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Lore:The Real Barenziah, Part III

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Barenziah grew like a weed transplanted to a Skyrim garden, a ward of Count Sven and his wife Lady Inga. Outwardly she thrived but there was a cold and empty place within.
:''Return to the last book at [[Tamriel:Books/Real_Barenziah%2C_Part_II%2C_The|The Real Barenziah, Part II]].''
 
"I've raised her as my own daughter," Lady Inga was wont to sigh when she sat gossiping with neighboring ladies come to visit, "But she's a dark elf. What can you expect?"
For several days, Barenziah felt a weight of sorrow at her separation from her friends. But by the second week out her spirits began to rise a little. She found that she enjoyed being on the road again, although she missed Straw's companionship more than she would have thought. They were escorted by a troop of Redguard knights with whom she felt comfortable, although these were much more disciplined, and decorous, than the guards of the merchant caravans she had spent time with. They were genial but respectful toward her despite her attempts at flirtation.
 
Barenziah was not meant to overhear these words. At least she thought she was not. Her hearing was far keener than that of her Nord hosts. Other, less desirable dark elf traits included pilfering, lying and a little magic, just a small fire spell and a little levitation. And, as she grew older, a keen interest in boys and men, who could provide very pleasant sensations and, to her astonishment, gifts as well. Inga disapproved of this activity for reasons incomprehensible to Barenziah, so she was careful to keep it as secret as possible.
Symmachus scolded her privately, saying a queen must maintain royal dignity at all times.
 
"She's wonderful with the children," Inga added, meaning her five sons, all younger than Barenziah. "She'd never see them come to harm."
“You mean I'm never to have any fun?” she inquired petulantly.
 
A tutor was hired when Jonny was six and Barenziah eight, and she studied academic lessons along with him. She would have liked arms training as well, but the very idea of a girl training to arms scandalized Inga and Sven. Barenziah was given a bow and allowed to practice target shooting with the boys. She watched them at arms practice when she could, practiced with them when no grown folk were about, and knew she was as good or better than they.
“Ai. Not with such as these. They are beneath you. Graciousness is to be desired from those in authority, Milady. Familiarity is not. You will remain chaste and modest while you are at the Imperial City.”
 
"She's very proud, isn't she?" the neighbor ladies would whisper, and Barenziah, pretending not to hear, would nod in agreement. She could not help but feel superior to the Count and Countess. There was something about them that encouraged this disdain in her.
Barenziah made a face. “I might as well be back at Darkmoor Keep. Elves are promiscuous by nature, you know. Everyone says so.”
 
She grew to learn that Sven and Inga were distant cousins of the last rulers of Darkmoon, and then she began to understand. They were poseurs, imposters, not rulers at all. At least, they were not raised to rule. This thought made her strangely furious at them, a good clean hatred detached from resentment. Barenziah came to see them as disgusting and corrupted insects who could be despised, but never feared.
“'Everyone' is wrong, then. Some are, some aren't. The Emperor -- and I -- expect you to display both discrimination and good taste. Let me remind you, Your Highness, that you hold the throne of Mournhold not by right of blood but solely at the pleasure of Tiber Septim. If he judges you unsuitable, your reign will end ere it begins. He requires intelligence, obedience, discretion, and total loyalty of all his appointees, and he favors chastity and modesty in women. I strongly suggest you model your deportment after our good Drelliane. Milady.”
 
Once a month a courier came from the emperor, bringing a small bag of gold for Inga and Sven and a large bag of dried mushrooms from Morrowind for Barenziah's consumption. She was always made presentable, as presentable as a skinny dark elf girl could be made to look in Inga's eyes, and summoned into the courier's presence for a brief interview. The same courier seldom came twice, but all looked her over rather as a farmer looks over a pig he's readying for market. In the spring of her sixteenth year Barenziah thought the courier looked as if she were at last ready for market.
“I'd as lief be back in Darkmoor!” Barenziah snapped resentfully, offended at the thought of emulating the frigid, prudish Drelliane in any way.
 
