“Where are we landing??” Ria cried, clinging on to Cicero in terror as Whiterun reeled beneath them.
“Not by Dragonsreach again!” Odahviing roared. “By Akatosh, I've had quite enough of the place!”
Cicero was scanning the city, his usual vertigo forgotten for once. His eyes widened as he saw a group of red and black clad figures emerging from Dragonsreach with a blonde woman in brown leather at their head. Delphine. Delphine, it had to be, it was her! But where to land, it had to be nearby and he couldn't land in the square, there wasn't room. He'd break the Gildergreen and they'd only just healed it. No, the only place there was room was Jorrvaskr.
“Jorrvaskr!” Cicero cried. “In the training court!”
“If the Zeymahzinne-se-Ysgramor shoot me, I hold you responsible, Ziizahro!” Odahviing shouted, but he did as asked and touched down in the midst of the archery range. Aela sprang back, stunned, but she soon had her bow raised again. Vilkas likewise was on his feet, greatsword in hand. Farkas was scrabbling for his own bow although his ankle still wasn't healed sufficiently to take his weight. Torvar was too busy staring at his tankard and wondering if it was time to give up the ale to do anything, but Athis had his sword ready.
Kodlak, previously enjoying a nice afternoon in the sun, took up sword and shield, ready to die if he had to. At least, up until the dragon looked at him, lowered its head, and he saw the two figures mounted on the back.
“HOLD FIRE!” he shouted. “They're not enemies!” Well, the woman wasn't anyway. Ria dismounted and collapsed in a heap on the ground, looking very pale and possibly about to vomit. Behind her, Cicero dismounted, landing perfectly as if he'd done this a million times before. For all Kodlak knew, he had.
Cicero patted the dragon on the side, called “Thank you, Odahviing!” after him and waved as the dragon flew off, heading for the Throat of the World.
“Ria!” Vilkas cried, racing to her side and helping her up. “Are you alright? What is this?”
“Dragon-” Ria gasped, clinging on to Vilkas, legs still shaking. “He's Dragonborn!” She pointed at Cicero, who looked rather uncomfortable at all the attention.
“What?” Vilkas said, puzzled. “He can't be, the Dragonborn wears a jester hat.”
“He was when I first met him,” said Farkas. “He's Dragonborn all right. Hey Cicero. Welcome back.”
“Hello Farkas!” Cicero trilled. “Hello Aela, hello Vilkas, hello everybody! Cicero is sorry to appear rude, but he has his memories back and now he needs to very urgently go and find the Listener or he is in terrible terrible trouble...”
“What are you doing here, man!” Vilkas cried, still with an arm around Ria. “The Dark Brotherhood are after you, you can't stay here!”
“Yes, yes, I imagine they probably are,” said Cicero, ignoring Vilkas completely and running for the door... only to run straight into Kodlak. Slowly, Cicero raised his eyes to Kodlak's own, fixed grin in place.
“Hello Harbinger!” he said brightly, looking rather more demented now than when he'd not known who he was. “I, er, need to...”
“I know, lad,” said Kodlak sternly, reminding himself that however childlike and lovable he appeared, Cicero was in reality a ruthless killer and unlikely to ever change. Despite the despondent look on Cicero's face as he'd spoken. “She was here. She had your hat and she told me everything. Who you were and why the Brotherhood are really hunting you.”
Cicero closed his eyes, taking a deep breath, finally opening them again to look Kodlak straight in the eye.
“Cicero isn't allowed in the Companions any more, is he?” he sighed.
“You may consider yourself fortunate that I didn't kill Delphine on sight and visit the same on you,” said Kodlak softly. Cicero gasped at that, eyes widening a little. Damn the lad, even now Kodlak couldn't bring himself to hate him. There was just something endearing about him... and whatever he'd done, he was still Kodlak's son.
“Where is she?” Cicero whispered, face pale and horrified. “Tell me you did not harm her...”
“Kodlak, what's going on?” Aela asked, exchanging confused looks with Vilkas. “Why's he worried about a Dark Brotherhood assassin's wellbeing?”
“She lives, Cicero, and left here unharmed. I suggest you go find her,” said Kodlak, wishing the brat would just leave and stop reminding him of Stelmaria and making him want to hug him.
Behind him, the door to Jorrvaskr flung open.
“No need,” Delphine called out. “I'm right here.”
