A/N: LAST CHAPTER EVERYONE. I'm feeling a little emotional, but this was a lot of fun to write and a high to go out on. There's essentially two halves to this one, the first being the turning of Madanach, and then the rest is a sort of epilogue that basically tells the rest of the story and what happens to them all. The final scene's actually set a good six hundred years after the Dragon Year.
Machara means my friend.
Summary: Caradach's reached his first birthday and the Reach Court are celebrating - but his father's also another year older and he's starting to feel it. With Madanach's mortality getting increasingly more obvious, it's time to take steps to halt the process.
One year later
"Yes. Very. I have had to wrangle one twelve year old, one ten year old, your sister, your mother, my sister, my daughter and Cicero. Nepos has been no help whatsoever. You have been not as helpful as you could have been, if I'm honest."
"What, me?" Liriel said, brow furrowing. "I was tending to our son!"
"Yes, you got the fun bits," Madanach glowered. "You got to sit around and dote on the little one and be praised by all and sundry on what a lovely baby you have, while I got to spend the day supervising four pain in the backside children."
"I was including Cicero."
Liriel swatted him playfully. They were making their way back to their quarters in the Keep, Caradach having been handed back to his nanny and the older children by now banished to their bedrooms – Lucia now deemed old enough to have her own while Sissel and Cali still shared one. Eola had steered Cicero off somewhere and neither Liriel nor Madanach were inclined to think any further on what they might be getting up to. Today had been Reach-Prince Caradach's first birthday, and while his parents had kept it low-key, they'd also wanted to fuss over their boy. So a trip out for a family picnic at Karthspire it had been, and all had thoroughly enjoyed themselves, despite Madanach's complaints.
"You told them a couple of stories then packed them all off to play on their own and Eola and Jordis ended up doing most of the supervising," Liriel reminded him. "You spent most of the day enjoying the sunshine and fussing over Caradach more than I was."
Caradach ap Madanach, one year old and while well behind what a human baby would be expected to be doing, was quite advanced by Altmer standards, according to Sabrinda anyway. She and Madanach were never likely to ever get on that well, but she was making an effort with everyone else, particularly Sissel and Lucia, and had proven invaluable over the past year. Liriel hadn't realised just quite how hard parenting a baby was, even with servants to help and a husband who was quite ruthless in firmly taking the responsibility off Liriel when she was tired, either taking over himself or finding someone else to. Liriel had never been more glad to have him, but she wasn't blind either. Madanach was sixty two now, sixty three this summer, and he was starting to show his age. Using Restoration magic more often to stave off the pains of old age, not playing with the children as often because it just wore him out in a way it never had the first time round. Getting ill more often with seriously nasty chest infections, a legacy of inhaling rock dust for twenty years, and that worried Liriel the most. Her husband was ageing, mortal, and while he could in theory live into his eighties or nineties, he'd only get frailer. She'd already seen him say no to weapons training the kids, saying Cicero was much better at it than he was, he should do it, and he'd later admitted he just couldn't hold a war axe like he used to.
Liriel knew Madanach had carved Thongvor's head off without even flinching when they'd taken the city nearly four years ago. He'd still been a capable warrior then and he was still a very capable mage and ruler now... but for how much longer? He already needed Dwemer lenses in frames over his eyes to read properly, another legacy of trying to run a rebellion from a cave for twenty years.
No, they needed to do this now, before Madanach's body gave in completely.
"Serana will be waiting for us," Liriel said quietly. "Are you sure about this?"
A stop, pause and then a squeeze of her hand.
"I don't entirely know... but I promised you, didn't I?" Madanach said, bittersweet smile on his face. "I held my son as a living man, I spent today in the sunlight. I've said my goodbyes. We should get it over with."
"You don't have to do this," Liriel whispered, and Madanach did turn to her then, cupping her face in his hands.
"Yes I do," he growled. "I'm getting older, Liriel, I'm getting ill more, I can't swing an axe properly, if we'd taken Markarth today, I'd have had to get Borkul or Argis to execute Thongvor to avoid looking like a laughing stock. I can't even read without my lenses. I don't know if the blood will help with any of it, but at least it won't get any worse. Liriel, I could in theory live another twenty years but I can't guarantee I'll actually last more than five and I don't know what state I'll be in. I can't be the husband you deserve and the father Caradach needs if I don't do this."
"You've always been good enough for me, cariad," Liriel whispered, wishing he wouldn't say things like that. Not many people knew about the Reach-King's hidden insecurities, how he had never really forgiven himself for not being able to save his father and sister from the Silver-Bloods, for having killed his mother being born, for getting arrested, for not being able to protect his children, for not doing more despite already having done so much. But Liriel knew it all, saw it all. She knew he wasn't as all-powerful as he made out.
Time to change that.
Serana was waiting for them in their room, sitting quietly by the fire. Vampires didn't breathe, didn't even move unless they wanted to. It had always unnerved Liriel a little and not much unnerved a Dragonborn.
Liriel secretly rather enjoyed being unnerved. It was what she liked about Madanach, that despite a child, despite everything, he still could have that effect on her. He wasn't always the sexually dominant one by any means, but when he was... Liriel shivered just to think about it.
