19 Sun's Height 202 4E 1:00 AM
The remaining members of the Dark Brotherhood were busy gathering what supplies we could from the wreckage the fire had left. Babette was gathering what herbs and potions she could as well alchemy equipment. Nazir was gathering the Penitus Oculatus agents' horses and one of the wagons they had transported the barrels of oil on for our journey. Cicero was constructing a crate to contain and hide the Night Mother's coffin. I was kneeling before my dresser grabbing clothes.
Cicero's and my room had been largely spared of the destruction. There was smoke damage, but the room had been so far removed from the rest of the living quarters the fire had never made it back here. I looked forlornly at my mural Cicero had painted. It was destroyed. Solitude would never be completed; only a black streak would adorn that space.
Not that it really mattered. We were leaving. We couldn't stay here. Even if all of us could ignore the memories of our fallen brothers and sisters, the Empire knew where this place was. It was Sanctuary no more.
We were going to Dawnstar and use the Sanctuary there. I shuddered at the thought of moving even further north and how much colder it would be there all year long. At least here in Falkreath, Skyrim had a whole three days of summer. In Dawnstar, it would always feel like winter. At least we would be by the ocean. I was cheered by the thought of being able to step outside and always hear the waves.
I pulled open the drawer and paused when I saw the jester's motley I had bought for Cicero. I knew now that a large part of our fight had been because the Keeper had been upset with the discovery of his Keeping Tomes with my things, but he had still expressed a great hatred for the motley. Cicero was madly attached to the Jester's clothes he had taken from his last contract. He would never wear these. I should leave them behind. We had a limited amount of space of what we could take.
The Night Mother had to be transported, of course. We would also need to bring a small coffin for Babette for when we were traveling during the day. Include Babette's alchemy supplies and whatever we scavenged from the armory and we were looking at least two wagons already. That didn't include any clothes, food, or personal items deemed essential to bring along. It wouldn't be safe to make several trips, so we had only one chance to do this.
I rubbed the smoke damaged velvet between my fingers. It could be cleaned and be just as good as new. It wouldn't take up that much space, not really. I could even commission a new set that would be even better. Maybe with silk instead of velvet. I wanted this outfit. This was the one I had specially made for Cicero for his first trip into Solitude. The time where we danced before the court of Elisif the Fair and the night Cicero chased me through the streets as I tauntingly promised myself if he could catch me. I sighed and crammed the motley into my backpack. It probably would never be worn and I would throw it away later. When I was ready, but not now.
19 Sun's Height 202 4E 2:00 AM
"We're going to need to find Commander Maro," I said. I was riding with Cicero who was driving the wagon with the Night Mother's coffin. Babette was riding with Nazir who was driving the second wagon with our supplies alongside Cicero's wagon. "As the head of the Emperor's personal bodyguard, he will know the Emperor's true travel agenda."
I felt like we were crawling. Part of me wanted to ride ahead to Solitude and strangle the information from Maro personally. That was how I had worked as adventurer, by running from one clue to the next. Now I had to think like a leader and keep this little lost family together. Our top priority was to secure Sanctuary and make sure the Night Mother was safe. Revenge would have to wait.
You know what they say: revenge is a dish best served cold.
It would hopefully be a day or two before Maro realized that his plan had failed. His agents would be given time to be thorough on destroying the Brotherhood and wagons are notoriously slow. Then they would need travel time to get back to Solitude. Old Lady Luck did seem to be with us on this time since Dawnstar was close to Solitude. Dawnstar was central northern Skyrim while Solitude was northwestern.
"Ah, home, home, Sanctuary is home," Cicero sang happily. "Cicero always did like Dawnstar Sanctuary."
"Don't get too comfortable," I said. "You're coming with us."
"Cicero must take care of Mother!" the Keeper protested. "Mother has been without his care for too long."
"The Night Mother will be fine alone in the Sanctuary. I need you with us. There are too few of us now for the Listener and Keeper to be inactive members."
?" Cicero's normal smile grew wider.
"You must take up your blade again, Keeper," I confirmed.
