Presumption of Guilt (Rei Ginsei’s Saga, vol. 2, ch. 15)
November 9, 2018
Enjoy. I dunno why I landed on a corrupted version of nautical rankings so long ago instead of ground force ones, but ultimately it’s a bit of an arbitrary thing, I suppose. So. Also sorry this one kind of jumps around. Not my best, but the plot must go on or something lol
Sabrael was horribly traumatized. Rei occasionally looked over as they rode to Solitude, seeing his kirin looking straight ahead, his face almost blank but for traces of terror. Rei could feel the low-level panic Sabrael was sitting on. Whether he was trying to hide it or whether it was just festering and waiting for a time to let loose, Rei didn’t know and couldn’t tell.
“Beauty,” he said.
Sabrael looked over with a look of dismay so profound, Rei didn’t think he’d need their connection to feel the pain that came with it.
“Is there anything I can do?”
The little daedra’s eyelids fluttered as he took a deep, shuddering breath. “I need to swim,” he said. “When we get to Solitude. The second we get to Solitude. I need the water really bad.”
“Okay, sweetheart. We’ve got four or five days here. Just you, me, and Tauryon. You can swim as much as you want.”
“You’re not gonna leave me, are you?” he said. The pitch of his voice was rising, Rei could feel the panic taking hold, that rapid breathing.
“What do you mean? Of course not.”
“Are you scared someone else will try to take you?”
“Yeah,” he admitted.
“Sabrael, sweetheart, nobody will try that while I’m around. And I will be around. Tauryon, too.”
“You bet your life, little one,” Tauryon added. “The instant anyone lays a hand on you is the instant they wished they’d never seen you.”
Sabrael’s unease grew, and Rei saw him shrink down in his saddle. He looked over at Tauryon and put up a hand.
“Right,” he said. “Yes. My apologies, Sabrael, I didn’t mean to sound so aggressive.”
“I know you’re just looking out,” Sabrael said quietly on a wavering voice. “I’m just very scared right now. I know the danger’s gone, but…”
“You were forcibly put to sleep in a state of terror and were out for a long while, while everything transpired around you,” Tauryon said. “Anyone would be horrified to know there’s something terrible that happened to them that they can’t remember the details of, and nobody should blame you for being afraid after the fact.”
Sabrael looked over at Rei, and took one hand from the reins to reach up to him. Rei smiled and reached down to hold it.
“You believe me, don’t you?” he asked. “That if you were to disappear, I would exhaust every last septim, wear holes in every pair of boots looking for you. Even if it took me to the end of my days.”
“I do believe you,” he smiled weakly. “I believe you, and I love you. Always.”
“I love you too, Sabrael.”
When they reached Solitude, they turned before reaching the stables and went straight to the place Rei had taken him that first time. The neglected boat was missing a few more planks, but it was just as deserted as last time. Rei helped Tauryon down to sit on the sand before sitting, himself, while Sabrael wasted no time in stripping his clothes.
“Rei, would you like to come with me?” he asked.
Rei knew it wasn’t the usual playful request. It was one born of insecurity and fear. The water was undoubtedly much, much colder than that of the White River, but he thought Sabrael’s aura would help.
“Yes, beauty, I’ll come along.”
“Celedaen, you’ll catch your death out there!” Tauryon scolded.
“Sabrael needs me,” Rei answered. “He’ll keep me warm, don’t worry.”
Rei lifted his friend’s chin and brushed his lips with his own.
“Forgive me. I shouldn’t be telling you your business with your husband.”
“You just worry for us both,” Rei smiled gently. “That’s all.”
“I’d like to speak with you. When you have a moment.”
Rei kissed him again and nodded before rising and gingerly disrobing against the cold air while Sabrael stood by the shore, waiting. He was scared, still panicky, but something – possibly the proximity to water – was easing it a bit. The cold made Rei’s muscles seize as he started to shiver, but when he got to where his kirin was standing, he lifted him up and kissed him slowly and gently.
“I’m here, my love,” he said.
Sabrael offered him a smile. “If the water’s too cold, even with my aura around you, just say so, okay? Just the fact you’d try anyway means a lot.”
“Don’t worry,” Rei said quickly, “I’ll be sure to let you know.”
Sabrael giggled quietly before becoming ethereal and reconstituting as his normal self. Already the heat was making the air more bearable. He walked beside Sabrael as he plodded awkwardly toward the water, but just as soon as his feet were bathed in the lapping water, a deep gasp worked its way from his chest and culminated in a yell muffled by his teeth. His skin burned and his joints ached deeply.
“Oh Rei, it is too cold!” Sabrael lamented. “Oh no, oh no, I’m so sorry, are you okay?”
“I’m fine, Sabrael,” he panted once he’d leaped back onto the sand, trying desperately to dig his toes into it. “I’m fine, it’s okay.”
Sabrael fidgeted nervously, his tail flopping heavily back and forth.
“Beauty, it’s okay,” he said, walking over and leaning his head against Sabrael’s flank. “What do you feel from me?”
“You love me very much.”
“That’s right. What else?”
“That you are…you are vigilant.”
“You think it’s safe if I swim?”
“Yes, beauty,” he said. His teeth were properly chattering now in spite of his kirin’s warmth. “Just don’t dive deep like last time, okay? I know the rest helps, but it’ll keep both our minds at ease.”
“Yes, you’re right. I won’t be far out of your sight.”