Aela and Vilkas both reached for their weapons. Behind Delphine, a small girl with striking amber eyes ran out of Jorrvaskr, hanging back in the shade with a hood over her features. Around one side of Jorrvaskr, an Imperial man, Dunmer priestess and dark-haired Nord woman arrived, and around the other came two blonde Nords and a Redguard. All had weapons or magic at the ready.
“You!” Vilkas shouted, shoving Ria behind him and pointing at Arnbjorn. Farkas also reached for his greatsword.
“Thought we were all very clear on what we'd do to you if you turned up here again,” said Farkas gruffly.
“You're welcome to try,” said Arnbjorn, raising his warhammer. Beside him, Astrid had her bow trained on Vilkas. Or at least she did until she saw Cicero.
“Husband, is that...?”
“Smells like him,” said Arnbjorn.
“But his hair...” said Nazir, mouth beginning to quirk into a grin.
“He's blonde,” said Calixto, lowering his katana. “How long's he been blonde??”
Cicero closed his eyes, mortified, clutching at his hair. Oh good. Not only did he have ridiculous hair, now the entire Dark Brotherhood had seen it. Frankly he was almost beginning to wish there had been a contract out on him by this point.
“You didn't tell us he was blonde now, Listener!” said Babette. “Look at him, he's adorable!”
“I am not adorable!” Cicero shouted, his cheeks blazing.
There was a stifled giggle from Sapphire. Then the same from Calixto. Then the two of them had lost it completely, laughing their heads off, both clinging onto Aranea to stay upright. This promptly set Nazir off and soon the entire Dark Brotherhood, Cicero and Delphine excluded, were falling about laughing. Even Delphine couldn't resist smiling.
“It's NOT FUNNY!” Cicero shouted. “It was not my fault! Cicero didn't consent to this!! STOP LAUGHING!!!”
Not only did no one stop laughing, even Aela and Ria were now starting to snigger.
“I HATE YOU ALL!!!!” Cicero shrieked at them, before turning to Delphine, pleading. “Listener,” he whined. “Make them stop!!”
“Quiet!” Delphine yelled, something that did at least reduce full-blown laughter to a few quiet chuckles. She stepped forward to where Cicero was standing, staring up at her, eyes wide and now trembling a little.
“You called me Listener,” she said, hardly daring to breathe. “You came here on Odahviing. You... you remember, don't you? You know who you are!”
“Yes,” Cicero said softly, taking another step nearer. “Yes, I did what you said and let my inner dragon out and then I remembered again. I remembered being Dragonborn. I remembered being yours.” He stepped forward... and then dropped to his knees, staring at the floor.
“Listener,” he said, so quiet she could barely hear him. “Listener, I'm so sorry, please forgive me, I love you, please...”
“Vilkas, what's going on, I thought the Dark Brotherhood were trying to kill him?” Farkas asked quietly, confused.
“They were looking for him,” said Vilkas, his face sombre. “But not to kill him, it would seem.”
Delphine folded her arms, staring down at him.
“You do still want to be married to me then,” said Delphine, just a hint of bitterness in her voice. “I had wondered.”
“Yes, yes, of course, I'm yours, always!” Cicero howled, clinging on to her boots. “Please forgive poor Cicero, he didn't know, he didn't remember, he's sorry, Listener!”
“You told me to find someone else!” said Delphine, eyes narrowing. “Because you said you already had someone!!”
A collective noise of “oooh” went round the Dark Brotherhood, all of whom were wincing and looking rather sorry for Cicero.
“Lad, is this true?” Kodlak asked wearily. “You told your own wife you couldn't be with her because you had another lover?”
“That's bad, isn't it, Vilkas?” Farkas said. He made no claim to being an expert on matters of the heart, but even he could guess that was not a good thing to do.
“Very,” Vilkas agreed. On his other side, Aela was making herself comfortable, grin on her face, eagerly anticipating the response to this.
“I'm sorry, Listener!” Cicero wailed. “Cicero is a fool, but he is your fool! He won't... he won't stray again. He promises, he swears it, please!”
“Damn right you won't,” Delphine snarled, leaning down and grabbing him by the hair, yanking his head up. “You don't get to marry the leader of the Dark Brotherhood then fool around behind her back whenever you feel like it!!”