Upon reflection Barenziah decided that she did not wish to be marketed. The stable-boy, Straw, a big blond boy, clumsy, gentle, affectionate and rather simple, had been urging her to run off with him for some weeks. Barenziah stole the bag of gold the courier had left, took the mushrooms from the storeroom, dressed herself as a boy in some of twelve year old Timmy's casual clothing, and one fine spring night they took the two best horses and rode hard through the night toward Whiterun, the nearest city of any size, which was where Straw wanted to go.
“That is not an option. Your Highness. If you are of no use to Tiber Septim, he will see to it that you are of no use to his enemies either,” the general said portentously. “If you would keep your head on your shoulders, take heed. Let me add that power offers pleasures other than those of carnality and cavorting with base company.”
 
But Morrowind also lay east and it drew Barenziah as a lodestone does iron. In the morning they abandoned the horses at Barenziah's insistence. She knew they would be missed and tracked, and she hoped to throw pursuers off the trail. They continued afoot until late afternoon, keeping to side roads, then slept for several hours in an abandoned hut. They went on at dusk and came to the Whiterun city gates just before dawn.
He began to speak of art, literature, drama, music, and the grand balls thrown at the Imperial Court. Barenziah listened with growing interest, spurred on not entirely by his threats. But afterward she asked timidly if she might continue her study of magic while at the Imperial City. Symmachus seemed pleased at this and promised to arrange it. Encouraged, she then said that she noted three of their knights escort were women, and asked if she might train a little with them, just for the sake of exercise. The general looked less delighted at this, but gave his consent, though stressing it would only be with the women.
 
Barenziah had prepared a pass for Straw, stating an errand to a temple in the city for a local village lord. She herself sneaked over the wall with the help of her levitation spell. She had reasoned that by now the gate guards would have been alerted to look for a young dark elf and a Nord boy traveling together, but country boys like Straw were common enough. Alone and with papers, he would be unlikely to draw their attention.
The late winter weather held fair, though slightly frosty, for the rest of their journey so that they traveled quickly over firm roads. On the last day of their trip, spring seemed to have arrived at last for there were hints of a thaw. The road grew muddy underfoot, and everywhere one could hear water trickling and dripping faintly but steadily. It was a welcome sound.
 
Her simple plan went smoothly. She met Straw at the temple, which was not far from the gate. She had been to Whiterun on a few previous occasions. Straw, however, had never been more than a few miles from Sven's estate, his birthplace. Together they made their way to a run-down inn in the poor quarter of Whiterun. Gloved, cloaked and hooded against the chill of the morning, her dark skin and red eyes were not apparent and no one paid any attention to them. They entered the inn separately. Sven paid the host for a single room, a large meal and a jug of ale, and Barenziah sneaked in a few minutes later. They ate and drank together gleefully, celebrating their escape, made love vigorously on the narrow bed, then fell into an exhausted sleep.
***
 
They stayed a week in Whiterun. Straw earned a bit of money running errands and Barenziah robbed a few houses at night. Barenziah continued to dress as a boy. She cut her hair short and dyed her flame-red tresses jet black as a further disguise, and kept out of sight as much as possible for there were few dark elves in Whiterun. Then Straw got them places as guards for a merchant caravan that was traveling east. The sergeant looked her over dubiously.
They came to the great bridge that crossed into the Imperial City at sunset. The rosy glow turned the stark white marble edifices of the metropolis a delicate pink. It all looked very new and grand and immaculate. A broad avenue led north toward the Palace. A crowd of people of all sorts and races filled the wide concourse. Lights winked out in the shops and on in the inns as dusk fell and stars came out singly then by twos and threes. Even the side streets were broad and brightly illuminated. Near the Palace the towers of an immense Mages Guildhall reared toward the east, while westward the stained glass windows of a huge tabernacle glittered in the dying light.
 