"Are you ready?" Serana asked in that soft voice of hers. "Once I do this, there's no going back."
Which wasn't strictly true, Liriel knew this mage in Morthal who was said to be able to reverse the change, but for Madanach there wouldn't be. Who knew how many years of life he had left in him – Liriel had a horrible feeling the number wasn't as large as she'd hoped for. For all she knew it was single digits. This or true death for her husband.
Madanach unfastened the robes she'd won for him, shaking them off and letting them lie on the table, leaving the gloves there too and only pausing to remove the boots before stretching out on the bed, torc and circlet on the cabinet and without them, just an old battlemage lying topless on a fancy bed.
"I'm ready. Liriel?"
Liriel came to join him, lying at his back, arms around him. He'd suffered through her labour pains, she wouldn't let him do this alone.
"I'm here," Liriel whispered.
Serana joined them, orange eyes glowing faintly in the shadows as she sat on the edge of the bed.
"Are you OK with this, Liriel? It's... kinda intimate."
"So you keep saying, which is why I want it to be you," Liriel said with a smile.
"Do you need me to do anything?" Madanach asked, tilting his head to expose his neck. "Or do I just lie back and let you get on with it?"
"I don't need you to do anything," Serana said quietly, leaning forward and taking Madanach in her arms in what was almost a lover's embrace. "Just lie back and trust me."
"I can do that," Madanach murmured, closing his eyes and wrapping his arms around Serana, and when her teeth pierced his neck, the world went red and he knew no more.
"Da. Da, open your eyes. Open your damn eyes!"
Madanach opened them, wondering when it had got so cold in here... and then he realised he wasn't in his room. It was dark, misty, strange hills in the distance with weird grey light like some twisted dawn rising from behind them... but the sky was a night sky, with stars he didn't recognise.
Before him was a Forsworn camp, with the stockading and goat's heads and windbreaks and tents, Reachmen and women peering out through the mists at him... but he was outside it and he somehow knew he wasn't allowed in. Mainly because of the three women in Forsworn gear standing outside and blocking his way. Well, female yes, but two of them were just girls. Teenagers in fact, about fourteen or fifteen. But they flanked an adult, a twenty nine year old adult who he'd last seen on a funeral pyre.
"What have you done?" Kaie whispered, her eyes haunted. "What in the Void have you done?"
"What haven't I done?" Madanach said roughly, getting to his feet. No robes here, just Forsworn gear of his own. "Kaie... where is this."
"You know where!" she cried and next to her, Eithne and Amaleen were looking at him as if he'd betrayed them all.
"You're in the Void, Daddy," Eithne said, glaring at him. "We've been waiting for you, all this time! Over twenty years! We didn't think we'd have a lot longer to wait."
"Kaie says you've taken the blood, vampire blood!" Amaleen said tearfully. "Tell me it isn't true."
Madanach hung his head. What could he say? He'd essentially given up on them for Caradach's sake and for Liriel's, turned his back on his old family and the Dance itself for the sake of the new.
"It's true. I'm sorry, inyeenai."
Amaleen let out a sob, Eithne looked furious and Kaie was just shaking her head.
"Da. I know you love Liriel but what were you thinking? Vampirism? Really? You always said it was better to stay human, that some prices were too high!"
"I've got a son, Kaie!" Madanach cried. "Caradach, your little brother! I don't know how long I've got, if I let nature take its course, I could be dead in a decade! Liriel will be on her own with a young child and he won't even remember me. Only that his father was some old king of some old human kingdom that won't even remember who Caradach is, never mind that he's a prince, or worse, Eola's line will remember and see him as a threat. My son needs me, Kaie!"
"What about us?" Eithne cried. "I missed you, Da! I've been waiting so long. I was lonely for so long, and then at least Ama turned up. But it was you I wanted to see. I was so worried! I thought they'd killed you but you never came here..."
"They had me in prison, surely someone told you that," Madanach said roughly.
"I did," Kaie said quietly. "Told them the whole story. That the Reach is free, you got to be king. Of course, I didn't know if you were all right, and we've not had a lot of dead come through of late to update us. I had to go to the Brotherhood's area and speak to a few of their kills. They told me the heir to the throne's Princess Eola. That our baby sister came good in the end and came home. Except she's seriously not married to Cicero, right?"
"Afraid so," Madanach confessed, repressing a smile at the outrage on Kaie's face. "Is this a problem?"
"A problem?" Kaie snapped. "He's not consort material! He's not even sane!"
"He loves her," Madanach said pointedly. "He makes her happy. And all he has to do is sire some children and raise them, which he's said he'll be happy to do and is trying to do. It's not his fault Eola's not pregnant yet. Kaie, I'm sorry, I know you had feelings too..."
"I didn't... all right, maybe I was fond of the little shit," Kaie said, looking away. "But he wasn't... no one ever was... dammit Da, it's your fault, you know. How was I supposed to find anyone of my own with you as a father? Everyone I tried was nice enough... they just weren't you."
