“Your what?” Katla asked Mira.
“Assistant,” Mira said. “It’s the perfect cover for you. No one here knows who you are, and it explains why you’re in the Synod Conclave’s library with me researching old tomes.”
They were walking through the library, which, simply, was grand. Katla had to stop herself from gawking at all the books. Bookcases of rich, dark wood lined the sides of the library, running from floor to the high curved ceiling two stories above. The area was spacious, with stairs to the second floor hugging the sides of the open room. Both floors seemed essentially nothing but bookcases, with the first floor also holding tables in the middle of the room, for people to sit and study.
One could never read all the books in a lifetime, Katla thought. Maybe elves could, who lived for more than two hundred years.
Mira had arrived at the inn this morning, and given her a pair of mage robes. “Wear these,” she’d said, “Keep the hood on.”
They were similar in style to the ones mages wore at the College of Winterhold, though the fabric was lighter. Wayrest did not get as cold as Skyrim. They also didn’t have any distinguishing emblem on them, as she’d seen on some of the College ones, robes that helped with focus on Restoration, Destruction, and the other magic schools.
Like so much of Wayrest, walking through the library, Katla was taller than most people. She thought the stares she observed were due to the height difference. It quickly became obvious Mira was the reason for the staring. Katla was suddenly invisible.
They’d hardly take ten steps before someone nearby would comment with a greeting, or “Excuse me, Master Blaton, a word?”
Mira had already stopped several times to have a quick chat with another mage. Most conversations ended with “I’ll see what I can do” or “We should schedule for a day next week”.
Mira was to the point, never offered small talk, and, Katla thought, came across as condescending to most she spoke with. As if it was her natural state of being.
So different from Tara. Tara could be off putting. She’d been quick to throw a wary eye at any stranger that approached them in inns during their travels. Tara always looked on the edge of anger, though, with the strangers. Mira looked too important to be bothered.
“Up here,” Mira said and headed for a set of stairs leading to the second floor. Katla followed and took a moment to get her bearings on the second floor.
This floor, too, was mostly bookcases. Instead of an open room of tables for reading, the floor was divided into sections, with three sides of bookcases, an archway for the entrance, and desks of various sizes within. Fewer people were here and it struck Katla this floor was for the advanced mages. The first floor had held a buzz of conversations. Up here, a hushed silence pressed down on you. Here, you needed a reason to take over a desk. Here was privacy for long term study.
They walked to the end of the floor. Mira stepped into a small section that held one desk and small table with a couple of chairs in it. A wooden sign hanging from the top of the archway read “Reserved”.
Mira turned around and gestured for Katla to sit at the table. She sat at the desk, gathering her robes about her. She was wearing a sweeping, royal blue set that had flowed behind her as they’d crossed the library. Gold trim lined the sleeves and collar. She looked resplendent.
“This is where we’ll research,” she said. “This section is reserved for me. Most of the books I think we need have already been brought over.” She pointed to the bookcase behind Katla.
Katla looked at it and saw a careful arrangement of what had to be the oldest books she’d ever laid eyes on.
She and Tara had read many old books at The Arcanaeum while at the College of Winterhold. The Arcanaeum had been so impressive. Until now. The books she was staring at looked ancient, many older than what they’d read at the College. She didn’t see titles on most of them. Half looked to be not much more than hand bound journals.
“You’ll need to wear these gloves,” Mia said, handing over a pair of soft fabric gloves. They looked to be made of tundra cotton. “The books are old, most are Second Era originals, none of those reprints that most people can buy. Or you’ll find in other libraries. A few are from the end of the First Era. A few from the Third, as well, that I believe may hold information we need. We need to handle them delicately.”
First Era? Second originals? Literally millennia old. Katla slipped on the gloves.
“My thinking,” Mira said. “We break our research into three sections. Order of the Fire Queen, Tara Geonette and any known cultists, and anything about red soul gems.” She leaned forward and focused on Katla. “Not much is written about the cult, but maybe information is buried in books about some of the people who were in the cult. After all, there are still active members, so we can assume they passed down membership through family or friends. Some of them must have done something noteworthy.”
Katla nodded. “And the magic related to red soul gems could be known by others.” When she’d first met with Mira the other night, she’d told her about the red soul gem, and that Tara had it now.
“Exactly. Whatever magic they used was probably explored by other…”
“Excuse me, Master Blaton.” A tall, older Breton had appeared at the archway, interrupting them.
“Master Hawkcroft,” Mira said, rising. “How can I help you?”
Mira moved swiftly, blocking Hawkcroft’s ability to step further in. Katla thought she wanted to block his view of the books.
“I, oh, I see you have someone with you,” Hawkcroft said. He looked to be at least fifty years old, with graying hair, trimmed beard, and a thin build. He also wore blue robes with golden accents, though Mira’s were more extravagant.
“My assistant,” Mira said. “Ms…” Mira paused. They hadn’t discussed whether to use Katla’s name if asked.
“Ms. Ella Tallowhand,” Katla said, nodding slightly.
Hawkcroft nodded slightly and turned back to Mira. Mira looked at her a second longer, a curious look in her eyes. She turned back to Hawkcroft.
“We’re conducting some research that requires my full attention,” she said. “I’m hoping to avoid interruptions.” Her voiced sounded clipped. “So, unless you need something?”
“My apologies,” Hawkcroft flushed. “I wanted to join you tomorrow, when you meet with Sir Ashford. I hoped to speak with him regarding his support for the Conclave and a new project I have in mind.”
“Forgive me, Master Hawkcroft,” Mira said, gently. She offered Hawkcroft a slight smile. “As an independent mage, it would be improper for me to introduce a Synod master about Synod business to a noble like Sir Ashford. It might seem like I’m endorsing your project, though I know nothing about it. I wouldn’t want to unduly influence Sir Ashford.”
