Mira stared at the painting of Tara Geonette and marveled that she’d not noticed as a child it was protected by a thin magical barrier.
No wonder it looked so bright, and fresh, so many centuries after it’d been painted.
Then again, she’d avoided spending time at home as much as possible, even before Tara was born.
Home. She’d not called it that for a long time now.
Her parents’ home had always felt cold, distant; a reflection of their marriage. The only passion they shared was violence. Mira had felt blessed to be so good with magic early. To have a reason to stay away.
Was the magic a curse, though?
She studied the painting of Tara Geonette, hanging so proudly in her parent’s living room. It’d always been in this favored spot. Untouched, clean. Never even knocked off the wall by one of Tara’s waves. No wonder. Why hadn’t she noticed the barrier before?
Because you didn’t want to see it.
At a glance, Geonette and Tara looked so much alike. The hair. That intense dark red that Mira still thought of as fire and passion combined. So striking in the light.
Geonette and Tara shared green eyes, as well. The greens were different, though. Tara’s trended slightly blue, with a smokiness to them. Geonette’s were a brilliant bright green. The woman looked intense. On the edge of anger, and somehow also disgust. Whoever had painted her so long ago seemed to have captured her perfectly.
Little Tara was also intense, of course. The anger, the waves. She’d grown into a passionate woman, from what Katla had told her, and what Mira had observed in their brief time together. Tara’s emotions were tainted by sadness, though. A deep gulf Mira wasn’t sure she’d ever cross.
It’s your fault.
Mira pushed the thought away. What was done was done. No use dwelling or crying now. She’d fix it, if she could.
Mira studied Geonette’s facial features. Here, the differences with Tara were obvious. Tara had a roundness, a softness to her. She was, frankly, beautiful in the ways so many women wished to be. Her face held some perfect balance of features that led to her overall striking appearance. Her sum was greater than her parts. Even the scars on her face didn’t distract.
Geonette was attractive, Mira supposed, but no more than Mira herself was. It was hard to be objective. Mira wasn’t attracted to women, but no matter natural attractions, one knew when a person stood out. Geonette didn’t in the way Tara did.
Her features were sharper, with a narrower chin, more freckles, sharper nose, and slightly squinted eyes. One could see the resemblance, the family resemblance to her as an ancestor. Mira thought about her own facial features. Geonette looked most like Mom, though Mom’s hair was raven black, now streaked with gray, and her eyes a pale blue.
Father’s hair was as black as Mom’s, his eyes a dark blue. There were so many black haired people in the family, Mira had thought of raven hair and blue eyes as Geonette traits.
Redheads were less common, usually skipping a generation, or there’d be one out of a slew of siblings and cousins. History and how traits passed down fascinated Mira.
For all her research of magic in Tamriel across the eras, it’d not occurred to her to study her own family’s history with magic. The Geonette’s seemed to be above average among Bretons for magical ability. Many a Geonette had been a high ranking official in the Mage’s Guild, back when the Guild existed. Even now, she had a lot cousins spread across the Synod and College of Whispers.
None as powerful as her with magic, though.
Why was that?
Mira pulled her gaze from Geonette’s painted eyes and looked closely at the magic barrier protecting the painting. How long had it been up? Who had cast it? Why? Why was this painting so important? Why was Geonette viewed so proudly in this house?
They were direct descendants of her. Mom, Mira and Tara, were great, great…whatever about forty generations were…granddaughters of the woman. Out of the family that were Geonette’s, or related, they were the true direct line.
Maybe she’d get some answers when Mom and Father got back to the house. They’d taken a rare outing together into the city. Mira sent up a short prayer to Magnus that Katla was following orders and staying in her room at the inn. Wayrest was large, but they couldn’t be too careful here.
Mira let her eyes trace the edges of the barrier. It covered the frame as well as the painting itself. The barrier’s glow was the softest of whites, giving the frame and painting the faintest of a frosted look, as if one was looking at it through a fogged window. Mira wondered what would remove the barrier. She knew some spells that should do the job. She wouldn’t know for sure unless she tried.
The frame of the painting was cypress wood, varnished a rich, dark color. It still looked fresh. A master framer had to have built it. It would’ve cost a lot of coin in its day.
She studied the edges, admiring the joining of the corners, the seams so thin and smooth as to be almost invisible. Mira caught her breath at the lower right corner.
Stepping towards the painting, she put her face as close to the barrier as she dared.
Burnt into the lower right corner, nearly black in color, was an emblem of some kind. It was less than six inches tall, and at a glance could’ve been mistaken for a dark knot in the wood.
Had it been placed there to be missed?
