The Next Part


Previously: Kraldar

The new Jarl of Eastmarch was Brunwulf Free-Winter, a bald-headed Nord with a graying beard who dressed in furs, much like Ulfric had. Unlike Ulfric, however, Brunwulf commanded the respect of his foreign citizens, and actually worked to make their lives better in Windhelm. He was a strong man, with a calm demeanor and a very even, almost unyielding gaze.

"You are Legate Minerva Septima," he greeted the morning after his installation, when General Tullius and Legate Rikke had already left. His tone was as neutral as his gaze.

"Yes, Your Grace," she smiled, remembering to appear cheerful and light-hearted. She'd removed her Penitus Oculatus armor the night before and made the conscious decision to never put it on again. Instead, she opted for studded armor stitched from leather and pelts. She even armed herself with the bow and arrows of the Ancient Nords.

"I'm surprised to see you in Nordic armor," he raised an eyebrow. "I understand you Imperials generally shun our culture."

"I have the utmost respect for Nords," she assured him, "and I am half Redguard. Besides, this was much more comfortable than my own armor."

"What can I do for you Legate?"

"I ask that I be allowed to stay in Windhelm for a time," she said. "My sister is due to arrive from Cyrodiil any day now."

"As my new Thane, you and your sister are both welcome at my court," he replied. "Stay as long as you please. Hjerim Hall is for sale, if you haven't heard."

"I have," she nodded. "When my sister arrives, we will discuss the matter further."


"Speak to my steward when you decide," he told her. His steward was Captain Lonely-Gale, a retired sailor who was a little more jovial than the Jarl. Minerva made a point to speak with him for introductory purposes; she had no intention of actually purchasing the house.

***



"What the hell are you wearing?"

"What?" Minerva laughed, as Marcurio looked her up and down. He'd donned some new silk robes and boots, and even a silver circlet set with moonstones. Despite all his whining and foot dragging and preaching, the mage had made out just fine from the war. He'd received a chest of silver and a commendation from General Tullius. Not that he needed either.

"You know you can't wear that out there?" he pointed towards the great double doors. "You'd freeze in an instant."

"I don't plan to," she shrugged. "I'm just trying some new things...now that I plan to remain in Skyrim."

His eyes lit up. "So you've decided? Where to then? Solitude? Markarth? Riften might not seem like much, but if you let me show you around--"

"I'm waiting for Tatianna," she interrupted. "In the meantime, I just want to relax. I want to eat roasted pigs, take long baths, and sleep 'til noon."

"I hear that," the mage nodded. "We have all the time in the world."

***



As Brunwulf put his palace in order, he granted Marcurio and Minerva spacious dark chambers and encouraged them to explore the castle as they pleased. He even instructed the servants to attend their every whim.

In the coming days, Minerva summoned a tailor to fit her with a new wardrobe more suited to Skyrim's weather. She opted for dark, demure, and understated; refused to done too many jewels and such. She wore a circlet of gold set with sapphires and single ring, but stopped there. Marcurio asked her when, she could afford to dress as a queen, but she reminded him that the people of Windhelm had just been through a war. Many were wounded, sick, and starving, and they didn't need some foreigner flaunting her wealth.



Marcurio haunted her steps, insisting on going wherever she went, firing every question in the world except the one he really wanted the answer to. He was drinking more, which she didn't discourage. Drinking meant he fell asleep sooner and deeper than she, giving a few precious moments a day to breathe.




One evening, she tried to distract him with talk of House Law-Giver, who'd been exiled to the Palace of Kings and placed under Brunwulf's custody.

"Have you spoken with the former Jarl of the Rift?" she asked one evening before dinner was to be served.

"Laila called me a traitor last night," Marcurio nodded. "She asked what she'd ever done for me to betray her like this. To be fair, she always was good to me."

"It's not like her life is over," Minerva shrugged. "There are Stormcloaks rotting in prisons throughout Skyrim, while she lives in a palace, eating succulent meats and sleeping in soft beds."

"I'm pretty sure the servants are spitting in her wine."

"Marcurio!" Minerva laughed. "I'm being serious. There could be a future for them if they stopped being so stubborn. Harrald is useless, true, but Saerlund sympathized with the Empire during the war. I'm sure he could still be put to go use somewhere."

"Don't even think of making Tatianna marry that man," the mage shuddered. "He has no lands, no title, no coin, and no lord in the realm trusts him. She'd be better off with Kraldar."

