Chapter 26: Mage, Thief, Warrior
Mohamara’s tail never stopped thrashing as he was carried out of the Blue Palace and to Proudspire Manor by Hadvar, his new ‘minder’. The man was pleasant, upbeat, and empathetic to Mohamara’s position, but also firm in his position of authority over the cat.
“My job is mostly to track your performance, among other things,” he explained as the caravan kept their distance. “I’ll be managing your salary on your behalf--don’t worry, the position comes with a fiduciary duty. We’ll need to talk about what items you can or can’t enchant so I can organize with other Quaestors to get those things to you as necessary.”
“Okay,” Mohamara sighed. “Assume I don’t know what a Quaestor is.”
“Oh, we’re revenue and resource officers. We manage the Legion’s money, make sure everyone gets paid. But we also oversee mines, and subcontract local smiths to make arms and armor.”
“And mind conscripts?”
“‘Well,” Hadvar laughed good-naturedly. “This is a special case.” The Nord Legionnaire carried Mohamara up to the front door of the Manor and knocked. Before his fist hit the wood a second time, the door opened and Ma’dran loomed in the doorway like a horror picture monster.
“Why is a Legion Officer carrying ja’khajiit around?” Ma’dran looked at the Nord, and then Mohamara, whereupon he noticed that the tojay’s eyes were totally white. The jaguar-man’s eyes were as slits when he met Hadvar’s again, and his voice barely above a snarl. “Why is ja’khajiit blinded?”
Ma’dran’s rolling growl acted as a signal for the caravan to move. The gates of the manor were closed, and the caravan guards began to close in the Legionnaire.
“I did some magic, Ma’dran” the tojay quickly answered in light of Ma’dran’s voice. “The blindness is just a side-effect of the spell backfiring. And this guy’s carrying me around because….”
When the tojay was hesitant to talk about it, Hadvar cheerfully stood straighter and answered for him. “Your friend has been conscripted into the Imperial Legion. We’re here to collect his effects and relocate to Castle Dour.”
Ma’dran stared at the cheerful Nord for a long moment before he released the doorframe and stood aside. Hadvar briefly acknowledged the cracks in the stone where Ma’dran had been gripping it but continued indoors without commenting.
However once Mohamara had guided him to the tojay’s room, the Nord set the Khajiit down, closed the door behind them, and started gasping for air. “If you hadn’t said anything they were going to murder me,” he said, his cheer replaced with horror. “Shor’s bones, the big one could break stone with his bare hands.”
“Ma’dran’s not even the biggest cathay-raht in the caravan,” the tojay told Hadvar with a wicked cat-smile. “Kessei’s nine and a half feet tall, and he sells maps.” Kessei was also the oldest cathay-raht and relied on a walking stick since he had a bad leg. The way the big cat had described it, he got the leg injury from wrestling with a mammoth--his mammoth tusk walking stick lent the story weight.
Hadvar didn’t respond with words--instead, he just let out his breath as a shaky hiss as he gradually pressed his face into the door. This proved to be a bad thing, as the door opened suddenly. The Legionnaire found himself stumbling to stay standing while a lightly armored cathay woman arched her brow at him.
“Baskets,” she said and offered several wicker baskets stacked in each other with their lids to Hadvar. “Ma’dran asked this one to help ja’khajiit pack.”
“Hey Ahnji,” Mohamara greeted as he felt around the room for his stuff.
With Hadvar holding the baskets, Ahnji pushed past him and entered the room. She picked the blind Khajiit up and set him on the bed. “Ja’khajiit, let this one find things. You fold what Khajiit gives you, and put in baskets.”
Mohamara stuck his tongue out at the cathay but didn’t resist. The last thing he wanted was to damage Ma’dran’s furniture because he couldn’t see where anything was.
“Young one,” the cathay woman asked in ta’agra. “The Nord does not lie? You are conscripted into Legion?”
“Yes,” Mohamara responded after engaging his Tongues spell. “The Legion cannot win its war on its own, so it steals Khajiit to win it for them.”
“You do not have to go along with it.” She laid a pile of clothes next to Mohamara to fold and basket once Hadvar placed some down. “The caravan can spirit you off to Ahkari’s route, in Stormcloak lands.”
“No, no. They just want me for my enchanting, I’m probably not going to be made to fight their battles.”
Hadvar stood awkwardly in the doorway while the two Khajiit talked. He noted how the conscript didn’t speak the Khajiit language with the same smoothness, grace, or speed that the cathay woman did.
