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【书籍搬运】The Real Barenziah, v5 真实的巴兰兹雅,卷5

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原文地址:http://www.uesp.net/wiki/Skyrim:The_Real_Barenziah,_v5

中文翻译:

真实的巴兰兹雅

——无名氏

第5卷

正如欣玛楚斯所预料的那样,混沌之杖的失窃并没有造成多少即刻的影响。现任皇帝尤里尔·塞普丁送来了异常严厉的信件以表达其对法杖失踪的震惊与不满。他催促欣玛楚斯动用各种手段追查法杖下落,并任命新一任帝国战斗法师杰卡·萨恩为此事的总负责人,欣玛楚斯取得的任何进展都要向他汇报说明。

“萨恩!”欣玛楚斯在房内来回踱步恼怒不堪,半是厌恶半是沮丧。而巴兰兹雅如今已有数月身孕,正端坐房中为婴儿毯绣花。“那个杰卡·萨恩,唉!他要是哪天变成了个又老又瞎还走路晃荡的醉鬼想要过大街,我就连半根手指都不动一下!”

“他哪点让你讨厌了,亲爱的?”

“我就是不信任那个混种的精灵。黑精灵血统,混上高精灵血统,再混上只有神灵才知道的什么乱七八糟的东西。混到了所有这些种族身上最差劲的缺点,我向你保证。”他扇了扇鼻孔,“没人了解他。自称在瓦伦林地南部出生,母亲是个木精灵。这世上真是木精灵无处不在了,自从——”

巴兰兹雅全身上下都被怀孕的满足与困倦占据,之前一直只是在迁就迎合欣玛楚斯罢了。可现在她却停下针线活抬起头,有些事引起她的兴趣了。“欣玛楚斯,有没有可能这个杰卡·萨恩就是夜莺假扮的?”

欣玛楚斯认真考虑了一下后才回答说:“不会,我爱。萨恩的混血史里缺乏人类血统。”巴兰兹雅知道,在欣玛楚斯眼里这是条缺陷。她的丈夫看不起木精灵和高精灵,认为前者都是好吃懒做的扒手,后者全是虚弱无力的书呆子。但他很赞赏人类,尤其是布莱顿人,因为他们现实、聪明和精力充沛三者俱全。“夜莺来自玄璃之心,来自莱亚辛家——是赫雷鲁家族的,具体说就是出自莫拉的分家,我敢对此发誓保证。从她的时代起那个家族就混入了人类的血统。泰伯·塞普丁从我们手中取走了召唤之角,却把法杖留在了我们这里,对此玄璃之心一直很嫉妒。”

巴兰兹雅轻声叹息。玄璃之心和哀伤要塞之间的敌对能往上追溯到晨风历史的最初期。曾经这两个国家同属一国,举国赚钱的矿井都是莱亚辛家的臣属,而晨风的至高王权则是这个家族贵族的囊中之物。当莉安女王的孪生子——也就是传奇国王莫莱林的外孙们——成为同等地位的继承人时,玄璃之心就分裂成为两个独立的城邦:玄璃之心与哀伤要塞。几乎是同时至高国王变成了一个空衔,只在国内危急时期由议会颁发给临时的战争领袖。

即便如此,玄璃之心依旧唯恐失去其作为晨风最古老城邦的特权(其统治者经常引用“等位之首”自称),宣称只有其统治家族才被合法交托以看护混沌之杖的职责。哀伤要塞则回应说是莫莱林王亲手将法杖置于伊芬的看护之下——毋庸置疑哀伤要塞才是此神的出生之地。

“那为何不把你的怀疑告诉杰卡·萨恩呢?让他去找吧。只要它很安全,谁去找到它还是在哪里找到它又有什么关系呢?”

欣玛楚斯不可思议地瞪着她。“当然有关系了。”过了一会儿他柔声说,“不过我想关系也没有那么大。嗯。”他补充道,“绝对没有大到需要你去更为关注。你要做的全部就是坐在这里,好好——”他朝她坏坏一笑,“绣你的花。”

巴兰兹雅把绣到一半的毛毯朝欣玛楚斯扔去,直接命中了他的脸——上面针线顶针七零八碎一应俱全。

========

几个月后巴兰兹雅生下了一个健康男孩,他们将他命名为赫尔瑟斯。无论是浑沌之杖还是夜莺都没有新消息。如果玄璃之心获得了法杖,那他们肯定是没有声张出来。

接下来的几年平稳而愉快。赫尔瑟斯长得又高又壮,这点随他父亲,他也很崇拜他。赫尔瑟斯八岁那年巴兰兹雅生下了第二个孩子,这次是个女儿,让欣玛楚斯高兴了很长一段时间。赫尔瑟斯是他的骄傲,但小莫吉雅——以欣玛楚斯的母亲命名——却是他的心头肉。

但悲哀的是,莫吉雅的诞生却绝非是幸福生活继续的预告。尽管原因莫名,他们与帝国的关系还是恶化了。税负提高了,而上贡配额也是逐年提升。欣玛楚斯觉得皇帝怀疑自己在法杖的失踪中参了一手,便用尽全力完成帝国给出的各项日益提高的要求来证明自己的忠诚。他增加了工作时间,提高了关税,还有不足的情况下甚至只能动用国库和他们的私人财产了。但是税赋翻番增长,不管是平民还是贵族都开始抱怨了。这可是不祥之声。

“我要你带着孩子们前往帝都。”一天晚餐之后,欣玛楚斯最终绝望地说,“你必须让皇帝听进去,不然整个哀伤要塞到了来年春天就一定会爆发叛乱。”他强迫自己笑了笑,“你对付男人有一套,我爱。你总能成功的。”

巴兰兹雅自己也强装笑容。“就算对你也是一样,我猜?”

“没错,尤其是对我。”他温和地承认了。

“两个孩子都带去?”巴兰兹雅瞅了瞅屋角窗边,赫尔瑟斯正拨弄着鲁特琴,与小妹妹一起哼着二重唱。赫尔瑟斯已经十五岁了,而莫吉雅八岁。

“他们说不定能软化他的心。而且,现在也到了赫尔瑟斯在帝国宫廷现身的时候了。”

“也许如此,但这才不是你的真实理由。”巴兰兹雅深吸一口气后立即说道,“你觉得没办法在这里保证他们的安全。如果真是这样,那你在这里也不安全。和我们一起走吧。”她催促道。

他轻轻握住她的手。“巴兰兹雅,我爱,我心中之心,如果我现在离开,我们就哪里都回不去了。不用为我担心,我会平安无事的。唉!我能照顾好我自己——如果不必担心你和孩子们的安危,我能做的更好。”

巴兰兹雅偎依到他胸前。“要记住,我们需要你。我需要你。只要我们能在一起,就不需要其他任何东西。空手空腹都比空荡荡的心灵更易承受。”想起夜莺和与法杖相关的卑鄙行径,她不禁开始哭泣,“是我的愚蠢才让我们要遭此劫难。”

他温柔地对她笑笑。“如果是这样,那也算不得太差。”他宠溺地看着他们的孩子,“我们中无人会双手空空、或是带着想望离去。无人会,绝不会,我爱,我向你承诺这点。我曾经摧毁了你身边的一切,巴兰兹雅,我和泰伯·塞普丁一起。唉,没有我的协助这帝国就根本不可能出现。是我协助了它的诞生。”他的声音变得坚硬起来,“我也能带来它的毁灭。你可以这样直接这样告诉尤里尔·塞普丁,告诉他我的耐心是有限的。”

巴兰兹雅倒吸一口凉气。欣玛楚斯绝不会许下空头威胁。她完全无法想象欣玛楚斯会背叛帝国,这就像壁炉边躺着的老家狼会背叛她一样难以理解。“你要做什么?”她屏息询问,可他却只是摇了摇头。

“你最好还是不要知道。”他说,“如果他不合作,那就告诉他我刚才对你说的那些。不用害怕,他身上还流着足够多的塞普丁之血,不至于做出伤害信使的举动。”他忧郁地笑笑,“可如果他动手了,如果他胆敢动你一根汗毛,我爱,或者伤害了孩子们——愿泰姆瑞尔的全体神灵助我,他会祈祷后悔自己曾经出生。嗯,我会猎捕他,他和他全家,直到最后一名塞普丁死去我才能安息。”欣玛楚斯的黑精灵红眼在黯淡下去的火光中闪闪发亮。“我向你发誓,我爱,我的女王……我的巴兰兹雅。”

巴兰兹雅抱紧他,用尽气力紧到不能再紧。但是,虽然他的怀抱很温暖,她却仍不禁颤抖不停。

========

巴兰兹雅站在皇帝的宝座前,试图向他解释哀伤要塞所处的困境。她足足等了好几周才等到尤里尔·塞普丁的接见,其间总是被这样或那样的借口托辞过去了。“陛下身体不适。”“陛下要处理紧急事务。”“很抱歉,夫人,一定是出错了。您的预约是在下周。正是这样,请看……”可就算到了现在情况也没好到哪里去。皇帝甚至连装作在听都不去做。他根本没有邀请她就坐,也没有遣走孩子们。赫尔瑟斯站得像雕像一样,可小莫吉雅却开始抱怨了。