Dinner ended up being delayed, which was fine because a courier arrived for Minerva.

"Is it Tatianna?" Marcurio asked.

"No," she said lowly, almost absently, before rolling the parchment back up. "Walk with me."

Windhelm's weather wasn't exactly growing on Minerva, but she was adapting slowly. She knew to dress in heavy layers always and to wear her sturdiest boots. The streets were crumbled, much like the rest of the city, and it would require a king's ransom just to make repairs.

And yet still...her mind was made up.


"I've received news from your cousin in Solitude," she said softly, staring out upon the city.

Marcurio looked bewildered. "The fuck is she doing writing to you?"

"Because she knows you'll ignore her if she writes to you," Minerva chuckled gently, though the mage noticed her mirth didn't reach her eyes.

"What does she want?"

"You've been summoned to the Blue Palace," Minerva answered tentatively, gently. "You are to book passage aboard a ship and sail to Solitude at once, no expense spared. When you arrive, you'll be taken to speak with Falk Firebeard, the royal steward."

Marcurio's bewilderment was turning into annoyance. "About what?" he demanded. "Since when does Falk even know my name?"

"Since you've been declared a potential husband...for the High Queen."

Annoyance turned to bafflement which in turn resulted in laughter. "What?"

"Marcurio--"

"I'm not marrying fucking Elisif, Minerva; that's ridiculous and you know it." Days of tension snapped as irritation finally gave him the courage he was lacking. "You think I went to war with you to end up married to some spoiled, pampered, royal bitch?"

"Marcurio--"

"I want you, Minerva!" he suddenly yelled, eyes burning, nostrils flaring. "I followed you to war! I killed people for you, dozens of fucking people! I have loved you since I was a child! I lost you once and now I've found you, and I'm not doing...this again."

"Marcurio...Julianus...Vici," she suddenly spat. The venom hung between them as her voice echoed into the winter air. He may have been taut and tense for days, but she had years of bitterness buried within. "Vittoria Vici's cousin. The Emperor's fucking cousin. The boy whose family was so rich he grew up to be sellsword for shits and fucking giggles."

His jaw tightened. "That's now fair. I left Cyrodiil because my heart was broken, because--"

"Because you could," she scoffed, sneering even as tears began to burn her eyes. "You became an adventurer because you could afford to. And now, after years of underachieving, you are the Emperor's first choice to marry his favorite puppet."

"I won't do it," Marcurio shook his head defiantly. "I love you. I want to marry you."

"I am to marry the Jarl," Minerva replied solemnly, looking away as her exhaustion took her once more. "I am to become Lady of Eastmarch. It's been decided."

"What?" the mage snapped. "How? When?"

"Whenever you drank yourself to sleep at night, I was able to speak with Brunwulf and negotiate a marriage for myself. He, in turn, suggested you to the Emperor. Your cousin was happy to take it from there."

"I'm sure she was," Marcurio hissed. "What the hell, Minerva? We don't have to do this. We can marry each other, why can't you see that?"

"Why can't you see that I don't love you anymore?" she bellowed finally. "I haven't loved you since my father died and our fortunes waned, and Imperial society turned its back on us! I was fighting for survival. I was fighting for my sister, for the last dregs of family I had left!"

"So you used me," Marcurio murmured. "You gambled that I still had affection for you." His shoulders slumped. His eyes changed, as did his voice. "These Nords were my friends, Minerva. I admired them, respected them. I killed them...for you. I burned my bridges with House Law-Giver for you, even though Laila was always kind to me."

Minerva nodded as bitterly tears hotly run down her face. "Think of what you can do for them, all of them, once you they're king."

It was Marcurio turn to sneer. "You still don't understand these people, do you? I could never be their king."


He left her alone then, finally, blissfully alone. As his footsteps faded, she felt the snowflakes upon her skin and watched the clouds darken over the mountains. She waited for the guilt, the shame of being a user and a manipulator. She waited to miss him, his voice, his warmth, his adoring gaze, his presence.

It never came.

He would be gone before morning, she knew it. And it would feel good after he was gone, regardless of where he went. She didn't need Marcurio anymore; he'd served his purposed, slain her enemies, and ensured her own rise. Her gamble had paid off; now she and her sister were about to marry men they didn't love, but it didn't matter because they were rich and they were Jarls.

See, Mother? Minerva snickered to herself. That's how it's fucking done.

Comments

Popular Posts