Thanks for the kind words. And not to worry, Julian still isn’t exempt from property tax! As for death, that’ll come, but not in this story!@ghastley:
Thanks for the thoughts. I decided to leave things the way they are. Like Julian, I try not to read too much between the lines. So the two thrones really don’t have that much symbolism, other than the fact that Millona doesn’t believe her husband is dead. If he had died, and she had seen his body, then yes, she would have had the second throne removed.@TK:
We all know how it goes for old soldiers trying to retire - after a while the farm life starts to pall. And yes, there’s always horses!@mALX:
He he he.@SubRosa:
The haunting actually refers to Julian’s family, not the Sirens. Those women wouldn’t know a wraith if one bit them in the tush! But I wanted to show how the deaths of her family still has a lingering impact on the town of Anvil. What we saw here about the relationship between Umbranox and Indarys is but the groundwork for what comes after the MQ. @Acadian:
Sendal is one of those urchins that just wormed his way into my heart. I just couldn’t ignore his charm, and I’m glad you picked up on that. Julian thinks he’s quite the troublemaker, but in a good way. As for your sense that she is torn about staying in Anvil versus carrying out her duties, you’re quite right there. At this point, the feeling that time is running out is stronger than ever.@Grits:
Julian is like that, all serious, then throws out a poker-faced comment that just bites you in the tush!@Olen:
I think you hit the nail on the head. I don’t think Julian will be obtaining any more houses, though. The one in the Waterfront is just a handy place to stow her gear while she is traipsing all over Cyrodiil. Even though I’m playing on a console, I’m roleplaying that Gweden Farm actually becomes Julian’s farm. As for the order of events, you’re slightly backwards.
In the last chapter, Julian gets more aid for Bruma from the Countess. Now she learns of her next task for entrance into the University; this is followed by a fateful meeting.
*******************************Chapter 23.7: Carahil and Blanco
Carahil looked up from her studying at my arrival. She smiled at me, then her green eyes sharpened at the look on my face. “Did things go well with the Countess?”
“Very well, ma’am,” I managed to keep my voice even. I still held the packet containing the deed to Gweden farm and the purse full of my pension in my hand. “Better than I expected, actually.”
“Then why the long face?” Her question brought home to me how observant the older Altmer really was. I could never tell a lie in front of her.
Carahil stepped out from behind the counter and led me into the small parlor off to the right. As we sat in the comfortable chairs, I held out the deed to her.
Her slender hand brushed the long strawberry-blond bangs from her eyes as she read the script. Her tilted brows rose high, then she met my gaze. “The Countess gave you your mother’s old place?” She shook her head. “But why would you want to go back -?”
I leaned back against the cushioned back of the chair. “I’ll tell you the same thing I told her - it’s time to put those old ghosts to rest. It’s not like I have anything to fear from these particular spirits.”
“Are you certain?” Carahil handed the parchment back to me. Carefully I folded it and tucked it away into the leather packet.
Again that vision of my mother and my brother coalesced in front of my eyes before I shook it away. “Let’s just say that Akatosh sent me a message.” I hefted the blue silk purse. “And the Countess has held my pension for me all these years.”
“How much do you have there?” Carahil asked.
“About forty-five septims,” I drew a slow breath. Never in my life had I held so much gold. The look in Carahil’s wide eyes mirrored my own feelings, still stunned by the Countess’s revelation.
“That’s almost enough to buy the old Benirus manor from young Velwyn!” she exclaimed. “He’s been trying to sell it for the past year!”
“Why?” I asked, recalling the dilapidated old ruin I had passed on my way to Chapelgate this morning. I had been shocked at how rundown it now seemed.
“He wants to live in the Imperial City with his parents, it seems,” Carahil responded, her gaze growing thoughtful. “They made him responsible for selling the place first before he could leave Anvil.”
“He doesn’t live in the house?” I asked.
Carahil shook her head. “He’s staying at the Count’s Arms
,” she answered. Her eyes sharpened on me. “Are you thinking of buying it?”
“Why would I buy it when I have an equally dilapidated farm to restore?” I retorted mildly, smiling to take the sting out of my words. “Besides, the view is so much better from the homestead!”
“So you’re moving back to Anvil?” Carahil asked.
“I’m thinking about it,” I tucked the packet and coins into my belt purse. “But first I have to get into the University and study alchemy and restoration. Before I can do that, I have to finish my task for the Countess of Bruma.”
“So you finally decided to follow in your mother’s footsteps?” Carahil smiled at me. “Just when you’re becoming quite the battlemage, from what I hear!”
