“Blaton! You’re here. Come with me,” Commander Marius said.
Tara caught her breath, tucked the courier’s note into her hidden pocket, and headed towards the tall Imperial that was her new boss. Maro had been of a medium build and had the look of a cosmopolitan Imperial. A fighter, but a cultured one. Marius looked battle hardened and was about the most muscled, broad chested man Tara had ever seen. Father’s barrel chest had nothing on Marius.
His left eye was white, blind, and his face displayed long, dramatic scars below that eye and down his face. This man had fought hard and survived. His black hair was shorn close to his head. He was all business, by the look of him.
“Sir,” she said as she reached him. He’d been standing far down a long curving hallway inside the Imperial Palace. Tara still hadn’t fully taken in the palace, or the city, for that matter.
The Imperial City was unlike any other city in Cyrodiil, perhaps all of Tamriel. The city was wheel shaped, districts separated in sections, as if by spokes, with the White-Gold Tower, the tallest building in Cyrodiil, at its center. The tower was home to the palace. This meant a domed roof, a lot of curving hallways, with a confusing number of doors leading to guest suites, personal quarters, meeting rooms, and somewhere, the throne room. The seat of power in the Empire. Fitting it sat in a building once used by the Alyeids, those ancient elves who’d once enslaved the Nedic people and ruled Cyrodiil back in the First Era.
How was she living in such a building? The history here was boggling.
Tara had barely unpacked in her quarters, a small, sparse room a palace guard had led her to when she arrived this morning.
Had his name been Crispus? She’d liked him.
The palace seemed to contain a mix of mostly Imperial guards, specifically Praetorians, elite guards with the honor of serving in the palace. The palace was in a word, busy. Besides guards, numerous couriers, and tons of servants, milled about.
She’d not seen any other Penitus Oculatus agents, though she knew headquarters were nearby. She’d have to make her way there at some point.
She’d received a note before leaving Solitude ordering her to head straight to the palace as soon as she got to the city. She suspected there’d be no rest for her weary body. Not that the ride had been physically hard. Things had weighed on her mind, though.
“Good, you have your issued sword,” Marius said as she approached. “First impression, I want you in official attire.”
“I’m better with axes, sir,” Tara said. She was good enough with a sword. But, if she was going to be a bodyguard, didn’t they want her in her best equipment?
“I’ve heard,” Marius said. He gave her an appraising look. “Might want you training other agents one day.” He shot her a quick smile, then looked serious again. “This is for show. While you should always be on your guard, we’re safe right now, and I wanted you looking proper before meeting Lord Chancellor Blackwell and the queen. You can switch to your axes after this.”
“Right into work?” Tara asked. They were now walking further down the long, white marbled hallway.
“Never a quiet day here. Our Lady Rigmor’s previous guards have already been reassigned. Blackwell wants her protected anew immediately.”
“The other guards were reassigned, leaving her unprotected until I arrived?” Tara raised an eyebrow.
“Either the queen or Blackwell would’ve had their heads by now, if not.” Marius tossed her another flicker of a smile. “I don’t think they were cut out for that kind of work. Loyal, but…I’ve heard stories.”
Bumbling guards or a temperamental queen? Tara thought about her premonition, the Rigmor in it. Not a spoiled, temperamental queen. Those eyes told the story of a strong woman who’d overcome. What the scars had left behind might be a woman with no patience for foolishness. Tara was going to find out soon.
“I need to meet the Dragonborn in the throne room,” Marius said. “I’ll leave you with Cerys, our queen’s lady in waiting.”
Tara searched her memory of the Rigmor file. Cerys had been mentioned. A Breton, adopted by an Altmer elf who worked and resided at the College of Winterhold. He’d possibly been Arch-Mage for a time, though not confirmed. Jonte Malesam was his name. He and Cerys had been the keepers of Rigmor’s lineage, the ones charged with overseeing the artifacts and knowledge of Morgan of Winterhold, Rigmor’s ancestor. The descendant of Titus Mede I. Malesam had become Court Advisor in Bruma and had defended Rigmor during her trial. He and Cerys were trustworthy.
Outside of being a Breton mage, and about Tara’s age, there wasn’t much else on her. Cerys had been Rigmor’s lady in waiting since she’d been countess of Bruma.
“Cerys will introduce you to our lady Rigmor. I believe she’s meeting with Blackwell.”
Marius stopped in front of a non-descript door.
“Then, your duty starts. Where ever Rigmor goes, you go with her. Unless she or The Dragonborn order otherwise.” Marius’ eyes, well, the good one, drilled into her. “Protect our queen at all costs. Either she or Cerys will introduce you to Kintyra at some point today. The baby was born two weeks ago.”