“I won't, I won't, I love you, please!” Cicero howled, openly sobbing now.
“Then tell me who she is,” Delphine said, tightening her grip. To one side, Vilkas got up, reaching for a sword – at least until Kodlak motioned for him to sit down.
“Leave it, lad,” said Kodlak quietly. “This is for them to deal with on their own.”
“I can't,” Cicero whispered, tears rolling down her face. “I can't, you'll kill her, it's not her fault, please!”
“Should have thought of that before you fucked someone else, shouldn't you?” said Delphine savagely. “Now if you are serious about being my husband again, if you ever want to be in my bed again, you will tell me the little slut's name!”
“Listener!” Cicero sobbed. Delphine gave him a shake.
“Tell me!” she shouted at him.
Cicero closed his eyes and whispered something that sounded like 'ayla'. As one, all the Companions turned to Aela, who promptly went scarlet.
“It wasn't me!” she cried. “Cicero's not my type!”
“Eola!” Cicero sobbed, louder this time. “It's Eola. I'm in love with Eola. Listener, I'm sorry, I'll let her go, I'll stay away from her, I promise, I swear it, please, I'm sorry!”
Delphine let him go, stepping backwards in shock. Cicero fell to the ground, curling up and sobbing quietly. As one, the Dark Brotherhood had gone silent, grins and jokes replaced with a deathly seriousness.
“My Eola,” Delphine said softly. Cicero nodded, unable to speak.
“What, the Reach-Princess?” Ria gasped. “Well you can't kill her, her father's one of your allies, isn't he?”
“Eola's not single?” said Farkas, disappointed. “That's a shame – ow!” Vilkas had clipped him around the ear.
“Quiet!” he hissed. “If she's the Dragonborn's mistress and the Reach-King's daughter, you should stay well out of it!”
Silence... and then confusion all round as Delphine started to laugh.
“You're in love with Eola,” she giggled. Cicero looked up, puzzled but starting to smile nervously.
“Yes,” he admitted. “Er... Listener, are you well? You haven't gone mad, have you? Only Cicero doesn't know if it's a very good thing for the Listener to be mad, not that there haven't been insane Listeners before, but it's usually not ended terribly well – they end up making inanimate objects or animals into Sanctuary Speakers and then there's usually an unfortunate accident not long after, Cicero would hate for Delphine to have an unfortunate accident...”
Delphine's giggles turned into full on laughter at that point. Finally she pulled herself together, kneeling next to him, one hand on his shoulder.
“I know, sweetie,” she said, wiping tears from her eyes. “I know you love her. I've suspected that for a while.”
“You... you have?” Cicero whispered. “But... why didn't you say? Or... or do anything?”
“I tried, you freaked out and insisted you were the Listener's, no one else's, you didn't love her that way, she was just your sister only. For fifteen minutes straight. So I gave up and decided you'd have to work it out on your own. Eola feels the same, you know. Except she fessed up months ago. Honestly, Cicero, you could have just said. I don't have a problem with you two being happy together, I really don't. You make a cute couple.”
“You don't?” Cicero whispered. “I mean... we do?”
“Yes, you're both evil and predatory and kind of depraved. Frankly, I'm surprised you didn't choose her over me in the first place. You could have done, you know.” Delphine was stroking his hair, smiling rather sadly at him. Cicero blinked, then shook his head, very firm on that point.
“Why would Cicero do that?? Eola's not the Listener. She doesn't have the Night Mother in her head. Eola's my dear sister even if she is a little hussy... but she's not you.”
Delphine smiled and took Cicero into her arms, kissing the top of his head.
“You're still my Keeper?”
“Always,” Cicero breathed, eyes fluttering as he melted into her arms.
“Then I think I can let you be with Eola if that's what you both want,” said Delphine gently. “I gave her permission ages ago. About time you knew too. Just remember, my orders take priority, yes?”
Cicero nodded, all enthusiasm now he apparently wasn't about to be speedily divorced and abandoned.
“Of course, Listener!” he purred. “You're the boss... forever and always.”
Delphine smiled and cuddled him, loving the feeling of Cicero snuggled against her, purring in her arms, back where he belonged. All around her, the massed ranks of Dark Brotherhood could be heard clapping and cheering, and even the Companions looked pleased. Surprising, but then again, everyone liked a happy couple reunited, she supposed.
