was at court today. She was an Altmeri noblewoman whom Viktoriyah initially avoided because she was an notorious gossip who had the annoying habit of making things up.

Also...she was a rumored Thalmor spy.

"Good morning," she cheerfully greeted Viktoriyah. "Did you hear about Sybille?"

"I did, my lady," Viktoriyah nodded, hoping to make this a brief conversation.

"Woman's body hasn't even be found, and yet Melaran's already claiming the spoils. She always did have good taste though. Things are about to get exciting at court."

"You think so?"

"I know so," Nythriel nodded confidently. "After years of avoiding the Blue Palace, Lady Vittoria Vici has finally decided to establish a much overdue presence. I hear she's going to set up one of her relatives or some such."

Viktoriyah's ears pricked. "Is she? Already?"

"War tends to make people move a bit more expediently than usual," Nythriel mused. "And all eyes are on the Blue Palace now. Even the Jarl of Whiterun is sending his only Thane here to protect their interests. A Lord...Nazeem or some such, I believe."

Viktoriyah paused. This didn't sound like Nythriel's usual drivel about serving girls and harlots from the docks. It sounded like actual intel for a change.

She turned to face the blond elf, meeting her gaze squarely and wielding her illusion magic discreetly.

"We should be friends, Lady Nythriel."

"I would like that," the Altmer perked up. She didn't really have friends at court, and people often wondered how she was even allowed to be there.

"I share a chamber with the Countess Carvain. You should join us for a drink this evening."

"Well, I know she's got quite a stash," Nythriel giggled.

Viktoriyah flashed a razor sharp grin. "Indeed. How does after supper sound? Does that suit you?"

Nythriel leaned in, lightly touching Viktoriyah's knee. "It's suits me just fine...friend."

~ FIN ~

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