Tara nodded. “Yes, sir.”
They stepped through the door into what Tara thought of immediately as a politician’s office. Thick rugs covered the floor in an overwhelming, yet tasteful, manner. Old paintings of nobles Tara didn’t recognize dotted the walls, broken up by paintings of the White-Gold Tower, or landscapes of Cyrodiil.
Plush chairs with ornate carved legs sat along two walls. An open doorway led to another room. Tara heard two voices coming from it. A man and woman.
“Cerys,” Marius said. “This is Tara Blaton. The new bodyguard for our lady.”
Cerys was standing quietly in this waiting room. She wore simple robes, dressed like a mage. Her hair was brown, as were her eyes. Her face look both gentle and mature. A woman wiser than her years. War paint lined her eyes, running in matching lines down her face.
Tara didn’t often see Bretons wearing the permanent skin paints. It’d fallen out of favor over the years, especially since so many Reachmen, the Forsworn, had adopted the look.
At least she was close to Tara’s height. Finally, someone not towering over her.
“Well met,” Cerys said. She gave Tara a genuine smile. “When my lady finishes, we can…”
“I couldn’t take a dump in peace with the last ones, Blackwell. I don’t need a bodyguard!” The woman in the next room was yelling.
“Rigmor,” the man said. There was a tone to his voice that made Tara think of a politician, a manipulator. Yet, it held real feeling in how he said Rigmor’s name. In one word, it was obvious he wasn’t trying to calm her. He cared. This had to be Lord Chancellor Blackwell.
“…we must protect you, our queen, and Kintyra. It is the duty of the Penitus Oculatus to protect the royal family at all costs. They have sent me their best agent for this task.”
Cerys was looking thoughtfully at the doorway. “Protocol dictates we wait here until they’re finished,” she said. “I think we should make an exception in this case.”
“I shall leave Tara in your hands for the formal introduction, then,” Marius said. “I am needed in the throne room.” Marius nodded at them both, turned, and left.
“Come on,” Cerys said to Tara. Tara followed her into the room.
Blackwell was a Nord who carried a stately attitude. She perhaps used the word serious to describe people too much, but before Tara stood a man that put Mira’s level of serious to shame.
She wondered if he knew how to smile.
He was dressed in fine Imperial attire, reserved for nobles and politicians. He looked to be in his forties, and his face showed a life of dealing with both the noblest citizens and the lowest of lowlife. If the reports she’d read were true, he’d been behind the destruction of the Dark Brotherhood here in Cyrodiil. He was said to have a deep network of spies. He’d been responsible for keeping the Penitus Oculatus together, despite their official disbanded status under Sethius.
This was a man that could beat her in a game of Tales of Tribute.
The room they were now all standing in was lush, with more thick rugs and one of the finest desks Tara had ever seen. These walls held paintings of ancient kings, queens, and landmarks around Cyrodiil. Another room that had seen a lot of history.
She turned her eyes to Rigmor. The woman from her dreams. The premonition had gotten her eye color wrong. They were amber, not a brown hazel. The other details matched, though. Rigmor was a Nord, making her taller than Tara by almost a head. Tara estimated she was perhaps an inch or two shorter than Katla. Her build was slender, far more so than Katla’s. Her hair was the same rich brown, though, and thick, as it’d been in her dream.
Tara realized she was holding her breath. Of course she was. Reality was here. She was standing in front of the woman she’d had dreams about almost every night for the past five years. If she’d ever doubted whether the dream had been a premonition, here was proof. This was the woman from her dreams. She felt lightheaded.
Tara took in a deep breath. The moment was surreal. She had no words for how she felt.
This was a dream coming true. Not any dream one desired. This was fate. Tara didn’t like the confirmation the Divines were messing with her life. Dictating it. She’d not thought much about fate before this moment.
Before that moment in Oblivion.
“When the time comes, don’t fight me…”
Another one promising a fate for her.
Tara snapped herself back to the moment.
This Rigmor wasn’t the woman from the when of the premonition. Her face was heart shaped, with a small nose, and mouth that formed a natural pout. She was beautiful in the way all women were to Tara. Real. Something about her captivated. Her eyes shone a deep soul. Someone with a story and incredible strength. A glance easily told anyone she was not to be messed with.
If that didn’t do it, the scars on her face would be the other clue. They matched the dream, almost. A shorter one up high on her left cheek. The other, dramatic one, ran along her left jawline, from near her ear, stopping at her chin. Possibly a cut from a sword. This woman had been in more than a few fights and lived.