“They will pay you? See to your health?”
“Let me ask.” Mohamara switched to Tamrielic to talk to Hadvar. “Hey, you said you’d monitor my salary for me?”
“Manage,” the Nord corrected. “I invest your salary in safe companies, set up accounts in various banks so if one institution is destroyed in the war it won’t see you destitute, and write letters of credit on your behalf to buy things.”
“... So I don’t actually get to see any of the money the Legion is paying me?” Both Khajiit lowered their ears, neither happy with the cup game being described.
“Well, we don’t actually have the gold in Skyrim, you see. The current war chest was donated by Imperial civilians, so the gold to back up the credit exists, but it’s in Cyrodiil. Oh, but you probably want to know how much your salary will be.”
The entire time, lurking in the shadows at the end of the hall where there were no windows to let light in was Ma’dran. He watched the Nord who had come into his home and was stealing away a great money maker. But when he heard the sum that the Legionnaire quoted, he had to duck around the corner to squeal in delight as Hadvar turned to investigate the noise.
Mohamara was frozen, holding a half-folded shirt while his tail fluffed out in alarm. “You’re lying,” he said, automatically. “There’s no way in Ashpit that they’d have that much to pay.”
“Well, bear in mind that it’s your department’s budget, your salary is still to be determined,” Hadvar admitted when he couldn’t find the source of the faint squealing. Perhaps the house had mice? “That’s just the maximum amount you have available for supplies, hirelings, and your own wages before I have to request additional funding from the General. But, honestly, if you can give us the same quality you gave the Solitude city guard, you’ll earn a substantial wage.”
“No, there’s literally no way they’d have that much,” Mohamara began to realize as he thought about it. “Everything I’ve heard about the Imperial Province says that it’s in chaos right now, and with Skyrim as it is--even if Imperial citizens could donate enough money to afford to give a conscript that much, it should have been appropriated by the Legion forces in Cyrodiil to help get that province back under control. None of this makes sense!”
“Well,” Sheogorath said as he patted the tojay on the head. “Acceptance is a good first step.”
Mohamara’s reaction to the sudden arrival of the Mad God was completely understandable. To leap straight up and catch onto the rafters in the ceiling.
“Gah! Ja’khajiit, come down from there!” Ahnji set aside the clothes she was gathering up to try and jump up to catch Mohamara’s dangling legs. “You, Nord! Stop staring like a fool and find ladder! Or get cathay-raht to help.”
Hadvar had been stunned by how high the cat could jump, but hurriedly walked off at the cathay’s hissed orders.
“You know, this is getting a bit predictable,” Sheogorath commented while floating gently up to Mohamara’s level. “But it really helps with my ‘main antagonistic force’ thing if I can just pop up, anytime, anywhere, and mess with you.” With frivolous disregard, the Mad God kept on floating upward and became a cloud of purple and orange mist with his face floating at the center. “It’s been a while since we talked, incredibly handsome Daedric Prince to ungrateful mortal.”
The Mad God’s mist form snaked into the Khajiit’s head through his ears, orange and purple mist entering in from opposite sides. It was such a powerfully disturbing feeling that the tojay released his hold on the rafter and fell after a second of staying aloft in defiance of gravity.
Ahnji caught him easily and set him down then shouted that the ladder wasn’t needed just as Hadvar returned with a stool.
“So I’m going to just sit on your eardrum for a bit while you do whatever it is ungrateful mortals do when they’re not appreciating all that their parents do for them.” The Daedra’s voice came in as clearly as if he was standing beside him. “Ooh, I haven’t done the old tinnitus jig for a while, let’s see if my hips are still up to it.”
Suddenly Mohamara’s ears were filled with a persistent ringing as the tall-legged people went back to their routines.
“Still got it! Oh man, I miss having the free time to just find some random mortal and dance on their ear-drums for a decade or so. But anyway, your mother and I are still working on the specific wedding plans--the groom said his family’s input wasn’t necessary, which was really a shame. We could have had four-way arguments over napkins! Or better yet, which of you two was totally undeserving of the other.”
“When we get to Castle Dour, is it okay if I take a nap or something?” Mohamara asked Hadvar as he put a bag full of petty soul gems in a basket, alongside several rolls of paper.