"Kaie," Madanach said quietly, fighting guilt over having failed Kaie like he'd failed all his kids – except not true, Argis is happy, Eola's very capable, my adopted ones are all doing well, and Caradach... well, he's very easily entertained at his age. So there was guilt... but also quiet pleasure at having managed to set the bar so high despite being a Skooma-addicted ex-felon. "Kaie, please, I'm really not a good man."
"You keep saying that," Kaie whispered. "I don't think it's true. And that camp doesn't care. Da, no one is going to forget you in a hurry. The casualties of Markarth told their stories, the ones who fell alongside me told the tale. And then Red Eagle himself showed up, said you'd come and finally released his soul from its binding, you and Liriel. He said you were a lucky son of a bitch and he almost had you."
That did make Madanach laugh. "Did he really? I must apologise at some point."
"Don't bother, he then went on to ask if it was true, if you really were king and I told him about the treaty. He wasn't entirely pleased about joining the Empire but I told him very firmly there was no alternative other than slavery and oppression, and a free Reach as part of the same Empire as everywhere else was better than rule by the Nords. He came round in the end. But that's not the point, is it? Point is, you won't be able to apologise because you're not coming here!" Kaie was staring him down, eyes narrowed and really looking very like her mother. Madanach instinctively took a step back, and Kaie saw and relented.
"Why, Daddy?" Kaie whispered. "Are we not enough?"
It was killing Madanach to say it but he shook his head. "I'm sorry. But you're dead and you don't need me, there's nothing stopping any of you coming back."
"We were waiting for you!" Amaleen cried. "I wanted to know if Eola was OK! Last thing I saw was her peeping out from behind a rock, terrified. Did they hurt her too? Please tell me she's OK."
"She's fine, and they didn't hurt her. She was scared but she survived. She always does. Please don't worry about her, she's as tough as anything. A bit like your mother that way, although please don't tell her I said that."
"We won't," Amaleen said, stepping forward, and then she was hugging him, tears in her spectral eyes. "Da, if you have to do this... then do it. But please look after Eola, she's not as tough as you think. I worry about her."
"Then come back and take care of her in person," Madanach said roughly. "I mean it, daughters. I can't come to you, so come to me. Rejoin the Dance. You left it too soon, come back and enjoy it to the full."
"Doesn't look like we've got a choice," Eithne said sternly, coming to join her sister, and Madanach hugged her too, tears in his own eyes as his daughters said goodbye. "All right, Da, I'm coming back. Ama, you as well, we'll do it together. Thought about coming back as Argis's kid, you know, but I don't think I want to be a Nord, even though Elisif seems nice enough."
"Don't blame you," Madanach said, clutching them both to him. "You die in a fight as one of them, you end up in Sovngarde for all eternity. No thanks."
Eithne did laugh at that, and as she and Amaleen held on to him, he had the sense he was forgiven.
"Look for us soon," Eithne whispered as she let him go. Amaleen did likewise, holding her sister's hand.
"We love you, Da. We'll be back incarnate before you know it. Say hi to Eola for us." Sly grin exchanged between the two of them, then identical innocent smiles, and Madanach had the feeling they were already plotting a triumphant return.
"What about you, Kaie, you coming back with them?" Madanach asked. Slowly, Kaie shook her head.
"I don't think so, Da. Not for a long time. Maybe not ever. Don't wait for me. You want to stay in Mundus, you made your choice. Don't look back on my account."
"She's got a boyfriend," Eithne announced cheerfully.
"Eithne!" Amaleen whispered and Kaie shot her sister a baleful look.
"I do not have a – look, we're just enjoying each other's company, that is all."
"Does he know that?" Eithne said knowingly. "He keeps referring to you as his queen in waiting."
"Only because his queen in life reincarnated centuries ago," Kaie sighed. "Look, it's nothing but... well... he does kind of remind me of you, Da."
Kaie had found a lover in the afterlife. Unexpected... but not unwelcome.
"You found someone? Who? Do I know his family? Should I tell them we're in-laws?"
Kaie laughed and shrugged. "I'm not sure anyone knows for sure who his descendants are, probably half the Reach by now. But, well, they say Ma was descended from him, so we're kind of already kin..."
"She's shagging Red Eagle," Amaleen said wearily. "Entire bloody camp can hear it. Good thing we don't actually need to sleep any more."
"Red Eagle?" Madanach had to be sure he'd heard that correctly. "What, the Red Eagle? The one I..."
"Sent here, yes, him," Kaie sighed. "Look, he was persistent, all right? Kept talking to me. Bringing me jenever. Asking about you, the Reach, everything that had happened since he'd died, all sorts. And then we ended up kissing, and he turned out to be really good at it and... look it's just a bit of fun, you know?"
Of course it was, gods forbid Kaie admit how she really felt.
"He's not good enough for you," Madanach said instinctively. Eithne and Amaleen both giggled and Kaie rolled her eyes.
"He was king, Da. What more does he need to do?"
