“When I failed her, you stepped in. You saved her when I couldn’t. Thank you.”
Mira folded the letter and placed it back into the hidden pocket within her traveling bag. She wiped the tear running down her face. Tara had written.
The letter was short and to the point, as all Tara’s were to her. Did she expect anything more? She hadn’t earned Tara’s trust back. Would she ever?
Katla was headed back to Skyrim, to Tara. Somewhere along the way, she’d sent Tara word of what had happened at her childhood home and making it to Mira’s house safely, after the attack. Mira providing the teleport scrolls and safety of her home, even when she herself wasn’t there, had moved Tara. Alleviated some guilt she had about protecting Katla.
Mira hadn’t questioned helping Katla. She was glad she’d thought to create the teleport scrolls and given them to her. She’d long ago set up her home to protect herself from those who didn’t agree with her research.
In studying all there was about magic, and proving some long held beliefs wrong, Mira had gained detractors, and a few enemies. She’d cultivated enough relationships with nobles to watch the deadly political games they played with each other. Setting her home up so no one could enter made sense. You’d have to be a mage of considerable skill to gain entry. As long as the Divines and Daedra weren’t meddling, it was the safest place to be.
Gods, how she missed home. To sit on the east balcony, watching sun rays break over the city walls of Chorrol on an early morning. Those were perfect days.
Mira finished preparing for her day. She was meeting with Hawkcroft this morning, then heading to the library for more study. There wasn’t much left to dig through. Today would be her last there. She’d release the reserved space and take what materials she could with her.
What she really wanted to do today was talk to Mom again about Tara Geonette and the order. Since their conversation a few weeks ago, Mira had gleamed little else from her. Mom had mumbled again about a ritual, and her regret Mira hadn’t experienced it.
Mira had denied it to herself, but it was clear now, they were somehow involved with the cult. Between talk of a ritual, Mom’s excitement when talking about Geonette, and the painting on the wall, of course they were. They were also the closest blood relatives to the ancient woman.
Is that why they’d fought so much when Mira was young? Had Mom been in the order and refused to leave it? Perhaps it wasn’t the farm they always fought over, but the order instead.
Mom avoided talk about the order when Father was around. Did he know she was still in it? Had he been forced to join? Mira wasn’t sure. She hadn’t figured out the disparity between them.
Mom’s the direct blood descendant. Maybe Father is jealous.
Could it be as simple as that?
Father was the most selfish, self-involved person she knew. Perhaps it was that simple.
Mira made her way to Hawkcroft’s home. A warm breeze greeted her on the walk, hinting at the coming spring.
Hawkcroft was a member. Finding his family name in the records explained his focus on Katla those times in the library and the endless meetings he kept arranging with Mira. Always speaking to Mira about nothing she was interested in. She suspected today would be the same. He was digging for information.
A young, dark elf let her into Hawkcroft’s home. Grandiose, the entryway was lined in marble and gave off the feel of a museum, not someone’s place to call home.
The dark elf, introducing herself as Sherith, asked her to wait while she fetched Hawkcroft. Slavery had long been banned in High Rock. Servitude, though, could still be found, hidden in plain sight. Mira suspected Sherith was such.
Mira studied the paintings hanging in the high-ceiling rotunda that was the entryway.
Check the frames. Look for the symbol.
Most of the paintings seemed to be of Hawkcroft ancestors. Like so many noble homes, they celebrated which ever ancestor had gained nobility or accomplished something.
Mira marveled at how many of these ancient people were raven haired, like her. Sharp blue eyes and black hair greeted her from nearly every frame.
So much for the Geonette family claiming the combination.
The fifth painting had the mark. A faded wood burn of the tree and sun symbol sat in the lower right corner of the painting of an older woman, raven haired with pale blue eyes. Nira Hawkcroft, the label said. One of the names Katla had found as part of their research. An original member of the order. The symbol could’ve been confused for a knot in the wood frame, if Mira hadn’t known what to look for. Was the symbol only tied to original members of the order?
“Master Blaton! Welcome to my humble home,” Hawkcroft said as he descended the long iron staircase on the left side of the room. Mira turned to greet him.
“The invitation is appreciated,” Mira said. “I apologize for my limited time today. What can I help you with?” She had what she needed; no need to stay longer than necessary.
Hawkcroft led her into his study, a large room to the right of the rotunda. Lit candles gave the room an unexpected warm glow. He motioned to a soft chair in front of his desk. He seated himself behind the desk.
“Straight to business, as always,” Hawkcroft said.