“I find myself wanting to help people heal and recover more than harm them,” I spoke slowly. “I’ve spent the past several weeks casting convalescence and restore magicka on a sick horse, and I’ve learned more about alchemy in that time than I have in my entire life before that.” I looked down at my hands, seeing again the fine scars left by the bloodgrass. “It hurt to see the people of Kvatch after that night,” I continued. “I found myself wishing I could do more for them.”
“As a battlemage you can heal as well as fight,” Carahil mused.
“As a battlemage I may be called to apply torture in interrogations,” I countered. “I’m not certain that’s something I’d want to do.”
“I see,” Carahil nodded to herself. “Well, are you ready for your recommendation?”
I blinked at the sudden change of conversation. “Yes, I am, ma’am.”
“Unlike some of the other tasks you have had to complete,” her tone became mildly censorious, and I briefly wondered which tasks she referred to, “there is nothing frivolous about this one. There is a rogue mage that has been attacking merchants along the Gold Road between Lord Drad’s estate and Gottshaw Inn.” She locked gazes with me, and I saw again the intimidating battlemage she had been in her younger days. “The attacks stopped for a while with the two Oblivion Gates, but now that you’ve closed them, the mage will be attacking again. Why, one of the first merchants to leave town was found dead by Veranius just this morning. This situation has become intolerable and will not be tolerated any longer.”
I recalled Morvayn’s words last night: “- the authorities can take care of that rogue mage that’s been harassing merchants. That ought to be quick work, then we can see about sending vital supplies to Kvatch.”
“What do you know about the mage?” I asked.
“The attacks started over the summer. Victims were found with frost burns on their bodies. Simple robbery seems to be the motive,” Carahil steepled her fingers before her face. “The one common link between these deaths, other than that the victims are all merchants, is Brina Cross Inn
. I sent two battlemages, Arielle Jurard and Roliand Hanus, there over a month ago, but we’ve lost touch with them when the Oblivion Gate opened here. If you can contact them on your arrival at Brina Cross
, they can fill you in on what they’ve found so far.”
“Frost burns?” I considered her words. “I’ll have to be careful, then.”
Carahil rose and moved to a nearby cabinet. She opened the doors and examined the ranks of scrolls within. Selecting three, she drew them out and brought them to me. “These are frost shell spells,” she explained. “They should provide sufficient resistance to frost magic, if and when you encounter this rogue mage.”
I rose to my feet and considered my options. “I’ll take Daedra Slayer,
” I mused aloud, fingering the scrolls. “It has fire damage. But I’m not certain if Morvayn is finished with my armor.”
“Then you will have need of these,” Carahil indicated the spells in my hand. “Do not let your guard down. He may have a few extra tricks up his sleeve. I don’t know if the inn’s staff is involved somehow in this.”
“Yes, ma’am,” I said. “I’ll leave right away.”
Carahil smiled at me, crinkles appearing at the corners of her green eyes. “I knew you would not hesitate, Julian. You fit in well with us, unlike some mages who do not abide by the principles of the guild.”
Morvayn met me near the sales counter. “I’m sorry, Julian, but your cuirass took a lot of damage. We’re still working on it.” He indicated my weapons racked behind the counter. “But the bows and Daedra Slayer
are fully repaired and ready to go.”
“I’ll take just Daedra Slayer,
” I answered. “It should do, ser.”
Morvayn regarded me a moment longer. “You’ve got that look in your eye, Julian. Off to rescue another cat?”
I chuckled shortly. “In a manner of speaking,” I answered, buckling the enchanted katana at my waist, over my linen skirt. I paused a moment, then dug into my belt purse. “Would you mind holding this for me, please?”
Morvayn looked at the packet and coin sack I held out to him. “Certainly,” he nodded. He fingered the leather. “Got the farm?”
“As a reward for closing the Oblivion Gate,” I nodded. “And my back pension, too. Four years’ worth.”
Morvayn whistled softly, hefting the sack in his hand. “Enough here to buy one of Clesa’s horses, if you want to ride rather than walk.”
I hesitated, then shook my head. “I’m walking today.” I nodded farewell at him. “I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
The sun shone brightly overhead, warming the countryside as I stepped through Northgate. I nodded my greetings to the two guardsmen standing outside the portal. To the left, nestled in the curve of the Gold Road as it turned northwestward, the stables showed signs of bustling activity, with a golden-red horse standing within the open-sided shelter. Muscular and huge-boned, he towered above the smaller white horses as he munched at a pile of hay nearly as massive as himself.
In the courtyard, a male Redguard was grumpily stripping a lathered white stallion of his tack. The horse, beautifully proportioned with a graceful, arching neck and black eyes, tipped his small ears at me, then playfully nipped at the groom’s shirt. Busy with the girth, Ernest grunted and nudged the horse’s nose away with his elbow. As he pulled the saddle off the stallion’s round back, the white equine snorted loudly, splattering Ernest’s shirt and arms with mucus.