"He lost, cariad. Twice." However, Madanach was secretly pleased for her... and relieved. He was worried she'd be alone, but if she chose to stay because she had someone here, and Red Eagle of all people... well, at least he couldn't fault her taste. "Still, I suppose he's better than the gibbering halfwit your sister married. You two, when you incarnate, grow up and get married, heed this advice from your old da. No lunatics. Marry people who are sane, kind and caring, I don't care what else they are. But absolutely no lunatics. One madman's enough."
"Yes, Da," Eithne said, grinning.
"We'll be careful, Da," Amaleen promised, and she was fading, wait, they all were, why were they fading?
"We love you, Da!" Eithne called and Amaleen nodded, and behind them, Kaie was watching, biting her lip and tears rolling down her face as she knew what her forever child sisters never would – this was it.
"Kaie," Madanach gasped. "I'm sorry. I love you!"
"I know," Kaie whispered... and then they were gone.
"He's not waking up," Liriel whispered, shaking her husband's lifeless form. "Why isn't he waking up, you promised, Serana, you promised!"
"I know, but give it time, it takes a while for them to rise sometimes!" Serana said, but she looked nervous and Liriel recalled what Serana had told her – sometimes the blood was too strong and it killed them.
Madanach had collapsed in Serana's arms as she'd drained him, and then she'd slashed her wrist open and placed it to his mouth, letting him feed off her. He'd done so, collapsed and then the screaming and fitting had started.
"What's wrong, what's happening?" Liriel had cried.
"This often happens, it's the blood turning him, just wait," Serana had said, holding Madanach down and whispering words of comfort to him. Finally it had stopped and he'd just fallen limp in her arms. Seemingly asleep... but Liriel had felt no heartbeat, Detect Life shown no sign of life. She was holding her husband's corpse in her arms and despite Serana's reassurances he would rise, Liriel knew no such thing.
"It's been three hours," Liriel whispered. "He should have risen by now, what's the longest time it's ever been?"
"Eight hours, that's how long it took Harkon, or so he always said," Serana told her. "Look, Liriel, please, give it time, it's not... not always quick."
"What do I tell my children," Liriel whispered. "What do I tell Sissel, Cali, Lucia – Lucia adores her father! And Cali, gods Cali, I can't put her through another funeral, I can't. And – and Caradach, my son, what do I tell my son?" Her son, her beautiful half-human son, stockier than an elf-child, Madanach's silver eyes and face with gold skin and pointed ears and red hair, and going to be so strong, she just knew it. Strong and handsome and... fatherless. Her beloved Reachman, gone for good. She should never have let him do this.
"Madanach," she sobbed into cold, unmoving skin. "Madanach, Madanach, don't leave me, I love you, please. Please..."
Someone stroking her hair, probably Serana offering comfort... but Serana was on the other side of the bed and the hand didn't feel like hers, Serana didn't have calluses there.
Slowly Liriel opened her eye and looked up and then she felt the corpse beneath her move and Madanach was staring at her, eyes open and glowing gold at her yet his chest stayed still.
"Oh my," Liriel whispered. Her husband had just turned into a reanimated corpse that fed on the living... and he was smiling at her.
He started to speak, but no words came out and he turned sharply to Serana.
"Remember to inhale first," Serana said, amused. Madanach glared at her, duly inhaled, took a few minutes getting a rhythm going before finally speaking.
"It worked," Serana said, looking rather pleased with herself. "How are you feeling?"
Madanach didn't answer, just looking around in surprise.
"Fine," he said, confused. "Absolutely fine. I don't hurt or ache anywhere, and I can see just fine."
"That's good, right?" Liriel said faintly. Madanach turned to look at her and those hungry glowing eyes made her shiver. This had been a terrible idea. Or was it a really good one? She really wasn't sure.
"Good?" Madanach was staring at her as if she'd gone mad. "Are you joking? I don't think I've gone a day without an ache or pain or discomfort somewhere since I got sent down. And I can see perfectly, no, better than I ever could. Gods, how bad was my eyesight before..." He turned to Serana, taking both hands in his. "Thank you. Thank you so much for this. If there is anything you need, anything at all, you just ask. You have no idea what you've just given me, none at all."
"Been living with it a long time, Madanach," Serana said with a smile. Madanach shook his head, still staring at her in amazement.
"Oh I don't think you do. You were never old." He let go of her hands and hugged her, kissing her fiercely on the cheek and letting her go. "Thank you. You've done me a greater service than you'll ever know."
"Good to hear," Serana said gently. "Now, did you want to give the Vampire Lord form a try? You had the blood straight from a Daughter of Coldharbour, you should have one. All you need to do is tap it."
"In a second, let me just try something..." Madanach lifted one of Red Eagle's swords off the plaque, squeezed the hilt in his hands and smiled... before proceeding to slash, stab, dodge and move in response to an invisible opponent.
"What's he doing?" Serana asked, puzzled.
"Proving a point," Liriel whispered, seeing him at work and realising that he could do it again, he had all his youthful strength back. This, this was the warrior that had united the Reachmen, beaten down all his rivals and emerged the acknowledged King of the Reach.
Finally Madanach lowered the sword and replaced it, returning to Serana without even a hint of exhaustion.
