I really enjoyed writing Julian as a child, especially with the books. Here we see how she came by her way of speaking, and her vocabulary - she was a bookworm like me! Only now, with both of us losing our eyesight to old age, has it become more of a chore . . . @SubRosa:
Like I told mALX, I really enjoyed writing Julian’s flashbacks. Her interactions with Traven as a child just made me chuckle as I was writing them. And yes, Carahil is one of the coolest chicks evah! @Acadian:
The thoughts about the sigil stones came about as Julian was telling me her story. It was one of those ‘hmmmm’ moments. @TK:
Carahil is still pretty much by the book, it’s just tempered with compassion and kindness. So Little Julian is now a Princess for you? She’s blushing!@Olen:
It’s surprising how much things went over my head when I was little, but when I revisit them, it’s facepalm time! And don’t worry, you’ll learn more about Jared eventually (like about the eleventh segment).
The Countess of Anvil, though she doesn’t have much to say in-game, always struck me as a kind, gentle soul. She is the kind of woman that founds orphanages and widow’s homes for the people of Anvil.
******************************Chapter 23.6: Meeting with the Countess of Anvil
“Good morning, ma’am.” The two guardsmen greeted me warmly with smiles barely visible in the fog as I stepped through Chapelgate. The odors of the salt flats hit me before I saw the smooth water of the inlet separating the castle from Anvil’s walls. I murmured a response to the guardsmen before I started across the narrow stone bridge leading to the castle gate.
A Dunmer boy stood in the tall portal leading to the castle courtyard and peered through the thick fog. “Good morning, Midave Sendal,” I greeted him as soon as I recognized his slight figure. He jumped slightly at my voice and straightened his thin shoulders. “Is it seven bells already?”
“No, ma’am,” he brushed that wayward lock from his ruby eyes and bowed with a little more deliberation than he had yesterday. “You’re early.”
“Are you waiting for someone else, then?” I paused beside him, locking gazes with him. Sendal looked away and shifted his feet.
“No, I was waitin’ for you, ma’am,” he responded. “I thought you might be early.”
“You thought right,” I smiled at him. “Lead on, Sendal.”
“Have you had breakfast yet?” The boy glanced back over his shoulder at me as he took the lead.
“Yes, I did, thanks.”
Sendal and I passed through the courtyard, filled with blooming orange and lemon trees, forsythia bushes, and roses. Jasmine vines twined up trellises that flanked the main entrance into the keep. Sendal kept glancing back at me, as if making certain he hadn’t lost me. He paused when we reached the double doors that led into the county hall, seeming to work up some courage. “Is it true you’re from here?”
“Yes, it’s true.” I pointed beyond the eastern castle walls. “I grew up on that old farm on the bluff overlooking the mouth of the Strid River.”
“That old Gweden place?” Sendal’s eyes grew wide. “But that place’s haunted!”
“Haunted?” I repeated, pushing away the old grief. “It wasn’t haunted when I lived there.”
“No one wants to claim it,” Sendal volunteered, placing his hand on the huge iron ring of the left hand panel. “It’s been empty all these years.” He tugged at the door, leaning his weight back on his heels. The door began to swing slowly. I reached forward and laid my hand beside his, but he shouldered me away. “I got it, ma’am,” he said. I heard the fierce pride in his voice and smiled to myself. Not one to let your small size get in the way, are you?
I rather liked Sendal’s determination to pull his own weight, but wondered how much of it had been forged by teasing about his height. I hadn’t forgotten how cruel children could be to each other. “You’re stronger than you seem,” I remarked as the door finally groaned open. “I apologize for thinking otherwise.”
Apparently I hit the right note with Sendal, for his somber face brightened in that brilliant white smile. “’Tis all right!” He bowed low and waved for me to precede him, as if I was a court lady dressed all in velvet instead than the old soldier in simple linens. I waited inside the brightly lit entrance hall while he dragged the heavy door closed, shutting out the dampness of the sea mist.
Braziers kept the air within dry and warm. The hall was bright with hangings made, not of heavy tapestry as I expected, but rather of delicate Valenwood hand-knotted lace. The lightweight material swayed like spider webs in the thermal drafts created by the braziers. That lace must cost a fortune. There’s a lot of it.
“If you would follow me, please,” once again Sendal took the lead. We moved at a quiet but efficient pace through the antechamber into the county hall beyond. Ahead, two thrones of white ash stood empty, and their turquoise cushions glimmered brilliantly. In the high ceiling above, clerestory windows at the base of a dome admitted the grey daylight. I looked around, but the hall was empty.
“Where is the Countess, Sendal?” I asked when he moved toward the stairs leading up to the mezzanine across the back of the hall. He glanced back at me.
“Milady’s at breakfast, ma’am. She asks that you join her, even if it’s just for a cup of klah.”
My strides faltered slightly. A private audience? First Count Skingrad, now Countess Anvil? Is this the beginning of a trend?
“Very well, Sendal,” I hid my surprise. “Lead on.”
He brought me through a passage that ran directly toward private chambers located at the seaward side of the castle. We entered a suite consisting of two large rooms, airy thanks to the large floor-to-ceiling windows that lined the south wall. More of that hand-knotted lace draped between the windows, and shutters were neatly folded back against the walls.
Sendal led me past the sleeping alcove and the four-poster bed of white ash and creamy silks. I saw little more than an impression of white with turquoise accents before Sendal led me through a doorway onto a balcony. Beyond, the thinning fog drifted past the balustrade.
I stepped onto the sky-blue and white tiled floor of the balcony and paused. Sendal stepped to my right and bowed to the Countess seated at the table. “Milady, Julian of Anvil.”
“Come, have a seat,” Millona Umbranox waved across the round surface. “Did you have breakfast yet?”