"Heh," he chuckled, "dark elf, ain'tcha? Like setting a wolf to guard the sheep, that is. Still, I need arms, and we ain't going near enough to Morrowind that ye can betray us to yer brothers. Our home-grown bandits will as lief cut yer throat as mine."
Symmachus had apartments in a magnificent house two blocks from the palace, past the temple. (“The Temple of the One,” he identified as they passed it, an ancient Nordic cult which Tiber Septim had revived. He said that Barenziah would be expected to become a member should she prove acceptable to the Emperor.) The place was quite splendid--although little to Barenziah's taste. The walls and furnishings were done in utter pristine white, relieved only by touches of dull gold, and the floors in dully gleaming black marble. Barenziah's eyes ached for color and the interplay of subtle shadings.
 
The sergeant gave Straw an appraising look, then abruptly spun back to Barenziah, whipping out his short sword. But she had her knife out and was in a defensive stance. Straw drew his own knife and circled to the man's rear. The sergeant dropped his blade and chuckled again, "Not bad, kids, not bad. How are ye with that bow, dark elf?" Barenziah demonstrated her prowess. "Aye, not bad, not bad a'tall. And ye'll be keen of eye by night and of hearing at all times. A trusty dark elf makes as good a fightin' man as any could ask for. I know. I served under Symmachus himself before I lost this arm and got invalided out of the Emperor's forces."
In the morning Symmachus and Drelliane escorted her to the Imperial Palace. Barenziah noted that everyone they met greeted Symmachus with a deferential respect in some cases bordering on obsequiousness. The general seemed to take it for granted.
 
"We could betray them. I know folk who'd pay well," Straw said later, as they bedded down for their last night in the old inn, "Or rob them ourselves. They're very rich, those merchants are, Berry."
They were ushered directly into the imperial presence. Morning sun flooded a small room through a large window with tiny panes, washing over a sumptuously laden breakfast table and the single man who sat there, dark against the light. He leapt to his feet as they entered and hurried toward them. “Ah, Symmachus our most loyal friend, we welcome your return most gladly.” His hands held Symmachus' shoulders briefly, fondly, halting the deep genuflection the Dark Elf had been in the process of effecting.
 
Barenziah chuckled, "What ever would we do with so much money? And we need their protection for traveling quite as much as they need ours."
Barenziah curtseyed as Tiber Septim turned to her.
 
"We could buy a little farm and settle down."
“Barenziah, our naughty little runaway. How do you do, child? Here, let us have a look at you. Why, Symmachus, she's charming, absolutely charming. Why have you hidden her from us all these years? Is the light too much, child? Shall we draw the hangings? Yes, of course.” He waved aside Symmachus' protests and drew the curtains himself, not troubling to summon a servant. “You will pardon us for this discourtesy toward yourselves, our dear guests. We've much to think of, though that's scant excuse for hospitality's neglect. But ah! pray join us. There's some excellent nectarines from Black Marsh.”
 
Peasant! Barenziah thought scornfully. Straw was a peasant and had peasant dreams. But all she said was, "Not here, Straw, we're too close to Darkmoor still. We'll have more chances farther east."
They settled themselves at the table. Barenziah was dumbfounded. Tiber Septim was nothing like the grim, grey, giant warrior she'd pictured. He was of average height, fully half a head shorter than tall Sym­machus, although he was well-knit of figure and lithe of movement. He had a winning smile, bright -- indeed piercing -- blue eyes, and a full head of stark white hair above a lined and weathered face. He might have been any age from forty to sixty. He pressed food and drink upon them, then repeated the question the gen­eral had asked her days ago: Why had she left home? Had her guardians been unkind to her?
 