The emblem, symbol, Mira didn’t know what to call it, was of a tree underneath a circular symbol. A sun, maybe. The sun, Magnus, maybe. Yes, as if the tree was reaching for Magnus himself.
Those that worshipped Kynareth held high reverence for nature, especially trees. Mira thought of the ancient Eldergleam tree, one many thought of as a tree of life. History claimed it was the oldest living thing in Tamriel.
The tree in the symbol did not remind Mira of the Eldergleam, or the Gildergreen, the great offspring tree in the city of Whiterun in Skyrim. The tree in the symbol was tall, with few branches. What ones there were, all looked thick, and either reached upwards towards the sun or curled back into the main trunk. The burnt carving was small, though, so the details were hard to confirm. She didn’t like the tree, though. It felt off.
Mira thought back to her research and reading over the years. To Divines and Daedra, and what cults she knew of. She couldn’t recall the symbol in any of her past research. She was no expert, though, on cults or religion. She studied mostly for magical purposes.
It was on a frame which held a painting of Geonette. That had to mean something. She’d add it to the list of things for her and Katla to look through in the books she’d gathered.
They had not made the headway Mira had hoped for. The Order of the Fire Queen had hidden their tracks well. Or, been too small to matter.
The chickens outside picked up their clucking. Mom and Father must be home.
Mira sat in a chair in the living room, specifically choosing the chair furthest from the painting, and opened one of the books she’d been carrying, The Oblivion Crisis.
The book covered the great event of the Third Era, well, the greatest event that had nearly brought the world to an end. Instead, the crisis had been averted by the Hero of Kvatch, and Martin Septim, the last of the Septim Dynasty. His death ended the era and harkened the Fourth Era and the Mede Dynasty, which now ruled the Empire. Well, until recently.
Mira had not paid close attention to politics while in Black Marsh, but once she’d returned to Cyrodiil a couple of years ago, she’d heard of key events. Emperor Mede II seemed to have disappeared. Rumors ran rampant the Dark Brotherhood had assassinated him, but there was no confirmation.
There was some new King, or Emperor, claiming the throne by right of combat. If Mira had heard the news correctly, he was a bandit with an army who’d assaulted the Imperial City and driven out the Elder Council, the wealthy men and women who, at times, really ran the Empire.
Mira had read this news while leaving Skyrim and heading to High Rock. When she was ready to head back to Cyrodiil, to Chorrol, where she had a place and felt most at home, what then? Would this new king be causing any problems? A thought for later.
Mom stepped inside, then Father. Mira closed the book, about the only book she trusted them to see the cover of, and stood.
“Good trip?” she asked.
“Yes!” Mom exclaimed. Mom, to everyone else known as Elayne Geonette, displayed a rare smile. “I was able to acquire some lovely dresses that your father didn’t feel suitable for the store. Not fancy enough.”
“My clientele has far greater taste than you do,” Father said. “The Rests’s Finest means the finest. Why that Redguard even thought I’d want to offer these to true nobles…” His gruff voice trailed off as he headed down the hall to their bedroom, most likely to wash up before dinner.
Mom ignored the insult and set down the wrapped dresses on a table near Mira’s chair.
“I suppose I should get dinner going,” she mumbled and headed to the kitchen.
“Need any help?” Mira offered. She’d not thought to start anything. She never cooked, had not bothered to learn much, even out on her own. Alchemy, she knew. Food ingredients for a good meal, not so much. She was used to meals at inns or group meals in a conclave or guild.
“Peel and cut up these carrots for me.” Mom set some to the side for her.
Following any instructions Mom gave her, they worked quickly and soon had a meal of grilled chicken breast, seasoned garlic carrots, and a warm braided loaf of bread.
Father came out of the bedroom as they set the table.
They ate quietly for a while. Mira found herself glancing at the painting of Geonette. How to broach the subject with them?
“Have you met with Sir Dalomax yet?” Father asked. He’d plowed through the chicken and was picking at the carrots.
“I meet with him in the morning,” Mira said.
“You should tell him to come by the shop,” Father said between bites of bread. He’d broken off a hunk of the loaf, ignoring the careful slicing of half of it Mom had done when they first sat down. “Even better, tell him to send his wife. I always charm the women.” He winked at Mira, as if she should be impressed.
“That would be inappropriate,” Mira said. She assumed her stern, teaching voice. The one she’d had to develop over the years when lesser mages belittled her research, or magic prowess.
It felt strange to use it on Father. She did not question how she spoke to people. Most knew nothing of magic, including half the mages she came across, and certainly, too many people lacked decorum. Her father was one of those types, she reminded herself. He was a noble wannabe, desiring it so much his greed and unfettered ambition displayed itself constantly. How he charmed anyone in his store surprised Mira.