她自己的精神状况也帮不上多少忙。刚抵达她的住处不久,哀伤要塞驻帝都的大使就匆匆赶来,带来的是一扎来自欣玛楚斯的快报。坏消息,一堆坏消息。叛乱终于打响,农夫们被一些不满的哀伤要塞小贵族组织起来了,他们要求欣玛楚斯下台,将政府统治权交到他们手上。在欣玛楚斯和暴民之间只有帝国卫兵和少数对巴兰兹雅家世代效忠的贵族拥有的部队。敌对已经彻底爆发,不过很明显欣玛楚斯还很安全,局势也在控制之下。但并不能持续太长,他写道。他恳求巴兰兹雅用尽全力劝说皇帝——但直到他写信告诉她可以和孩子们安全回去之前,不管发生了什么她都一定要留在帝都。

她还试着跳过帝国官僚体系——但没怎么成功。而令她惊恐加剧的则是来自哀伤要塞的全部消息都突然中断了。她在对皇帝无数推辞的愤怒和对等待她及她家人命运的恐惧中来回摇摆,那几周过得紧张、烦闷而麻木。可之后一天哀伤要塞的大使跑来告诉她欣玛楚斯的最新消息将在明晚到达,并非通过寻常途径而是通过夜鹰。似乎总是好事成双,就在同一天帝宫的书记通知她尤里尔·塞普丁将在明天一早接见她。

在她们母子三人进入会见室时,皇帝向她们问好。可他的欢迎笑容明快得太过分,而且他的眼睛并没有笑。然后,在她介绍自己孩子的时候,他盯着他们看到入神,这可不是什么适当的举止。巴兰兹雅和人类打交道的历史已经差不多快到五百年了,她发展出一套远远超越任何人类的从表情与动作中读懂他们想法的技巧。尽管皇帝试图掩饰,但他眼中闪过的是饥渴——还有其他一些什么。悔恨?没错,悔恨。但为什么?他自己的几个孩子都很优秀,为什么垂涎她的呢?而且为什么他看向她的目光中包含着如此恶毒却简要的渴求?或许他对他的配偶厌倦了,毕竟人类是臭名昭著的善变,这点可以预见。在火烧一般的长久一瞥后,他的凝视离开了她,而她则开始履行自己此行的任务,讲述哀伤要塞已经爆发了暴力冲突。在她汇报的全程他动也不动,活像一块石头。

巴兰兹雅为皇帝的无动于衷困惑且气恼,便盯住那张苍白又表情凝固的脸孔,希望能从中找寻出她过去曾经熟悉的塞普丁印记。她并不怎么了解尤里尔·塞普丁,在他还是个孩子的时候见过他一次,再次见面则是在二十年后他的加冕典礼上。两次,总共就这么多。虽然那时还只是个年轻人,他在典礼上表现得也是严肃又庄重——但却并不像如今这个成熟男人般有一种冰冷的距离感。实际上,除了外貌一致,他几乎与先前就不是同一个人。明明不再相同了,但他的有些什么却让她感到熟悉,比应有的更为熟悉,一定是他的某些姿势或态度让她混淆了……

突然她周身变得滚烫,好似岩浆劈头泼下。幻术!在夜莺那样欺骗了她之后她好好研习了幻术。她学会了如何侦测幻术——而她现在感觉到的幻术正像盲人感到阳光洒满脸庞一样清晰。幻术!但为什么?在她用嘴复述哀伤要塞的骚乱细节时她的头脑也在拼命思索。是出于虚荣吗?精灵习惯自豪地将岁月风霜显露出来,而人类总是会为此羞愧。但尤里尔·塞普丁的面容与他的年龄却保持一致。

巴兰兹雅不敢使用自己的魔法。就算是小贵族也会侦测魔法,特别在他们没有呆在自家、不能躲开魔法效果的时候。在这里使用巫术的后果一定会像直接掏出匕首一样,引发皇帝的冲天怒火。

魔法。

幻术。

突然间她想起了夜莺。然后他就正坐在她面前,再然后景象变换,出现了尤里尔·塞普丁。他看上去很悲哀,被囚禁,而后景象再度消退,另一个人坐上了他的宝座,仿若夜莺却又似是而非。皮肤苍白,双目血红,精灵尖耳——周身笼罩恶意光晕,上下覆满魔法能量——一种可怕且富有毁灭性的闪光。这个人无所不能!

再然后,她眼前又重现了尤里尔·塞普丁的脸孔。

她如何能确定自己不是在空想呢?也许她的头脑又在同她开玩笑了。她突然感到十分疲惫,好似她已经肩负重担太过长久。她决定跳过对哀伤要塞惨状的叙述——反正这描述也帮不了她什么忙——转而谈论一些轻松有趣的话题。轻松有趣,却自有其目的。

“您还记得么,陛下,欣玛楚斯和我曾经在令尊先皇的加冕典礼后同您一家共进晚餐?您当时并不比这里的小莫吉雅大。我们对成为当晚唯一的客人感到受宠若惊——当然,除我们以外的客人就是您最好的朋友贾斯廷。”

“啊,没错,”皇帝答道,笑得很谨慎,非常谨慎,“我确实想起来了。”

“您和贾斯廷真是好朋友,陛下。我听说不久之后他就死去了,真是十分遗憾。”

“诚然如此。我至今仍不太想再提起他。”他的目光变得空洞——或者说,如果确有可能,是比刚才更为空洞了,“对于你的请求,夫人,朕会同顾问们商讨此事,再把结果告诉你。”

巴兰兹雅鞠躬行礼,孩子们也照做了。皇帝点了下头,遣散了她们,而她们则从皇帝面前退下。

她们走出接见室后,巴兰兹雅深吸了一口气。“贾斯廷”是个想象中的玩伴,但小尤里尔坚持要在餐桌上给贾斯廷留出一个位子。不仅如此,虽然贾斯廷是个男孩名字,但这个玩伴本身却是个女孩!在尤里尔丢掉想象中同年玩伴之后很长时间里欣玛楚斯都一直在拿这件事开玩笑——只要他和尤里尔·塞普丁会面总要询问贾斯廷的健康状况如何,然后得到对方故作严肃的玩笑回答。巴兰兹雅最后一次听说贾斯廷是在几年前,皇帝故意开玩笑地告诉欣玛楚斯她遇见了一个充满冒险精神但屡教不改的年轻虎人,和他结婚后就在利兰德利尔(Lilandril)定居下来,种植火蕨和艾蒿。

坐在皇帝会议厅里的人并不是尤里尔·塞普丁!是夜莺吗?可能吗……?可能。当然可能!她全身上下都敲响了识别出来的和弦,巴兰兹雅知道自己绝不会认错。是他,就是他!是夜莺!伪装成了皇帝!欣玛楚斯一直错了,错得离谱……

可现在要怎么办?她狂乱地想。尤里尔·塞普丁发生了什么——更重要的,这对她和欣玛楚斯,以及全部哀伤要塞,都意味着什么?回过头想想,巴兰兹雅猜想他们遇到的全部麻烦都是出自这个假皇帝,这个夜莺生成的幻影——或者任何他的真实身份。他一定是在哀伤要塞开始承受那些极不合理的重负之前不久才取代了尤里尔·塞普丁。这就能解释为什么双方关系在维持了自她与泰伯·塞普丁私通就开始的这么久(以人类的时间观念)之后迅速恶化了。夜莺了解欣玛楚斯对塞普丁家族出了名的忠诚与了解程度,于是有效地先发制人了。如果真是这样,那她们所有人就都处于极度危险之中。她和孩子们在帝都就是他的笼中鸟,而欣玛楚斯则要孤身一人面对夜莺在哀伤要塞造成的全部麻烦。

她必须要做些什么?巴兰兹雅把孩子们推到自己前面,双手拢着他们的肩,试图保持冷静,而把她的侍女与私人骑士护卫都丢在身后。最终她们走到了等候已久的马车前。尽管她们所住的套房距离宫殿不过几个街区,出于王室尊严这点距离也绝不能步行走过——而这次巴兰兹雅对此庆幸不已。马车车厢现在就像一处避难所,尽管她知道这感觉虚幻不已。

一个男孩冲到一名守卫面前,交给他一份卷轴,然后指了指车厢。守卫把卷轴交给她,而男孩却还在等待,双眼大睁闪闪发亮。书信写得简单又恭维,只是询问高岩省途歇城的伊德威尔国王能否与著名的哀伤要塞女王巴兰兹雅会面,因为他听过她的许多故事,很乐于与她相识。

巴兰兹雅的第一反应就是拒绝。她只想从这座城市中逃走!很自然她并不想同一个眼花的人类交谈嬉戏。她抬起头,眉头微蹙,于是一名守卫说,“夫人,那孩子说她的主人正在那边等候您的答复。”她朝指出的方向望去,于是看见了一名马背上的矍铄老者,身边是半打信使与骑士。他们目光相遇时他弯腰向她致敬,同时摘下了插满羽毛的帽子。

“好吧。”巴兰兹雅冲动地对男孩讲,“告诉你的主人他可以在今晚晚餐之后来拜访我。”伊德威尔国王看起来礼貌又严肃,而且十分焦虑——没有半点风流迹象。至少他一定是有要紧的事,她忧虑地想。