“Of course,” she said, “there is one thing. Eola might have had permission... but you didn't.”
The cheering stopped, although the sniggering that replaced it was not an improvement in Cicero's mind.
“Listener?” he said nervously. “Sweet Delphine? You said you were not angry...”
“Not the point,” said Delphine, grinning. “You're still in a lot of trouble, young man. We've got pressing business at the moment, but when this is all over and we get back to the Sanctuary... you're going to be spending an awful lot of time making up for your recent misdeeds. An awful lot of time.”
Cicero made a noise that sounded a bit like 'meep' and buried into Delphine's arms, ears going pink.
“Yes, Listener,” he whimpered. Delphine kissed his cheek and helped him up. Yes, definitely hers again. She had her Keeper back. She could have cried from sheer happiness, but probably not in front of the entire Brotherhood, and definitely not with the Companions watching, even if Aela, Ria and Farkas were all sitting there with identical soppy looks on their faces.
“In that case, I should probably give you this back,” she said quietly, reaching into her pocket. She took his left hand in hers and slipped his wedding ring back onto his finger.
“You kept it,” Cicero breathed, staring at it as he flexed his fingers.
“Of course I did,” said Delphine. Cicero laughed, tears rolling down his cheeks as he shook his hand and then put his arms around her.
“Thank you,” he whispered. “I love you, my sweetling.”
“I love you too,” she told him and then she kissed him, just about managing to refrain from groping him anywhere she shouldn't but about ready to die from sheer happiness. She'd missed him. Finally, she broke off. Yet more cheering was going on in the background, along with applause and somebody wolf-whistling.
“This is yours too,” said Delphine, pulling the Daedric dagger from her belt and handing it over. Cicero squealed at the sight, kissing it and clipping it to his belt.
“Did you stab anyone with it?” Cicero asked hopefully. His shoulders sagged as Delphine admitted she'd not had the chance to actually use it, just carried it around with her.
“Never mind, sweetling,” said Cicero. “Cicero is sure you will get the opportunity to stab lots of people at some point. If not, he shall be sure to use it for you.”
“You're too kind,” said Delphine, raising an eyebrow. She reached into her belt-pouch for the final thing of his she'd barely put down since he'd vanished. “Here. Time you had this back as well. You don't look right without it.”
It was his hat. The resulting shriek was high-pitched enough to set dogs barking down in the Plains District and had all the werewolves present clutching their ears.
“MY HAT MY HAT MY HAT!!!” Cicero shrieked, clutching it to his chest and skipping around delighted. He shook it out, pulled it on, adjusted the fit, and did a lap of honour around Jorrvaskr, running up to each Companion and Dark Brotherhood member in turn cooing for them to see his hat. There were an awful lot of awkward pats on the shoulder and words along the lines of “yes, you look lovely, welcome back, yes Cicero, it suits you, really it does”. At least up until, last of all, Cicero skipped up to Kodlak and stopped dead. He paused, balanced on the tip of a toe for all of two seconds, before running back to Delphine in silence, grabbing her hand and leading her over to Kodlak, looking unusually nervous.
“Listener,” he said, licking his lips. “Sweet Delphine, this is Kodlak Whitemane, Harbinger of the Companions... and my father. Kodlak... this is Delphine, Listener of the Dark Brotherhood... and my wife.” He stood back, looking far more nervous than he had when he'd introduced Delphine to Stelmaria.
“We've met,” said Delphine, unable to repress a smile. “I know he's your father, Cicero. Kodlak... thank you for looking after him. I hope he's not been too much trouble?”
“No lass,” said Kodlak, his voice gentle and the bitter condemnation of before a lot less obvious. Now he just looked sad. “He proved his worth while he was here. He's a very talented warrior, that was clear even before I discovered he was Dragonborn.”