The caravan went only as far east as Sunguard. Tiber Septim had done much in the way of building relatively safe patrolled highways, but his tolls were steep, and this particular caravan kept to the side roads as much as possible to avoid them. This exposed them to the hazards of robber barons, both human and orcish, and roving bands of brigands of various races, but such were the perils of trade and profit.
“No, Excellency,” Barenziah replied, “in truth, no -- although I fancied so at times.” Symmachus had fabricated a story for her, and Barenziah told it now, although with a certain misgiving. The stable-boy, Straw, had convinced her that her guardians, unable to find a suitable husband for her, meant to sell her off as a concubine in Rihad; and when a Redguard had indeed come, she had panicked and fled with Straw.
 
They had two such encounters before reaching Sunguard, an ambush which Barenziah's keen ears detected in plenty of time for them to circle about and surprise the lurkers, and a night attack by a mixed band of Khajiiti, humans and wood elves. The latter were a skilled band and even Barenziah did not hear them sneaking up in time to give much warning.
Tiber Septim seemed fascinated and listened raptly as she provided details of her life as a merchant caravan escort. “Why, 'tis like a ballad!” he said. “By the One, we'll have the Court Bard set it to music. What a charming boy you must have made.”
 
The fighting was fierce. The attackers were driven off, but two of the caravan's guards were killed, and Straw got a nasty cut on his thigh before he and Barenziah killed his Khajiit assailant.
“General Symmachus said--” Barenziah stopped in some confusion, then proceeded. “He said -- well, that I no longer look much like a boy. I have... grown in the past few months.” She lowered her gaze in what she hoped approximated maidenly modesty.
 
Barenziah rather enjoyed the life. The garrulous sergeant had taken a liking to her, and she spent most of her evenings sitting around a campfire listening to his tales of campaigning in Morrowind with Tiber Septim and Symmachus. Symmachus had been made a general after Mournhold fell, the sergeant said. "He's a fine soldier, Symmachus is, but there was more than soldiery involved in Morrowind, if you take my drift. Well, you know about that, I expect."
“He's a very discerning fellow, is our loyal friend Symmachus.”
 
"I don't remember," Barenziah said, "I've mostly lived in Skyrim. My mother married a Skyrim man. They're both dead, though. What happened to the lord and lady of Mournhold?"
“I know I've been a very foolish girl, Excellency. I must crave your pardon, and that of my kind guardians. I... I realized that some time ago, but I was too ashamed to go back home. But I don't want to return to Darkmoor now. Excellency, I long for Mournhold. My soul pines for my own country.”
 
The sergeant shrugged, "I never heard. Dead, I expect. All Morrowind's under military rule now. It's pretty quiet. Maybe too quiet. Like a calm before a storm. You going back there?"
“Our dear child. You shall go home, we promise you. But we pray you remain with us a little longer, that you may prepare yourself for the grave and solemn task with which we shall charge you.”
 
"Maybe," Barenziah said. The truth was that she was drawn to Morrowind like a magnet. Straw sensed it and was unhappy about it. He was unhappy anyway, since they could not bed together, as she was supposed to be a boy. Barenziah rather missed it too, but not as much as Straw did, seemingly. The sergeant wanted them to sign on for the return trip, but gave them a bonus when they parted and letters of recommendation.
Barenziah gazed at him earnestly, heart beating fast. It was all working just as Symmachus had said it would. She felt a warm flush of gratitude toward him, but was careful to keep her attention focused on the Emperor. “I am honored, Excellency, and wish most earnestly to serve you and this great Empire you have built in any way I can.” It was the politic thing to say, to be sure -- but Barenziah really meant it. She was awed at the magnificence of the city and the discipline and order evident everywhere, and moreover was excited at the prospect of being a part of it all. And she felt quite taken by the gentle Tiber Septim.
 
