Of Merchants & Mages

 
Previously: Bryling

It seems the Countess Carvain was right. Despite her pride and stubbornness, the good Thane was more than happy to accept my friendship. Desperate times creates interesting bedfellows, I suppose.

That being said, I'm a realist. I know it won't work for everyone.

Take Bryling's counterpart, Thane Erikur, for example. Even while financing a war, he still has more coin that I do, so if Volkihar were to supply sufficient funds to bribe him, it wouldn't only rouse suspicion.

Though I feel his gaze lingering upon me at times, I know not even my body will be enough to buy his loyalty. His housecarl is a mage and he has allies among the Thieves Guild--so spells and enchantments are rendered useless with this man.

This one I'll have to leave alone...for now.

***


Not one to waste an overcast day, Viktoriyah headed onward to the house of Lady Vittoria Vici, the Emperor's cousin. Her visit with Bryling had been short, so she still had time to kill before returning to Elisif's side.

Like Bryling, Vittoria had a fine Solitude manor, except her furnishings were much finer and well-tended. Vittoria wasn't home, as fate would have it, but her rumored paramour Aquillius Aeresius was present.

He was a balding Imperial clad in fine silks, enjoying some expensive vintage of wine when a servant brought Viktoriyah to him. He looked up with all the arrogance of an exceedingly privileged man, and demanded to know who she was.

"Viktoriyah, my lord," she curtsied. "I serve Jarl Elisif."

He looked her over carefully, taking in her hair, clothes, the smell of her perfume, her posh accent, and last but certainly not least, the fat gold and diamond ring on her finger.

"You're no servant," he remarked, his tone softening only slightly.

"I'm a lady-in-waiting, my lord."

"I'm no lord," he corrected her, eyebrow raised. "I'm an associate of Lady Vici's. Are you here to see her?"

"Yes...sir."

"She's at the docks, running her company."

"Of course, sir," Viktoriyah smiled politely, but she wasn't ready to go just yet.

The trick with handling nobles was to play them against one another while minimizing all trace of her involvement. Elisif and Falk required magical manipulation, Erikur required maintaining distance, Bryling required coin, but the Vittoria, it appeared, would simply require suggestion.

Innocent suggestion, of course.

"It's just that...Her Grace has recently developed a rather Imperial taste, sir," the vampire said. "I have visited Cyrodiil before, but I'm no Imperial and there are questions I cannot answer. Elisif seems to want to know everything about...Imperial fashions, Imperial cuisine, Imperial men of noble houses, Imperial music--and I have no idea what to tell her. I would very much like to consult with the Lady Vici...someday soon, of course."

"Of course," Aquillius echoed, but at the phrase "Imperial men of noble houses", his goblet had stopped in midair. "I will inform Vittoria of your visit."

"Thank you...sir," Viktoriyah curtsied again. She liked the idea of a third-party on this one, for Vittoria and Erikur were basically cut from the same cloth.

And just like that, she began to form an idea of how to deal with the other Thane.

***


Viktoriyah returned to the Blue Palace to find the mage Melaran sitting in the foyer as always. It was where housecarls and junior nobles mingled at court. Though often dull, they got to enjoy wine, fruit, and the displeasure of each other's company.

She had never allowed him to fully notice her before; she hadn't had much use for him until now. But she dropped her veil of illusion that obscured both perception and memory, and went to greet him.

"Afternoon, sir."

The Altmeri sorcerer looked up. He wore some very fine mage robes and smelled of a rich, musky cologne and pine soap. As a High Elf of standing, he wasn't going to openly acknowledge her beauty or express interest in her company, but she could tell by the way his eyes traveled over her that he was intrigued at the least. And he didn't dismiss her right away.

"I am Viktoriyah, lady-in-waiting to the Jarl."

"Which Jarl is that?" he asked. "I heard the old Ravencrone might be visiting today."

"Elisif," she chuckled pleasantly.

"Been at court long, Miss Viktoriyah?" he asked. She could tell his mind was struggling to place her, and she noticed his pointed ears pricking up at her accent.

"No, sir," she shook her head. "In fact, I'm still struggling to learn everybody's name."

"I am Melaran," he nodded graciously. "I am housecarl to Thane Erikur."

She feigned surprise. "A housecarl?"

"Working for Erikur may be below my stature, but the compensation is... acceptable," he stated with just a hint of disdain. "Thus, I make sure he keeps breathing."

"I had figured you for the court mage," she blinked, her voice high and soft with girlish innocence.

"No," the elf shook his head. "That honor belongs to Sybille Stentor. She's hard to miss...when she's not sleeping away the day."

"How unusual. But I suppose being unusual is the usual for mages."

"Sometimes," he nodded. "Her position is well-earned, of course. "Sybille has a grasp of magical theory that I would never have expected from a human. Even a Breton." He paused. "Viktoriyah is a Breton name, is it not?"

"My father is a Breton," she nodded. "He's back in High Rock with the rest of my family."

Melaran didn't give a damn about her family, though he was curious about one thing. "I take it he hired Altmeri tutors when you growing up."

"He did, sir," Viktoriyah beamed brightly. "And you...I take it that if the Jarl ever of tires her sleepy mage, you would take her place?"

"That is correct," the mage crisply stated. "But she's a bit long-lived, that one. Sybille has already served two kings."

"Then I suppose I'll keep an eye out for an elderly woman in expensive mage robes."

"Oh no," Melaran's eyes twinkled. "You'll find she looks quite young for her age."

***


Of all the courtiers I've made a note to engage, I find the one I look forward to the least is Sybille Stentor.

I simply don't know what to make of her, Your Graces. She's young and inexperienced by vampire standards, which makes her unpredictable.

She's accustomed to privilege, to having the ear of Jarls and Kings. I've been in her chambers many times. She's quite accustomed to finery as well, and here at the Blue Palace, she's been lavished with it.



She's not the type to dwell in a cave or pick off travelers on the road, or skip from tavern to tavern posing as a bard. I don't think the hunt interests her, Your Graces; in fact, I suspect she thinks it's beneath her.

Think to our mages of Volkihar; in life they were pompous scholars, and in the death, their arrogance has not dimmed. Regardless of whom you speak to, each one believes they're the smartest person in the room. The title and image of an intellectual is so important to them, and Sybille is no different. Being a mage was her life. Being a mage is her life after death.



At court, everybody lies. They lie to each other about their needs and their troubles; they lie to themselves about their failures and the truth about their futures. It's easy to get caught up in the lies when you spend your days drinking fine wine and your nights in opulent chambers, while the chaos of war and the desolation of growing poverty rage about you.

But in her heart of hearts, I doubt even Sybille can deny what she really is: a vampire, a blood-drinking, night-dwelling creature of the dark.


Next: Stentor

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