"Mother will speak to us again when we've complete her task," I assured Cicero. I didn't have the heart to tell him that she had spoken to me during the Purification. I wasn't sure how he would take being told that the Night Mother had spoken to me after weeks of him being gone and no one had done the ritual oiling. It was the most important duty of the Keeper to sanctify the body so the Night Mother could use it as a conduit. How could one react after over a decade of duty and find out that duty was unnecessary? How would one act when he was already mad?
"Festus once told me that in the old days, sometimes rules were bent and even broken as long as they were not one of the Tenets," I continued. "I think we definitely qualify as an emergency situation. It's more important to fulfill the Night Mother's wishes than to tend to her body. Once the Emperor is dead and we've had a chance to recruit, you can dedicate yourself fully to the Lady again."
"I think Hecate is right," Babette said. "I remember during the Oblivion Crisis that we needed to institute a few rules that only lasted until things calmed down again."
"Madness is merry and merriment's might, when the jester comes calling with his knife in the night," Cicero sang.
"Oh gods, can we avoid the singing?" Nazir moaned.
19 Sun's Height 202 4E 7:00 AM
I woke when the wagon stopped. Nazir and I had climbed into the back of the supply wagon to grab some sleep. "Time to get up!" Babette said cheerfully. "Sun is coming up."
I stretched and it felt like all my bones popped. Five hours of sleep after my mad ride across Skyrim and the Purification of the Brotherhood was not nearly enough. Unfortunately, it was important we keep moving to keep ahead of the Penitus Oculatus as much as possible. "Nazir, I want you to drive the Night Mother's wagon. Cicero, are you going to get some rest?"
"Cicero is fine," the jester replied, although it would be a little unfair to call him a jester at the moment. We were all wearing normal clothes. Cicero and Nazir were both wearing the outfits I had bought in Solitude since Nazir had lost all of his personal belongings in the fire. Since the Redguard was several inches taller than Cicero, the clothes looked shrunken on him. "Why is Nazir changing with Cicero?"
"Because I want to talk to you," I patted the bench next to me on the wagon where I had traded with Babette. The vampire gave me a quick kiss on the cheek before climbing into her coffin. "Nazir, go on a head a bit."
After everyone settled down and Nazir rode ahead, I turned to Cicero, "I wanted to talk to you about the last time I saw you." I trailed off not sure how to continue.
"Ooooh, is it about how Hecate kissed Cicero goodbye all full of passion and desire? Now Cicero understands why Hecate wanted Mother away," Cicero asked his grin sly. I could feel my face flushing in embarrassment. Cicero was right, but did he really have to put it so bluntly? "Cicero understands. Hecate thought she would never see Cicero again and thought it was okay to express her feelings for Cicero."
I could die! "How do you know all this?"
"Because I've seen many goodbyes," Cicero said his voice serious now. Amber eyes were looking into the past remembering his Imperial family. "Cicero knows. Even if Hecate promised to never leave Cicero alone. Hecate wanted Cicero to leave Mother all alone with the Pretender and her family. Hecate wanted Cicero to go away and not come with him."
"You must hate me," I said softly.
"No, no, no, Cicero is grateful the Listener spared him," the jester grinned devilishly, "even if Cicero would not have made it easy if she had decided to send him to the Dread Father. We are together now, Listener and Keeper, until one of us dies horribly in service of the Lady. Best friends forever!"
"Please don't start making out," Babette piped up from within her coffin. "I don't think I could stand it."
I started laughing, nervous and jagged. Cicero joined me and a few moments later I could even hear Babette chuckling.
22 Sun's Height 202 4E 11:00 PM
Commander Maro walked the patrol down at the docks of Solitude. He had already completed his shift earlier, but had picked up the night shift as well. Maro had not slept well since Gaius died. No, since Gaius had been murdered. And framed. Framed to be a filthy traitor.
Maro had never once believed the accusation of betrayal when they found the letter on his boy's body. His son, his only son, was too good of a man and soldier to ever consider such a vile act. Maro had mentally prepared himself for being told one day that his son had been killed in battle or in the line of duty. In fact, Maro had had to steady himself for that likelihood every day. When they told how Gaius's body had been found, Maro's soul screamed in denial. To be killed in his bed, probably by a hooker, was not the destiny of an agent of the Penitus Oculatus but that of some commoner.