"Liriel, you may tell our children that if they want hand to hand combat lessons off me, they can have them," Madanach said calmly. "Now, this Vampire Lord form, I take it one just needs to do this..."
Crouching down, ribbons of red began to run over his skin, then they covered his entire body, then there was a dark explosion and then...
Liriel had already been teetering on the brink between fear and arousal and now her body went into overdrive as she saw a Vampire Lord, silver hair falling to just above shoulder level and eyes to match, all hard muscle and wings and power in both clawed hands but despite the grey skin and changed face, still very much her husband.
He'd seen her looking at him, grinned and promptly glided over to the mirror.
"Holy Sithis," he murmured. "I have got to show Keirine this, she will never have shrieked so loud in her life." He glanced at his hands, flicking magic into them. "Is this a corpse reanimation spell? And this is some kind of spell for absorbing life..."
"That's right," Serana confirmed. "You should be able to change into a cloud of bats and travel that way too. And you get more powers the more people you kill in this form. I don't use mine much, so I can't really tell you a lot. Might be worth visiting Mother. She'd know more."
"She might," Madanach said thoughtfully. Castle Volkihar had been claimed by the Reach as spoils of war, and despite a protest from Elisif who'd claimed it was part of her Hold, Madanach had been allowed to keep it on the grounds Harkon hadn't been a loyal, tax-paying citizen and it was an island, not part of mainland Skyrim. General Rikke had then gone on to add that of course, the land between it was still part of Haafingar Hold so he'd need Elisif's permission to send troops there. Madanach had laughed and declared himself outfoxed... until he'd been able to open a teleportal in the castle. Caer Volkihar was now the Reach's third city and only port, under the governorship of Matriarch Valerica, the Hagraven requirement being waived on the grounds Valerica had already bartered her humanity for dark magic by becoming a vampire so why not stick with a title Reachmen knew to respect. It was early days, but the East Empire Company already had an office there and ships from all over North Tamriel were calling in. Slowly but surely too, the Reachmen were starting to learn about seafaring and Madanach had plans for a navy of sorts – certainly a merchant fleet if nothing else. Why let the Nords and Imperials make all the coin off the Reach's goods?
But all that was as nothing to Liriel right then. Her husband was a Vampire Lord, and he'd turned to look at her, predatory smile looking even more terrifying on that monster's face.
Liriel whimpered, unconsciously parting her legs as she felt her loins burning and she just knew Madanach could tell because he dissolved into a swarm of bats and then he was there, right there, looming over her before dropping to the floor and then climbing on the bed, arms either side of her as she fell back, staring helplessly up at him.
Then red ribbons covered his flesh again, and he was human once more, the familiar face of her husband back, except paler and twin pinpricks of gold luminous in the shadows.
"Do you two want some time alone?" Serana called over, amused, and Madanach nodded.
"I think so, machara," Madanach purred. "We can talk some more about all this tomorrow, yes?"
"Happy to," Serana grinned as she made her way out. "You two have a good evening now."
"Oh we will," Madanach growled as the door closed and he nudged Liriel's legs apart, coming to lie on top of her. She could feel his erection rubbing against her, and it was good to know that at least hadn't changed.
"Madanach," Liriel whispered, finding it difficult to breathe and then she yelped as sharp teeth grazed her shoulder.
"I can smell you," Madanach whispered. "I can hear the beat of your heart, the blood rushing in your veins, smell the blood inside you. Gods, cariad, you're so warm, so... alive!" He leaned down and kissed her neck and Liriel whimpered, terrified and yet desperate for more, desperate for his fangs to pierce her skin and then...
"Not tonight," Madanach murmured, drawing back and kissing her cheek rather more chastely. "I'm not hungry, don't think I'll need to feed for a few days yet. Slan Gwasanaeth has been stockpiling blood potions, their chief healer knows why but no one else. They're thinking of doing a trial of how vampirism affects Skooma addiction, although gods know this isn't a cure for everyone."
"But you took it," Liriel whispered, squirming and rubbing against him wishing he'd just fuck her already. "It suits you."
"Doesn't it just?" Madanach smirked, glancing down at her. "You are really quite aroused by this, aren't you?"
Liriel nodded, reaching out to hold him as he began to kiss her neck again.
"Doesn't bother you you're essentially fucking a corpse," Madanach murmured, and Liriel almost sobbed with need at that point.
"No," she whispered. "I'm sorry."
"Oh do not apologise," Madanach whispered back as he began to undress her. "You're the reason I did it in the first place. Because my wife had needs I couldn't meet otherwise." He had her pants off by this point, fingers slipping into her cunt and then he was unlacing himself before sheathing himself in her, grinning as she cried out.
"Tonight, we fuck," he murmured into her ear, nuzzling the tip. "But tomorrow night... tomorrow I'll likely be hungry. Then, Liriel, if you're willing, I fancy breaking my fast on dragon blood."
"Please," Liriel sobbed and Madanach withdrew before slamming into her harder and Liriel lay back, arching into him and clinging on as her newly-vampirised husband demonstrated that this was only going to enhance their sex life.