“You know, I probably should tell you a bit about your groom at some point. I bet you’re just dying from antici--”
“Oh, I don’t think so, sorry,” Hadvar admitted. “First thing’s first, we need to get you to the registrar, then there’s the delousing and medical exam. And after that, the General will want to talk to you about some of the obligations expected of you, the length of your conscription, and issue first orders. My money’s on you being assigned to Whiterun or Falkreath.”
“Delousing--is that a cat and fleas thing?” The tojay thrashed his tail around in annoyance. “I had an implant put in under my skin specifically so I never get fleas.”
“Standard procedure, I’m afraid. But hey, at least you aren’t required to go through basic training! ...I think.”
“Ugh,” Mohamara fell forward into the folded up blood-stained quilt he was putting into a basket. “This has been an annoying day. Still not as bad as the Thalmor meeting I had this morning or that time I was almost eaten by whales, though.”
“Wait. Thalmor, this morning? Eaten by whales? And what in Oblivion is that?” Hadvar’s face was set in ever-increasing levels of confusion as he parsed what Mohamara said and then saw Ahnji take Meridia’s beacon and put it in the last basket.
“Oh yeah, I probably should have mentioned the Thalmor to Elisif. Or to Ma’dran. Or to Yagraz.” The tojay buried his head in the quilt. “I need a vacation from this vacation, so I can remember what normal is and let people know when abnormal things happen.”
“Hold on a minute--Yagraz of the Companions? You know her?”
“You know what--I’m going to get a cat-nap until we’re at Castle Dour because this is a bit too much to deal with.” Mohamara picked up the quilt, adjusted the clothes underneath, then stepped into the basket, curled up, and dropped the quilt on top of himself. Ahnji put the basket lid on it and then stacked the baskets so Mohamara was at the bottom.
“I… didn’t think he could fit in one of these,” the Nord admitted.
“Ja’khajiit can fit into many small places,” the cathay woman said with a shrug. “Makes for entertaining hide and seek.”
General Seneca Tullius arrived in his personal quarters in Castle Dour and automatically went for the pitcher of wine kept near his desk. The scout reports were not good--the Stormcloaks had garrisoned Japhet’s Folly after the previous occupants, a pirate gang calling themselves the ‘Blood Horkers’ had been wiped out. Legate Telendas from the Winterhold fortified camp reported that a concerning number of the Blood Horker’s ships could be salvaged--and with lumber from the Rift and Eastmarch, they would be salvaged too soon for the General’s liking.
Legate Rikke’s prediction was proving to be frighteningly correct.
So the General drank, to calm his nerves so that he could think of a way to counter this development. And he drank to pretend that the smug fool that had gotten him into the predicament was sitting in his reading chair.
“I ought to have you clapped in irons,” Tullius growled out and sipped the Firebrand wine. “Breaking into a secure Legion fortress, aiding and abetting a rebel cause, becoming a glorified cutpurse--have I left anything out?”
His son rose from the low chair next to what passed for a personal library in Skyrim--two bookcases of three layers each made of rough, unpolished wood--and positively strutted over to the General.
“Well there’s a few more things, but those are small-time matters, undeserving of my infamy.” The General’s son plucked the wine goblet from his father’s hand and set it down. “If it helps, I come bearing presents.” An envelope with the wax seal of Eastmarch was laid atop the goblet, along with a rolled up piece of parchment.
For the first time in years, Tullius looked at his son. The Rift had been good for him--the young man was more hale and hearty than when the General had seen him at the Arcane University. Certainly, the man didn’t dress as a member of the Thieves Guild, in the yellow robes of an apprentice wizard. The style of Winterhold, Tullius noted. But remade in silks rather than coarse wool. Naturally.
“I didn’t trap them if that’s what you’re worried about.” The former upstanding citizen of the Empire waved off his father’s glare and stepped back.
“That only makes me suspect a trap even more....” The General in Tullius told him to call for soldiers and arrest the man that had been his son. But then he remembered why he’d attempted to get his son into the Shadow Legion--the boy could call up ludicrous levels of Destruction magic. It would just lead to more dead soldiers and more need for Tullius to drink.
He opened the roll of parchment first and found it to be a map of Stormcloak territory. Supply lines, the General realized at once, from the Rift to Eastmarch and from Eastmarch to Japhet’s Folly off the coast of Winterhold. Lumber yards and mines were highlighted. And once there proved to be no obvious trap, the General switched over to the letter.
“This can’t be right.” The letter detailed the muster of forces at the Valtheim Towers, at the border of Eastmarch and Whiterun. “Ulfric just lost over two thousand men at Morthal, he can’t possibly have enough to launch a second attack so soon.”
