The Khajiit Murders – Chapter 6

Making Plans

J'zargo seated, holding a cup

“Even for Skyrim, Solitude is gloomy place, no?” J’zargo pulled the wool blanket tighter around his shoulders. He was seated with his three friends around a large table in what had once been General Tullius’s war-room. “And this Castle Dour. Even today, when the sun is out, the chill is deep in this one’s bones. How it can be even colder here than in Winterhold, J’zargo knows not.” He looked longingly at the great fireplace at one end of the chamber, empty and unlit in what passed for summer in Skyrim.

Deirdre couldn’t help but agree, at least as far as the gloom of the castle went. The place had certainly dampened her own mood these past months, and even now she could feel the dark, low ceiling pressing in on her. Yesterday’s journey to Dragon Bridge had hardly been a relief. She asked one of the servants attending them to bring a pot of juniper tea.

“Just be glad you’re not still stuck in the Dragon Bridge jail,” said Lydia. “You’d have more to worry about than a dreary castle or catching a chill.”

“And for that, J’zargo thanks Lydia Ravenwood. This one heard what she said to the Nord mob. Skyrim’s people listen to the Hero of Whiterun.” Deirdre struggled not to gape, but Lydia and Brelyna weren’t quite so successful. “What? Did J’zargo say something wrong?”

“No, it’s just…” Lydia stammered, “well… you’re welcome.”

Deirdre was well aware of the reason for J’zargo’s unaccustomed humility and gratitude. Even after the captain of the guard had returned from Rorikstead, confirming the prisoners’ alibi, the crowd had remained restive. And it wasn’t just Nords, but the Breton and Redguard residents of the town, all united in their fear of the Khajiits. Only Lydia’s protective hand on J’zargo’s shoulder, and Deirdre standing next to Brelyna, had kept the mob from falling on their friends. Falk and Elisif had calmed them further by promising more guards for the town and increased efforts at tracking down the killer, or killers. Deirdre, too, had promised to add several of her own guard for Dragon Bridge’s security. With those assurances, the mob had allowed them to leave town with a minimum of grumbling.

In the two days since, Brelyna and J’zargo had settled into their new quarters in Castle Dour, separate but adjacent rooms, at Brelyna’s insistence. “I’m not quite prepared for cohabitation, or shacking up, as J’zargo puts it,” she’d told Deirdre. A tour of Solitude and a visit to the Blue Palace had taken much of the rest of the first day.

Now it was morning, and they were discussing possible duties for Deirdre’s court mages. Deirdre had already listed several possibilities, including the training of battlemages and spellswords for Skyrim’s defense and helping Elisif with some trouble in Wolf Skull Cave. “Who better than you two, who gained such experience of the Thalmor battlemages’ tactics at Whiterun?” Now it was Brelyna’s turn to shiver, but both agreed to the plan.

Then she turned to the real reason she’d brought them here, or at least half of it. “It’s also your political acumen I need, especially yours, Brelyna. You must have absorbed something of the ways of court and politics, growing up in House Telvanni.”

“It’s true, our house had to make every effort to maintain relations with House Redoran and House Hlaalu. I often overheard my parents talking about dealing with our rivals, and even attended formal dinners where politics were discussed.”

Dunmer dining room
A typical Dunmer dining room.

“Excellent. You can help me maintain the support of the jarls. I’ve grown concerned since Jarl Balgruuf stepped down. He’s made his brother regent until his eldest son comes of age.”

“Yes, we heard that news when we passed through Whiterun. Why did he do it?”

“He was never the same after the siege,” Lydia said. “He resumed his jarlship just long enough to ensure that Ulfric would never become High King. But now he’s decided he doesn’t have the stomach for the politics or the threat of another war with the Altmer. It’s a sad end of a great career.”

The tea arrived, and J’zargo gave a grateful purr.

“And while I could count on Balgruuf’s support,” Deirdre went on, “I can’t say the same for his brother, Hrongar. He’s never trusted me since he saw me marching with Ulfric. He’s shown himself to be quite hot-headed in ruling Whiterun. He may prove difficult to deal with.”

“And you are wondering how to win him over to your side?”

“Exactly. While also encouraging him to treat his people better. It is a touchy matter.”

“I’ll put my mind to it.”