Mira suppressed the urge to put him in his place.
“One of my many failings.” She gave him a quick smile.
Hawkcroft started in on a fresh pitch for expansion of the Synod and hinted at wanting Mira to join the Wayrest conclave.
He’d had this conversation with her a month ago. They danced their way through the same talking points, Mira refusing any suggestion she join the conclave and chiding him when he asked her to speak to some of the nobles she had established relationships with.
Why had he invited her to his home for this spiel? She’d been firm at the library a month ago. She did not mince words. He knew that. No meant no.
He’s keeping you distracted.
“Master Hawkcroft,” Mira interrupted him.
“…trying to establish our, er, yes?”
“Was there anything else you needed? My answer to the Synod is no.”
His eyes darted to his desk, as if he was trying to think of something.
Mira stood. “Again, my schedule today is tight. I must take my leave. Thank you for your time.”
Hawkcroft sputtered as he followed her out. Mira made a point to bring herself to her full height and let her robes flow behind her, as if she were a high queen with no time for a lesser. It’d always been an effective tactic at keeping people at a distance, and giving her a veil of authority, even with her equals.
He might be dangerous. He’s in the order.
Mira doubted he could match her skills. Hawkcroft had never been a practical mage nor a researcher. He’d seemed a member of the Synod more for the politics; the power it granted some people in society. Not for real magical power.
“Good day, Master Hawkcroft.” Mira nodded and left before he could further protest.
The walk to the library was brief, Hawkcroft’s home only a couple of blocks away. The weather had reverted to the cold of a winter day.
It matched how she felt inside. What had he been distracting her from?
Standing inside her reserved section in the library, it was obvious.
Books were missing. The two she’d planned to finish reading today.
Breton Nobility After the Three Banners War and Thoughts on Oblivion and Pocket Realms.
You were too close to something.
Mira flipped through the remaining books. All that remained were the ones she and Katla had combed through already. Ones she intended to return because she was finished with them.
Her time in Wayrest was over, it seemed. Members of the order were on to her.
Was she still safe?
Yes. A direct descendant of Tara Geonette carried weight. She was sure of that.
You’re not in the order, though.
Perhaps it was time she made her way home. To Chorrol.
She wanted more information from Mom, though. The ritual, confirmation they were in the order, any more information she could drag out of her. If she hurried back to the farm, she’d have time to question her before Father came home.
Winds picked up on her way back to the farm. Clouds had gathered and Mira wondered if they’d get a snow storm tonight or tomorrow. One last big blow from winter before spring made its appearance.
More proof she should head back to Cyrodiil and home. Wayrest wasn’t welcoming any more.
Mom was feeding the chickens and adjusting their bedding in the hen house, to give them extra warmth against the fresh cold. Mira pitched in to help.
“I’m leaving tomorrow. Heading back to Chorrol,” Mira said.
“So soon?” Mom asked. Her voice sounded distant yet curious.
“My research here is finished.”
Mom nodded, but didn’t offer any more conversation.
They finished and headed inside.
“Come help me with dinner,” Mom said.
“Let me wash up first,” Mira said. She started towards her room, where a wash basin waited.
“I’d like your help with dinner first…” Mom called.
Mira stopped at the doorway of her room.
Someone had gone through her things.
They’d almost put her traveling bag back in place, but the strap sat wrong and the covers on her bed looked wrinkled where someone had sat. Mira had made the bed this morning. She never left wrinkles behind.
Her second bag, the one containing research books she’d borrowed from the library, still sat on the chair in the room. A quick look told her its contents had been left alone.
What were they looking for in her traveling bag?
They? You know who it was.
Mom. No one else was home, unless Father had left the store early. And what? Left the house again to go back to the store? No.
Mira dug through her bag. She sent a swift prayer up to the Divines, grateful she kept her journal on her at all times. Most of her research was written in the small notebook, buried in her flowing robes. The traveling bag had little in it. When packed, it’d mostly hold her clothes and personal effects.
Mira checked the hidden pocket she kept the letters in. Had they been tampered with? Read by someone else’s eyes? She couldn’t tell. The creases seemed the same. She flipped through them, checking if they were out of the order she kept them in.
The third and fourth letter were out of order. Had she done that by mistake?
“I need your help with dinner,” Mom said. She stood at Mira’s doorway, light from the nearby candles throwing shadows across her face.
Mira carefully replaced the letters, before turning around to face Mom.
“I’ll be right there. Need to wash my hands.”
Mom wavered, then turned and headed back to the kitchen. She’d not met Mira’s eyes.