The age of her face, the slightly redder color to the scars told Tara this Rigmor was years younger than the premonition. Whatever was happening in that dream was more than a few years away.
Tara took another breath. This was her. Really her. These past years of finding her purpose, the Imperial Legion and her struggles. Rorikstead. The training, and loyalty tests, for the Penitus Oculatus. Varro’s face floated in front of her.
Tara had sworn loyalty to the Empire, officially. Not in her heart, though. She’d sworn to Rigmor. To a woman she didn’t know. Because Freta had told her it was a premonition. Fate. All of this for Rigmor.
“Lord Chancellor, milady Rigmor,” Cerys said. “May I introduce Tara Blaton. Your new bodyguard.”
Tara dropped to one knee and bowed, the ultimate show of respect one was to give to nobility. She’d never bowed like this before to anyone.
“My queen,” she said.
“Perfect,” Blackwell said as Tara stood back up. “You are set, my lady. As I was saying, Tara here came highly recommended by Commander Maro. She’s traveled all the way from Skyrim to serve.”
Tara took in both their gazes. Blackwell had given her a quick glance, keeping his face stoic, not revealing his thoughts.
Rigmor was studying her. Tara met her gaze. There was a curiosity and also conflict in Rigmor’s eyes. Perhaps she’d not been expecting a woman to be assigned to her. Certainly not a short little Breton. Ironically, she now had two Bretons at her service, Cerys and Tara. Reports had said Rigmor’s bodyguards while countess of Bruma were two Nord women. Though, apparently, she’d left them at the castle often. Rigmor liked her freedom, it seemed. If reports were true, she was an incredible fighter. Of course she wouldn’t want a bodyguard.
Rigmor turned back to Blackwell. “I don’t need a bodyguard. I can take care of myself!”
Blackwell’s face showed patience. “Rigmor, think of her more for Kintyra, if you must. You’ll be busy, between the child and your royal duties. Tara here relieves you of having to worry about your or Kintyra’s safety.”
Rigmor didn’t look convinced.
“If I may,” Tara said. She looked at Rigmor, thought to the overheard conversation. She took a chance.
“I might be short, but I won’t be underfoot, my lady. Or in the privy with you,” she said. She gave Rigmor her widest grin, the kind she reserved for flirtations and when trying to convince Katla to change her mind.
Katla. She still needed to see her. Make up for their fight.
Rigmor looked at Tara, as if taking in her short stature for the first time. She looked at Cerys, then back at Tara. She burst out laughing.
“Fine. Come on,” she said. She was smiling.
Tara and Cerys followed Rigmor down the curving hallway.
“You live in Skyrim?” Rigmor asked her.
“Been there since 201,” Tara said. “My girlfriend and I have a home in Solitude.”
“But you’re from High Rock?”
Tara nodded. Rigmor walked at a fast pace, and Tara had to focus to keep up. “Wayrest, ma’am.”
“How do you like Cyrodiil so far?”
“Oh, I’ve lived here before. Before Skyrim, I spent a few years here. Never visited the Imperial City, though. It’s impressive.”
Rigmor seemed about to ask another question, but stopped herself. She stopped walking.
“Oh, Cerys, can you go check on Kintyra? Mom could use a break.”
“Of course,” Cerys nodded at Tara. “A pleasure to meet you.” She turned and headed back the way they’d come. Tara made a mental note to find out if the royal suite had another entrance in that direction. Marius had told her it was located behind the throne room. Perhaps Kintyra and Rigmor’s mother were somewhere else. If there was more than one way inside the royal suite, Tara would need to know. She really needed to get a handle on the palace layout.
Rigmor started walking again. Tara walked slightly behind her. Protocol fluctuated on whether she should be in the lead, as a guard, or lag behind slightly, out of respect for a royal. She’d let Rigmor indicate what she preferred, Tara decided. Outside of obvious dangerous situations.
By Dibella, she was walking behind the woman she had committed to sacrificing herself for.
“There is much the Divines do we cannot comprehend.”
Freta’s words. Tara was here because the Divines wanted her here.
Would she have to die for this woman?
Not for a while, at least. Tara glanced at Rigmor again. She was sure this Rigmor was younger than in the premonition. They had time.
Tara bit her tongue. Rigmor’s voice was loud, bouncing off the marble floor and stone walls. They stopped and Tara realized they were in front of the throne room.
Without giving Tara a chance to step forward and secure the area, Rigmor walked into the throne room. Tara followed her. She caught her breath.