Then like a punch to the gut, they told him of the letter that was found. The letter of correspondence to kill the Emperor. The shame Maro felt! Whispers and gossip spread like wildfire and soon everyone knew of Maro's shame. The Commander had offered to forfeit his post, but his superior had insisted Maro stay in command. The Emperor was coming to Skyrim because of the murder of his cousin, Vittoria Vici, and they needed the most able men in charge to ensure their king's safety.
When that Astrid woman had made her offer his son's assassin for her Brotherhood's safety, Maro had fallen on his knees and thanked every god of the Empire. To be able to avenge his son's death and rid the Empire finally of the vermin that was the Dark Brotherhood was a gift. Maybe some good would come from his son's death, especially once his name and honor had been restored. Gaius would be judged appropriately in the afterlife instead of the foul lie those damn assassins had created.
Commander Maro only had to wait for his agents to return from destroying the Brotherhood so he could finalize his report and send it back to the Imperial City. The Emperor was already on his way, but it would not hurt to have it official that his safety was guaranteed. Any day now, Arcturus would report in.
Maro was pulled out of his thoughts when he heard the sound of crying. There at the end of the docks was a small girl sitting with her feet dangling over the edge. She looked like she couldn't be more than ten. Her hands were covering her face and her sobs were muffled. Maro looked around and saw no one else on the docks. It was late and everyone else had gone home for the day hours ago. Where in the hell were the girl's parents?
"Little girl, is everything all right?" Maro walked up to the little girl. Children should be treasured and loved. Gaius had been the jewel of Maro's life outshining even his duty to his Emperor.
"Please, sir, help me. My mother
" the girl trailed into sobs, unable to talk through her grief. Maro noted that the girl was a Breton. High Rock was just west of here. Maybe her family was merchants and had been attacked by bandits or even Stormcloaks. It was possible.
"Shush, don't worry. I'm a commander in the army. I'll take you some place safe and we'll find your parents," Maro said gently. He leaned down and picked up the girl. She wrapped her arms around Maro's neck in a tight vice grip. Poor thing must be terrified.
As Maro turned around, he felt a sharp prick in his neck as something needlelike sunk into his neck. Paralytic poison flooded through his blood system and Maro fell forward unable to move. Darkness quickly covered his vision as he passed out.
23 Sun's Height 202 4E 1:00 AM
"Wakey, wakey," I said as I passed the vial of smelling salts under Commander Maro's nose. The Imperial shook his head groggily as he woke. When he saw my face, he flew into a rage.
"You! How in the hell are you still alive?" The muscular man strained against the ropes binding him to the stone chair. Nazir had bound the man and had some beautiful knot work. I would have to remember that for future contracts.
"Morning! Thanks for joining us, Commander," I said smiling. Behind me, Cicero, Nazir, and Babette stood in a small informal semicircle. Cicero chuckled evilly. "You have been very naughty. Your little act of revenge has really screwed up with our work schedule."
"You killed my son, you bitch," Maro screamed. He tried to rock the chair back and forth, but it didn't budge.
"That was purely professional," I said, "but you had to go make things personal. I assure you that your son died happily. Well, at least up until I stabbed him in the heart." I was being cruel, but this man had killed my family. Eye for an eye for an eye. Behind me Cicero burst into loud laughter. "My family died screaming while burned alive. A little overkill, don't you think?"
"You're all monsters and deserve to die," Maro retorted. "Do you really think you'll get away with kidnapping me?"
"Actually, yes, I do," I gestured to the empty stone room we were in. "We're in Proudspire Manor. The walls are thick; no one is going to hear you no matter how hard you try."
"Proudspire? But that belongs to
" Maro paled.
"That's right, Proudspire is the residence of the Dragonborn," I nodded. "The Brotherhood has powerful friends, Commander. I need to know the Emperor's schedule. I know you know, so don't waste anyone's time denying it. If you tell me now, I'll end your life quickly."
"That's not much incentive," Maro spat at me.