Straw wanted to settle permanently near Sunguard, but Barenziah insisted on continuing to travel east. "I'm the queen of Mournhold by rights," she said, unsure whether it was true, or it was a story she had made up as a child. "I want to go home. I need to go home."
***
 
That at least was true. She had run out of mushrooms and was very hungry for them. She found a few for sale in the Sunguard marketplace, but they were not as good or satisfying as the ones the courier had brought. After a few weeks they managed to get places in a caravan heading east.
After a few days Symmachus left for Mournhold to take up the duties of a governor until Barenziah was ready to assume the throne, after which he would become her Prime Minister. Barenziah, with Drelliane as chaperone, took up residence in a suite of rooms at the Imperial Palace. Several tutors were provided her, in all the fields deemed seemly for a queenly education. During this time she became deeply interested in the magical arts, but she found the study of history and politics not at all to her prefer­ence.
 
By early winter, they were in Riften, and near the Morrowind border, but the weather had grown severe and they were told no merchant caravans would set forth until mid-spring.
On occasion she met with Tiber Septim in the Palace gardens and he would unfailingly and politely inquire as to her progress -- and chide her, although with a smile, for her disinterest at matters of state. However, he was always happy to instruct her on the finer points of magic, and he could make even history and politics seem interesting. “They're people, child, not dry facts in a dusty volume,” he said.
 
Barenziah stood atop the city walls and stared across the deep gorge that separated Riften from the snow-clad mountain wall of Morrowind beyond. "Berry," Straw said gently, "Mournhold's a long way off yet, nearly as far as we've come already, and the lands between are wild, full of wolves and bandits and orcs and still worse creatures. We'll have to wait for spring."
As her understanding broadened, their discussions grew longer, deeper, more frequent. He spoke to her of his vision of a united Tamriel, each race separate and distinct but with shared ideals and goals, all contrib­uting to the common weal. “Some things are universal, shared by all sentient folk of good will,” he said. “So the One teaches us. We must unite against the malicious and the brutish, the miscreated -- the Orcs, trolls, goblins, and other worse creatures -- and not strive against one another.” His blue eyes would light up as he stared into his dream, and Barenziah was delighted just to sit and listen to him. If he drew close to her, the side of her body next to him would glow as if he were a smoldering blaze. If their hands met she would tingle all over as if his body were charged with a shock spell.
 
"There's Silgrod Tower," Berry said, referring to the Dark Elf town that had grown up around the ancient tower that guarded the border between Skyrim and Morrowind.
One day, quite unexpectedly, he took her face in his hands and kissed her gently on the mouth. She drew back after a few moments, astonished by the violence of her feelings, and he apologized instantly. “I... we... we didn't mean to do that. It's just -- you are so beautiful, dear. So very beautiful.” He was looking at her with hopeless yearning in his generous eyes.
 
"The bridge guards won't let me across, Berry. They're crack Imperial troops. They can't be bribed. If you go, you go alone. I won't try to stop you. But what will you do? Silgrod Tower is full of Imperial troops. Will you become a washerwoman for them? A camp follower?"
She turned away, tears streaming down her face.
 
"No," Barenziah said thoughtfully. Actually the idea was not entirely unappealing. She was sure that she could earn a modest living by sleeping with the soldiers for money. She'd had a few adventures of that sort as they crossed Skyrim, when she'd dressed as a woman and slipped away from Straw. She'd only been looking for a bit of variety. Straw was sweet but dull. She'd been startled, but pleased when the men she picked up offered her money afterwards.
“Are you angry with us? Speak to us. Please.”
 
Straw had been unhappy about it though and would shout for awhile, then sulk for days afterwards if he caught her at it. He was very jealous. He'd even threatened to leave her.
Barenziah shook her head. “I could never be angry with you, Excellency. I... I love you. I know it's wrong, but I can't help it.”
 