The new ruler of the empire. The hero that had saved all of Nirn from Alduin. The one Rigmor was married to.
The other one in the premonition.
Rigmor, a young girl crying nearby, and someone else had always been in the premonition. Someone who felt powerful, who was also protecting Rigmor.
The Dragonborn. The sense of power emanating from them was tangible. Maybe it was the premonition that made her sense it. Perhaps the look in the Dragonborn’s eyes. This was another person that had seen things. Experienced more than perhaps any mortal had. Or should.
“Dragonborn, we need to talk!” Rigmor walked up to the Dragonborn, whose face revealed an incredible amount of patience. Marius stood off to the right, slightly behind them.
Tara walked over to her spot, across from Marius, positioning herself further away and on the Dragonborn’s right side. She’d been taught the general stance, where agents were to stand in relation to the royals in the throne room. If they were meeting a guest here, Rigmor would normally be to the Dragonborn’s right, which put Tara in the perfect position to offer protection. Marius, as commander, was closer to the Dragonborn, to protect them. Not that they looked to need any protection.
“It’s been a little time now after…” Rigmor was talking to the Dragonborn. It felt like she was working up to something.
Tara let her eyes drift around the throne room, as this was her first time in it. Grand was insufficient as a word to describe it. The floor was white marble tile with red diamond accents selectively placed in them. She was standing on one such tile. Larger tiles had the empire’s symbol embedded in them. They matched the long Imperial banners hanging around the room.
The room was circular, full of columns, and a dome ceiling. They were in the middle of the White-Gold Tower, Tara realized. The center of the dome had an opening. Tara wondered what floors were up there. She had so much of the palace to study.
The throne room looked to be able to hold an audience of maybe a couple hundred people. The eye catching spot, the focus of the room was the thrones. Grand stairs, made of white stone, in the center of the room led up to the thrones. If you sat on the throne, you were truly elevated above everyone. Tara wasn’t sure how high the thrones were at the top of the staircase. Twenty feet?
The main throne was the Ruby Throne, of course. It was directly behind her, with a large ruby embedded in the white stone of the throne’s back. She couldn’t tell from this angle if the seat of the throne also had rubies embedded in it. No wonder red and diamond shapes dominated the banners of the Imperials. How old was the throne? It was clearly a permanent fixture of the room, as was the throne for the queen, to its left. No ruby in it, but otherwise it was the same white stone, high back seat.
Were these the same thrones Alyeid kings had once sat in? The history of this room, of this entire tower, was unfathomable to her. Thousands of years of events had happened here.
“I told Mom and Blackwell what I want, so we can leave Kintyra here with her and Cerys and take a few days off organizing the blessing in Bravil,” Rigmor was saying to the Dragonborn.
Tara snapped back to the conversation. Bravil? Traveling already with the queen. She and Marius would need to plan the route, scout ahead…
“Bravil?” The Dragonborn asked. This seemed news to everyone.
“…It has to be in the chapel of Mara,” Rigmor said. “…and I won’t take no for an answer.”
Tara thought quickly. Yes, there had been a chapel to Mara in Bravil. Also, a large statue of Mara outside the chapel. Many of the cities here in Cyrodiil had chapels dedicated to specific Divines, even if they had alcoves and pedestals inside for people to worship any of the other divines. Talos worship had been reinstated, adding back the ninth Divine, the one Freta had worshipped. Tara felt Freta’s amulet press into her skin.
The main focus of a chapel would be a specific Divine, with priests and priestesses of that order maintaining and handling services.
Bravil also had a statue to Dibella, on the east side of town. The story went it had magically appeared one night, appearing where a statue of Zenithar had once stood. The loss of Zenithar had happened in what became known as the skooma wars. This had all happened before Tara and Freta had moved to Bravil. That’s where Tara had worshipped. She’d never gone into the chapel. It’d be good to see Bravil again. Her sweetest memories of Freta were there.
So, they’d need to scout the chapel, perhaps check the history of the priests there.
The Dragonborn was suggesting to Rigmor they needed to be careful.
“You do still love me, don’t you?” Rigmor asked.
Tara raised an eyebrow. She put it back down before anyone noticed. Were Rigmor and the Dragonborn fighting? Or was this something else? She couldn’t imagine saying that to Katla, or Katla to her.
You two are fighting, anyway.
“Rigmor, of course I love you.”
“I know you’ve been amazing lately, saving me…”
Tara listened to the conversation. What was Rigmor about to ask for? Was the Dragonborn this difficult to convince of anything?