=======

巴兰兹雅站在塔楼窗前等待着。她能感到信使的逼近,但窗外夜空在她眼里却和白天一样空荡,她还寻不见他。而后突然他现身了,犹如纤细夜云下的飞快墨点。几分钟后大夜鹰降落完毕,收好翅膀,爪子压在她厚重的皮臂环上。

她把鸟儿带到栖木上,让它在那里等待,手指抚上鸟腿小囊中的信件时不由得喘息。她解下信件时夜鹰一直在大口喝水,之后见她仍在就安心地梳理起羽毛来。她与它共享着一小部分任务完成终于可以休息的满足……和除此之外的全部焦虑不安。事情不对,就连它的鸟类心智也知道。

她解开这片薄纸卷,凝视到那些歪扭字迹,手指不停颤抖。这不是欣玛楚斯的豪放字迹!巴兰兹雅慢慢坐下,让身心做好准备平静承受灾难的途中手指缓缓滑过文件,如果这里面确实是灾难的话。

确实是灾难。

帝国卫兵抛弃了欣玛楚斯加入了叛军。欣玛楚斯死了。剩余的忠诚军队遭受了决定性惨败。欣玛楚斯死了。叛军首领已被帝国使节承认为哀伤要塞国王。欣玛楚斯死了。巴兰兹雅和孩子们被宣布为帝国叛徒,脑袋上挂上了赏金。

欣玛楚斯死了。

如此一来,这天早晨皇帝的接见就只不过是一道掩饰、一道花招。一个游戏。皇帝本人肯定已经知道了。她完全就在被他牵着走,被告知留在这里,不必担心,女王阁下,享受帝都及其带来的欢愉,在这里住多长时间都没问题。她的停留?她的监禁。她的俘获。所有的可能性都指向她未来的逮捕。她才不会被目前的局势迷惑。她知道皇帝和他的手下绝不会让她离开帝都,绝不会。至少,不是以活人的姿态。

欣玛楚斯死了。

“夫人?”

巴兰兹雅跳了起来,被仆人的接近吓了一跳。“什么事?”

“那个布莱顿人来了,夫人。伊德威尔国王。”注意到巴兰兹雅的失神,侍女好心补充道,随后犹豫起来,“有消息么,夫人?”她问,朝夜鹰点了点头。

“没什么不能等的消息,”巴兰兹雅飞快答道,她的声音仿佛在突然自她内部生成的深渊空虚中回荡,“照顾鸟。”她起身,抚平礼服,准备迎接她的王室贵宾。

她觉得自己早已麻木,麻木如四周的石墙,麻木如入夜空气之沉默,麻木如毫无生机的尸首。

欣玛楚斯死了!

=======

伊德威尔国王严肃有礼却有些做作地向她问好。他自称是欣玛楚斯的强烈崇拜者,而欣玛楚斯在其家族传奇中占据首要之地。渐渐他的话题转向她与皇帝之间的问题。他询问了细节,以及结果是否有利于哀伤要塞。发现她含糊其辞之后,他突然脱口而出:“女王阁下,您务必相信我。自称皇帝的那个人是个骗子!我知道这听上去挺疯狂,但是——”

“不疯狂。”巴兰兹雅突然果断回应道,“您完全正确,国王阁下。我知道。”

伊德威尔这才首次放松沉入靠椅,目光突然变得精明起来。“您知道?您没有在从一个可能是您眼里疯子身上寻开心吧?”

“我向您保证,阁下,我没有。”她深吸一口气,“您推测假扮成皇帝的人是谁?”

“帝国战斗法师,杰卡·萨恩。”

“啊。国王阁下,请问您,或许可能,听说过一个名叫夜莺的人?”

“是的,夫人,我确实听说过这个名字。我的盟友与我相信他与那个叛徒萨恩就是同一人。”

“我就知道!”巴兰兹雅猛地起身,想要掩饰自己的激动。夜莺——杰卡·萨恩!噢,可那人是个恶魔!恶毒又狡诈,而且十分聪明。他铸成了她们的覆灭,过程天衣无缝,完美无瑕!欣玛楚斯,我的欣玛楚斯……!

伊德威尔不自然地咳嗽了一声。“夫人,我……我们……我们需要您的协助。”

巴兰兹雅讽刺地阴郁而笑。“我相信我才是要说出这句话的人。但您还是请继续。请问您需要我怎样的协助呢,国王阁下?”

国王很快就勾画出一个计划。法师莉娅·希尔曼(瑞亚 Silmane),先前曾是邪恶的杰卡·萨恩的学徒,如今却被杀害,又被假皇帝宣布为叛徒。但是她依旧成功维持住了一小部分自身的能量,可以同少数几个她在凡人位面异常熟悉的人交流。她已经选择出了一位勇士,这个人将接受寻找混沌之杖的任务,可法杖本身却被叛徒巫师藏到不知何处的隐蔽场所中了。这位勇士要使用法杖的力量摧毁杰卡·萨恩,因除此之外的其他任何方法都无法伤害萨恩一根汗毛,而后勇士就将把真正的皇帝本人从另外次元的监牢中解救出来。但是,这名勇士,虽然谢天谢地依然活着,如今却在帝国地牢里备受折磨。要让这位选民在莉娅灵魂的帮助下重获自由,必须有人分散掉萨恩的注意力。巴兰兹雅说的话假皇帝能听进去——她似乎也占据着他的视线所向。她能够提供必要的干扰吗?

“我想我可以再同他会面一次。”巴兰兹雅小心地回答道,“但这样就足够了么?我必须告诉您,我的孩子们与我在不久之前刚被宣布为帝国叛徒。”

“在哀伤要塞,以及在整个晨风也许确实如此,女王阁下。情况在帝都省和帝都却完全不一样。几乎陷入彻底瘫痪的行政系统在阻碍您同皇帝及其大臣会面的同时,也能完全保证您不会被非法拘禁或是非法受到其他不公对待。而对您而言,夫人,以及对您的孩子们来说,由于诸位仍保有王室头衔,针对诸位的处理就更为困难了。女王与王室继承人都是不能以暴力相向的——事实上就是神圣不可侵犯的。”国王咧嘴而笑,“帝国官僚体系,夫人,可是一把双刃剑。”

原来如此。至少她和孩子们在这段期间都是安全的,于是她冒出了新想法。“国王阁下,您先前说我占据了假皇帝的视线所向,这是什么意思?而且还是似乎?”

伊德威尔显得有些尴尬。“仆人之间的流言蜚语,他们说杰卡·萨恩在自己的房间内把您的画像放在神龛上供了起来。”

“我了解了。”巴兰兹雅的念头暂时飘到了她与夜莺的那段疯狂恋情上。她曾经发疯般地爱着他,真是个愚蠢的女人。而正是她曾经爱过的人亲手造成了她真正爱过的人之死。爱过,爱过了。他现在已经死了。他已经……他……她依旧无法强迫自己接受欣玛楚斯已死的事实。但就算他确实已经不在了,她坚忍地告诉自己,我的爱却依旧活着,永不退却。他将永远与她同在,而痛苦亦然。不得不在没有他的陪伴之下度过余生的痛苦,不得不在没有他的存在、他的安抚、他的爱情之下活过每日每夜的痛苦,明白他永远不会见到自己的孩子长大成人英姿勃发的痛苦——而孩子们则不会了解他们的父亲,不会知道他有多么勇敢,多么强壮,多么伟大,多么值得爱戴……特别是小莫吉雅。

而为了这个,为了所有全部,为了你对我的家庭所做的一切,夜莺——你必须以死偿命。

“您对此感到惊讶么?”

伊德威尔的声音打断了她的思绪。“什么?我要对什么感到惊讶?”

“您的画像,在萨恩的房中。”

“噢。”她冷静了下来,“是的,同时也不是。”

伊德威尔从她的表情看出她想要转换话题,于是便重新说起了他们的计划。“我们的选民也许需要几天逃脱,夫人。您可以给他留出多一点的时间吗?”

“您在这件事上十分信任我,国王阁下?为什么?”

“因为我们已经绝望了,夫人。我们别无选择。但就算我们有其他办法——当然,没错,没有错,我也信任您。我确实信任您。您的丈夫多年来都对我的家族很好。欣玛楚斯阁下——”

“死了。”

“什么?”

巴兰兹雅迅速且平静地把近期发生的事情告诉了他。

“夫人……女王阁下……可这太可怕了!我……我很抱歉……”

巴兰兹雅的冰冷镇定第一次动摇了。在这张写满同情的面孔前,她感到自己展现的冷静开始崩塌。她汇集起全部镇静,强迫自己保持冷静。

“这种情况下,夫人,我们就不能再要求——”

“不,好心的阁下。正是在这种情况下,只要能让我向杀害我孩子们父亲的凶手复仇,无论何事我都必须去做。”一颗泪珠逃出了眼眶,她匆忙将其擦掉。“作为交换,我只希望您可以尽可能保护我家的孤儿。”

伊德威尔站起身,目光烁烁。“我自愿为此立下誓言,最勇敢而高贵的女王。我们所爱的大地泰姆瑞尔之上的众神为我见证。”

他的言辞滑稽却深刻地触动了她。“我全心全灵地感谢您,好心的伊德威尔国王阁下。我自己和我的孩子们将永、永远感、感、感激——”

她崩溃痛哭出来。

=====

那天她一夜未眠,只是坐在床边的座椅里,双手交叠于大腿,陷入黑暗圆缺的沉思。她不能告诉孩子们——现在还不能,但不到情非得以她绝不会透露半个字。

她也没有必要去申请与皇帝的第二次会面了。黎明刚过皇帝就传唤了她。

她告诉孩子们她要离开几天,要求他们不要给仆人添任何麻烦,然后便同他们吻别。莫吉雅小小呜咽了下,她在帝都无聊又孤单。赫尔瑟斯一脸阴沉,但他什么也没说。他同他父亲很像,他的父亲……

到达帝宫后,巴兰兹雅并没有被领入接见室,而是被直接带往皇帝独自进餐的小客房。他朝她点头致意,挥手指了指窗户。“景致不错,嗯?”

