by AJ Marks
Zoe made her way to the Blue Palace along with Jordis to meet up with the Jarl before the Thalmor arrived. It would prove to be an interesting morning which started out good. The pastries were indeed good making Zoe wonder why he hadn’t been able to start up his business.
He explained over the meal that he acquired some debt due to his father’s gambling addiction before he died. Zoe asked if it was still a problem and he said he had paid them off last week to which Jordis affirmed his claim.
So with good pastries Zoe agreed to fund his business and if the gamblers came back to send them her way, as a backer she basically ‘owned’ him in their eyes. He didn’t seem too disappointed and was working with Leah to see about starting the business.
Now entering the palace things appeared ready for their guests. People were present and Elsif seemed dressed and ready along with the others.
“Ah, Zoe, so glad you could make it,” Elsif said to her. “The Thalmor delegates should be here shortly, the general is already here along with Rikke and a few others.”
“Well, I don’t plan on doing much talking,” Zoe said knowing diplomacy wasn’t her strong asset. She preferred a hack and slash method instead.
“You’re strength is most welcome,” Elsif said to her.
“The Dragonborn’s presence carries a lot of weight among the people,” Tullius said. “The fact you helped us out in the Stormcloak rebellion should carry some weight the Thalmor.”
“I’ll do what I can,” Zoe said, hoping nothing unexpected happened. She was already on edge with the fact the Thalmor were coming.
She moved to blend into the background a bit, not that it was easy with Deadric armor, but stood with the other people, magicians, and thanes and hourecarls who had gathered for the event. She took a moment to reflect on her relationship with the Thalmor. It was a main reason she left Cyrodiil, specifically one Thalmor named Valis. It seemed like a lifetime ago since then.
Of course the thought of what he had done still angered her.
“Everything all right my Thane?” Jordis asked.
“Yeah, just thinking about something in the past,” Zoe replied, not wanting to get into it.
“Oh, we don’t know much about your past,” Jordis said.
“Not something I like to think about, a lifetime ago,” Zoe stated knowing she never quite felt alive until she had come here. The first time she actually attacked a dragon it felt like she had at last been born, she had a purpose. Before that she had been going through the motions of life.
“Well, you’ve made a difference here,” Jordis said.
“Thanks,” Zoe said, feeling good.
Before either could say more the announcement the Thalmor had arrived came. Now she stood back watching as the group came up the stairs, dressed in their Thalmor robes, the guards in their armor. The two in robes were the important ones as they walked up to begin the proceedings. Zoe remained off to the side as introductions were made.
Elsif introduced her court and the general before the Thalmor introduced themselves. Zoe wasn’t surprised at the first elf, Elewen, someone she had met while trying to gain more information about the dragons and before they understood it was Alduin. However it was the second name which caught her attention, Valis.
Taking a hard look at the elf she noticed he was the same one from her past. She took some calming breathes and imagined herself impaling him on her sword allowing her to smile as Elsif turned to her.
“And this is the Dragonborn, Zoe,” Elsif said. “She’s helped us out all over Skyrim.”
Zoe merely nodded at the group watching as they seemed to look at her for a few seconds. Valis probably recognized her, not that it mattered to her anymore. She had grown since they last met. She had been a nobody last time, now she was the Dragonborn.
“Ah, the mysterious Dragonborn I’ve heard so much about,” Elenwen said, moving forward to greet her. “Some of the stories are amazing.”
“Fighting dragons was amazing enough,” Zoe replied back to her. “I have been able help many in my travels.”
“Indeed, in the past year you’ve done a lot including helping put down the Stormcloak rebellion,” Elewen said. “And even rumors as far as the College of Windhelm. We lost our ambassador there, perhaps you were there?”
“I was, but only if you’re willing to hear the truth, including his actions which endangered us all,” Zoe replied knowing the elf in question was responsible for almost destroying the college.
“I’m sure things are not as bad as you think, exaggerations are not good,” Valis said to her indicating what he thought of her memory.
Zoe stared back at him for several seconds as neither moved until Elsif interrupted them.
“What brings you all this way to Skyrim?” she asked diplomatically.
“Ah, yes, its the fact we’ve been hearing a lot of rumors up here,” Valis said to her taking the lead. Zoe realized he must have moved up politically since she last saw him. Then again, he always had high ambitions. Zoe made a mental note to watch her back with him around.
“Rumors,” Falk said speaking up. “There are always rumors going on. If I believed half of them none of us would be here.”
“Yes, that’s why we’re here you see, to get to the truth if you will,” Valis replied rubbing his chin before continuing. “And with the end of the rebellion we have some, concerns, regarding some delicate issues.”
“We did have some problems with Ulfric Stormcloak, but that’s been quelled for now,” Tullius said.
“For now? You expect more trouble general?” Valis asked. “That doesn’t instill me with confidence.”
“With your rule, yes,” Tullius said.
“Our rule?” Valis said and Zoe could see he felt insulted and decided to speak up.
“Yes, your rule,” she said watching as he looked her way. “You might not hear the comments, but in every bar and inn whispers of your ‘rule’ are spoken of, and not in a good way. You yourselves are sowing the seeds of distrust and rebellion which we have to put down.”