“Okay, sweetheart. I need to get dressed before I freeze. You go swim, okay? Go swim and feel better.”
Sabrael turned his neck and pushed his nose against Rei’s shoulder before setting out once again. Rei made sure not to look away too long as he put on his clothes.
“Come over here, Celedaen,” Tauryon said, and he obeyed, happily slipping into the greatcoat his friend offered. It was his officer’s coat, made of heavy wool, just for climes like this. “You cut quite a figure.”
Rei laughed and sat down next to him, snuggling close to try and regulate his temperature.
“He really is a beautiful thing, isn’t he? Anyone who says daedra can’t be beautiful have never seen the likes of Kelpies, anyway. To think that sea monster I always thought was a shadow could’ve been him.”
“What did you want to talk to me about?” Rei asked.
“I know what Sabrael said, but I worry deeply that I’ve caused him a great pain.”
Rei took a deep breath as he watched his kirin’s back arch in a serpentine manner above the water now and again. “The mortal world, or rather, the world outside the water, just causes him pain, in general,” he said. “He’s not meant to be an elf like you and me. He needs the water, and he needs his kind. Imagine going from living an idyllic life where your only worries might be an overprotective brother to living in a world where people hurt each other on purpose and backbite and any number of unpleasant things. He’s not an animal; he has feelings and principles just like you and me, but they just don’t translate into our rather wretched world.”
“I wouldn’t blame him if he were to hate me.”
“He doesn’t hate you, Tauryon. He doesn’t lie, my Sabrael. He loves you very much, and he still does; he’s just overwhelmed lately, and Vallinalda’s antics on top of everything else have left him very, very fragile.”
“I should’ve said something,” Tauryon said. “How would I know it would’ve come to that? I thought at the most she’d try to pick a fight with you, and we both know how successful that would’ve been.”
“I wouldn’t have killed her.”
“I know you wouldn’t. You had a foot on her and probably a hundred pounds, all you’d need to do was hold your hand against her while she swung at the air.”
Rei chuckled. “I guess you’ll be taking the body up to the embassy soon.”
Tauryon nodded. “I ought to be doing it now. I ought to just drop it on the floor of the Justiciars’ headquarters in the city and let them deal with one of their own obnoxious lot. I can only imagine who shall take Ondolemar’s place in the unit. I’d hope for someone who can lead and not simply create an entourage whose sole motivator is fear. Fear is useful, but for gods’ sake…”
“Come here,” Rei said, putting a hand behind his friend’s ear. “Forget all of that for right now. You’re loved. By both of us, and there’s no reason to worry. Just be gentle when it comes to Sabrael right now. He appreciates your protectiveness, it’s just that the promise of violence is too much, even if it’s meant to be for his benefit.”
“I love you,” Tauryon said on a shuddering breath. “Gods, I do. But how different things would have been if I’d confessed those feelings.”
“Perhaps. I would likely have joined with you in the rebellion. You would likely have met Aicanath, and you likely would have fallen in love with him.”
“Yes, but how would you have taken the news?”
“I don’t know, would we have been married?”
“It’s possible,” Tauryon mused, leaning harder against Rei, who slipped his arm around his waist. “As much as I have thought I wouldn’t have. Would that have mattered, anyway?”
Rei shrugged. “Clavicus changed a lot about me. Considering everything else I’m sure I would’ve been very jealous of your love.”
“What changed about that?”
“I can’t say I know. Clavicus initiated sex with both Sabrael and me when Sabrael first met him,” Rei said. A dark equine head poked from the surface of the water, a ways off, making sure he was still watching. Rei blew a kiss, felt a surge of relief, and watched as the head disappeared beneath the surface. “I loved Sabrael. I loved Clavicus. I liked that Sabrael was enjoying himself. Even when I walked in on you two in bed, it didn’t register. It wouldn’t have registered if I wasn’t angry.
“All this to say that, at least since regaining my soul, it just makes me happy to see two men I love enjoying each other. I even asked Sabrael if he wanted to have a go with an Argonian in Riften he found attractive, right before our wedding day. Maybe it only boils down to wanting to see the ones I love happy, in general. I have to admit it’s still an odd feeling to get used to. Happiness in general, really, let alone in a selfless sense.”
Tauryon smiled as he looked down, lazily dragging a stick through the sand. “I’m grateful for what we have, Celedaen. It doesn’t do to dwell on possibilities long past. After all, two young men with healthy sex drives… It’s likely we would have simply parted ways once our passions dulled.”
“I’d venture to say love is one of those things that tends to age well, so long as you take care of it when it’s brought back out of storage.”
Tauryon put a hand behind his head, and Rei returned the hard, loving kiss. He even let himself be pushed back, although he kept one eye open and trained on the sea.
Sabrael swam for a long time, such that Tauryon deemed it wise to finally head up to the Embassy to drop off the latest casualty, fill out the necessary documentation, and everything else that needed to happen when a soldier died under his watch under unusual circumstances. Rulindil probably was left with the pleasure of dictating whatever addled Justiciar reported to him about Ondolemar.
“Using a dead man’s horse, are we?” Elenwen smiled as she stepped outside the Embassy’s front door. “We all know how you felt about him, but my goodness.”
“As much as I’d like to chalk this up to simple gloating, it was either this or walk. Scandalon met a…a gruesome end, unfortunately. And I’ve got another for you.”
“Good gracious, Camorin. Who is it this time?”