巴兰兹雅眺望帝都的尖塔,她察觉到这就是她与泰伯·塞普丁多年前初次见面的那个房间。许多个世纪之前。泰伯·塞普丁。另一个她曾经爱过的人。她还爱过谁?欣玛楚斯,泰伯·塞普丁……还有斯特劳。她想起那个大块头的金发马僮,心中突然涌起强烈的喜爱之情。她以前从没意识到,但她确实爱过斯特劳,可她却也从没让他知道。那时她还很年轻,那些无拘无束的日子,欢乐的日子……在这一切之前,在所有之前,在……他之前。不是欣玛楚斯。而是夜莺。她大为震惊。这个男人到现在还能影响她,即便是现在,即便是所有这些事发生之后。一股不完整情感的波涛扫过她全身。

当她终于回转过身,尤里尔·塞普丁已经消失了——坐在那里的正是夜莺。

“你知道了。”他安静地说,扫视她的表情,“你当即就知道了。我原打算让你吃一惊的,你至少也假装一下嘛。”

巴兰兹雅伸直双臂,想要平息在她内心肆虐的恶毒风暴。“恐怕我的伪装技术比不上您,陛下。”

他叹了口气。“你生气了。”

“只有一点,我承认。”她冷冷地说,“我并不了解你,但我觉得背叛虽小也算是一种攻击。”

“你很人类化嘛。”

她深吸一口气。“你到底想要我做什么?”

“现在你倒在假装了。”他站起身直面她,“你知道我想要你做什么。”

“你想折磨我。请吧。我完全是你的囊中物。但别碰我的孩子们。”

“不,不,不对。我完全不想那样干,巴兰兹雅。”他走近些,口气换成了以前那种轻抚的声调,让她全身一阵颤抖。同样的声音对她起到了同样的作用,就在这里,就在现在。“你不明白吗?这是唯一的解决办法。”他的手抓住了她的胳膊。

她感到自己的决心正在瓦解,她对他的厌恶正在消退。“你本可以带我一起走的。”她已是泪光盈盈。

他摇了摇头。“那时我没有权力。啊,可现在,现在……!我拥有了所有的权利!我能拥有的,我能分享的,我能给予的——给你。”他又朝窗户与窗外城市挥了挥手。“整片泰姆瑞尔都是我的东西,而我把它献给你——而这只是刚刚开始而已。”

“太晚了。太晚了。你把我留给他了。”

“他死了。那个农夫已经死了。只是短短几年而已——有什么关系呢?”

“孩子们——”

“我来收养。我们还可以生下更多的孩子,巴兰兹雅。哦,他们会是怎样的孩子啊!我们能传给他们怎样的品质!你的美丽,还有我的魔法。我拥有你梦想不到的强大力量,远远超出你最狂野的想象!”他凑近打算亲吻她。

她溜出了他的怀抱,转过身去。“我不相信你。”

“你相信,你很清楚。你还在生气,仅此而已。”他笑了出来,但他的眼睛没在笑。“告诉我你想要什么,巴兰兹雅。我亲爱的巴兰兹雅,告诉我,你就一定能得到。”

她的一生都在她眼前闪现,过去,现在和未来。不同的时期,不同的生活,不同的巴兰兹雅。究竟哪个才是真实的?哪一个才是真实的巴兰兹雅?她选择,由此她将决定自己命运的形状。

她已经选择了。她知道。她知道真实的巴兰兹雅是哪一位,也知道她究竟想要什么。

“在花园中散下步吧,陛下。”她说,“也许再唱一两首歌。”

夜莺笑了出来。“你想要我向你献殷勤。”

“为什么不呢?你擅于此道。而且距离我曾经如此愉快已经过了很久了。”

他笑了笑。“如你所愿,巴兰兹雅女王阁下。悉听尊便。”他握住她的手,亲了一下。“现在,以及永久。”

=======

于是他们花了几天好好约会—— 一起散步,交谈,唱歌与欢笑,而皇帝的公务则被丢给了下属。

“我想看看法杖。”一天巴兰兹雅慵懒地说,“要是你还记得,那时它在我眼前只是一闪而过。”

他皱了皱眉。“我发自内心乐于从命——但这不可能。”

“你不信我。”巴兰兹雅噘起嘴,但他凑过来亲她的时候还是放松了双唇。

“瞎讲,亲爱的。我当然信你,但法杖确实不在这里。”他呵呵笑道,“实际上吧,它何处都不存在。”他又亲了亲她,这次更加富含激情。

“你又开始说谜语了。我想看看它,你不可能把它毁掉的。”

“啊。自那次分别之后你变聪明了。”

“你多少激发了我对知识的渴求。”她起身,“混沌之杖不可能被摧毁,也不能带离泰姆瑞尔,否则整片大陆就都要遭殃。”

“啊,亲爱的,你真令我印象深刻。全都没错。它不能被摧毁,也没有带离泰姆瑞尔。可是呢,正如我说过的,它何处都不存在。你能解开这个谜吗?”他拉过她,而她拥入他的怀抱。“有个更大的谜语。”他轻声呢喃。“一怎样才能变成二分之一?我能,而且愿意,告诉你。”于是他们的躯体融合,四肢绞缠起来。

之后,当他们终于彼此分开,而他躺下打盹时,她睡意朦胧地思考。“二分之一,一分之二,二分之三,三分之二……不能摧毁或驱散的东西可以分裂开来,也许……”

她直起身子,双目霍霍,微笑出来。

=======

夜莺有一本日记。每天晚上收到下属的汇报后他都要写上几笔。日记锁在字台里,不过锁本身却是构造简单。无论如何她曾经是盗贼公会的会员……那是另一段人生,另一个巴兰兹雅……

一天清晨趁着他去上厕所,巴兰兹雅成功偷看了日记一眼。她发现混沌之杖的第一块碎片被藏在一个名叫牙穴的远古矮人矿井里——尽管具体地址只以最模糊的方式一笔带过。日记本身充斥着用奇怪速记法记录的摘要,非常难于解读。

全泰姆瑞尔,她想,在他与我的手中,可能还有更多——但时间未到……

尽管他的外在充满魅力,内里却有一片冰冷的空洞,那里本应存在的就是心,而这片真空就连他自己也并不清楚,她想。在他的目光变得空洞而坚硬的时候,无论谁都能看出来。不过,尽管他对于幸福的定义与众不同,他倒也在追求幸福与满足。农夫之梦,巴兰兹雅想,而斯特劳再度在她眼前闪现,失落而悲伤。然后是瑟里斯,带着猫样的虎人笑容。泰伯·塞普丁,强大而孤独。欣玛楚斯,严肃又冷淡的欣玛楚斯,尽职尽责,安静且高效。夜莺。夜莺,一道谜语,一种确定性,既是黑暗又是光明。将统治一切的夜莺,以及更进一步,将以秩序之名散播混乱的夜莺。

巴兰兹雅不大情愿地离开他去见她的孩子们,他们还没有被告知父亲的死讯——以及皇帝向他们提供保护的邀请。她最终还是告诉了他们,而这并不轻松。莫吉雅贴紧她可怜兮兮地呜咽,仿佛哭了整整一个纪元,而赫尔瑟斯跑进花园要求一个人呆着,之后也不愿听她谈及关于他父亲的任何事,甚至连让她拥抱他一下也不愿。

当她呆在那里的时候伊德威尔会来看望她。她将她现有的发现全部告诉他,解释说她仍然需要继续留在皇帝身边以获取更多讯息。

夜莺会就她的这位年迈仰慕者而取笑她。他很清楚伊德威尔对他的怀疑——可他一点也不担心,因为没人真拿那个老傻瓜当回事。巴兰兹亚甚至成功安排了一次二人之间的调停。伊德威尔公开撤回了他的疑虑,而他的“旧友”皇帝原谅了他。之后每周至少一次,他会被邀请与他们共进晚餐。

孩子们很喜欢伊德威尔,就连赫尔瑟斯也是,而他并不赞许自己母亲与皇帝之间的私通关系,自然也十分讨厌皇帝。逐渐地他变得越来越乖戾和喜怒无常,经常性同母亲与母亲的情人爆发争吵。伊德威尔对这份私情也并不高兴,而为了惹恼老人,夜莺很乐于时不时公开展示他与巴兰兹亚有多么恩爱。

当然他们并不能结婚,因为尤里尔·塞普丁已经结婚了。至少,现在还不能。在取得皇位后不久夜莺就流放了皇后,不过倒也不敢伤害她。她在真神神殿中寻到了庇护。对外宣称的是她罹患疾病,而夜莺派出的密探则到处传播她精神失常的流言。皇帝的孩子们也被送入了遍布泰姆瑞尔名为“学校”的各个监狱。