In the morning, there'd be explaining to three children that Daddy couldn't really go out in sunlight any more but not to worry, he was fine. Right up until Lucia rolled her eyes and said "he's a vampire, isn't he? What? It's obvious, he's wearing illusions like Auntie Keirine does and I don't think they made him a Hagraven like she is." At which point Madanach sighed, dropped the illusions, admitted it and reserved the disguise for when Imperial dignitaries showed up. The citizens of Markarth, by this point inured to practically anything, just rolled their eyes, said 'it figures' and got on with their lives, adjusting quite well to court hours lasting from midday to ten in the evening. Elisif took the news slightly less well, and there might have been a few choice arguments with Argis along the lines of 'what exactly have I married into?' but in the end, she calmed down and finally agreed he could still see Lirela – during the day anyway.
Ten months after the Vampire Reach-King came to power, more grandchildren came his way as Eola finally did her duty to the Reach and gave birth to twin girls, who turned out to have Breton features but their father's red hair and dark eyes. While Eola seemed quite happy to leave the children at Understone Keep in their grandfather's care for most of the time, Cicero turned out to have stronger parental instincts than anyone suspected, and doted on them and fussed over them constantly, possibly a little too much. But no one could deny he loved his little girls and Princesses Amalia and Stelmaria loved him back just as much. Eola remained unsure what to do with them, but fortunately, Amalia in particular was determined to love her mother anyway, and so Eola learnt how to fuss over kids and at least pretend to be interested in what they were up to... and as they got older, the two Reach-Princesses actually found they preferred their mother's company and inability to be shocked by anything to their father's constant fussing.
Madanach of course adored them both unconditionally, and if Liriel remained sceptical of his belief they were his two oldest come back, she said nothing. It made him happy to think it, so why upset him?
Twenty five years later, and Madanach honoured his word and just about brought himself to sign an Act of Abdication in Eola's favour. The ink was barely dry before Eola dubbed him Lord Protector of the Reach and made him promise to take care of the country and come to its aid when it needed it, also granting him Druadach Redoubt as his forever, along with a retinue of guards and servants because gods forbid he do his own housework. Madanach hadn't known what to say, but he'd thanked her profusely.
Years passed, and Argis passed peacefully away one winter, and Elisif five years later, never having really got over him but comforted in her latter years by an equally heartbroken Madanach, who couldn't quite understand how his son had got older than he ever had in life.
If Argis's death had been hard on him, Eola's nearly destroyed him. But he survived, thanks to Liriel and Ancalime taking him to Auriel's Chantry where he stayed for a few decades, coming to terms with being an immortal and watching his loved ones die. No one back in the year 203 would ever have thought Madanach and Sabrinda would ever be friends, but in those dark years for the ex-Reach-King, it happened.
Cicero survived until ninety years old, left a traumatised widower... at least until Liriel told him to say goodbye to his girls and took him to the Chantry as well. There in a temple of Anu, Madanach finally took Cicero in his arms and sent him home to Sithis as painlessly as possible. And if Madanach granted Cicero's last wish as well, to finally get his hands in Madanach's pants, no one knew that except Madanach himself.
Sissel went on to learn all the magic ever, or a lot of it at any rate, trained under Keirine, and after a good few decades of study, chose Ascension and went on to become Matriarch of Red Eagle Redoubt, Bleakwind Bluff and the Sundered Towers, often Illusion-cloaking herself and visiting her childhood home of Rorikstead to tend to the sizeable Reachman population there.
Lucia did get into the Bards' College, proving unexpectedly talented and reworking a lot of Reach folk songs into bardic melodies, ensuring Reach culture had a permanent place in Skyrim's cultural records. Madanach and Liriel both were regular attendees whenever she put on a concert, and Madanach in particular was very proud of her.
Ancalime proved to be an apt pupil of Cicero's and went on to join the Dark Brotherhood despite Liriel repeatedly saying no, her mind only changed when Ancalime somehow crept into a Sanctuary, stole the ledger, carried out three of the jobs all by herself and cheerfully demanded payment off her stunned sister. Madanach had nearly killed himself laughing, telling Liriel she'd have to say yes before Cali went freelance and started stealing their business, at which point Liriel had given in and finally agreed, after a few choice words on not stealing and on the necessity of a chain of command. Madanach and Cicero had both been very proud of her and sorted her out with a 'Welcome to the Family' present of a Daedric archery set and ebony sword, all with top of the range enchantments. When Cicero passed, Madanach gave her Cicero's dagger and motley as well, telling her to make the Keeper proud. It didn't really fit her that well, but she treasured the hat for the rest of her life. When she discovered a scroll at Dawnstar Sanctuary claiming to resurrect the spirit of a legend of the Dark Brotherhood, tried it out for a laugh and found herself bonded to a spectral Cicero who was very pleased to see the little elfling again, her joy was complete.