Tauryon dismounted just outside the stalls and pulled Vallinalda’s bundled corpse from the back of the horse. “Lieutenant Commander Vallinalda Latheran.”
“You realize your little friend there, this Demon of Summerset Ondolemar was so very fond of, is a bit of a common thread, yes?”
“I am perfectly aware, Elenwen,” he said impatiently. “But this one was hardly a saint.”
“Who is?” she laughed. “What did she die of?”
“A justified execution,” he answered, laying the bundle down and unwrapping the bit around her head to expose the wound in her throat.
“I’m sure that’s something you’ve missed since you were taken off field assignments,” Elenwen laughed. “Goodness knows your reputation for internal field executions will outlive even you, yourself. So what was it this time, Captain?”
“Attempted defection and kidnapping.”
“Doesn’t surprise me. What little I knew of her pointed to a rather…lacking upbringing, if you catch my meaning. And all this with you on leave, nonetheless!”
“No rest for the wicked, I’m afraid,” Tauryon smirked.
“Indeed,” Elenwen grinned. “Well, I suppose I shall gather some of the resident grunts to get it taken care of and ready for transport back home. I assume you’ll be taking care of the paperwork, my dear?”
“That’s at least three-quarters of my job anymore. Is Rulindil in?”
“Of course he is. Unless he’s also managed to pass along in the hour I’ve been away from my office. Why?”
“There’s something that’s come up with Rei Ginsei that would benefit us greatly. Rulindil has information that would aid in this endeavor. Ideally.”
“Does this mean you are back on active duty?” she asked.
“I suppose it does. You wish to see what he can do, and with his latest caretaker, well, expired, I may as well take the role, seeing as I know him, personally, and likely am better equipped to judge his performance than, let’s face it, a troublemaking adult who acts like a seventeen-year-old.”
Elenwen chuckled through closed lips. “You’ll have to specify which one you mean. Anyway, how is he doing thus far?”
“I believe he could be fast-tracked through the ranks of Justiciar. Possibly Inquisition.”
“All due respect, darling, but aren’t you a little biased?”
“Absolutely,” he admitted. “It’s hard to lie with someone and not be biased.”
“You’re a beast,” Elenwen rolled her eyes.
Tauryon chuckled. “I’m feeling young again.”
“Be that as it may, why should I believe your bias won’t affect your judgment? More importantly, why should the admirals and their Majesties back home? My opinion here doesn’t particularly matter outside general curiosity.”
“Because, my dear, at the end of the day, we’re both just men who like to draw blood from our enemies.”
“If you say so, Camorin,” she said in a dismissive sing-song. “By the by, since your schedule seems so very flexible these days, I’m throwing one of my little soirees on Loredas. Do bring Rei Ginsei and that little one, too. You know the one.”
“We will be there with bells on,” he said with a small bow.
“See that you are! You never attend these things.”
“Oh, let’s not start this.”
“Tauryon, you know Rulindil hates these things and has the social graces of a blind netch when more than three people are involved. Ondolemar was insufferable, but at least he could feign interest passably. I don’t wish to be the only one of us there, and we need a military representative anyway to look dashing and present our organization in an awe-inspiring way. Besides, I think you’re the only one here besides me who’s gone through finishing school.”
“Gods help me. The price one pays…”
“Nobility really is the supreme burden, isn’t it?” Elenwen said cloyingly.
“If only that were true, Madam Ambassador.”
Tauryon walked through the embassy proper and out into the courtyard, nodding as he always did to the soldiers on watch who stopped to salute. There was a point, when he had first achieved the rank of commander quite some time ago, when the spontaneous saluting by his subordinates was something rather novel. That was a long time ago, though, and now it was hard to see it as anything but bootlicking, protocol or not.
“Captain,” greeted the battlemage stationed at the door to the solar.
“Good day, Telerion. Keeping the rabble out?”
“Very good. I know those Nords have been climbing over these walls in droves.”
Tauryon smirked as he stepped through the door. Telerion was the sort who couldn’t handle a commanding officer speaking to him casually, and that at least never seemed to grow old. Rulindil’s office was just to the left, and the door was open. Tauryon knocked anyway as he entered.
“Well that was quick,” Rulindil said as he looked up from whatever business he had at hand. “Your little friends safe and sound?”
“Safe, anyway. It’s been a terrible couple of days.”
“You look a bit more like yourself, anyway.”
“Well, it wasn’t without its perks.”
Rulindil chuckled knowingly as he shuffled the parchment in front of him into neat stacks. “It’s about time, hm?”
“With the right person it does cure most ills. Anyway, I’m no longer on leave, and I need information.”
“The Blades case, Esbern specifically. Have you made any progress? Any at all?”
“Funny you should ask,” Rulindil said cheerily. “I have a prisoner downstairs I’m letting swing for a while. Member of the Thieves Guild a little birdie told me is well acquainted with Riften.”
“So you’re still convinced he’s there?” Tauryon asked.
“I am. That intelligence seems sound: There’s plenty of little hidey-holes there and the Thieves Guild for protection. The man’s as ancient as you are, by the standards of men. He doesn’t have the ability to just move about constantly.”
“By all means,” Rulindil said. “It does make me happy to see you a bit more eager to get back into your element. You know I’d been growing concerned with the way you’d been talking.”
“Yes, and I appreciate it,” Tauryon answered, following his officer out the door. “You’ve been more than patient with the work you’ve been doing.”
“I’ve only ever wanted for your health. I wouldn’t be half of what I am without your guidance.”