“她总会越来越糟的。”夜莺毫无顾忌地说。他指的是皇后,而他正在满意地瞧着巴兰兹亚肿胀的胸口与鼓起的小腹。“至于他们的孩子……哈,生命总是充满灾难的不是吗?我们将会结婚。你的孩子将成为我的真正继承人。”

他确实想要这个孩子,巴兰兹亚对此很是肯定。但她远远不能确定他是否依旧对她思情不变。他们如今会持续性地争吵,而且经常会诉诸暴力,通常是为了赫尔瑟斯。夜莺想把他送到夏暮岛的学校去,可那是距离帝都最远的省份。巴兰兹雅并没有去主动避免这些变化。毕竟夜莺对平滑宁静的生活并不感兴趣,更何况,他特别喜欢之后的修缮举措……

偶尔巴兰兹亚会带着孩子们回到他们的旧居,宣称她再也不想和他有什么牵连了。但他总会跑来把她抓回去,而她也总让自己被带回去。这很难形容,仿佛泰姆瑞尔双月的东升西落。

========

在怀孕六个月时,她最终解读出了最后一块法杖碎片的地点——答案很简单,因为每个黑精灵都知道达格斯-乌尔之山在哪里。

当她再度与夜莺争吵后,她就直接和伊德威尔一起离开了帝都,向高岩,以及途歇城狂奔而去。夜莺为此大为震怒,但他也没什么能做的。他的刺客很无能,而他也不敢离开权力宝座亲自前去追赶。并且他也不能公开向途歇城宣战。他对她和她肚子里的孩子没有合法的声明借口。而且一如既往地,帝都的贵族很不赞成他与巴兰兹亚间的私情——就像他们许多年前看待泰伯·塞普丁的那样——于是他们很高兴看她离开。

途歇城同样对她充满不信任,但伊德威尔获得了这个小城的全部狂热爱戴,而且他们已经随时准备好承认他的……疯狂举动。在她与夜莺的儿子出生的一年之后巴兰兹雅和伊德威尔结婚了。不去管这个不幸的事实,伊德威尔挺宠爱她与她的孩子们。她倒不爱他——但她挺喜欢他,而这就有意义。身边能有人陪着很舒适,而途歇城也是个好地方,一块能供孩子们成长的福地,而与此同时他们费时等候,祈祷勇士能够在任务中获得成功。

巴兰兹雅只能希望不管这个无名的勇士是谁,他不用花费太长时间。她是个黑精灵,她在这世上得不到休息。得不到休息,但是不再有更多可以付出的爱,也不再有更多可以燃烧的恨意。她没有任何残余了,除了痛苦与回忆……以及她的孩子们。她只想要养活她的家庭,能让他们过上好日子,然后自己能够随性过完一生。她毫不怀疑这一生还会很长,而其间她想要的就是和平、安静与安宁,心灵皆是。农夫之梦。那就是她想要的,也就是真实的巴兰兹雅想要的。那就是真实的巴兰兹雅。农夫之梦。

农夫之梦。

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The Real Barenziah, Part 5
by Anonymous
Unauthorized biography of the famous Queen Mother of Morrowind, Volume 5

 Note: This is part of the revised series of books that appeared in MorrowindOblivion, and Skyrim. InDaggerfall, this content appears in The Real Barenziah, Part IX and The Real Barenziah, Part X, although somewhat shortened.
 As Symmachus had predicted, the theft of the Staff of Chaos had few short-term consequences. The current Emperor, Uriel Septim, sent some rather stiff messages expressing shock and displeasure at the Staff's disappearance, and urging Symmachus to make every effort to locate its whereabouts and communicate developments to the newly appointed Imperial Battlemage, Jagar Tharn, in whose hands the matter had been placed.
"Tharn!" Symmachus thundered in disgust and frustration as he paced about the small chamber where Barenziah, now some months pregnant, was sitting serenely embroidering a baby blanket. "Jagar Tharn, indeed. Ai! I wouldn't give him directions for crossing the street, not if he were a doddering old blind sot."
"What have you against him, love?"
"I just don't trust that mongrel Elf. Part Dark Elf, part High Elf, and part the gods only know what. All the worst qualities of all his combined bloods, I'll warrant." He snorted. "No one knows much about him. Claims he was born in southern Valenwood, of a Wood Elven mother. Seems to have been everywhere since -- "
Barenziah, sunk in the contentment and lassitude of pregnancy, had only been humoring Symmachus thus far. But now she suddenly dropped her needlework and looked at him. Something had piqued her interest. "Symmachus. Could this Jagar Tharn have been the Nightingale, disguised?"
Symmachus thought this over before replying. "Nay, my love. Human blood seems to be the one missing component in Tharn's ancestry." To Symmachus, Barenziah knew, that was a flaw. Her husband despised Wood Elves as lazy thieves and High Elves as effete intellectuals. But he admired humans, especially Bretons, for their combination of pragmatism, intelligence, and energy. "The Nightingale's of Ebonheart, of the Ra'athim Clan - House Hlaalu, the House of Mora in particular, I'll be bound. That house has had human blood in it since her time. Ebonheart was jealous that the Staff was laid here when Tiber Septim took the Horn of Summoning from us."
Barenziah sighed a little. The rivalry between Ebonheart and Mournhold reached back almost to the dawn of Morrowind's history. Once the two nations had been one, all the lucrative mines held in fief by the Ra'athims, whose nobility retained the High Kingship of Morrowind. Ebonheart had split into two separate city-states, Ebonheart and Mournhold, when Queen Lian's twin sons -- grandsons of the legendary King Moraelyn -- were left as joint heirs. At about the same time the office of High King was vacated in favor of a temporary War Leader to be named by a council in times of provincial emergency.
Still, Ebonheart remained jealous of her prerogatives as the eldest city-state of Morrowind ("first among equals" was the phrase its rulers often quoted) and claimed that rightful guardianship of the Staff of Chaos should have been entrusted to its ruling house. Mournhold responded that King Moraelyn himself had placed the Staff in the keeping of the god Ephen -- and Mournhold was unarguably the god's birthplace.
"Why not tell Jagar Tharn of your suspicions, then? Let him recover the thing. As long as it's safe, what does it matter who recovers it, or where it lies?"
Symmachus stared at her without comprehension. "It matters," he said softly after a while, "but I suppose not that much. Ai." He added, "Certainly not enough for you to concern yourself further with it. You just sit there and tend to your," and here he smiled at her wickedly, "embroidery."
Barenziah flung the sampler at him. It hit Symmachus square in the face -- needle, thimble, and all.

***
In a few more months Barenziah gave birth to a fine son, whom they named Helseth. Nothing more was heard of the Staff of Chaos, or the Nightingale. If Ebonheart had the Staff in its possession, they certainly did not boast of it.
The years passed swiftly and happily. Helseth grew tall and strong. He was much like his father, whom he worshipped. When Helseth was eight years old Barenziah bore a second child, a daughter, to Symmachus' lasting delight. Helseth was his pride, but little Morgiah -- named for Symmachus' mother -- held his heart.
Sadly, the birth of Morgiah was not the harbinger of better times ahead. Relations with theEmpire slowly deteriorated, for no apparent reason. Taxes were raised and quotas increased with each passing year. Symmachus felt that the Emperor suspected him of having had a hand in the Staff's disappearance and sought to prove his loyalty by making every effort to comply with the escalating demands. He lengthened working hours and raised tariffs, and even made up some of the difference from both the royal exchequer and their own private holdings. But the levies multiplied, and commoners and nobles alike began to complain. It was an ominous rumble.
"I want you to take the children and journey to the Imperial City," Symmachus said at last in desperation one evening after dinner. "You must make the Emperor listen, else all Mournhold will be up in revolt come spring." He grinned forcibly. "You have a way with men, love. You always did."
Barenziah forced a smile of her own. "Even with you, I take it."
"Yes. Especially with me," he acknowledged amiably.
"Both children?" Barenziah looked over toward a corner window, where Helseth was strumming a lute and crooning a duet with his little sister. Helseth was fifteen by then, Morgiah eight.
"They might soften his heart. Besides, it's high time Helseth was presented before the Imperial Court."
"Perhaps. But that's not your true reason." Barenziah took a deep breath and grasped the nettle. "You don't think you can keep them safe here. If that's the case, then you're not safe here either. Come with us," she urged.
He took her hands in his. "Barenziah. My love. Heart of my heart. If I leave now, there'll be nothing for us to return to. Don't worry about me. I'll be all right. Ai! I can take care of myself -- and I can do it better if I'm not worrying about you or the children."
Barenziah laid her head against his chest. "Just remember that we need you. I need you. We can do without the rest of it if we have each other. Empty hands and empty bellies are easier to bear than an empty heart." She started to cry, thinking of the Nightingale and that sordid business with the Staff. "My foolishness has brought us to this pass."
He smiled at her tenderly. "If so, 'tis not so bad a place to be." His eyes rested indulgently on their children. "None of us shall ever go without, or want for anything. Ever. Ever, my love, I promise you. I cost you everything once, Barenziah, I and Tiber Septim. Ai. Without my aid the Empire would never have begun. I helped its rise." His voice hardened. "I can bring about its fall. You may tell Uriel Septim that. That, and that my patience is not infinite."
Barenziah gasped. Symmachus was not given to empty threats. She'd no more imagined that he would ever turn against the Empire than that the old house wolf lying by the grate would turn on her. "How?" she demanded breathlessly. But he shook his head.
"Better that you not know," he said. "Just tell him what I told you should he prove recalcitrant, and do not fear. He's Septim enough that he will not take it out on the messenger." He smiled grimly. "For if he does, if he ever harms the least hair on you, my love, or the children -- so help me all the gods of Tamriel, he'll pray that he hadn't been born. Ai. I'll hunt him down, him and his entire family. And I won't rest until the last Septim is dead." The red Dark Elven eyes of Symmachus gleamed brightly in the ebbing firelight. "I plight you that oath, my love. My Queen ... my Barenziah."
Barenziah held him, held him as tight as she could. But in spite of the warmth in his embrace, she couldn't help shivering.