Caradach grew up to be remarkably well-adjusted for the son of a Dragonborn assassin Archmage and a Vampire Lord ex-King in Rags. Gifted at magic, but preferring building things to destroying them, he went on to become a talented Arcane Smith, even heading off to Jorrvaskr to help work the Skyforge. The Companions weren't entirely sure what to make of a half-Altmer who didn't seem that bothered about glory or battle or anything but who did know how to craft a blade that would make a Grey-Mane weep – and did. But nevertheless they let him help out and despite him hanging lucky Spriggan head talismans all over the Skyforge for luck, they all got rather fond of him and even put up with his mage mother constantly visiting and clucking over him – especially after said mage mother won a sword fight with the Harbinger and turned out to only be the bloody Dragonborn, didn't she? Madanach did eventually reconcile with his son after five years and Liriel nagging at him, and then Madanach found the Underforge and started carrying out a few experiments there, and after that Caradach could wish his father had gone back to not talking to him.
As for the Reach, it prospered well under the House of Madanach's leadership, and during the Second War with the Dominion, even expanded. As the Dominion conquered High Rock, the Breton refugees fled into the Reach, and where some would have seen a social problem, Queen Eola saw an opportunity and enlisted a certain Lord Protector who knew a thing or two about insurgency warfare and camp organisation. Six months later and the Dominion found itself beset by a well-funded, well-organised resistance movement called the Forsworn who struck out of nowhere, were apparently immune to performances of the Black Sacrament, and used strange dark magic even the Dominion didn't know about. High Rock was soon reclaimed and turned from a collection of independent city-states into a united kingdom with its capital at Markarth and Queen Eola as its leader. The United Bretonic Kingdom of High Rock and the Reach soon allied with Skyrim and retook Cyrodiil back from its elven occupiers, and Valenwood soon followed, thanks in no small part to Queen Eola's agents making common cause with certain native Bosmer leaders. The Dominion crumbled after that, revolution in Alinor led by a certain Naarie and her husband Haldyn bringing the Thalmor down from within. Three years after all the dust settled, Liriel was finally able to go home, taking Ancalime, Sabrinda, Caradach and Madanach with her and finally getting to see her brother again. As she'd long thought, Haldyn and Madanach got on just fine, although finding out her brother and his wife had been secretly leading the resistance all this time was unexpected.
After that, Tamriel lived in peace for a long time to come, and the Reach in particular flourished, its rulers being the best behaved dynasty Tamriel had ever seen, possibly something to do with a certain vampire Lord Protector dropping in at random intervals to ensure all was well. Aside from the Intervention of 435 when King Cicero II turned out to have Queen Eola's appetites but not the wit to hide them like she had and ended up being stabbed in his own throne by Lord Protector Madanach for everyone's good, and the Regency of 525 when Madanach IV died tragically young, leaving a five year old daughter Princess Liriel and his widow, Queen Idgrod Black-Briar. Idgrod ruled as regent for five years, five long and painful years in which funding for the Slan Gwasanaeth was gutted, the Reach's wealth went more to fuelling her party lifestyle than actually running the country, and Black-Briar Meaderies was invited in to run the Reach's mines in return for a large cut of the profits. The last straw came when Liriel uncovered evidence Idgrod's lover and steward Arnwulf was also taking his pleasure with her ten year old namesake, at which point Madanach finally snapped. Arnwulf and Idgrod disappeared mysteriously one night and Markarth woke to find King Regent Madanach and his steward Liriel cheerfully burning the Black-Briar contracts, reinstating funding for the Slan Gwasanaeth, telling various Nord overseers to go to the Void and howling with laughter when threatened with the Black Sacrament. Fifteen years of peaceful rule followed, during which time Princess Liriel flourished and when Regent Madanach stepped down in her favour, she went on to rule for sixty years and was remembered as one of the Reach's kindest, fairest and most loved rulers.
All things end in time, and Liriel grew old and died, her body letting her down in a fight she'd once have won with her eyes closed. Shortly after, Matriarch Sissel reversed the Lord Protector's vampirism, and a mere three years later, Madanach Saorseach, father of a nation, passed into the Void, mourned by half a continent who'd grown up on King in Rags and Dragonborn stories. But King Argis III of the United Bretonic Kingdom wasted no time raising a memorial to them in Markarth outside Understone Keep, including hyper-realistic holographic portraits of the Dragonborn and Liberator.
So it was two Altmer found themselves staring at the memorial stone, and if one was half-blood rather than full-blood, and the other was dressed in Shrouded Armour with a spectral jester dancing in the background, no one commented.
"Do you think they'd have liked it?" Caradach asked.
"He would. She'd have hated it," Ancalime replied. It was a stone plinth with a great painted red eagle on top with wings spread, and a dragon sprawled at the bottom, painted red with gold eyes. The plinth had Madanach's portrait on the left, Liriel's on the right, both smiling eternally at each other, their names and dates of birth and death underneath. Below that was a slogan in both Rhanic and Tamrielic, reading "PARENTS OF A NATION. SAVIOURS OF THE WORLD. NEVER FORGET."
"Cicero thinks it is an excellent likeness," Cicero chirped up, bouncing up to stand next to Ancalime and examine the portraits. "Madanach looks very young, doesn't he? You can hardly see any wrinkles."
"Liriel had grey hair when she died, that is not grey hair," Ancalime nodded. "But I don't think either of them really wanted to be recorded for posterity as anything other than as they were at their prime."