"It is compared to the alternative. If you don't give the information to me, then you'll have to give it to one of my friends here." I gestured to my three siblings. "I never thought you would take my offer, but I had to try just to be fair. However, you are welcome to choose who your torturer will be." The similarity of when Astrid had me choose one of three possible contracts was not lost on me.
Maro's eyes flickered over the three dark figures smiling at him. Cicero was looking especially crazy tonight, his smile too full of teeth while the jester longingly fingered his dagger. Nazir looked intimidating with his arms crossed and his long, wicked curved sword strapped to his side. Babette looked very innocent, smiling sweetly with her hands behind her back.
"The girl," Maro said.
"The sweet little Breton girl you tried to help?" I asked. Maro nodded frantically. It was obvious he hoped to convert the child to his side and help him to escape. "Oh, that's a shame. I would have gone with Cicero. He hated Astrid. It probably would have gone quickly once you gave up the information. Babette on the other hand liked Astrid. You're going to suffer, Maro."
I stepped back and Babette stepped forward, her mouth full of fangs now. Maro screamed in terror. I gestured and the rest of us left the room while Babette went to work.
"Listener, what if Maro doesn't give us the information we need?" Nazir asked.
"Then I'll need you to keep looking for Motierre. Since he's on the Elder Council, he'll have access to Titus Mede's schedule. We need to know where he is anyway to be paid when this is over. Regardless, Maro needed to die for his arrogance. We're sending a message that you do not double cross the Brotherhood." I paused while walking up the stairs. "The Emperor has to come now. His cousin murdered in the city that supports his army the most and the presence of his personal guard in Skyrim murdered to a man? He has to prove that he's strong enough to defeat us or he'll lose the support of holds. The balance is too close right now in the Civil War. The Empire needs the superior numbers if they are going to have a chance to win."
26 Sun's Height 202 4E 9:00 PM
I was sitting in the main room of Proudspire reading a book. As usually I had my legs draped over the arm of the chair. I looked up and saw Babette standing in the shadows near the stairwell leading downstairs to the basement. It was the first time I had seen her in three days.
"It's done," Babette said. "Maro broke." The girl shifted and I could see that her chin and the front of her dress were soaked with blood.
"Is the information accurate?" Torture was not only nasty business, but it could be unreliable. Not enough, you'll never get what you want. Too much and they'll tell you what you want to hear.
"Maro tried to lie at first," Babette said, "but I could tell. His last words were true."
I got up and went to the small childlike creature and hugged her. Babette hugged me back and started to cry. "What's wrong, sweety?" I asked.
"I keep thinking about Festus and the rest," Babette sobbed. "I keep thinking about them and I don't think about how much I miss them. I think that I would have died too. If I hadn't gone out that night to gather flowers for my alchemy, I would have been there and I would have died. I've lived three hundred years and I don't want to die. I want to live. I'm glad they died and not me. People were going to die that night and I'm glad it wasn't me. Festus was my friend for forty years and I'm glad he's dead instead of me." Babette's body shook violently against me.
"One choice stood between me and oblivion," Babette continued. "What if I had decided I would rather organize my herbs or play with Lis? I would have died."
I didn't know what to say. So, I sat on the floor and held the vampire in my lap until she had shed her last tear for her lost family.
10 Last Seed 202 4E 11:00 PM
It was time.
The Katariah, the Emperor's personal vessel, was docked in the harbor of Solitude. Unnatural ripples ran across the surface of the water as four figures emerged from below. I gasped, greedily sucking air as I grabbed the chain of the anchor. I was grateful it was still summer as we swam in the northern Skyrim outlet. I couldn't imagine swimming in the waters during the frozen winter.
"Can Hecate please move her big bottom?" Cicero complained below.
I sent a half-hearted kick at his face that he easily dodged before I finished shimmying up into the hold of the ship. My thee companions quickly joined me. Cicero pulled his jester's cap from his belt pouch and placed it on his head before unsheathing his dagger.
"Let's kill someone," the Keeper said gleefully.
We were shadows on the wall as the four of us ghosted through the ship. Every sailor was found and killed. Guards were taken down without raising an alarm. Soul after soul was sent screaming to Sithis. Nazir, Babette, and Cicero raced amongst themselves seeing who could claim the most kills. I followed silently behind them. I would save my blade for the Emperor.