Hawlcroft frowned. “Ah, yes, of course, but I’d hoped…”
“What I can do for you,” Mira interrupted, stepping closer to the archway. Hawkcroft stepped with her, perhaps unconsciously. “…is mention to Sir Ashford the Synod’s deep appreciation for his support and your interest in an audience with him.” Mira stood under the archway. Hawkcroft now stood outside of it. “Would that do?” Mira asked.
“Yes, that would be splendid. Thank you,” Hawkcroft nodded and left.
Mira sat back at the desk. “Where were we?”
“You’re not a member of the Synod?” Katla asked.
Mira shook her head. “I am independent. Always been. It allows me freedom to move between the Synod and the Whispers. I can focus on what I care about. Magic. Without all the political games. As much as someone with influence can avoid politics, anyway.”
Katla studied her for a moment. “Everyone clearly admires and respects you. I bet you could run one of these conclaves.”
Mira nodded. “I considered it once. Was given the opportunity in Cyrodiil. To become First Adjunct of the conclave in Chorrol.” Mira’s voice dropped. “If I had, I could’ve had Tara come study with me. Taken her away from home.”
Sadness flickered across her face. “Perhaps I should have, for her sake.”
Katla remained silent.
“It’s in the past now,” Mira cleared her throat and straightened up. “I wanted the freedom to travel and study the magic I was interested in. Independence gives me that, and my reputation gives me access to all mage institutions as needed. Speaking of, these books…”
“One more question,” Katla said. “When I said my ‘name’, Ella Tallowhand, you gave me a look. Why?”
Katla hadn’t told Mira about meeting her father in The Rest’s Finest. Perhaps he’d mentioned some new potential customer at dinner?
“Where did you get the name from?”
“My mother’s name was Ella. Tallowhand is the name of the family a cousin married into.”
“Nord family?” Mira asked.
Katla thought for a moment. “I don’t know. Right before my parents…died, we’d received a letter from my cousin, Anja Hammerheart, announcing her marriage and decision to take his name. I assume Nord, but I haven’t been in contact with any family since…that day.”
Mira grew thoughtful. “A wise decision, I think. No way to know if other family members are also cultists. You may not be able to trust them.”
She looked over at the bookcase with the ancient books. “Tallowhand is related, distantly, to us, on my father’s side. Some cousins or something. So, I recognized the name. They are Bretons, though, not Nords. Unless they’re blended.”
“I’d wondered why…” Katla caught herself from mentioning Mira’s father. “That explains your reaction.”
“Shall we start reading?” Mira asked. She stood and walked over to the bookcase. She pulled out two books. The one she handed to Katla was thick, bound in cracked leather, with a faded title that read Families of Wayrest.
“Speaking of families, this goes back to early Second Era. Covers many noble and merchant families throughout the Kingdom of Wayrest. Merchants have had as much influence as nobles at times in Wayrest, so there’s as much history written about them, as nobles. We know Geonette’s second in command was a Bedore Ashsmith. And there was a Lysona Meric. See if you can find either family and trace any members.”
Katla nodded, then asked another question. “Is Bedore a common name for Breton men?”
Mira sat down and shrugged. “It’s old. I know that much.” She studied Katla, her icy blue eyes curious again. “It’s my father’s name. Passed down over the years, much like ‘Tara’ and ‘Mira’ have been. Have you met another Bedore?”
Katla shook her head. “No, I just…” She sighed. What had she gotten angry at Tara for? Not being honest. If she and Mira were going to work together, she had to be honest.
“I went into The Rest’s Finest and met your father,” she confessed in rapid fire.
Katla marveled at Mira’s face. She’d not thought it possible for someone to look more serious. Mira’s eyes looked as if an ice spike might shoot out and hit her. Her mouth became the thinnest line Katla thought possible on a face.
“Did you give him the ‘Ella Tallowhand’ name?” she asked. Her voice was low and rigid.
Tara would have exploded. An angry outburst. Katla could have yelled back. She didn’t know how to respond to Mira. She felt like a child being dressed down.
“I…yes, he introduced himself. I hadn’t meant to speak to him, but he came over,” she said.
Mira’s face and voice remained rigid. “We can’t let him see you again. Or know you’re my assistant.” She thought for a moment. “The chance of him coming here to see me are low. He practically lives at the store and goes home only at night. I don’t know what else he does, but nobles aren’t here, so you should be safe.”
Mira leaned forward, her wood chair shifting slightly on the hard quarried stone floor. “You need to stay out of sight. Your room at the inn and here. That’s it. Eat your meals at the inn. Do not go near the Merchant District or the docks. My father has eyes all over the city.”
Katla nodded. “Sure, I can…”
“I will come get you at the inn every morning when we work here. When I have meetings, stay at the inn. Do not give this Ella name out to anyone. Use something else, not Katla, if asked.” She leaned back in her chair. “He probably already has a description of you…” her voice trailed off on the last sentence.
“I’m sorry,’ Katla said. “I just wanted to see the man…”
Mira waved her hand to dismiss her. “We can’t change the past. Father has a lot of influence, but so do I. You should stay in Wayrest only as long as needed. Once we’re done researching what we can here, you’ll need to leave.”
She leaned forward again. “I don’t know how much my parents know about Geonette or the Order. Like Tara, they only told me about her joining the Glenmoril Wyrd, as the coven was called then. Until I know more, we must assume they know a lot. Which means we keep you out of sight of them for now.”
Katla nodded. Mira was right. Wayrest had been making Katla nervous since she arrived, in spite of its beauty. She was grateful to see Tara’s home, but it struck her she would’ve been safer going back to Cyrodiil.
The heart of the beast.
“Let’s read,” Mira said, cutting off further conversation.