Deirdre was pleased. With affairs in Skyrim more settled, she’d be able to pursue her other plans, maybe even get out of this dreary castle for a while.

“And then there are relations with our neighboring provinces. No matter how ready we are for an Aldmeri attack, I doubt it will be enough. What we need are allies from across Tamriel, and this is where the two of you can be especially helpful.”

Her two friends looked at each other, then blankly back at her.

“You both have valuable contacts in your homelands, for instance.”

“Yes, certainly,” said Brelyna. “But Morrowind is still struggling to rebuild after the devastation of the Red Year. I’m not sure what help my people could offer. And especially my own house, Telvanni. Our homelands in Sadrith Mora, Tel Vos, and Tel Mora, all lie under a blanket of volcanic ash. House Redoran is now the power in Morrowind.”

“It may be that your land has little to offer in the way of defense, but cutting off trade with Summerset would be a great help, should hostilities break out.” She took a long sip of her tea. “But it’s also your own knowledge of diplomatic protocol I was hoping to draw upon.”

“I’ll be glad to help in any way I can.”

Deirdre turned to J’zargo, who shook his head. “Elsweyr is loyal to Summerset, ever since High Elves restored our two moons to us. J’zargo is a great mage, but he is no magician when it comes to persuading the Mane to turn on our saviors.”

“Yet the Altmer will turn on you once they have eradicated or enslaved humans. Surely your Mane can see that. They will not rest until they have all peoples under their heel.”

“Perhaps you’d do better to concentrate on those lands more capable of help and less predisposed in favor of Summerset,” said Brelyna. “Hammerfell would be the obvious choice.”

“Exactly what I’ve been thinking. And next, High Rock.”

“But High Rock is a loyal province of the Empire.”

“They have been, true. But now they are isolated, connected to Cyrodiil only by sea. And they must see the strength of the Empire waning as that of the Aldmeri Dominion grows. Surely an alliance of Skyrim, Hammerfell, and High Rock offers the sturdiest bulwark against any elven designs on their province. And the recent events in The Reach may put us in good stead there as well.”

Lydia cleared her throat. Deirdre knew she hadn’t entirely approved of her dealings with that hold. Especially not her decision to remain neutral when “Mad King” Madanach’s forces were advancing on the hold capital of Markarth. But Madanach had once been a benevolent ruler of both Nords and Bretons in The Reach, and now promised to root out the corruption of the Silver-Blood family, which Jarl Igmund had allowed to fester. He had also promised to abandon the foul alliance with the evil hagravens and all the other old ways, and to bend the knee as a jarl, not a king.

“That was risky,” said Brelyna. “Madanach may be a Breton, but the barbarous actions of his Forsworn raiders earned them a notorious reputation across Skyrim. Not only Nords, but many Bretons must hold that against him and all his followers.”

“That’s exactly what I tried to tell her,” Lydia put in. “And sure enough, the people are grumbling about it, not just Nords, but some Bretons too.”

This had been their one significant argument since their marriage. “Why do you ask me for advice if you’re not going to take it?” was one of the remarks Deirdre remembered most clearly. That argument had given her the idea that she needed more advisers. Relying on Lydia for security, love, and also political advice seemed too great a burden to place on one person.

“I hope the gain in relations with High Rock compensates for the loss of standing among your own people,” Brelyna said. “Political goodwill is nothing to squander.”

At Deirdre’s blank look, she went on. “It’s a simple concept, really. Every time you do something the people approve of, you build up your political goodwill. Think of it like putting gold in a coffer. Then when you are forced to take an action the people disapprove, it’s like drawing from that treasure. A wise ruler always keeps an eye on the balance, unless she wants to become a despot.”

Deirdre beamed. This was exactly the sort of advice she’d hoped to gain when she sent for her two friends. “I see my commission will be in good hands when I name you my emissary to our neighboring provinces. And J’zargo, of course you will travel with Brelyna.”

They both looked at her in surprise. “But we just got here,” Brelyna protested.

“Oh, not right away, but perhaps in the fall. We can’t afford to wait too long. But listen, you know what a grim place I find this Solitude. I also thought…”

Before she could finish, a messenger rushed into the room. “Another murder!” he said, panting. “In Morthal this time. And they’ve got the killer!”

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