***
Barenziah stood before the Emperor's throne, trying to explain Mournhold's straits. She'd waited weeks for an audience with Uriel Septim, having been fobbed off on this pretext or that. "His Majesty is indisposed." "An urgent matter demands His Excellency's attention." "I am sorry, Your Highness, there must be some mistake. Your appointment is for next week. No, see..." And now it wasn't even going well. The Emperor did not even make the slightest pretence at listening to her. He hadn't invited her to sit, nor had he dismissed the children. Helseth stood still as a carven image, but little Morgiah had begun to fuss.
The state of her own mind didn't help her any. Shortly upon arrival at her lodgings, the Mournholdian ambassador to the Imperial City had demanded entry, bringing with him a sheaf of dispatches from Symmachus. Bad news, and plenty of it. The revolt had finally begun. The peasants had organized around a few disgruntled members of Mournhold's minor nobility, and were demanding Symmachus step down and hand over the reins of government. Only the Imperial Guard and a handful of troops whose families had been retainers of Barenziah's house for generations stood between Symmachus and the rabble. Hostilities had already broken out, but apparently Symmachus was safe and still in control. Not for long, he wrote. He entreated Barenziah to try her best with the Emperor -- but in any case she was to stay in the Imperial City until he wrote to tell her it was safe to go back home with the children.
She had tried to barge her way through the Imperial bureaucracy -- with little success. And to add to her growing panic, all news from Mournhold had come to a sudden stop. Tottering between rage at the Emperor's numerous major-domos and fear of the fate awaiting her and her family, the weeks had passed by tensely, agonizingly, remorselessly. Then one day the Mournholdian ambassador came calling to tell her she should expect news from Symmachus the following night at the latest, not through the regular channels but by nighthawk. Seemingly by the same stroke of luck, she was informed that same day by a clerk from the Imperial Court that Uriel Septim had finally consented to grant her an audience early on the morrow.
The Emperor had greeted the three of them when they came into the audience chamber with a too-bright smile of welcome that nonetheless didn't reach his eyes. Then, as she presented her children, he had gazed at them with a fixed attention that was real yet somehow inappropriate. Barenziah had been dealing with humans for nearly five hundred years now, and had developed the skill of reading their expressions and movements that was far beyond what any human could ever perceive. Try as the Emperor might to conceal it, there was hunger in his eyes -- and something else. Regret? Yes. Regret. But why? He had several fine children of his own. Why covet hers? And why look at her with such a vicious -- however brief -- yearning? Perhaps he had tired of his consort. Humans were notoriously, though predictably, inconstant. After that one long, burning glance, his gaze had shifted away as she began to speak of her mission and the violence that had erupted in Mournhold. He sat still as stone throughout her entire account.
Puzzled at his inertia, and vexed no end, Barenziah stared into the pale, set face, looking for some trace of the Septims she'd known in the past. She didn't know Uriel Septim well, having met him once when he was still a child, and then again at his coronation twenty years later. Twice, that was all. He'd been a stern and dignified presence at the ceremony, even as a young adult -- yet not icily remote as this more mature man was. In fact, despite the physical resemblance, he didn't seem to be the same man at all. Not the same, yet something about him was familiar to her, more familiar than it should be, some trick of posture or gesture...
Suddenly she felt very hot, as if lava had been poured over her. Illusion! She had studied the arts of illusion well since the Nightingale had deceived her so badly. She had learned to detect it -- and she felt it now, as certainly as a blind man could feel the sun on his face. Illusion! But why? Her mind worked furiously even as her mouth went on reciting details about Mournhold's troubles. Vanity? Humans were oft as ashamed at the signs of ageing [sic] as Elves were proud to exhibit them. Yet the face Uriel Septim wore seemed consistent with his age.
Barenziah dared use none of her own magic. Even petty nobles had means of detecting magicka, if not actually shielding themselves from its effects, within their own halls. The use of sorcery here would bring down the Emperor's wrath as surely as drawing a dagger would.
Magic.
Illusion.
Suddenly she was brought to mind of the Nightingale. And then he was sitting before her. Then the vision changed, and it was Uriel Septim. He looked sad. Trapped. And then the vision faded once more, and another man sat in his place, like the Nightingale, and yet unlike. Pale skin, bloodshot eyes, Elven ears -- and about him a fierce glow of concentrated malice, an aura of eldritch energy -- a horrible, destructive shimmer. This man was capable of anything!
And then once again she was looking into the face of Uriel Septim.
How could she be sure she wasn't imagining things? Perhaps her mind was playing tricks on her. She felt a sudden vast weariness, as if she'd been carrying a heavy burden too long and too far. She decided to abandon her earnest narrative of Mournhold's ills -- as it was quite plainly getting her nowhere -- and switch back to pleasantry. Pleasantry, however, with a hidden agenda.
"Do you remember, Sire, Symmachus and I had dinner with your family shortly after your father's coronation? You were no older than tiny Morgiah here. We were greatly honored to be the only guests that evening -- except for your best friend Justin, of course."
"Ah yes," the Emperor said, smiling cautiously. Very cautiously. "I do believe I recall that."
"You and Justin were such friends, Your Majesty. I was told he died not long after. A great pity."
"Indeed. I still do not like to speak of him." His eyes turned blank -- or blanker, if it had been possible. "As for your request, Milady, we shall take it under advisement and let you know."
Barenziah bowed, as did the children. A nod from the Emperor dismissed them, and they backed away from the imperial presence.
She took a deep breath when they emerged from the throne room. "Justin" had been an imaginary playmate, although young Uriel had insisted a place be set for Justin at every meal. Not only that, Justin, despite the boyish name, had been a girl! Symmachus had kept up the joke long after she had gone the way of imaginary childhood friends -- inquiring after Justin's health whenever he and Uriel Septim met, and being responded to in as mock-serious a fashion. The last Barenziah had heard of Justin, several years ago, the Emperor had evidently joked elaborately to Symmachus that she had met an adventurous though incorrigible Khajiit youth, married him, and settled down in Lilandril to raise fire ferns and mugworts.
The man sitting on the Emperor's divan was not Uriel Septim! The Nightingale? Could it be...? Yes. Yes! A chord of recognition rang through her and Barenziah knew she was right. It was him. It was! The Nightingale! Masquerading as the Emperor! Symmachus had been wrong, so wrong...
What now? she wondered frantically. What had become of Uriel Septim -- and more to the point, what did it mean for her and Symmachus, and all of Mournhold? Thinking back, Barenziah guessed that their troubles were due to this false Emperor, this Nightingale-spawned glamour -- or whatever he really was. He must have taken Uriel Septim's place shortly before the unreasonable demands on Mournhold had begun. That would explain why relations had deteriorated for so long (as humans reckoned time), long after her disapproved liaison with Tiber Septim. The Nightingale knew of Symmachus' famed loyalty to, and knowledge of, the Septim House, and was effecting a pre-emptive strike. If that were the case, they were all in terrible danger. She and the children were in his power here in the Imperial City, and Symmachus was left alone to deal with troubles of the Nightingale's brewing in Mournhold.
What must she do? Barenziah impelled the children ahead of her, a hand on each shoulder, trying to stay cool, collected, her ladies-in-waiting and personal knights escort trailing behind. Finally they reached their waiting carriage. Even though their suite of rooms was only a few blocks from the Palace, royal dignity forbade travel on foot for even short distances -- and for once, Barenziah was glad of it. The carriage seemed a kind of refuge now, false as she knew the feeling must be.
A boy dashed up to one of the guards and handed him a scroll, then pointed toward the carriage. The guard brought it to her. The boy waited, eyes wide and shining. The epistle was brief and complimentary, and simply inquired if King Eadwyre of Wayrest, of the Province of High Rock, might be granted an audience with the famed Queen Barenziah of Mournhold, as he had heard much of her and would be pleased to make her acquaintance.
Barenziah's first impulse was to refuse. She wanted only to leave this city! Certainly she had no inclination toward any dalliance with a dazzled human. She looked up, frowning, and one of the guards said, "Milady, the boy says his master awaits your reply yonder." She looked in the direction indicated and saw a handsome elderly man on horseback, surrounded by a half dozen courtiers and cavaliers. He caught her eye and bowed respectfully, taking off a plumed hat.
"Very well," Barenziah said to the boy on impulse. "Tell your master he may call on me tonight, after the dinner hour." King Eadwyre looked polite and grave, and rather worried -- but not in the least lovestruck. At least that was something, she thought pensively.