"Da always said his prime was as Reach-King the first time," Caradach said solemnly. "When he had blonde hair, not silver. I can't really imagine him with hair any other colour. Even Ma didn't know him back then. I miss them."
Ancalime's hand crept into his, as the aunt who'd always been more like a sister comforted him.
"So do I," she said quietly. "But you know Madanach wanted to go by the end."
"I know," Caradach said roughly. "And when he did die, he wasn't the all-conquering fighter who raised me, I know that too. All the same... he had a choice! He could have stayed a vampire, or turned Ma or..." He wiped a tear from silver eyes just like his father's and Ancalime reached out to cuddle him.
"All things must die, caradion," Ancalime whispered.
"Of course they must!" Cicero cooed from where he was lovingly stroking Liriel's portrait. "We would be out of a job otherwise!"
"Cali," Caradach said, his voice muffled. "Can I stab him?"
"Surprised you asked," Ancalime said crisply. "Your da never did."
True enough, Caradach had lost count of the number of times he'd seen Madanach burn, freeze, shock or just life drain Cicero over the years whenever he lost patience with the ghostly jester. Unnerving to watch, but Caradach had learned an awful lot from watching his father at work. Now he'd never see him again and it was breaking his heart.
Tinny, electronic version of the Sky Song of the Reachmen burbled out and Caradach swore loudly as he reached for his phone. Small portable telecommunication devices that could in addition to contacting anyone with a similar device also dial into a mysterious Cloud in one of the Daedric Realms that could store knowledge. A bit weird having a Daedric portal in one's pocket but it was amazing what you could get used to. Such as the bloody thing going off at precisely the wrong moment.
"It's Teldryn. I'd better take this," Caradach sighed. "Hey. Teldryn, cariad, what's up. You and Karliah OK?"
Ancalime sat back and watched while Caradach talked to his husband. Teldryn and Karliah, Caradach's Dunmer spouses, were friends of his mother and both older than him – but Caradach, much like his father, was persistent, determined and a little blind to convention, and had successfully seduced Teldryn Sero first and then they'd both coaxed Karliah out of seclusion and into their bed a decade or so later. Three adorable Dunmer-Altmer-Breton children, Brynja, Gallus and Lirion, had been the result. Madanach had taken the whole thing in his stride without batting an eyelid, Liriel had taken rather more convincing, but she'd been won round by grandchildren.
"Brynja's done WHAT?" Caradach shouted into the handset. "Tel, they don't even have dragons in Blacklight. Do they?"
Far in the distance, the very ground shook as the Greybeards Shouted for the first time in centuries.
"Bollocking bloody daedra, all right, keep calm, don't do anything, I'm coming home on the next portal," Caradach was saying, running fingers through his hair. "We'll figure this out. Somehow. Look, don't panic, Ma did the same and it never did her any harm. Brynja will be fine, just stay calm. Oh and Ma's dictionary of the Thu'um – I know for a fact there's a copy in Vlindrel Hall, we have to keep hiding it from Cicero. I'll get it and bring it to you, looks like Bryn's going to need it. See you soon, Tel. Yeah, you too. Kiss Karliah for me and tell the kids I'm on my way. Bye, cariad."
Caradach hung up, still swearing profusely.
"What just happened?" Ancalime said innocently, although she could certainly guess.
"Dragon just attacked Blacklight, Brynja took its soul after the Redoran Guard killed it," Caradach sighed. "I think my kid's Dragonborn and more than that, I think the dragons may have torn up the Paarthurnax Accord. Sure as fuck hope Alduin's not back. At least we've still got the Elder Scroll, and we know the words for Dragonrend and Odahviing'll give Brynja a lift to Skuldafn without us having to trap him this time. Also it's just possible the Blades will actually do what the fuck they're told this time round without Da having to besiege the Temple and threaten them." Caradach stopped, looking at the memorial and remembering his father would be doing no such thing, and King Argis was not going to send the ReachGuard out just for the asking.
"What if they don't?" Ancalime asked, fingering her automated repeating crossbow. "Then what?"
"Then we do it without them. Or sneak in there and leave daggers in the Grand Master's headboard with cheerful little notes telling her to do her bloody job or else. Come on, you're the assassin, you know how to intimidate people, right? I just invent things."
"Including some of the deadliest weaponry known to man," Ancalime grinned. "Come on, nephew. We've got a bit of dragon blood in our veins too, you know. Let's go shoot some lizards down."
"Let's kill someone!" Cicero squealed, taking off after the two Altmer as they ran for Markarth City Teleportal. Somewhere in the Void, Madanach and Liriel glanced up from where they were taking tea with Kaie and Red Eagle and reminiscing about old times, looked at each other and smiled. The world was in excellent hands.
A/N: And that is the end. I hope you've enjoyed it, this fic's been a joy to write. Thank you for all the comments, I've really appreciated them!
It is possible that more fics may get written in this universe, but Madanach and Liriel's story is essentially done. Ar aglar y Rhan. I don't know what TESVI will bring, probably absolutely nothing on the Forsworn, but in my head, this is what happens really. :)