Maybe not. Or, maybe they were placating Rigmor.
“Great! I’ll inform everyone and…” Rigmor was excited. It struck Tara that perhaps the woman was feeling restless. She’d just talked about surveyors and redesigns to the palace. Did she hate it here? Considering her wild history as countess in Bruma, probably so.
“Hold on a minute. What about Kintyra?” the Dragonborn was asking.
“Dragonborn, she’s safe here. Blackwell has reformed the Penitus Oculatus and we have a ton of Praetorians, plus we have Grom and Tiny…”
Grom and Tiny? Right, they’d secretly been watching out for Rigmor while she was with Robere de Medalius. He’d been the son of the bandit Sethius had named Count of Leyawiin after taking over. Robere and Rigmor had dated for a year, per the file she’d read. Things had changed when the Dragonborn came to Cyrodiil.
At some point, Robere had been revealed to be working with Sethius’ wife, Morag Sethius, the vampire. Perhaps she’d put him under a spell. He’d led one of the assaults on Bruma early in the war that broke out when Rigmor escaped Roscrea. He’d been captured. The report didn’t say what had happened to him.
“…I need this. I need some time, just me and you.”
There it was. Rigmor wanted alone time with the Dragonborn.
Tara had received a fresh report of Kintyra’s birth. The attack by The Mute, an assassin hired by someone, still unknown, and how the Dragonborn had saved Rigmor and Kintyra from him and the various other assassins attacking them at the Roxey Inn and in Bruma castle itself.
No wonder Rigmor wanted time alone away from the palace. This had all happened just a couple of weeks ago.
The Penitus Oculatus really needed to find out who’d hired the assassins, Tara realized.
“Great. I’ll see you outside the stables…” Rigmor was saying.
Wait. She and the Dragonborn going alone to Bravil? Without her and Marius?
“Permission to speak,” Marius said to the Dragonborn. Rigmor was heading out of the throne room. Tara wasn’t sure if she should follow. Had she been given an order to watch over Kintyra instead? She looked at Marius.
“Do you think it is wise to go alone to Bravil?” Marius asked. “Allow Tara and myself to go ahead of you, if only to make sure of your safety for when you arrive.”
He’d mispronounced her name, his natural accent changing the color of it. She wondered what city he was from. She’d need to correct him.
“I’ve got this, Marius. I need you to stay here and protect Kintyra,” the Dragonborn said.
There it was. A direct order to look after Kintyra and not go to Bravil. The royal family could give direct orders to the Penitus Oculatus, including telling them to not perform their job, as it were.
How long had Tara officially been on duty? An hour? Already being told to watch the baby, and not the queen. She supposed it was to be expected. Many previous Emperors and Empresses had been great fighters before taking the throne. Had fighting skills matching those of their bodyguards. Rigmor and the Dragonborn, perhaps even more so. Of course they wouldn’t think they’d need protection. Was this how it was going to be? Fighting to actually do her job?
“As you command,” Marius said to the Dragonborn. “The child shall be protected at all times.”
“We’ll be back in a day or two, so I want you and Tara with her. Never leave her side,” the Dragonborn said.
The Dragonborn left. Tara looked at Marius and raised an eyebrow.
“We’ll take watching Kintyra in shifts,” Marius said. “Let me show you the royal suite, then I’ll take the first shift.”
The royal suite was surprisingly simple and small. The entry was indeed behind the thrones, hidden behind a large banner. Few knew it existed.
The suite consisted of a living area and the royal bedroom, which is where Kintyra stayed, being a newborn. It’d be awhile before she had a room of her own. She wasn’t here now.
Marius pointed to another door. “Still being built out,” he said. “I believe they will build us rooms here, so we’ll be closer and can protect them easier.”
They discussed the shifts and how best to break up their time watching Kintyra.
“I know you’ve just arrived. I’ll take this first shift. Go finish settling in, get some rest, study the palace layout,” Marius said. “I’m off to find Cerys and Sigunn. You can meet Kintyra when your shift starts.”
Tara saluted. “Sir.”
She stepped outside the throne room and pulled out the courier’s note she’d tucked away. She read it again. Katla had arrived in the Imperial City and was safely in the apartment Tara had arranged for her.
Time to go see her.
(For Tara’s story, I will follow the events from Rigmor of Cyrodiil that follow the romantic arc. Also, I will try to keep the Dragonborn generic, to allow for anyone’s Dragonborn to fit the story. If I find my writing suffers as a result, I will revert to Tara’s actual Dragonborn, my Imperial named Anna)