***
Barenziah stood at the tower window, waiting. She could sense the familiar's nearness. But though the night sky was clear as day to her eyes, she could not yet see him. Then suddenly he was there, a swift moving dot beneath the wispy night clouds. A few more minutes and the great nighthawk finished its descent, wings folding, talons reaching for her thick leather armband.
She carried the bird to its perch, where it waited, panting, as her impatient fingers felt for the message secured in a capsule on one leg. The hawk drank mightily from the water till when she had done, then ruffled its feathers and preened, secure in her presence. A tiny part of her consciousness shared its satisfaction at a job well done, mission accomplished, and rest earned ... yet beneath it all was unease. Things were not right, even to its humble avian mind.
Her fingers shook as she unfolded the thin parchment and pored over the cramped writing. Not Symmachus' bold hand! Barenziah sat slowly, fingers smoothing the document while she prepared her mind and body to accept disaster calmly, if disaster it would be.
Disaster it was.
The Imperial Guard had deserted Symmachus and joined the rebels. Symmachus was dead. The remaining loyal troops had suffered a decisive defeat. Symmachus was dead. The rebel leader had been recognized as King of Mournhold by Imperial envoys. Symmachus was dead. Barenziah and the children had been declared traitors to the Empire and a price set on their heads.
Symmachus was dead.
So the audience with the Emperor earlier that morning had been nothing but a blind, a ruse. A charade. The Emperor must have already known. She was just being strung along, told to stay put, take things easy, Milady Queen, enjoy the Imperial City and the delights it has to offer, do make your stay as long as you want. Her stay? Her detention. Her captivity. And in all probability, her impending arrest. She had no delusions about her situation. She knew the Emperor and his minions would never let her leave the Imperial City, ever again. At least, not alive.
Symmachus was dead.
"Milady?"
Barenziah jumped, startled by the servant's approach. "What is it?"
"The Breton is here, Milady. King Eadwyre," the woman added helpfully, noting Barenziah's incomprehension. She hesitated. "Is there news, Milady?" she said, nodding toward the nighthawk.
"Nothing that will not wait," Barenziah said quickly, and her voice seemed to echo in the emptiness that suddenly yawned like a gaping abyss inside her. "See to the bird." She stood up, smoothed her gown, and prepared to attend on her royal visitor.
She felt numb. Numb as the stone walls around her, numb as the quiescence of the night air... numb as a lifeless corpse.
Symmachus was dead!

***
King Eadwyre greeted her gravely and courteously, if a bit fulsomely. He claimed to be a fervent admirer of Symmachus, who figured prominently in his family's legends. Gradually he turned the conversation to her business with the Emperor. He inquired after details, and asked if the outcome had been favorable to Mournhold. Finding her noncommittal, he suddenly blurted out, "Milady Queen, you must believe me. The man who claims himself the Emperor is an impostor! I know it sounds mad, but I -- "
"No," Barenziah said, with sudden decisiveness. "You are entirely correct, Milord King. I know."
Eadwyre relaxed into his seat for the first time, eyes suddenly shrewd. "You know? You're not just humoring someone you might think a madman?"
"I assure you, Milord, I am not." She took a deep breath. "And who do you surmise is dissembling as the Emperor?"
"The Imperial Battlemage, Jagar Tharn."
"Ah. Milord King, have you, perchance, heard of someone called the Nightingale?"
"Yes, Milady, as a matter of fact I have. My allies and I believe him to be one and the same man as the renegade Tharn."
"I knew it!" Barenziah stood up and tried to mask her upheaval. The Nightingale -- Jagar Tharn! Oh, but the man was a demon! Diabolical and insidious. And so very clever. He had contrived their downfall seamlessly, perfectly! Symmachus, my Symmachus...!
Eadwyre coughed diffidently. "Milady, I... we... we need your aid."
Barenziah smiled grimly at the irony. "I do believe I should be the one saying those words. But go on, please. Of what assistance might I be, Milord King?"
Quickly the monarch outlined a plot. The mage Ria Silmane, of late apprenticed to the vile Jagar Tharn, had been killed and declared a traitor by the false Emperor. Yet she had retained a bit of her powers and could still contact a few of those she had known well on the mortal plane. She had chosen a Champion who would undertake to find the Staff of Chaos, which had been hidden by the traitorous sorcerer in an unknown site. This Champion was to wield the Staff's power to destroy Jagar Tharn, who was otherwise invulnerable, and rescue the true Emperor being held prisoner in another dimension. However, the Champion, while thankfully still alive, now languished in the Imperial Dungeons. Tharn's attention must be diverted while the chosen one gained freedom with Ria's spirit's help. Barenziah had the false Emperor's ears -- and seemingly his eyes. Would she provide the necessary distraction?
"I suppose I could obtain another audience with him," Barenziah said carefully. "But would that be sufficient? I must tell you that my children and I have just recently been declared traitors to the Empire."
"In Mournhold, perhaps, Milady, and Morrowind. Things are different in the Imperial City and theImperial Province. The same administrative morass that makes it near impossible to obtain an audience with the Emperor and his ministers also quite assures that you would never be unlawfully imprisoned or otherwise punished without benefit of due legal process. In your case, Milady, and your children's, the situation is further exacerbated by your royal rank. As Queen and heirs apparent, your persons are considered inviolable -- sacrosanct, in fact." The King grinned. "The Imperial bureaucracy, Milady, is a double-edged claymore."
So. At least she and the children were safe for the time being. Then a thought struck her. "Milord King, what did you mean earlier when you said I had the false Emperor's eyes? And seemingly, at that?"
Eadwyre looked uncomfortable. "It was whispered among the servants that Jagar Tharn kept your likeness in a sort of shrine in his chambers."
"I see." Her thoughts wandered momentarily to that insane romance of hers with the Nightingale. She had been madly in love with him. Foolish woman. And the man she had once loved had caused to be killed the man she truly did love. Did love. Loved. He's gone now, he's... he... She still couldn't bring herself to accept the fact that Symmachus was dead. But even if he is, she told herself firmly, my love is alive, and remains. He would always be with her. As would the pain. The pain of living the rest of her life without him. The pain of trying to survive each day, each night, without his presence, his comfort, his love. The pain of knowing he would never see his children grow into a fine pair of adults, who would never know their father, how brave he was, how strong, how wonderful, how loving... especially little Morgiah.
And for that, for all that, for all you have done to my family, Nightingale -- you must die.
"Does that surprise you?"
Eadwyre's words broke into her thoughts. "What? Does what surprise me?"
"Your likeness. In Tharn's room."
"Oh." Her features set imperturbably. "Yes. And no."
Eadwyre could see from her expression that she wished to change the subject. He turned once again to their plans. "Our chosen one may need a few days to escape, Milady. Can you gain him a bit more time?"
"You trust me in this, Milord King? Why?"
"We are desperate, Milady. We have no choice. But even if we did -- why, yes. Yes, I would trust you. I do trust you. Your husband has been good to my family over the years. The Lord Symmachus--"
"Is dead."
"What?"
Barenziah related the recent events quickly and coolly.
"Milady... Queen... but how dreadful! I... I'm so sorry..."
For the first time Barenziah's glacial poise was shaken. In the face of sympathy, she felt her outward calm start to crumble. She gathered her composure, and willed herself to stillness.
"Under the circumstances, Milady, we can hardly ask--"
"Nay, good Milord. Under the circumstances I must do what I may to avenge myself upon the murderer of my children's father." A single tear escaped the fortress of her eyes. She brushed it away impatiently. "In return I ask only that you protect my orphaned children as you may."
Eadwyre drew himself up. His eyes shone. "Willingly do I so pledge, most brave and noble Queen. The gods of our beloved land, indeed Tamriel itself, be my witnesses."
His words touched her absurdly, yet profoundly. "I thank you from my heart and my soul, good Milord King Eadwyre. You have mine and m-my children's e-everlasting g-gra -- grati -- "
She broke down.