But the Imperial Guards were a tough and brutal lot by all accounts and Barenziah had heard some very ugly stories during her travels. The ugliest stories had come from the lips of ex-veterans around the caravan campfire and were proudly recounted. They'd been trying to shock her and Straw, she realized, but she also realized that there was some truth behind the wild tales. Straw hated that kind of talk and hated having her hear it, but there was a part of him that was fascinated by it.
“We have a consort,” he said. “She is a good and virtuous woman, the mother of our children and future heirs. We could never put her aside -- yet there is nothing between us and her, no sharing of the spirit. She would have us be other than what we are. We are the most powerful person in all of Tamriel, and... Barenziah, we... I... I think I am the most lonely as well.” He stood up suddenly. “Power!” he said with sublime contempt. “I'd trade a goodly share of it for youth and love if the gods would only sanction it.”
 
Barenziah had encouraged Straw to seek out other women, but he said he didn't want anyone but her. She told him she didn't feel that way, but she did like him better than anyone else.
“But you are strong and vigorous and vital, more than any man I've ever known.”
 
"Then why do you go with other men?"
He shook his head vehemently. “Today, perhaps. Yet I am less than I was yesterday, last year, ten years ago. I feel the sting of my mortality, and it is painful.”
 
"I don't know, dear."
“If I can ease your pain, let me.” Barenziah moved toward him, hands outstretched.
 
Straw sighed. "They say dark elf women are like that."
“No. I would not take your innocence from you.”
 
Barenziah smiled and shrugged. "I know. I guess that's all the explanation there is."
“I'm not that innocent.”
 
“How so?” The Emperor's voice suddenly grated harshly, his brows knitted.
 
Barenziah's mouth went dry. What had she just said? But she couldn't turn back know. He would know. “There was Straw,” she faltered. “I... I was lonely too. Am lonely. And not so strong as you.” She cast her eyes down in abashment. “I... I guess I'm not worthy, Excellency--”
 
“No, no. Not so. Barenziah. My Barenziah. It cannot last for long. You have a duty toward Mourn­hold, and a duty toward the Empire. I must tend toward mine as well. But while we may -- shall we share what we have, what we can, and pray the One forgives us our frailty?”
 
Tiber Septim held out his arms -- and wordlessly, willingly, Barenziah stepped into his embrace.
 
***
 
“You caper on the edge of a volcano, child,” Drelliane admonished as Barenziah admired the splendid star sapphire ring her imperial lover had given her to celebrate their one-month anniversary.
 
“How so? We make one another happy. We harm no one. Symmachus bade me be discriminating and discreet. Who better could I choose? And we've been most discreet. He treats me like a daughter in public.” Tiber Septim's nightly visits were made through a secret passage that only few in the Palace were privy to -- himself and a handful of trusted bodyguards.
 
“He slavers over you like a cur his supper. Have you not noticed the coolness of the Empress and her son toward you?”
 
Barenziah shrugged. Even before she and Septim had become lovers, she'd received no more from his family than bare civility. Threadbare civility. “What matter? It is Tiber who holds the power.”
 
“But it is his son who holds the future. Do not put his mother up to public scorn, I beg you.”
 
“Can I help it if that dry stick of a woman cannot hold her husband's interest even in conversation at dinner?”
 
“Have less to say in public. That is all I ask. She matters little, it is true -- but her children love her, and you do not want them as enemies. Tiber Septim has not long to live. I mean,” Drelliane amended quickly at Barenziah's scowl, “humans are all short-lived. Ephemeral, as we of the Elder Races say. They come and go as the seasons -- but the families of the powerful ones live on for a time. You must be a friend to this family if you would see lasting profit from your relationship. Ah, but how can I make you see truly, you who are so young and human-bred as well! If you take heed, and wisely, you and Mournhold are like to live to see the fall of Septim's dynasty, if indeed he has founded one, just as you have witnessed its rise. It is the way of human history. They ebb and flow like the inconstant tides. Their cities and dominions bloom like spring flowers, only to wither and die in the summer sun. But the Elves endure. We are as a year to their hour, a decade to their day.”
 
Barenziah just laughed. She knew that rumors abounded about her and Tiber Septim. She enjoyed the attention, for all save the Empress and her son seemed captivated by her. Minstrels sang of her dark beauty and her charming ways. She was in fashion, and in love -- and if it was temporary, well, what was not? She was happy for the first time she could remember, each of her days filled with joy and pleasure. And the nights were even better.
 