People were complicated, she reminded herself. Everyone had multiple sides to themselves. No one was one thing.
Father paused mid chew and looked at her. A flash of anger passed through his face, then disappeared. Mira rarely came home. He seemed to sense an outburst from him would lead to her leaving immediately. He’d lose access to any noble gossip he hoped to gleam from her. It was the unspoken and uneasy alliance they’d maintained for over a decade now. Mira would visit occasionally, if Father was on his best behavior.
“Still,” he said as he finished chewing. “You could also drop the shop’s name, if it fits the conversation.”
“Of course,” Mira gave him a short nod.
“What are you researching now?” Mom piped in. Ever eager to move the conversation away from what might set off Father, Mira thought. He did seem to have genuine interest in Mira’s magical studies, at least.
“You know I can’t discuss any details,” Mira said. “It’s important no one knows what I’m working on until I get a book published.” She leaned forward slightly, though, wanting to draw them in. “But, I will tell you both I’m studying the history of the Third Era, particularly the Oblivion Crisis. Lots of magic to try and understand from how the gates were opened.” She sat back to judge their reaction.
She watched Father and Mom exchange a look. Unreadable.
“What kind of magic do you hope to learn from such study?” Father asked. He’d given up picking at the carrots. He’d never been a fan of them, and Mira sometimes wondered if Mom cooked them just to spite him.
“You’re not thinking to learn how to open a gate to Oblivion?” Mom asked. She seemed concerned.
“Of course not,” Mira said. She tried to moderate her voice, to not sound as chiding as she would have had anyone else asked the question. “Research is important, though. Even if it’s into the…darker of magic schools.” Had that phrase sufficed?
Father nodded. After a moment, Mom did, too.
“You’ve studied necromancy?” Father asked.
“Of course,” Mira said. “I am a master wizard in all schools.”
Neither Mom nor Father had been especially good mages. They knew some magic, could heal minor wounds, but had never progressed. Which is why they’d always needed Mira or scrolls to calm Tara during her waves.
Before the waves started. You know this. The fire magic scared them.
“Studying history has gotten me curious,” Mira said. She nodded at the painting. “I’ve always wanted to learn more about Tara Geonette. Mom, you said she was a witch in the Glenmoril Coven?”
“Oh, yes,” Mom said quickly. “For years.” She glanced at Father.
“I didn’t realize they went on to have children. The witches,” Mira said.
Another glance was exchanged. Like a silent conversation between them.
“Usually, no,” Mom continued. “She left the coven while still young. She never started any of the rituals that lead to a true hag, or hagraven.”
Mira nodded and waited.
Father cleared his throat. “You really are interested in our family history?”
Mira nodded again. “I admire all great mages. She’s had such a revered spot in the house, in our home, I’d like to know more. I assume I can give her credit for my magical abilities.” She kept her face serious. Would they accept her reasons?
Mom seemed excited. Her voice kept rising in pitch. “I think she was the greatest mage the Geonette family has ever known,” she finished, smiling.
Father cleared his throat again and gave Mom a withering look.
“She’s definitely where your magic comes from. The greatest trait a family can pass down to its descendants,” he said. He now had a sense of pride in his voice.
“How many children did she have?” Mira asked.
“Three,” Mom said. “Two daughters and a son. Lysona, Tara, and Tristard. We’re descended from Tara Geonette the Younger.”
Father coughed and stood. He sent another look Mom’s way.
“I’m off to smoke my pipe, then to bed. Have another early day at the store tomorrow.” He stepped outside without another word.
When he seemed safely out of earshot, Mom leaned in and whispered. “I’ll tell you more about her later. Your father doesn’t like all the attention she receives. Thinks his side of the family had important mages, too.”
“Did they?” Mira asked as she stood to help clear the table. She’d never heard anything about the Blatons and a history of important mages. She’d thought them an entirely merchant family.
Though, rare was the Breton family without at least one or two significant mages in their history.
“None are as important as Tara Geonette,” Mom said. “She star…well, she’s the important one.”
She seemed to want to say more. Mira could practically feel the waves of pride flowing from her.
“There were some important Blatons during the Third Era. I’ll tell you about them, since you’re studying the Crisis.”
As she prepared for bed later that night, Mira went over her new notes, hoping she’d written down all the names correctly. She and Katla had fresh leads.
What else had been new about the evening? Mira mused.
It occurred to Mira this was the first time she’d ever seen her mother so animated. So happy.
(*note, some of the lore now follows not only Skyrim, but events mentioned in Rigmor of Cyrodiil)