After an eternity, I opened the door to the room of Emperor Titus Mede II. The room was huge, bigger than the first floor of Breezehome. It was adorned with expensive furniture and Imperial banners. Behind a large mahogany desk, sat an older man who was in his sixties. He looked similar to the decoy I had killed. Silver hair, strong nose, determined chin, finely woven clothes. As soon as the Emperor stood and spoke, I could tell the difference. While the decoy was weedy and unlikeable, this man was the ruler of an Empire.
"I told Commander Maro you can't stop the Dark Brotherhood. Never could." The Emperor stood up and walked over to the bay windows looking out over the ocean. There was a dignity in his stance I had never had the privilege of seeing in one of my targets before. "I accept that I must die. And you will be the one to deliver the blow. That is the way it is. My destiny."
I walked toward the Emperor and pulled the Blade of Woe, Astrid's old dagger, from my belt. The sound it made as I drew it was like a sigh of pleasure. "It will be quick," I promised.
"I have a favor, if you're willing to indulge a dying man," the Emperor said. He didn't flinch when I placed my hand on his shoulder. I pushed down gently and the Emperor went to his knees, giving me better access to his throat.
"You may ask."
"Someone ordered this death. I ask that you kill the man who paid to have me killed," Titus asked. I could see his reflection in the window. His eyes were hopeful.
I pulled the Blade of Woe across Emperor Titus Mede's throat without answering. I can't say if Titus had been a good Emperor, but he died well. As the body fell, I whispered, "I'm sorry, but no." Eye for an eye had to end somewhere. Besides, it would be bad for business.
11 Last Seed 202 4E 2:30 PM
Our little family has returned to the Dawnstar Sanctuary. It's cold, dank, and empty. We've done what we can to make the place livable, but without funds it's hard to do much. I could have tried to retrieve one of my caches of septims hidden throughout Skyrim, but my focus had been on finishing our mission for the Night Mother. Tomorrow Nazir will head out to the Bannered Mare to collect our pay from Motierre. Then the Redguard will travel to Riften to talk to our old friend Delvin Mallory about refitting the Sanctuary.
The four of us presented ourselves to the Night Mother. With Cicero's return, her shrine shined within the shadows. The huge iron coffin was black as the void. All of us kneeled in reverence to our matron. "Your will has been done, Mother," I said.
"You have done well, daughter," the Night Mother's sweet voice filled me. It was a rush greater than any skooma addict will ever feel. Her voice was love. "All of you have done well, especially my sweet, loyal Cicero." I felt a pang of jealousy and tried to suppress it. I fear the Night Mother still knew and was pleased. " Treat him well, daughter, he is my chosen."
"Yes, Mother," I said simply. I glanced at the Keeper who is for once quiet and still in the presence of his goddess. "As you will it."
"Rest, gather more children for me, rebuild," the Unholy Matron commanded. "I will call you again when I hear the cries of the vengeful."
I signaled that we are dismissed. Nazir and Babette left to their personal duties. Cicero stepped forward to tend to the Night Mother, but I grabbed his hand. The Keeper looked at me quizzically.
"Mother said to rest," I told him. I blushed as I wrapped my fingers with his. "So we'll rest."
Cicero didn't resist as I lead him to my room. We helped each other undress, never feeling awkward as our movements are one. We climbed into the large bed, still holding hands with fingers entwined. Cicero gave me a butterfly kiss, amber eyes smiling at me before we slept as we always do as brother and sister.
It has been a year since I have come to Skryim. I have killed a dragon god who was intent on destroying reality. I have killed an Emperor bringing havoc and despair to an Empire. I have acquired a family of a vampire, a snarky Redguard, and an insane jester. I have found Sanctuary. I have found home.
I wonder what next year will bring?
End of Season 1
Cicero and Hecate's adventures continue in "For the Future of Skyrim"
Thanks to everyone who read and gave comments. You guys make this a very enjoyable experience.
Special thanks for Jeremy and Rachel, my husband and my best friend, for giving me feedback and encouragement through this whole ordeal. They kept me moving when I thought I was stuck.