***
 
“What is wrong with me?” Barenziah lamented. “Look, not one of my skirts fit. What's become of my waistline? Am I getting fat?” Barenziah regarded her thin arms and legs and her undeniably thickened waist in the mirror with displeasure.
 
Drelliane shrugged. “You appear to be with child, young as you are. Constant pairing with a human has brought you to early fertility. I see no choice but for you to speak with the Emperor about it. You are in his power. It would be best, I think, for you to go directly to Mournhold if he would agree to it, and bear the child there.”
 
“Alone?” Barenziah placed her hands on her swollen belly, tears forming in her eyes. Everything in her yearned to share the fruit of her love with her lover. “He'll never agree to that. He won't be parted from me now. You'll see.”
 
Drelliane shook her head. Although she said no more, a look of sympathy and sorrow had replaced her usual cool scorn.
 
That night Barenziah told Tiber Septim when he came to her for their usual assignation.
 
“With child?” He looked shocked. No, stunned. “You're sure of it? But I was told Elves do not bear at so young an age..."
 
Barenziah forced a smile. “How can I be sure? I've never--”
 
“I shall have my healer fetched.”
 
The healer, a High Elf of middle years, confirmed that Barenziah was indeed pregnant, and that such a thing had never before been known to happen. It was a testimony to His Excellency's potency, the healer said in sycophantic tones. Tiber Septim roared at him.
 
“This must not be!” he said. “Undo it. We command you.”
 
“Sire,” the healer gaped at him. “I cannot... I may not--”
 
“Of course you can, you incompetent dullard,” the Emperor snapped. “It is our express wish that you do so.”
 
Barenziah, till then silent and wide-eyed with terror, suddenly sat up in bed. “No!” she screamed. “No! What are you saying?”
 
“Child,” Tiber Septim sat down beside her, his face wearing one of his winning smiles. “I'm so sorry. Truly. But this cannot be. Your issue would be a threat to my son and his sons. I shall no more put it plainly than that.”
 
“The child I bear is yours!” she wailed.
 
“No. It is now but a possibility, a might-be, not yet gifted with a soul or quickened into life. I will not have it so. I forbid it.” He gave the healer another hard stare and the Elf began to tremble.
 
“Sire. It is her child. Children are few among the Elves. No Elven woman conceives more than four times, and that is very rare. Two is the usual number. Some bear none, even, and some only one. If I take this one from her, Sire, she may not conceive again.”
 
“You promised us she would not bear to us. We've little faith in your prognostications.”
 
Barenziah scrambled naked from the bed and ran for the door, not knowing where she was going, only that she could not stay. She never reached it. Darkness overtook her.
 
***
 
She awoke to pain, and a feeling of emptiness. A void where something used to be, something that used to be alive, but now was dead and gone forever. Drelliane was there to soothe the pain and clean up the blood that still pooled at times between her legs. But there was nothing to fill the emp­tiness. There was nothing to take the place of the void.
 
The Emperor sent magnificent gifts and vast arrangements of flowers, and came on short visits, always well-attended. Barenziah received these visits with pleasure at first. But Tiber Septim came no more at night -- and after some time nor did she wish him to.
 
Some weeks passed, and when she was completely physically recovered, Drelliane informed her that Symmachus had written to request she come to Mournhold earlier than planned. It was announced that she would leave forthwith.
 
She was given a grand retinue, an extensive trousseau befitting a queen, and an elaborate and impressive ceremonial departure from the gates of the Imperial City. Some people were sorry to see her leave, and expressed their sadness in tears and expostulations. But some others were not, and did not.
 
:''Continue the series with [[Tamriel:Books/Real_Barenziah%2C_Part_IV%2C_The|The Real Barenziah, Part IV]].''
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