Mira closed her eyes and pulled in a deep breath. What to do?
She’d use a calm spell. Maybe add a fear spell. Find out what Mom knew. Why she’d been looking through Tara’s letters. Find out what she knew about the order. Why they were after Katla.
They must know Katla is Tara’s girlfriend, she thought. That Tara would know where Katla is.
You promised yourself you’d never use that spell again.
It had to be done. They’d made her use calm on Tara so much when they were kids. Why not use it now to help the three of them, Mira, Katla, and Tara?
Don’t do this.
This was different. She had good reason.
Was that just an excuse?
Mira stepped into the kitchen. Mom was slicing fresh chicken into strips and placing them on a baking sheet.
“Wash the leeks for…” Mom started.
Mira hit her with a fear spell first, then a calming spell. She watched the blue glow of the calming spell envelop Mom, her eyes widening in surprise and fear, before settling into a drunken state.
“Sit.” Mira pointed to the chair closest to Mom. Mom obeyed and Mira sat in the chair across from her.
“Did you go through my letters from Tara?” she asked.
Mom seemed to tremble. Her voice was distant. “Yes.”
Mom frowned and shook her head.
Calm isn’t mind control, Mira reminded herself. It subdued, yes, as it had so much on Tara. But, it had limits. She’d hoped the addition of the fear spell would prompt answers more easily.
Mom trembled. “I need to know where she is.”
Katla? Or Tara?
“Where who is?” she asked.
“She has…she is…” Mom shook her head. She seemed to be fighting the spells.
Mira hit her with a fear spell again. Mom’s eyes widened and she cowered back in her chair.
Don’t do this, Mira. Don’t be like them.
“Are you in the Order of the Fire Queen?”
Mom sat straight, puffing out her chest. “Of course.”
“Of course he is. Why else would we have married?” Mom’s chest had fallen. Her face had fallen, too, a wave of sadness replacing the fear.
Mira swallowed. There it was.
“Why is the order after Katla?”
Mom frowned. “Traitors,” she muttered.
“Who’s a traitor?”
Mom’s eyes went wide with fear again. “You need the ritual.”
“What is the ritual?”
“He says you don’t, because we don’t matter.” Mom reached up and touched her hair. “But, we’re not like they were. And I want you with us.”
Mira stood. This wasn’t working. Perhaps the spell was wearing off too fast. For all her skill, Mira had vowed never to use calm or illusion spells again. She’d not practiced them much in over ten years. Had never used one on an adult. Tara had been a child. The strength of the spell needed would’ve been different. Had she not judged correctly for Mom?
“Where is she?” Mom said. Her eyes looked sharper. The spells were wearing off.
“What do you want with her?”
Mom shook her head. “We do matter. It’s our job. We had the one.” Mom stood suddenly.
Mira stepped back.
“You need the ritual. Then I can explain.” Mom’s eyes pleaded.
“Maybe, Mom,” Mira said. Would agreeing to this ritual get her the answers she needed?
Mom took a step towards her. “Then you’ll understand. Then you can help us find her.”
Mira hit Mom with another calm spell. Her eyes clouded over and she sat in the chair again.
Mira cast a detect life spell. She’d never used the spell before, barely remembered the process. It was useful for revealing those near you who were living. Useful for adventurers exploring dark caves or ancient ruins. Mira had never thought she’d need it.
The walls of the house seemed to fade. Small red lights formed on the other side of the walls, resolving into the shapes of chickens. Past them, more distant, but larger, the herd of cattle they owned also came into shape. Mira looked towards where the road led to Wayrest. There, a solitary red light shape formed and resolved into what she feared. The shape of a person. Moving towards them. Father.
Mira packed her traveling bag. She was grateful for how lightly she traveled. Enough clothes and minimal supplies were all she ever needed. She grabbed her second bag off the chair and came back to the kitchen.
Mom looked to be shaking off the calm spell again. Bretons were naturally resistant to magic. It had not occurred to her to compensate the strength of the spell for that.
Your heart wasn’t in it. You didn’t want to use it.
Their eyes met, Mom’s pale blue ones gripping Mira’s matching ones.
“I want you with us,” Mom said. “It will all be worth it.”
Mira heard the front door knob start to turn. Father had arrived.
Unlike Katla, she did not need a scroll to go home. She’d invented the teleport spell to her house, of course, and knew it by heart. In an instant, she arrived home, in Chorrol. She was safe.
Mom’s pale blue eyes lingered on her mind and followed her in her dreams that night.