“He is that,” said Delphine, cuddling him again, feeling rather proud of her jester boy. There wasn't a lot he couldn't kill if he put his mind to it, and as far as bravery went, Cicero wasn't scared of anything he could stab. Small wonder he'd fitted in here. “I'll be taking him home now. He's needed with us. But... I can send him back to visit?” Cuddled up next to her, Cicero watched Kodlak, dark eyes impossibly wide. Kodlak watched back, not wanting it to look like he approved of the Dark Brotherhood's murderous trade... but not wanting to turn away his son either. He'd grown to care for Cicero and even with his memories back and presumably the bloodlust allowed free rein once more, there was still something very endearing about him. Mind gone completely, of course, and what the story was behind the hat, Kodlak had no wish to know – but he also knew that if he'd only tried harder to find Stelmaria all those years ago, he might have been able to bring them both to Jorrvaskr and raise Cicero as his own. A Companion-raised Cicero would have been a very different man, Kodlak knew. As it is, all Kodlak could do was try and set a good example to the Cicero he'd got. Cicero couldn't be all bad to have found a wife who clearly loved him, unorthodox relationship notwithstanding.
“He'll be welcome if he chooses to see us,” said Kodlak gruffly. Not exactly acceptance of his assassin son... but not outright rejection either. “We might even have a little work for him.”
Cicero squeaked, doing a little dance on the spot.
“Cicero would like that,” he said softly.
“Aye, I imagine you would, lad,” said Kodlak, sighing. “I just wish I had known sooner about your true background. I don't suppose it would have changed a lot, but it might have saved Skjor. I don't suppose I'll ever know which one of you killed him?”
Uncomfortable silence. All the Brotherhood were looking at Delphine... and she was looking at Cicero. He'd gone very still, staring at Kodlak wide-eyed.
“Probably best you don't know,” said Delphine. “I'll arrange for a suitable sum of weregild to be sent over – 1500 septims is enough?”
No amount would ever be enough, but Kodlak was prepared to accept it in return for peace. Skjor had known the risk, known who he was dealing with after all. He opened his mouth to say yes.
“Harbinger, it was me!” Cicero cried. “He took me from Jorrvaskr, saying he had something for me. But... but he had Eola there, my pretty Eola, and I didn't know who she was but I knew I knew her and that she was a friend. So... so I stabbed him and rescued her. And I'm not sorry, because now I do remember, and Eola's not just a friend, she's my sister and... well, she's my Eola, mine and the Listener's and no one's allowed to hurt her. Anyone else beats her up and puts daggers through her hands, Cicero shall stab them too and not regret it in the slightest.” He'd stepped forward as he'd said all this, folding his arms and staring Kodlak down, the childlike persona shading into what must be a variant of his more professional one. Six inches shorter than Kodlak he might be, but Kodlak wasn't entirely sure who'd win if they ever came to blows. This was a man who persuaded dragons to work for him, had killed the World-Eater, wiped out the Thalmor in Skyrim, and turned the Siege of Markarth into an Imperial victory. Skjor clearly hadn't stood a chance, and that was without the Thu'um at Cicero's disposal. Without realising it he'd slipped into a mirror of the pose Cicero was standing in, arms folded, feet apart, head tilted slightly, lips pursed.
“Well, you do have honour of a sort, it seems,” said Kodlak wearily. “This Eola must mean a lot to you.”
“Cicero would avenge any brother or sister of his if they'd been hurt,” said Cicero pointedly. Then the barest hint of a smile crossed his lips. “But he does have a soft spot for dear Eola.”
“I've got a soft spot for you too,” said Kodlak. “Fortunate in the event. I will need weregild, Cicero. Gold alone cannot bring my oldest friend back.”
Cicero looked very thoughtful and straightened up, shaking his hair back.
“Did you love my mother?” he asked. “Truly?”
Surprising. Where that question had come from, Kodlak had no idea, but the lad deserved an answer.
“Of course, lad. I've never met anyone like her before or since, apart from you that is. I loved her with all my heart, never found anyone since to compare. I was going to ask her to marry me the night she disappeared. Alas, I never got the chance.”
Cicero's whole stance had softened, a tight, sad little smile on his face.
“Would you ever want to see her again?” he asked. “Or would it be too painful?”
Now that sounded almost like it was in Cicero's power to grant. Was she still alive? Free to marry? Even if she was old herself, even if he probably didn't have more than a year or so left to him, the idea of seeing her again, holding her in his arms... It couldn't make up for all the lost years, Cicero's ruined childhood, disreputable adult life and whatever trauma had shattered his mind, but seeing her again, being able to hold her once more before Hircine claimed him... yes, he'd give anything for that.
“Is she still alive?” he asked, hardly able to contain himself. Cicero shook his head.