“I only helped what was already there, Rulindil. Don’t get too sentimental, now.”
They walked downstairs into the basement where the interrogation rooms were located, and Rulindil led him into the largest one – the one which accommodated prisoners waiting interrogation or else delivery to their fate on Alinor. There was only one cell occupied at the moment, and Tauryon could only tell that much from the whimpering that was coming from behind the desk that sat against one barred wall.
“How long have you had him in there?” he asked.
“Day-and-a-half, I suppose.”
“And he’s made that noise the whole time?”
“You don’t like it?’ Rulindil chuckled.
“It’s already driving me mad.”
Tauryon adjusted his posture and walked to the front of the cell where the source of the whimpering was curled in one corner.
“You there!” he barked.
The prisoner nearly jumped out of his skin at the sound and jerked into a sitting position while scrabbling backwards into the corner.
“What’s your name?”
He only looked back at him with wide, terrified eyes that were starting to glisten.
“I’d answer him, if I were you,” Rulindil drawled.
“Et-…Etienne…” the prisoner answered. “Etienne Rarnis.”
” ‘Etienne’. From High Rock, are we?”
“M-My parents were.”
“Very good,” Tauryon said, rubbing his gloved hands slowly together. “Do you know why you’re here?”
“I-I-I-I support the Dominion!” Etienne said quickly. “I do, honest!”
“Well that’s wonderful news. Isn’t it, Rulindil?”
“Oh yes. Always nice when the less evolved respect their betters.”
“But I’m told you’re a thief, Etienne,” Tauryon said, “and I’m given to believe that thieves are liars. And if that was a lie, it had better be the last you ever tell.”
“It’s true, though! I’m Breton, after all, right?”
“I don’t care if you get down on all fours to support Ulfric’s buttocks, and I don’t care how much ‘mer’ is in the word ‘manmer’; I’m here to ask about a fellow named Esbern that Rulindil here tells me is hiding in Riften. He says you have a unique understanding of the city’s layout and its denizens.”
“I don’t know that name!” Etienne protested. “I swear, I don’t!”
“Perhaps a description would help?” Tauryon smiled. “He’s a Nord. An older gentleman, I’m told. Downright decrepit, even. According to our files he’s rather short for a Nord. Five foot eight, or thereabouts, was it?”
“That’s about right,” Rulindil answered amiably.
“Possibly a few inches shorter now, what with age.”
“There’s lots of old Nords in Riften!” Etienne protested. “It’s Skyrim, isn’t it?”
Tauryon studied the prisoner with his head cocked to one side, his hands behind his back. “Are you sure? There’s no one matching that description that, perhaps, your organization could be covering for?”
Etienne didn’t say anything, only shrank back further.
“Oh,” Tauryon said. “Have I struck something?”
“N-N-No! No, I swear I don’t know anything!”
Telekinesis was among the first spells Tauryon had figured out. He would spend ages coaxing some object to him, tossing it away, and bringing it back. It was soothing. And useful. Without warning, he cast with his left hand, jerking the Breton towards him, and catching him by the throat with his right. The cradle of his thumb and forefinger cupped his neck while the digits themselves lodged themselves firmly against Etienne’s carotid artery. He could feel the prisoner’s racing pulse. Fingers were scratching at his hand, which only made his grip grow tighter in order to keep his hold.
“I think you do, Etienne,” he said quietly as Etienne’s eyes began to roll back into his head. “You don’t want to know the other spells I’ve got under my belt. But don’t think I don’t appreciate the satisfaction of throttling a man with my bare hands, either, until he’s well and truly gone. So it seems to me, dear boy, that you ought to learn how to distinguish between good and bad decisions very quickly. And I’ll tell you now: scratching up my freshly-conditioned gloves is not a good start.”
Etienne slowly stopped struggling, and Tauryon loosened his grip.
The Breton’s eyes lowered as blood returned to his head, although they had trouble focusing. His tongue continued to loll from his mouth, however, as he gagged on it in his struggle for air.
“Now. Tell me what you know.”
“I don’t know! I swear, I don’t know anyth-” he gasped as Tauryon squeezed. “Wait, wait, wait!”
“I don’t know the guy personally, okay?” Etienne sobbed. “I don’t know where he is, and I don’t even know if he’s the one you want! I’m new to the Guild. Go to the Ragged Flagon, that’s the Guild’s haunt. Ask Dirge.”
“And who’s Dirge?” Tauryon asked.
“The bouncer. He’s not one of us, exactly, but he knows the goings-on. Big, blonde Nord. Dumb as a bag of rocks – it’ll be easy as anything to get him to talk if you just stroke him the right way! That’s all I know to tell you!”
“I will be headed to Riften soon, Etienne. Sundas morning. If I get there, and if I’m met with a dead end, I will send word, and Rulindil here will take over your case, which is not something you want. Do you understand me?”
“That’s all I know,” the Breton cried. “I promise you.”
Tauryon once again grabbed him with his ephemeral magicka, but this time he flung the small man towards the back wall of his cell, which he slammed hard against before crumpling to the floor.
“Would you mind writing this up?” he asked Rulindil. “I have other paperwork and business to attend to.”
“Yes, Captain,” Rulindil answered.
“I’m sure I don’t need to tell you to keep him alive until I send word. You know, for appearance’s sake, if nothing else.”
“I’ll be sure to have one of the guards give him some water to lap up on occasion.”