“Our actions are for the best of all,” he replied, with the same elitism she remembered him having and she fought the urge to punch him in the fact. She might gain some satisfaction but it probably wouldn’t make a good impression for diplomacy.
“Nonetheless, we’re here to insure the White-Gold Concord is upheld,” Elenwen said.
“We can still have troops come into the area if needed,” Valis threatened.
“That would be unwise,” Tullius said. “I know your forces are still weak from fighting the Redguards. You can’t afford another such war and still maintain control of Cyrodiil.”
Zoe watched Valis as he moved forward before Elenwen stopped him. Zoe noticed the move but remained calm, her vast experience showing.
“But you did agree to it,” Elenwen. “Call it a formality.
Zoe watched the political battle, itching just to bash some heads. It would be so easy, but the political consequences were larger this time.
“I expect we can look over the treaty and make sure nothing is going to happen to violate the concordat,” Elenwen stated.
“Times change,” Tullius said, wanting to say more when Elsif stopped him.
“I think you’ll find nothing wrong,” Elsif said.
“Then we won’t find any Talos worshipping in Skyrim? The people seem to be resistant to giving that up,” Elenwen said.
“You continue to force that and it will lead to another rebellion,” Zoe replied, as the two look at each other.
“Have we met before?” Elenwen asked.
“Perhaps, I’ve been all over Skyrim and helped out a lot of people,” Zoe replied.
“Yes, of course, but I’m sure I’ll recall where I’ve seen you,” Elenwen said.
“No doubt,” Zoe replied.
“She is correct though, its difficult to make sure everyone is following that,” Tullius said. “For example, the Greybeards, we don’t go up there.”
“Then perhaps you should,” Valis stated.
“The Greybeards are not your typical group, and anyone trying face an uphill battle, literally,” Zoe said not mentioning how strong they really were. “Any force would be spotted quickly, they are stronger than you realize.”
“Yes, well everyone had a weakness,” Elenwen said, trying to remain calm as she lost control of the meeting.
“True, even the Thalmor,” Zoe replied back watching her stumble as is she would take back her words.
“I suggest we head over to a more comfortable area, where we and look over the treaty,” Elsif said.
“Yes, it was a tiring trip, and this place isn’t that great,” Valis said looking around. “Cold and worthless.”
“Its only one opinion,” Elsif said. Zoe wanted to bash him over the head knowing that Skyrim had become her home, a place she would fight for.
“I think we can also get some food,” Falk said speaking up.
“I think we can all use that,” Elsif said moving off to the dining room.
Zoe watched them go realizing Valis wasn’t moving. She mentally shook her head knowing he wanted to talk, or toss some meaningless threat her way.
“Go ahead Jordis,” Zoe told her Thane ho appeared to want to stay.
“Are you sure my Thane?” Jordis asked.
“We have a history from before I came to Skyrim, but don’t worry, I won’t hurt him,” Zoe said, making sure that last part was loud enough for him to hear. His expression changed slightly but still quite smug.
“If you say so,” Jordis replied before walking away leaving them alone.
“So, this is where you disappeared to, and here I thought you died in the underground,” Valis said looking her over. “I can see that rumor is untrue, and so much the better. The armor doesn’t suite you though, I can think of some better clothes.”
“I had an opportunity come up and the armor does suit me now, even made it myself,” Zoe replied back knowing the truth as she smiled. The strange message she had received that fateful day led her up here and everything she had done.
“I’d watch yourself, I command a lot of respect within the Thalmor now,” Valis said, moving in closer trying to intimidate her.
“And you’re not back home,” Zoe said, returning the glare watching as he backed off slightly. “General Tallius spoke the truth, you can’t afford a war up here so far away from your powerbase. The Redguards hurt you more than you care to admit. Even when I was in Cyrodiil you were losing power.”
“You know, there are some other, more interesting things which have come to our attention up here as well,” Vaalis said. “Perhaps you know something about it, missing prisoners and their guards.”
“If you have an accusation to make, make it little elf,” Zoe replied back, moving even closer watching as he took a step back. They both knew who won that battle.
“Just saying, you might want to watch that pretty back of yours,” Valis said trying to give an air of confidence but Zoe saw through it now having seen it a dozen times over now.
“And we’re not in Cyrodiil anymore, I’d be careful. It’s a long journey and bandits show up all over,” she answered him. “I’m not that weak little nobody either and I haven’t forgotten what you did either.”
His smile fell, replace with anger before storming away even as Tullius walked back and over to her.
“Trouble?” Tullius asked her looking at her and the retreating form of Vallis.
“Not really, you might say water under the bridge,” Zoe replied back to him.
“I take it you two know each other?”
“Yeah, knew him back in Cyrodiil,” Zoe replied. “He was always arrogant and power hungry.”
“I see, so he’s a typical Thalmor then,” Tullius said causing them both to laugh. “Come on, we should catch up before they try to intimidate Elsif.”
“Yeah, Valis would do that,” Zoe replied. She had a deep feeling her encounter with Valis wasn’t over yet. He was incredibly stubborn when it came to things he wanted. She only hoped he didn’t do anything stupid, or perhaps she did. It would be a way for her to show how much he no longer understood her.
They moved off heading to the eating area and what Zoe figured would be a day of boring diplomatic talk. It was much easier to bash some skulls in.
End part 10