“She died years ago, Harbinger. In the Great War, when the Thalmor took the Imperial City. But do not be upset, dear Kodlak, sweet Kodlak. She is safe in Sovngarde – she was a Dragonborn too and Shor has her at his Hall. Cicero saw her again when he went to kill Alduin there. And she gave him something before he came back, because she knew Cicero would miss her. Maybe Cicero is not the only one, hmm?”
Sovngarde, she was in Sovngarde, waiting for him, waiting for her Nord hero lover to die honourably and come to her. Except he likely never would. The bitterness of the curse had never seemed harder than it did right now.
“How is this helping me, Cicero?” Kodlak asked. “Knowing she is dead, that she died years ago but might have lived if I'd looked harder, found her before... this is only grieving me more.”
“Don't,” said Cicero softly. “Death is not so final as all that. Look, look bormah, a gift of the dragon blood. SOS FRON DAAL!”
Everyone shrank back as grey light coalesced summoning... something. Seconds later, it had shrunk into the spectral form of a five foot three woman in Legion uniform. She glanced around before her eyes fell on Cicero.
“Mama!” Cicero cried, brilliant smile lighting up his face. Kodlak could barely breathe. It was her, Stelmaria, here in spirit, summoned from Sovngarde by the power of the Thu'um.
“Cicero!” she cried. Mother and son embraced, holding each other tight. Whatever Cicero's other flaws, he clearly treasured his mother. At least that seemed to be the case right up until she stepped back and slapped him hard.
“Ow!” Cicero cried, rubbing his cheek. “What was that for?”
“Not calling!” said Stelmaria furiously. “It's been a whole month! I was worried about you!”
“I didn't know!” Cicero protested. “I'd lost my memory and forgotten I was Dragonborn or how to Shout! I'm sorry, Mama.”
“See it doesn't happen again,” said Stelmaria, glaring at her son. “Honestly Cicero, how careless of you. Your poor wife must have been worried sick. Delphine, darling, how are you?” The two women embraced, Delphine actually seeming pleased to see her mother-in-law. That did surprise Kodlak, he'd always thought Stelmaria would be the type to disapprove of her children's partners on principle.
“Now that I tracked Cicero down, very well,” said Delphine. “I'm sure he's not going to run away like that again.”
“It wasn't my fault!” Cicero cried. Stelmaria ignored him.
“You must keep a constant watch on him, dear,” said Stelmaria knowingly. “He was exactly the same as a boy, turn your back for a minute and he'd be off, gone exploring or into somewhere he shouldn't be. Why, one time I was with a customer and the next thing I knew he'd run out the shop. He was barely four! He made it all the way to Tiber Septim Plaza before I finally caught up with him...”
Kodlak decided to interrupt before Cicero actually did implode from sheer embarrassment.
“Stelmaria,” he said softly. Cicero seized on the chance to distract his mother from going over every single childhood infraction he'd ever committed (of which, needless to say, there were many).
“Mama, Mama, look, I found an old friend of yours,” he cooed, tapping her on the shoulder and nudging her towards the Harbinger. She turned... and froze on seeing Kodlak.
“Kodlak,” she gasped, eyes wide. “By the Nine. Kodlak.”
“Stelmaria,” he said, holding a hand out to her, hoping she'd still want to take it. “Stelmaria, my love, is it really you?”
She nodded, biting her lip, looking like she was about to cry – could ghosts cry? Apparently so, she was wiping tears away, approaching him as if in a trance.
“Kodlak,” she whispered. “Kodlak, I'm so sorry, I-”
“It's all right,” Kodlak breathed, stepping forward to meet her and taking her in his arms. “Come here, lass.” She felt cold to the touch but more substantial than he'd thought she would be. She nestled into his arms like she'd never been away, sobbing incoherently on to his armour. Kodlak closed his eyes, knowing he'd start welling up himself in a minute.
“What happened?” he breathed. “I searched for you but never found you, asked all over the place but no one had anything substantial to tell me, just rumours that led nowhere. Where did you go, Stelmaria? And... did you know you were pregnant? Why did you never come and find me? I would have helped you, of course I would.”
“I know,” said Stelmaria softly. “You'd have married me, taken me back to Skyrim to be a little housewife while you went off adventuring. I didn't want that, Kodlak, didn't want to be a mother at all! But I didn't know what to do or how to tell you, and I didn't want you marrying me just because I was pregnant.”