“Good man,” Tauryon smiled. As Etienne groaned in pain, he left the room to go about his day.
Tauryon was still at the Embassy when they arrived home. Rei and Sabrael had boarded their animals and made their way to the last townhouse in the city on the left. Unaril answered the door, but only reluctantly let them in, despite their familiarity. Master Tauryon hadn’t told her to expect them, after all. It was Rei’s appeal to Sabrael’s distress that ultimately gained them entrance, and they were led to the informal sitting area where late afternoon sunlight poured in through stained glass. Sabrael wasted no time in crawling into Rei’s lap and just leaning against him.
The swimming had eased his anxiety to a great extent, Rei knew, but it didn’t erase the depression. He felt his chest tighten with his kirin’s, and he pressed his lips to his head.
“You know you can cry,” Rei said. “There’s no need to hold it in.”
Rei tightened his hold and sighed. “Well, if it helps, I’m crying for you.”
Sabrael giggled quietly. “It does help a little. Even if we’re stuck in a loop again.”
“We’ll get through it, sweetheart. It’ll ease itself eventually.”
Rei held his kirin tightly and rocked him until he’d lulled himself to sleep. By the time he heard the front door open and close, the room was nearly pitch dark, save for the scant moonlight that made its way in through the windows.
“Did that girl really just leave you in the dark?” Tauryon asked irritably.
“We’ve been asleep, anyway,” Rei said, happy to feel Sabrael’s familiar emotional silence.
“Still. Surely she knew I’d be right behind you and candles would need to be lit.”
Rei watched as his friend went to a a few of the wall sconces and lit each one with a small gesture. Tauryon rarely told anyone of his more perplexing secrets, but Rei had always suspected that he’d found ways to mix schools of magicka together. There was the common spell called candlelight, there was channeling energies that could be turned into flame through one’s body,and then there was lighting candles with an actual fire conjured from nowhere. Destruction mixed with the twisting nature of alteration. Fire from air, not his being.
“What’s wrong, love?” Rei asked as he sat heavily onto the chair across from them.
“It’s been a long day. Good news, though.”
“Hopefully good news. I managed to pry out some information from a prisoner that was taken from Riften concerning our other Blade. Whether it will bear out is anyone’s guess, but Rulindil is confident in his suspicions and this prisoner seemed to have understood what was at stake should his information prove bogus.”
“If you’re confident, then I am,” Rei said. “Then Loredas we attend the party and out our little spy.”
“Indeed. You know, candles or no, it was quite nice coming home to someone again. I’m glad to see little Sabrael has managed to get some sleep.”
“He’s certainly out. The water did him some good.”
Sabrael stirred, and Rei felt him awakening.
“Were your ears burning, beauty?” he asked gently.
“No,” he said drowsily. “Should they be?”
“Tauryon and I were just saying that we’re glad you could find some real sleep.”
“Yeah. It was nice. I feel better.”
“Good,” Rei said, leaning down to kiss him.
“Sleep spells can be nasty things,” Tauryon said. “They tend to stop everything happening in your head, almost as if you had simply been knocked out, but harder and for much longer. When you come to, you’re disoriented. You feel like you were abruptly awakened from a nap you’d fallen too deeply into. General trauma aside, a good, real sleep is the best remedy.”
“Have you had one put on you?” Sabrael asked. “That’s the way I felt.”
“I haven’t, no, but a mage always studies.”
Rei helped Sabrael turn in his lap so that he could stand and walk over to Tauryon. He leaned down and put his arms around the old mer’s neck.
“What’s that for, little one?” Tauryon smiled as he happily returned the embrace.
“Because I love you. I know you’ve been worried, but don’t be.”
“I’ve been insensitive, Sabrael, I know it.”
“I know it came from a good place, even if it was uncomfortable. It’s okay.”
The rest of the evening was pleasantly quiet. They ate their dinner, they each took a bath, and when they retired for the night, they all three made love. As Rei lay between his partners, holding Sabrael close, he finally felt properly relaxed for the first time in what seemed like ages now. No cruel men out to make him their pet, no women out to hurt him or his kirin. Three days of nothing lay ahead before the party. Tauryon would be working during the day, but Solitude was a big city with plenty to see, and the townhouse was nice and quiet if it grew too overwhelming.
And the planning. That would be lovely, too.
Rei stepped into the dim light of the Winking Skeever Inn on Loredas at three in the afternoon, just as instructed. He was alone, with Sabrael under Tauryon’s care, dressed in casual, unremarkable clothing. He looked around the huge tavern, busy with people enjoying the afternoon. Finally, his eyes landed on a lone Bosmer, seated at a table in a far corner, tapping his fingers nervously on the tabletop.
“Can I help you?” he asked as Rei invited himself to sit down.
His eyes darted quickly from side to side. “Y-Yes,” he stuttered.
“Our mutual friend sent me,” Rei said.
“You’re the guy she said she was sending?”
“Is there a problem?”
“Well look at you!” Malborn exclaimed, trying very hard to keep his voice down. “You’ll stick out like a sore thumb!”
“That’s as may be, but it’s been my experience proper manners can take one a long way.”
” ‘Manners’? As in ‘bootlicking’?”
Rei looked down as he took a breath. “Just tell me what the plan is, Malborn, and leave the execution to your better.”
Malborn pulled back a little. “Who are you, really?”
“I’m the Dragonborn,” he answered simply, sitting back and resting an ankle on the opposite knee. “I’m the Dragonborn, and the Thalmor have information we need to keep them from potentially destroying us all.”
