The Mage

Previously: Penitus Oculatus
City of Riften, Hold of the Rift

"Hello, Marcurio."

Immersed in his book, Marcurio absently lifted his head to see who dared interrupt. Despite being clad in very fine silk mage robes of amber, yellow, and burnt sienna, he wasn't out of place at the Bee and Barb. As the saying went, the lord and leper alike were welcome.

After all, everyone was welcome in the City of Thieves. That's why no one batted an eye at Minerva's uniform.

Marcurio's eyes did grow round as saucers though. "Fuck the gods."

"Don't blaspheme," she humorously chided him. "We still need their favor."

The dark-haired mage closed his book and slowly rose to his feet. "The fuck are you doing in Riften, Minerva?" He looked her up and down. "Wearing that?"

"Got a job for you," she replied. "If we succeed, you'll never have to whore yourself out to strangers again."

"No," he scowled. "Just very old friends." He paused, brow furrowing as he asked, "What's the job?"

"Can't discuss it in mixed company," she shook her head.

He stubbornly folded his arms across his chest. "Just so now, my starting rate is five hundred."

She beamed him her brightest smile. "I'll give you a thousand."

He was surprised, hesitantly lowering his arms. "I'm not getting involved in the war, Minerva."

"Says the Imperial battle mage slumming it in a hold run by xenophobes."

"Jarl Laila is an honorable woman," Marcurio bit out. "You should watch how you talk about mixed company."

"I have no quarrel with the House of Law-Giver," she assured him. "But if I were you, it's House Black-Briar I'd worry about, because that's who's gonna be calling the shots very soon."

"I'm not getting involved, Minerva."

And why would you? she slightly mused to herself, with a smirk. You've been running from responsibility your whole life.

She couldn't say that aloud, of course, not to his face, not now when she needed his special talents. She had to find another way to entice him.

"Two thousand, Marcurio."

His eyes went back to being wide. He probably hadn't seen that much money since he left home, several years ago. He had grown in Skyrim, and not just in age. There was a haunted darkness to his eyes, hinting at the things he'd seen. They no doubt made him dread the horrors of war.

Marcurio bit his bottom lip, no doubt in an attempt to resist her offer. It seemed coin wouldn't be enough to sway him, so she had to adjust tactics.

"Oh, come on," she cajoled him. "It'll be fun. You, me, camping under the stars. Remember when we lay under the stars at my mother's vineyard?"


"Minerva, what the hell?"

Marcurio turned around and then again once more. Minerva did have some soldiers, this was true, but they were very few in number and they all looked very young. And none of them were members of the Penitus Oculatus.

Their camp was miniscule. Nestled in the hills away from the city, it comprised a smattering of tents, a handful of horses, and single spit over a fire.

"Where's the army?" Marcurio demanded.

"This is the army," Minerva grinned. "Or at army."

Marcurio was visibly alarmed. "What the fuck, Minerva?"

She laughed, gesturing him to follow her into her command tent. "I don't recall you cursing this much when we were young."

"I grew up," he blinked. He took the seat she offered him, along with the bottle of cheap mead. She poured herself some cheap wine into tankard.

"Indeed," she nodded, "but let's go back to our youth. What's the last thing you remember?"

"I proposed to you," he grumbled. "You chose the military over me."

"And do you remember why that was?"

"Because the life I proposed wasn't good enough for you, Minerva," he blinked, irritable. "You and that silk-swaddled sister of yours. I proposed we could move to my family's house in Bruma, and you both shuddered at the thought."

Minerva raised both her eyebrows in surprise. "That's it? You don't remember what else was going on?"

Marcurio frowned, as though he were struggling to remember. "What...else was going on?"

She tried not to let her annoyance and disappointment show. "My father had died, Marcurio. The government in Hammerfell refused to pay his pension to us; instead they redirected to his legitimate family in Hammerfell. You see, old friend, my parents never married. My idiot mother was content to be my father's mistress, because apparently we Septims don't learn from our mistakes.

"So my father died, and all my parents' debts came to light. First, my mother sold her jewels, then her gowns, but then our vineyard was taken...and after you left, our house." She paused. "My mother had to join a temple. She died shortly afterward."

The mage's mouth fell open in shock, which quickly turned to indignance. "If you had married me, I could've prevented that! I would have allowed your sister and mother to stay with us!"

"If I had married you," Minerva raised an eyebrow, "I would've been dependent upon you. And your family," she added, "which as you know, heavily favors your brother. How long before they tired of us and kicked us all out?"

She finally took a seat, wearily from the long journey to the Rift. "I enlisted to save my sister and myself. I managed to get her admittance to the Emperor's court, mostly using our name and our father's previous tenure as ambassador. But we have no lands, no houses, so my sister has no dowry...and that doesn't make her a good catch in these troubled times."

She raised her tankard towards her camp. "The soldiers here are all like me--bastards descended from bastards of greats. We joined the military out of desperation. We all thought we'd never regain position in this life...but then Ulfric Stormcloak went and started a war."

Marcurio's eyes widened. "And your first thought was...opportunity?"

"That's everybody's first thought," she shrugged. "Ulfric saw opportunity. General Tullius saw opportunity. The jarls and thanes split between them--both currently enthroned and lying and lying wait--all saw opportunity." She raised her tankard to her lips. "And we all know the Thalmor definitely saw opportunity."

"These are people, Minerva," Marcurio rasped. "They are fighting for their country, not so you and your sister can go back to living the good life. There are actual lives at stake, a whole kingdom in chaos--"

"Chaos is a ladder, old friend," she winked at him. "I'm descended from gods and emperors, yet I can barely scrape together two coins that are named after my own fucking ancestors. They don't pay soldiers well, Marcurio, not even the so-called 'elite' ones. But they love to shower heroes in gold."

Marcurio was bewildered. "Then how the hell did you plan to pay me?"

Minerva raised her tankard, as though in toast. "War creates opportunities, remember?"

Next: Greenwall


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