“Well--my associates did consider forging something for you to use to get Whiterun’s Jarl to let you move troops through his land. But then we found out that lovely bit of information when cleaning out another Guild.”
“...How did you know what the letter says if the wax seal was intact?” The General looked over his shoulder at his son, who rolled his eyes in response. “I swear if you say ‘magic’ I will--”
“Alteration magic has creative applications, it turns out. I should have listened to you and studied more of it at school. Fortunately, there are books for that sort of thing.” The younger Tullius’ smug look only deepened as the General folded the Stormcloak orders back up and set them aside. “Has that money ‘generous Imperial citizens’ donated helped you out?”
“A year ago you didn’t care one lick who won this war,” Tullius picked up his goblet again and drank deeply from it. “And now you’re bending over backward to help the Empire win--what gives?”
“Well, I don’t know if you picked up on this….” The mage actually grinned at the General and polished his fingernails on his silk robes. “But I’m getting married soon. And I’m afraid that the future in-laws were insistent on you and mother attending.” He shrugged when the elder Tullius gave him a disbelieving look. “Hey, I had that same reaction.”
“You’re helping the war effort… so that I can attend a wedding.” The General decided he was not at all drunk enough for this and refilled his goblet immediately. “That is the most asinine, the most flippant--”
“But also the most entertaining reason, methinks. If my betrothed is half as interesting as his father, I will have a most enjoyable marriage. Though I’ve been told that some… work will be involved on that front.”
Tullius could almost feel the scowl on his son’s face as the word ‘work’ was spoken. “Gods forbid you can’t shirk or, given your new profession, steal your way to success. Have you met this, I’m going to play it safe and guess, Khajiit you’re to be marrying? Are you going to have to have gods-damned Thalmor at this wedding?”
“Not yet, no. But I’ve been told he lives in Solitude so I thought I’d pop in and let him see what his father paid for in a husband.”
“Solitude?” Tullius’ mind immediately went to the few Khajiit he knew in Solitude. He guessed the safest option--the jaguar-man in charge of the local caravan. “Ma’dran? Who buys and sells weapons?”
“Hmm? Oh, heavens no. Ma’dran and I have a business relationship already. My prize is a rarer breed of Khajiit than a cathay-raht. The only one in all Tamriel not leashed by the Thalmor, as it so happens.”
The General made a note that the caravan leader had ties to the Thieves Guild--that’s where they would look when Legion material wound up stolen, as it inevitably would. But then the comment about the Thalmor made him pause mid-sip. There weren’t many breeds of Khajiit that the Thalmor regulated in any capacity--there were over twenty of them, and most were interchangeable in terms of effectiveness. Off the top of his head, he could only think of senche, ohmes, pahmar, tojay--
Tullius was overcome by a hacking cough as he sharply inhaled his wine, to the point where he had to bend over from the force and frequency.
“And that sounds like my cue to leave. Was nice seeing you father, enjoy the presents and the money I oh-so-generously gave you for your war. I’ll see you at Riften, ciao.”
“On a scale of one to ten, how stupid do I look?”
Hadvar didn’t quite get what magic was being used to allow his charge to communicate vast distances through what appeared to be a rectangular mirror. But what he did know was that in the mirror was the visage of Yagraz of the Companions, presumably at home. The Khajiit was seated on a table while Hadvar and the Legion Quartermaster adjusted straps on the cat’s leather armor. Due to his blindness, it was unlikely the Khajiit would be able to dress himself past the initial red tunic.
“You look like a tomboy who still wants to go to the ball, in all honesty,” the mirror image of Yagraz said while in the background a drunken Redguard man desperately tried to open a sealed jar containing some strange variety of peanut.
“That isn’t what I asked, but thank you for making me feel like a ten out of ten.”
“How in the shit are you still losing weight, anyway? Or are you just shedding a lot? I don’t think I should be able to see your neck in that much definition.”
“The medical officer says he has a parasite in his intestines,” Hadvar volunteered, leaping at the opportunity to talk to one of the greatest warriors of the Era.
“Yeah,” Mohamara confirmed with a nod. “The Alchemist here is going to be getting me a potion that’ll kill it, and then I should be able to start putting on weight again.”
“I recommend a steady diet of sweetrolls and snowberry tarts.” The scene on Yagraz’s end changed as she got up and went to open the jar for her Redguard friend. “Malacath’s many wives, Brenuin, stop drinking so much that you can’t even get the beer ‘nuts.”