“You think that’s what they’re up to? You’re like-” Malborn paused and leaned forward, looking left and right. “You think the dragons are being controlled by the Thalmor? Like Delphine?”
“It makes perfect sense! As she says, a Skyrim in chaos is the perfect way for them to gain a foothold and bring down the Empire in earnest.”
“If it’ll help to knock these bastards off balance, I suppose I shouldn’t argue too much regarding your appearance. So here’s the plan: You hand me everything you need to get through the embassy, and I’ll hide it in a place only I have the key to. I’ll be tending the bar tonight, so I’ll be able to sneak you into the scullery, the door to which will be right behind me. You show up to the party, create some sort of distraction, and I’ll see to it you’re able to do what you need to do. I’m putting my neck way out there for you, Dragonborn. If the ambas-”
“I’m well aware of the stakes,” Rei smiled. “Don’t think for a moment that I don’t appreciate what you’re doing for me.”
Malborn looked askance at him. “Yes, well, I assume you’ll need to fetch your gear. There’s a cart with produce headed for the Embassy that I can stow it on, but you’ll need to move quickly.”
“I’m only staying down the way. I won’t be ten minutes.”
“I’ll be here,” Malborn said. “Hurry, though. Ten minutes is cutting too close for my comfort.”
Rei rolled his eyes as he strode briskly out of the inn and back towards Tauryon’s home. Malborn was a wiggly sort of worm, clearly torn between wanting to roll over to show his belly and making a show of his control. It wasn’t a good look. Still, he answered a rather pressing question that neither he nor Tauryon could answer with any sort of satisfaction.
“So, where’s your gear?” Malborn said impatiently when Rei returned. “I thought you said you were out to get it.”
“I only need these,” Rei answered.
He handed over a roll of velvet cloth. The plan was flimsy, at best, but Tauryon insisted there be evidence, and Rei could only hope that their unwitting prisoner wouldn’t see through their scheme. This was the best way that had presented itself, anyway.
The Bosmer placed the bundle in his lap and unwrapped it slowly and carefully.
“Just daggers?” he asked. “I don’t think you under-”
“Don’t presume to know what I can and cannot do. And I wouldn’t touch those blades, if I were you. There’s a poison on them that will turn your blood black as night and your veins inside out.”
“Oh!” Malborn squeaked before clumsily wrapping the blades back up. “Oh, well, alright then. I guess I’ll see you at the Embassy.”
“Fashionably late,” Rei said. “Showing up to an engagement on time is a terrible thing to do.”
“Right… You leave first.”
Rei smiled and bowed his head slightly before stepping back out once more into the cloudy day.
By the time seven o’clock arrived, Rei was preening in front of Tauryon’s vanity. There was a formal outfit among his belongings, a gift unfortunately from Vile, but it was lovely, and it was perfect for the occasion. He smiled as he ran his fingers over the silk and the lace, pulling his shoulders back.
Keeping his thoughts light.
“Oh, my,” he heard Tauryon’s voice as he entered the room. “I might have to cancel every one of our plans.”
Rei smirked as Tauryon walked up behind him and kissed his cheek. “Oh, but I’ve been looking so very forward to being seen on my captain’s arm.”
Tauryon laughed in a low, growling way, and bit down on Rei’s earlobe. Rei shuddered and drew a hissing breath as he felt himself stir in the fashionably tight confines of his trousers. “If you make me come in these pants, I will be quite cross.”
“I suppose we don’t want that,” Tauryon grinned.
“Sabrael, would you like me to plait your hair?” Rei asked, noticing the difficulty he was having in trying to tie his hair back.
“Oh, yes, please!” Sabrael chirped, shaking his hair back out. “I would’ve asked, but, your outfit’s kind of…complex.”
“This isn’t my first formal event,” Rei said, sitting on the bed while Sabrael grabbed the vanity chair. “It doesn’t take me that long to button a shirt and pin a brooch.”
Tauryon sat beside him as he began looking the turquoise mane over. It couldn’t be a simple braid, after all. He decided to start from Sabrael’s temple and work around, so that it could lay over his shoulder.
“Never forgot, did you?”
“Never stopped keeping horses,” Rei chuckled. “Sabrael, I want you to ride to the Embassy with Tauryon. There’s a carriage waiting outside the gates.”
“Why?” his kirin asked. Rei had been careful to avoid talking with Tauryon about plans with Sabrael nearby, which was difficult to begin with, but now was the real test.
“Because if I’m seen accompanying a Thalmor officer our plans will be ruined.”
“Delphine’s seen you two together. I thought she didn’t know Tauryon was with the Thalmor?”
“Delphine isn’t going to be there,” Tauryon took over, “but her man on the inside will. Not only does he know I’m with the Thalmor, he knows me. If Celedaen were to walk in with us, it wouldn’t be hard for him to know he was being set up.”
Sabrael’s uncertainty was growing. Rei leaned forward to kiss his head. “What’s this person done, anyway? Is he going to be hurt?”
“He’s a spy, Sabrael,” Rei said. “Spies are harmful to the Dominion, and no, this isn’t to hurt him.”
“You’re nervous, Rei.”
“Pressure of the job, that’s all,” he lied. Although, he supposed, it wasn’t entirely a lie. Sabrael’s opinion of him was absolutely causing pressure.
“You’re sure you’re not going to hurt him.”