“Yes, I did, ma’am,” I inclined my head to her before obeying her tacit command.
“Then have some klah, at least,” she poured some of the black fluid into a fine bone china cup without waiting for a response. “It’s still a bit chilly out here.”
I had to agree. The steaming liquid smelled wonderful. I declined the offer of cream and sweetener and took a sip. It tasted as rich and smooth as it smelled, with none of the bitterness typical of the brew. “This is quite delicious, ma’am,” I murmured.
“It’s from the mountains of Southern Valenwood, near Greenheart,” Umbranox met my gaze. Elegant blue silk trimmed with white lace on the cuffs, bodice and skirt hem covered a still-youthful figure. Light brown hair parted in the middle framed an unlined face and swept back into an elegant bun at the nape of her neck. Light brown eyes regarded me with a calm steadiness that inspired confidence. “I understand you were posted there for a while?”
“Near Arenthia,” I took another sip of the klah. “It’s a beautiful region.”
“I’ve never been,” Countess Umbranox gazed into the depths of her cup. “You are so lucky to have seen so much of Tamriel!”
“Lucky?” I repeated. “Aye, the Legion recruiters tell you you can see all of Nirn when you sign up, but truth be told, you’re too busy soldiering to see much of the local sights.”
Umbranox smiled, and now the first hints of her true age appeared at the corners of her eyes. “I believe it!” She leaned back in her chair. “My father served as legate in the Legion, and he was gone more than not!” Her gaze sharpened on me. “Perhaps you knew him? Milonius Silvanus?”
I thought for a moment, then shook my head at the unfamiliar name. “I’m sorry, ma’am. I served in Legio Six for most of my career.”
“Well,” Umbranox spooned up some berry compote. “It was a thought.” I remained silent and waited. After a moment, she dabbed at her lips with a lace napkin and met my gaze again with those steady brown eyes. “I want to express my gratitude to you for closing that Oblivion Gate outside Anvil,” she began. Her gaze turned out to sea, now visible with the mist burned away. “I understand you’ve been seeking aid for Countess Narina Carvain of Bruma.”
Mildly startled, I nodded. “Yes, ma’am, I have.”
Umbranox smiled at my surprise. “Count Cheydinhal sent me a message. He suggested that I do not refuse your request.”
My gaze drifted to the Dunmer boy standing just past Umbranox’s shoulder. He returned my gaze expressionlessly, but there was a flicker in his red eyes. He’s from Cheydinhal? Or House Hlaalu in Morrowind?
“Ah, yes, my page is Indarys’s nephew,” Umbranox added. I blinked at her uncanny perception. “And one of my young cousins serve in his court. That is as close as I want to get to Count Indarys.”
“Sendal seems to be doing well as your page, ma’am,” I nodded at the boy. Now the Countess’s eyes saddened slightly.
“He is coping well, so far from home and family,” she responded. “With his parents and aunt dead, it’s been, ah, difficult. But it is Indarys’s hope that by serving here so far from Cheydinhal, young Midave will find his place in Cyrodiil. I intend to see that happen, if only for the boy’s sake.”
Again I glanced at Sendal. His eyes were downcast, and his skin had the purple tinge that characterized the Dunmer blush. “He’s not the sort to accept pity,” I aimed my words at him. “And I like what I’ve seen of his determination. He’ll do well, with or without your help, ma’am.” The ruby flash preceded the insouciant smile, then Sendal’s face was impassive again, befitting that of a page. I turned my gaze back to Umbranox. “So Count Indarys asked that you grant the request I make on behalf of Countess Carvain, ma’am?”
“Yes, and I’m inclined to do so,” Umbranox responded. “I can not spare a full century as he did, but I shall send eight contubernii
. I hope that will be sufficient.”
“Yes, eight contubernii
is most generous of you, ma’am,” I agreed.
“But what of you, Julian?” Umbranox refilled her cup before folding her hands around its warmth. “What would be reward enough for you?”
I turned my head and gazed out at the ocean, now blue in the morning sun. The fog had completely disappeared during our conversation, and the sun sparkled off the whitecapped waves below.
“That farm east of here, on the bluff -“ my voice faltered. I took a deep breath. “I understand it’s been empty these many years.”
Umbranox’s silence drew my eyes back to her. Dark brows drawn together, her face had a look of concerned bemusement. “The old Gweden homestead?” she asked. “Are you certain, Julian? I know what -“ she stopped herself. “Are you certain you want to go back there?”
I thought about it for a moment. Do I want to relive that day I found what was left of my mother and my brother? Do I want to see their blood again on the walls and floor? Do I want to smell that goblin stench again?
“It’s time to put those ghosts to rest,” I spoke slowly, my eyes on the Dunmer boy. “Time to return the farm to happier times, to restore the beauty of the place.”
Umbranox regarded me for several moments more. Then she lifted a hand in a signal to Sendal. He disappeared through the door into the Countess’s quarters. “Normally I would require that you pay the back taxes on the property before I deed it to you,” she said quietly. “But no one can put a value on the service you provided us in closing that Oblivion Gate. If you are certain you want to move back to Anvil, if you are certain that you can make it a productive and happy place once more, those back taxes will be waived and the deed shall be yours.”
Sendal reappeared, a rosewood box in his hands. He set it on the table between us with a bow. As he stepped back, Umbranox opened the wide casket, drew out a parchment and laid it on the table near me. While I picked it up, she set a blue silk purse beside my cup with a soft jingle of coins.
“When you were discharged from the Legion four years ago,” Umbranox spoke softly, “apparently you left instructions that your pension payments were to be sent here. Unfortunately, you never came for them. I’ve been holding them all these years for you, in hopes that someday you would return to Anvil.” I stared at the purse. “You’ll find the amount matches that of the Legion records down to the last drake.”