***
She did not sleep that night, but sat in a chair beside her bed, hands folded in her lap, thinking deep and long into the waxing and waning of the darkness. She would not tell the children -- not yet, not until she must.
She had no need to seek another audience with the Emperor. A summons arrived at first light.
She told the children she expected to be gone a few days, bade them give the servants no trouble, and kissed them good-bye. Morgiah whimpered a bit; she was bored and lonely in the Imperial City. Helseth looked dour but said nothing. He was very like his father. His father...
At the Imperial Palace, Barenziah was escorted not into the great audience hall but to a small parlour where the Emperor sat at a solitary breakfast. He nodded a greeting and waved his hand toward the window. "Magnificent view, isn't it?"
Barenziah stared out over the towers of the great city. It dawned on her that this was the very chamber where she'd first met Tiber Septim all those years ago. Centuries ago. Tiber Septim. Another man she had loved. Who else had she loved? Symmachus, Tiber Septim... and Straw. She remembered the big blond stable-boy with sudden and intense affection. She never realized it till now, but she had loved Straw. Only she had never let him know. She had been so young then, those had been carefree days, halcyon days... before everything, before all this... before... him. Not Symmachus. The Nightingale. She was shocked in spite of herself. The man could still affect her. Even now. Even after all that had happened. A strong wave of inchoate emotion swept over her.
When she turned back at last, Uriel Septim had vanished -- and the Nightingale sat in his place.
"You knew," he said quietly, scanning her face. "You knew. Instantly. I wanted to surprise you. You might at least have pretended."
Barenziah spread her arms, trying to pacify the maelstrom churning deep inside her. "I'm afraid my skill at pretence is no match for yours, my liege."
He sighed. "You're angry."
"Just a little, I must admit," she said icily. "I don't know about you, but I find betrayal a trifle offensive."
"How human of you."
She took a deep breath. "What do you want of me?"
"Now you are pretending." He stood up to face her directly. "You know what I want of you."
"You want to torment me. Go ahead. I'm in your power. But leave my children alone."
"No, no, no. I don't want that at all, Barenziah." He came near, speaking low in the old caressing voice that had sent shivers cascading through her body. The same voice that was doing the same thing to her, here and now. "Don't you see? This was the only way." His hands closed on her arms.
She felt her resolve fading, her disgust at him weakening. "You could have taken me with you." Unbidden tears gathered in her eyes.
He shook his head. "I didn't have the power. Ah, but now, now...! I have it all. Mine to have, mine to share, mine to give -- to you." He once more waved his hand toward the window and the city beyond. "All Tamriel is mine to lay at your feet -- and that is only the beginning."
"It's too late. Too late. You left me to him."
"He's dead. The peasant's dead. A scant few years -- what do they matter?"
"The children--"
"Can be adopted by me. And we'll have others together, Barenziah. Oh, and what children they'll be! What things we shall pass on to them! Your beauty, and my magic. I have powers you haven't even dreamt of, not in your most untamed imaginings!" He moved to kiss her.
She slipped his grasp and turned away. "I don't believe you."
"You do, you know. You're still angry, that's all." He smiled. But it didn't reach his eyes. "Tell me what you want, Barenziah. Barenziah my beloved. Tell me. It shall be yours."
Her whole life flashed in front of her. The past, the present, and the future still to come. Different times, different lives, different Barenziahs. Which one was the real one? Which one was the real Barenziah? For by that choice she would determine the shape of her fate.
She made it. She knew. She knew who the real Barenziah was, and what she wanted.
"A walk in the garden, my liege," she said. "A song or two, perhaps."
The Nightingale laughed. "You want to be courted."
"And why not? You do it so well. It's been long, besides, since I've had the pleasure."
He smiled. "As you wish, Milady Queen Barenziah. Your wish is my command." He took her hand and kissed it. "Now, and forever."

***
And so they spent their days in courtship -- walking, talking, singing and laughing together, while the Empire's business was left to subordinates.
"I'd like to see the Staff," Barenziah said idly one day. "I only had a glimpse of it, you'll recall."
He frowned. "Nothing would give me greater pleasure, heart's delight -- but that would be impossible."
"You don't trust me," Barenziah pouted, but softened her lips when he leaned over for a kiss.
"Nonsense, love. Of course I do. But it isn't here." He chuckled. "In fact, it isn't anywhere." He kissed her again, more passionately this time.
"You're talking in riddles again. I want to see it. You couldn't have destroyed it."
"Ah. You've gained in wisdom since last we met."
"You inspired my hunger for knowledge somewhat." She stood up. "The Staff of Chaos can't be destroyed. And it can't be removed from Tamriel, not without the direst consequences to the land itself."
"Ahhh. You impress me, my love. All true. It is not destroyed, and it is not removed from Tamriel. And yet, as I said, it isn't anywhere. Can you solve the puzzle?" He pulled her to him and she leaned into his embrace. "Here's a greater riddle still," he whispered. "How does one make one of two? That I can, and will, show you." Their bodies merged, limbs tangled together.
Later, when they had drawn a bit apart and he lay dozing, she thought sleepily, "One of two, two of one, three of two, two of three... what cannot be destroyed or banished might be split apart, perhaps..."
She stood up, eyes blazing. She started to smile.

***
The Nightingale kept a journal. He scribbled entries onto it every night after quick reports from underlings. It was locked in a bureau. But the lock was a simple one. She had, after all, been a member of the Thieves Guild in a past life... in another life... another Barenziah...
One morning Barenziah managed to sneak a quick look at it while he was occupied at his toilet. She discovered that the first piece of the Staff of Chaos was hidden in an ancient Dwarvish mine called Fang Lair -- although its location was given only in the vaguest of terms. The diary was crammed with jotted events in an odd shorthand, and was very hard to decipher.
All Tamriel, she thought, in his hands and mine, and more perhaps -- and yet...
For all his exterior charm there was a cold emptiness where his heart should have been, a vacuum of which he was quite unaware, she thought. One could glimpse it now and then, when his eyes would go blank and hard. And yet, though he had a different concept of it, he yearned for happiness too, and contentment. Peasant dreams, Barenziah thought, and Straw flashed before her eyes again, looking lost and sad. And then Therris, with a feline Khajiit smile. Tiber Septim, powerful and lonely. Symmachus, solid, stolid Symmachus, who did what ought to be done, quietly and efficiently. The Nightingale. The Nightingale, a riddle and a certainty, both the darkness and the light. The Nightingale, who would rule all, and more -- and spread chaos in the name of order.
Barenziah got reluctant leave from him to visit her children, who had yet to be told of their father's death -- and of the Emperor's offer of protection. She finally did, and it wasn't easy. Morgiah clung to her for what seemed an era, sobbing wretchedly, while Helseth ran off into the garden to be alone, afterward refusing all her attempts to speak to him on the subject of his father, or even to let her hold him to her breast.
Eadwyre called on her while she was there. She told him what she had discovered so far, explaining that she must remain awhile yet and learn more as she could.
The Nightingale teased her about her elderly admirer. He was quite aware of Eadwyre's suspicion -- but he wasn't the least bit perturbed, for no one took the old fool seriously. Barenziah even managed to arrange a reconciliation of sorts between them. Eadwyre publicly recanted his misgivings, and his "old friend" the Emperor forgave him. He was afterward invited to dine with them at least once a week.
The children liked Eadwyre, even Helseth, who disapproved of his mother's liaison with the Emperor and consequently detested him. He had become surly and temperamental as the days passed, and frequently quarreled with both his mother and her lover. Eadwyre was not happy with the affair either, and the Nightingale took great delight at times in openly displaying his affection for Barenziah just to nettle the old man.
They could not marry, of course, for Uriel Septim was already married. At least, not yet. The Nightingale had exiled the Empress shortly after taking the Emperor's place, but had not dared harm her. She was given sanctuary by the Temple of the One. It had been given out that she was suffering from ill health, and rumors had been circulated by the Nightingale's agents that she had mental problems. The Emperor's children had likewise been dispatched to various prisons all across Tamriel disguised as "schools."
"She'll grow worse in time," Nightingale said carelessly, referring to the Empress and eyeing Barenziah's swollen breasts and swelling belly with satisfaction. "As for their children... Well, life is full of hazards, isn't it? We'll be married. Your child will be my true heir."
He did want the child. Barenziah was sure of that. She was far less sure, however, of his feelings for her. They argued continually now, often violently, usually about Helseth, whom he wanted to send away to school in Summurset Isle, the province farthest from the Imperial City. Barenziah made no effort to avoid these altercations. The Nightingale, after all, had no interest in a smooth, unruffled life; and besides, he thoroughly enjoyed making up afterward...
Occasionally Barenziah would take the children and retreat to their old apartment, declaring she wanted no more to do with him. But he would always come to fetch her back, and she would always let herself be fetched back. It was ineffable, like the rising and setting of Tamriel's twin moons.

***
She was six months pregnant before she finally deciphered the location of the last Staff piece -- an easy one, since every Dark Elf knew where the Mount of Dagoth-Ur was.
When she next quarreled with the Nightingale, she simply left the city with Eadwyre and rode hard for High Rock, and Wayrest. The Nightingale was furious, but there was little he could do. His assassins were rather inept, and he dared not leave his seat of power to pursue them in person. Nor could he openly declare war on Wayrest. He had no legitimate claim on her or her unborn child. True to form, the Imperial City's nobility had disapproved of his liaison with Barenziah -- as they had so many years ago of Tiber Septim's -- and were glad to see her go.
Wayrest was equally distrustful of her, but Eadwyre was fanatically loved by his prosperous little city-state, and allowances were readily made for his... eccentricities. Barenziah and Eadwyre were married a year after the birth of her son by the Nightingale. In spite of this unfortunate fact, Eadwyre doted on her and her children. She in her turn did not love him -- but she was fond of him, and that was something. It was nice to have someone, and Wayrest was a very good place, a good place for children to grow up, while they waited, and bided their time, and prayed for the Champion's success in his mission.
Barenziah could only hope that he wouldn't take very long, whoever this unnamed Champion was. She was a Dark Elf, and she had all the time in the world. All the time. But no more love left to give, and no more hatred left to burn. She had nothing left, nothing but pain, and memories... and her children. She only wanted to raise her family, and provide them a good life, and be left to live out what remained of hers. She had no doubt it was going to be a long life yet. And during it she wanted peace, and quiet, and serenity, of her soul as well as of her heart. Peasant dreams. That was what she wanted. That was what the real Barenziah wanted. That was what the real Barenziah was. Peasant dreams.
Pleasant dreams.

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