Rei held back his sigh of relief at being given a semantic out. “No, beauty, we’re not going to hurt him.”
“Don’t worry, sweet boy,” Tauryon soothed. “We’re trying to handle this as delicately as we can, for your sake, if nothing else. And you will be so busy enjoying yourself, you won’t even think about it.”
“Elenwen puts out all sorts of delicacies at these gatherings. You’ll be overwhelmed at the number of sweet things there will be.”
A little ping of interest stabbed through Sabrael’s misgivings, and this time Rei did sigh with relief.
“You’ll see. It wouldn’t be much fun if I spoiled the surprise, would it?”
Rei leaned against Baku’s stall, having walked to the stables after seeing his companions’ carriage leave the city gates. He decided to wait an extra ten or fifteen minutes to give them time to reach the Embassy before him. The stable boy had insisted on applying Baku’s tack, even though he needed a set of wooden steps to reach. He did an admirable job for someone so small, and Rei tipped him a little extra before setting off.
“Welcome to the Embassy, sir,” a soldier wrapped in warm clothing greeted him once he’d handed over Baku’s reins to a different stable hand. “Captain Camorin told me to expect you. Do go on inside. Where it’s warm.”
Rei nodded and walked up the stairs to the front door. As soon as he entered, Elenwen, clad in a lovely, flowing dress, came towards him, arms as open as they could be without being outstretched. It was a familiar gesture, one he had been happy to leave behind when he’d fled home.
“Rei Ginsei,” she crowed, so saccharine, Rei was certain he could see sugar crystals falling from her mouth. “I’m so glad you could make it. I was starting to think our dear captain was lying.”
“Of course not,” he smiled. “You know how hard it is to find good help.”
He took her forearms gently as they engaged in the ever-annoying false kiss.
“Oh, I know. I told him Bosmer are really not that good, but he keeps that one around, nonetheless.”
The excuse that had been given for his lateness was that Unaril had improperly laundered something. “Speaking of Bosmer and their uselessness…” Rei said.
“Oh yes!” she chirped as she clapped her hands together. “Tauryon said you had something of importance to share with me.”
“Is there a place just a bit more private?”
“Yes, yes. Come with me.”
“Madam Ambassador?” came a voice from behind a small bar. Rei looked over to see Malborn, who glanced over at him nervously.
“What is it now, Malborn? Can’t you see I’m entertaining?”
“I just wanted to know if it was alright if I opened the Arenthia red? We’ve run out of the Alto.”
“Open whatever you like!” Elenwen said, waving her hand in annoyance. “Why in the world do you think I put you behind the bar if not to open and serve wine? Gracious.”
Rei tried to hide the smirk as he held up a finger to Malborn as they passed.
“Now, tell me about this useless Bosmer,” Elenwen said once they’d disappeared into a side room. “It’s Malborn, isn’t it?”
“It is, indeed,” Rei said. “Turns out your bar tender there is a spy and an outright traitor. I have reason to believe, apart from this, that he is plotting violence against someone in this very embassy.”
“Is that so? What leads you to this conclusion?”
“He solicited my services to rifle through Thalmor documents in order to aid a particular enemy that Tauryon and I have been milking information from.”
“Tauryon has certainly mentioned your plans,” she said quietly, “although he’s been maddeningly unspecific about them. That’s the problem with higher-ranking military, isn’t it? Everything has to be this dramatic secret.”
Rei chuckled. “Be that as it may, Malborn is an enemy of the Aldmeri Dominion, and he is under your employ.”
“That is a problem, isn’t it? Well, even if our captain insists on being vague, it seems as though his exploits are starting to pay off, if it means we can weed out the undesirables.”
“We won’t disappoint you, Madam Ambassador,” Rei assured her.
“Please, I’ve told you before to call me Elenwen, Rei Ginsei. And I have no doubt. Is there proof of Malborn’s treachery?”
“He mentioned to me a chest in this very embassy only he has access to.”
Elenwen’s eyes flashed dangerously. “That little rat! How could he do such a thing? How would he manage?”
“That I don’t know, but I’m sure I don’t need to tell you the purpose of such cubbyholes.”
“No. We will go back out there, and I will inform one of the soldiers on duty. I’m sure, now that we’ve been in here, our dear Malborn has had his suspicions raised. He will be apprehended quietly, and I will let you show me why Tauryon thinks you’d be a good addition to Inquisitions.”
Rei smiled and bowed his head. He’d told Tauryon to try and keep to the far side of the room. He could still feel Sabrael, though – shy, but entertained and happy – and he hoped that wherever they ended up would be far enough to cut them off from each other.
He followed Elenwen back out into the throng of nobles and politicians and stepped to one side, into the shadows of a dark corner where he could see both the Ambassador and Malborn, who was looking ever-more nervous and suspicious. Elenwen approached one of the soldiers keeping watch over the guests and talked to him, expertly disguising her intentions as the general affectations of a good hostess. No one ever would have guessed that she was initiating an arrest.
The soldier surreptitiously left his post and walked towards the bar where Malborn was backing up towards the door behind him. Meanwhile Elenwen moved to the opposite side of the room to announce loudly that the bar was momentarily closed, but guests were free to enjoy the brandy from the crates on her side, where serving girls were opening bottles hurriedly. Not a soul looked back as the soldier grabbed Malborn by the arm and led him into the scullery.
Rei quickly strode over and slipped into the doorway after them.