Ernest scowled at the horse’s mischievous gaze and snarled wordlessly before stumping away with the tack. As he disappeared within the stable office, the stallion turned his gaze back to me. I found myself leaning on the fence, watching him. There’s something about that horse. He’s different from the other white horses Clesa breeds here.
I couldn’t quite pin it down. He’s the same size, same color.
I glanced at one of the other horses tethered within the shed, and began comparing the two. The gelding holds his head lower. His skin is pink, and his eyes are light. His back is longer.
I turned my gaze back the stallion, who still watched me. This one is more close-coupled, more rounded and muscular. Dark skin that shows around the eyes and muzzle. His nose is straight, not bowed out like the other one’s. He carries his head high, and that neck is so beautifully arched.
Suddenly the stallion moved, his compact body turning gracefully until he faced me. Slowly he walked toward the fence and me. I realized I had stopped breathing when his warm breath brushed my crossed forearms.
“Hello Julian,” Clesa’s voice reached me from beyond the stallion’s rump. The horse swung his head in her direction, waggled his ears, then turned back to me. His soft muzzle found its way to my right ear. I scrunched my shoulder as his breath tickled the side of my neck. “I see Blanco’s introduced himself to you.”
“Blanco?” I repeated. “He’s beautiful, Clesa. I’ve been trying to figure out why he’s so different from your other white horses.”
“He’s High Rock bred,” Clesa answered, running her hand affectionately along the stallion’s arched neck. “I brought him down to improve my bloodlines.”
I noticed that Clesa herself was dressed for riding, in leather breeches and high-topped boots. Drying sand was splattered along her calves, matching the same on Blanco’s belly. “I’m sorry, you were riding him just now?”
“I have to,” Clesa responded. “He’s highly trained, and needs to be ridden nearly every day. I take him down to the beach and put him through the movements. He loves it, and it gives him a chance to blow off excess energy.”
“Excess energy!” Ernest grumped as he returned to Blanco, brush and curry in hand. He met my gaze and grinned. “Hello, Julian!”
“You have to admit that he doesn’t just stare dumbly at you, Ernest,” I teased him. The scowl returned and he growled at Blanco. The stallion flipped his head as if agreeing with me. Again he nudged my arms with his muzzle. Finally I dared to pet him, rubbing his chiseled nose the way I always did with Paint. “I’m sorry, Blanco, if I’d known you would come up to me, I would have come with an apple for you. Next time,” I promised him.
“I heard you had a Wildeye paint,” Clesa said to me. “So you finally got yourself a horse?”
“He was on loan,” I responded, as Ernest vigorously rubbed the curry in circular motions along Blanco’s side. “But we encountered a will o’wisp in Blackwood, and he became very ill.”
“Oh, I’m very sorry to hear that!” Clesa exclaimed sympathetically. “Of course you can’t ride him anymore, correct?”
“He’s getting stronger,” I answered, “but I had to leave him behind near the Imperial City.”
“Not with gra-Bura!” Clesa exclaimed.
“Why not?” Ernest grumbled under his breath. “She understands the real
value of horses!”
“Oh, shush, Ernest!” Clesa retorted. I laughed softly. Blanco tipped his ears at me, his black eyes sparkling. I swear he’s laughing too.
“No, I left him with Aelwin Merowald, a fisherman in Weye.” I rubbed Blanco’s nose again. “They love each other, and Merowald promised me he would get Paint better. But I think Paint’s days of wandering Cyrodiil are over.”
“That’s too bad,” Clesa’s eyes sobered. “At least he’s happy, isn’t he?”
I thought again of Paint gazing after me as I walked away from him. I managed to swallow the sadness choking my throat. “I hope so, ma’am.”
“Well,” I gave Blanco a final pat and moved back. He stepped forward and put his head over the fence. “I must be going, Clesa, Ernest. Next time I’ll stop by with an apple for Blanco if that’s all right with you.”
“Certainly!” Clesa smiled at me, a calculating light in her eyes. I turned away and started up the Gold Road.
While the horses in-game are quite well rendered for video games, and very realistic in their gaits and scripted actions, my vision of Blanco is more - well, vivid
. So to give you an idea of his personality and his energy, I found images taken of a real-life Lippizzaner stallion that is a dead ringer for Blanco
"I do not wish to fight on horseback. It is a good way to ruin a perfectly good horse... which is, to say, a perfectly good dinner." - Ma'iq the Liar
"I shall have to admit that you scare me. And like the scamps and dremora who have scared me, I shall have to kill you." Julian, Old Habits Die Hard