“I'd have married you anyway, lass, I was going to ask you that night you vanished!” Kodlak cried. “And I'd never have left you at home, not for long. I'd heard of Jorrvaskr – I didn't need a lot of convincing to come here. I'd have brought you and Cicero here, there would have been plenty of people on hand to help. You could have gone adventuring too, lass.”
“I know that now!” Stelmaria wept. “I didn't then, I was a pregnant Legionnaire with no husband or kin and the Legion's not exactly conducive to family life, is it? I was scared and confused and I didn't know how you'd react.”
“So you ran away,” said Kodlak. Stelmaria shook her head, looking up, alarmed.
“No!” she cried. “That's just it. I didn't leave on purpose. I was sitting in our usual inn, waiting for you, determined to tell you that night, but terrified about it! So I was trying to calm my nerves and had a bit more to drink than planned. Then this man came up to me, Sam, his name was. He was some sort of mage, bought me a few drinks, seemed a bit the worse for wear himself. And he was nice, he listened, let me talk. The more I talked to him, the better I felt, as if I didn't have a care in the world, and I don't know what wine he was buying me, but it was a lot stronger than it tasted. I... I don't remember what happened after, but when I woke up, I was in a field just outside Bravil and five weeks had gone past. I was an absolute mess, Kodlak, I really was – but the first thought in my head wasn't you, it wasn't even the Legion. I was so scared I'd lost my baby.” She lifted her head and looked back at Cicero, smiling through the tears. Cicero was now sitting on Delphine's lap, arms around his wife but his eyes not leaving his mother. He was staring at her, mute from astonishment. Clearly he'd never heard this before either.
“He was fine, thank the Divines,” Stelmaria continued. “I was so relieved and I knew right then I was keeping him. I managed to get back to Hammerfell, only to be told you'd gone back to Skyrim. The Legion weren't pleased either, but due to my previous exemplary service, they agreed to pension me off rather than kick me out. So I took my Legion pension and went to the Imperial City to make a living there. I was ill throughout the pregnancy, it was a hard one, and I couldn't travel with a small baby. After a few years it just got harder and harder to leave. I guess I just assumed you'd moved on, found someone else, maybe got married and had other children. Wasn't until I got to Sovngarde that I realised you never did...”
“I never did,” Kodlak said, clutching her to his chest. “Talos, I never forgot you, never, but I didn't even know if you were alive. I'm so sorry, love, I should never have given up, I should have kept on trying to find you...”
“You weren't to know,” Stelmaria whispered, already starting to fade. “I should have come to Skyrim once Cicero could walk. But it's alright, love. I'm in Sovngarde now, and I'll be waiting for you when your time comes.”
“Stelmaria!” Kodlak cried, trying to hold on to her. She faded into mist in his very fingers.
“I'll be waiting...” her voice whispered, and then she was gone. Kodlak sank to his knees, face in his hands. There for a few brief minutes and then gone again. And he a beast who could not follow.
Hands on his and then Cicero had peeled them from his face, cheek pressed to Kodlak's as son held father.
“It does not last long,” Cicero whispered. “But it is more than poor Cicero had in thirty years. It is better than never seeing her again. If Kodlak is willing, Cicero can visit once, twice, a month, and bring his mother with him, if Delphine can spare him, of course.”
“Of course,” said Delphine gently. “I don't have a problem with that.”
Kodlak put his arms around Cicero, warm, alive and even smelling a bit like Stelmaria. Maybe he was a murderer, maybe he was less than honourable, maybe he'd got Skjor's blood on his hands. But he was also the famous Dragonborn and more to the point, Kodlak's son and his last link to Stelmaria.
“Don't kill any more of my Companions, boy,” Kodlak growled.
“I won't,” Cicero said calmly. “If they don't come after me or mine.”
“While I am Harbinger, they will not,” said Kodlak, releasing Cicero. “Visit at least once a month, more if your wife can spare you. Let me speak with your mother, and your weregild will be repaid in full.”
Cicero smiled, kissed him on the cheek and helped him to his feet. “It shall be done,” he promised.
“We should probably go,” said Delphine, approaching from behind. “I'm going to need Cicero, I'm afraid. There's been... further developments.”
Cicero didn't like the sound of that. “What sort of further development?”
“The conspirators just made their next move,” said Delphine, smile fading. “Cicero, you're really not going to like this...”