“You ain’t my mother,” the Redguard slurred, “don’t you tell me what to do.”
“Your mother is a kind and gentle soul who is incapable of thinking poorly of anyone,” Mohamara informed the Redguard. Said Redguard lept at the looking glass on Yagraz’s end and ended up spilling the ‘beer nuts’ everywhere.
“Damnit short-stuff, now I gotta find the broom.”
The last bit of impromptu belting to get the armor down to the Khajiit’s size was done, so the Quartermaster nodded to Hadvar and left the supply room. The Quaestor understood--dealing with the conscript’s eccentricities was already proving to be exhausting after one day.
“You really need to train your drunk better, Yagraz,” the Khajiit muttered once Hadvar signaled him to hop off the table. Next was their meeting with the General, and find out their assignment. Somehow, with his magical looking glass out it was almost like the tojay could see again. But not quite--he had trouble discerning distance, for instance.
Hadvar only had to lead the way, and pretend not to listen in on the Khajiit and Orc talking. They spoke they had been lifelong friends! But, how would a Khajiit who couldn’t even look after himself have a legendary warrior as a friend?
“So did I tell you that Heimskr is here? In Whiterun.”
The tojay’s blind eyes went wide. “Heimskr? The Heimskr? Hi-hi-Heim-skr, preacher of the Talos Church? The guy from the song?”
“Yeah! He lives just down the way from Jorrvaskr, next time you’re in Whiterun I’ll take you to one of his sermons, it’s trippy.”
In peacetime, the suite they approached would be the Legate’s quarters. But then, in peacetime, there would not be multiple Legates in Skyrim to begin with or a General. So currently, the suite was occupied by General Tullius. Hadvar stopped before the door while Mohamara and Yagraz continued to talk about this Heimskr fellow. He instructed Mohamara to stay while the Quaestor went in to ensure the General’s secretary knew of their appointment.
It was unusual to receive orders from the General’s quarters, but given the limited number of conscripts, there was no established office space for their command structure yet. As Hadvar talked with the Bosmer secretary, the General’s previous appointment passed by--an Imperial man in mage’s robes, like from the College of Winterhold but clearly not built for the cold. Something about the man seemed familiar to Hadvar, but he didn’t want to pry.
“Yagraz, I gotta go,” Mohamara said while his ears went flat against his head. “Have to talk to my new boss soon.”
“Short-stuff, before you go, some advice? The Legion are good people. I don’t know about the Empire, but the Legion are good, honest people. Trust them to help you help yourself, alright? Seeya.”
Mohamara muttered his own goodbye and ended the looking glass session. “Trust the people that conscripted me instead of asking for help, she says.”
Through the forward facing lens on his slate, Mohamara watched a strange Imperial man in yellow silk clothes step out of the room Hadvar had just entered, glance down at the tojay, and then double-take. Mohamara could feel the magicka in the stranger’s bones, so he had to be a powerful mage. But the most noteworthy thing about the man was his choice of facial hair: A soul-patch.
“Well, fancy running into you here,” the mage said with peculiar enthusiasm. “Though you look much thinner than in your portrait, and you weren’t blind. That’s a rather important bit to have gotten wrong.”
The tojay briefly wondered if this was how people felt to deal with him and squinted at the Imperial. “Do I know you?”
“Well, I’d hope so or this would be far more awkward than amusing.” When Mohamara didn’t react, the mage’s charming smile faded just a smidge. “I’m Marcurio Tullius, has… your father not told you about me?”
“My father objects to telling me things,” Mohamara said, voice flat. “It’s against his religion.”
“Ha! I know how that feels. So, since you have been told nothing, let me be the one to let the cat out of the bag.” The Imperial didn’t react to Mohamara’s scowl at his casual racism, but bent down and offered his hand to shake.
But when Mohamara reciprocated the gesture, the Imperial twisted the cat’s hand to kiss the offered limb.
Weirded out beyond all reason, Mohamara naturally tried to yank his hand away but the Imperial, Marcurio, did not let go. “Marcurio Tullius, son of General Seneca Tullius, mage extraordinaire, handsome rogue, and per the marriage contract with your father, your fiance. Lovely to meet you, dear.”
Despite being partially blind, Mohamara’s only reaction after that was to blink rapidly. “I… what?” The tojay repeated the word ‘what’ in increasing volumes, which seemed to amuse Marcurio, per his facial expression.