“It was you!” Malborn said. “I knew you were up to no good, and I trusted you, anyway! How could Delphine have been taken in? Why? How?”
“Delphine wouldn’t know to come in out of the rain,” Rei laughed.
The door opened again and Elenwen stepped inside. “Malborn, how dare you ruin my party?” she mewled lazily.
“Madam Ambassador, it’s not what it seems!” Malborn protested. “I support the Dominion, I really do!”
“You know, I always brushed aside Captain Camorin’s dislike for you, but it seems what he says is true.”
“W-What does he say?” Malborn asked in a small voice.
“Mostly that you’re a sniveling git and that you consistently make your disdain for us known. I always told him it was just general envy of our station in life compared to yours, but dear Rei Ginsei says you did the most awful thing!”
“I didn’t tell him anything! Anything he’s told you is false, I swear!”
“That’s not very nice to say!” Elenwen scolded. “Rei?”
“Where is that box of yours? The one you mentioned while telling me of your plot to damage this organization.”
“Please. The box only you have the key to? Don’t make this difficult, Malborn.”
Malborn set his jaw, but he wouldn’t look Rei in the eye.
“You’re only making yourself look guilty,” Rei cajoled. “If you’re as innocent as you proclaim, what’s the harm?”
The Bosmer licked his lips.
“Hold him upright,” Rei told the soldier.
He roughly jerked Malborns arms back so that his elbows were almost touching behind him. The Bosmer cried out in pain.
“Keep your voice down,” Rei said. “Now. Where is that box?”
Malborn shook his head, and Rei swiped the back of his hand hard across Malborn’s face. He didn’t cry out, but his eyes squinted shut as a sob escaped his throat. Rei shuddered pleasantly.
“I won’t tire of this, Malborn, I rather like the blood pouring from your lip, and that’s not nearly the worst I can do.”
“Alright, alright, fine…” Malborn sniffed. “It’s there, under that pile of table linens.”
Rei stepped over to the other side of the narrow corridor where, indeed, a pile of linens sat, some of them conveniently unfolded in such a way to obfuscate the box without looking too suspicious. He moved the cloths to one side to reveal a ratty chest with an equally ratty lock.
“Oh, come now, Malborn, so defensive over a chest you barely even need a key for.”
Rei swiftly produced the knife he carried in his boot and slammed it into the keyhole, breaking the lock instantly. Looking back, he could see Malborn visibly shaking, and he wondered if the daggers were all he was about to discover. After flashing the prisoner a smile, he opened the chest and laughed. “Oh, my, my, no wonder you didn’t want us to see in here!”
Elenwen came over to look before almost immediately turning away. “Gods above. In the kitchens, no less.”
Rei grabbed a handful of small pamphlets depicting improbably-proportioned women in what some would call lewd situations. “Can you not go five minutes?” Rei continued to laugh. “Oh, dear boy.”
Malborn’s cheeks were flushed as he looked away.
“Too bad that’s not all that’s in here,” he continued.
He pulled out a properly bound journal and opened it to find notes on personnel schedules, quick scribbles on the goings-on around the embassy, how many soldiers were on patrol at any given time, and plenty of other organically incriminating evidence, likely kept here and not in his quarters for ease of use. His hiding place seemed to have been working up to this point, in any case. Rei handed the journal over to Elenwen.
“Why you little worm,” she said as she flipped through the thick pages. “And what was all this to culminate in, hm?”
“I think I know,” Rei smiled, finally producing the rolled velvet.
“What?” Malborn cried. “No, those aren’t mine!”
” ‘Those’? But you haven’t seen what’s in there,” Elenwen said sweetly. “How could you possibly know that whatever it is, is a ‘those?”
“Because he’s the one who gave them to me! He planted them! I was set up, Madam Ambassador!”
“Malborn,” Rei drawled, “why would I plant something on you? And why does it matter? You were clearly plotting something.”
“Indeed,” Elenwen agreed as Rei unrolled the daggers for her. “These are unmistakably Bosmeri blades, and they are so coated in poison there are drops that stuck halfway down. How dare you, Malborn, you piece of trash? We protect your people, and this is how you repay us?”
“You do nothing for our people!” Malborn finally said. “You do nothing but try to assimilate us into your culture, to tame us like you did those cats! If it wasn’t for the Empire, I’d not even be paid!”
“That’s enough. Put him in a cell,” Elenwen addressed the soldier. “Commander Larethal may still be there. Brief him on what just happened, and take him the journal and these blades, but do be careful, won’t you? I don’t know what that is, but it looks nasty. Tell him to wring what he can out of him, but not to get too involved. You know how he gets. This one’s bound for Alinor and the headsman, regardless.”
“Yes, mum,” the soldier answered, steering a struggling and protesting Malborn through the kitchens themselves.
“Perhaps Tauryon wasn’t exaggerating. I can see you working your way into position as an inquisitor fairly quickly.”
“Thank you, Elenwen,” Rei said.
“It’s not me who would decide such a thing, obviously. I’m only a diplomat, at the end of the day, but my word carries weight, as does Tauryon’s. Besides,” she chirped, falling back into her hostess’ facade, “who can argue with an inquisitor as honestly terrifying as you look!”
Rei grinned. Inquisition hadn’t really struck him in the beginning, but after his experience with the Justiciars, he felt the slower, more controlled environment would be far more satisfying in terms of being able to properly terrorize someone.
“Now. Let us don our cheerful faces and mingle, hm?”