A bitter game of consequence

Chapter 1 – Getting out

Disclaimer: I don't own Oblivion, or chancellor Ocato or anything else of interest. Pity me.

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It sure was a large round table.

An empty round table.

But not for long, Chancellor Ocato thought with a bit of irony and shuffled through his back. He was met by a huge mess of scrolls and documents. And he had to look through all of these.

He put them on the large round table in the huge room that belonged to the Imperial council. At the moment he was the only councilor present and he was somehow grateful for that. The Elder council had a habit of having heated discussions over just about everything and he knew one of those would definitely give him a major headache now. Not that he didn't have one already.

This was one of the days were the most powerful man of Cyrodiil really hated his job. He knew that a lot of people would love to rule the Empire, but they definitely had the wrong impression of what that was like. Especially in a time like this.

A lot of people were happy that the Oblivion crisis was over and seemed to be thinking now everything was alright, but it was far from that. When Uriel Septim had died the Empire had been in a bad shape, the fact that he had died made it a lot worse. The chancellor now knew that the stability of the Empire had to a not small part been based in loyalty to an Emperor, and it mattered little which one. Now that there was none everyone seemed to think it was easier to be doing whatever they wanted.

The first document he had in his hands was confirming that thought. It was a report on the as of yet unsolved problem of the boycott of Imperial goods on Summerset Isle. He didn't really know what their problem was with being a part of the Empire, but they seemed to be dead set on stopping to be one, using every chance to do something the Empire disapproved of.

They seemed reluctant to do anything open about their wish for freedom, just trying to push the Empire's buttons, hoping to push them far enough that they would do something about the problem which would justify the Province's wish for independence. But chancellor Ocato was dead set on not giving them any excuse.

He had been very happy when he had found out about Martin. He had hoped the boy would become Emperor and his job would finally be like it was before the death of the Emperor. But no. Martin had died. It had been for a good cause, he knew that, but still. Had they arrived any sooner, would things have turned out differently? Could he have done anything to change the situation? Was it his fault that the Empire had no Emperor now? He had asked himself these questions many a time already. But he knew there was nothing he could've changed. The champion of Cyrodiil had done everything he could and so had he, but to no avail. The gates were closed for good, but to what prize?

He sighed and focused his attention back on his documents, the nature of which hadn't changed after the emperor's death. But the quantity definitely had. It also didn't particularly help him that the rest of the Elder's council had returned to the Provinces, because they were sending reports to him on a regular basis which gave him even more paperwork.

One thing he really hated about his current position was that now everyone blamed him for anything that went wrong in the empire. Before they had blamed the Emperor, but they hadn't told him openly, because they respected him too much. Such inhibitions of course didn't apply to the head of the Elder's council.

He reached up to touch rub his forehead in the hope he could perhaps do a little bit about his headache but to no avail. He suddenly realized he found it hard to focus on the myriads of papers in front of him. Another thing that sprang to his mind was that it had been weeks since he had last gotten the chance to leave the palace.

With one swift movement he threw the document he was holding on the table and left them there. He stood up, not bothering to care whether anyone would steal the documents. It wasn't like he was closely attached to that stuff. He left the council chambers through the large door, and went straight outside afterwards. The palace guards gave him confused looks, but he pointedly ignored them as he pushed open the large wooden door.

Outside he took a deep breath, enjoying the warm summer sun and the gentle breeze. He went down the way that led around the palace and decided to go and pay the arboretum a visit. It was a beautiful place, a nice patch of green in the busy city. Even though the green emperor's way was also calm and green, it wasn't nearly as beautiful as the arboretum, basically because the tombstones always gave it a sad atmosphere.

When he entered the arboretum he thought that Giovanni Civello, the new captain of the watch would have a heart attack if he knew that the chancellor was simply walking through the city without any guards to protect him. Ocato's security wasn't actually a responsibility of the captain, but he cared about it a lot and had told him repeatedly that it was way too dangerous for him to go anywhere alone.

Whatever, Ocato thought. He wanted to clear his head a little and for that he definitely didn't need a guard in clanking heavy armor following him around. He sat down on one of the benches and looked around, enjoying the peace and quiet of the beautiful place.

"It's beautiful, isn't it?", someone suddenly said beside him. He turned around to see a small Bosmer woman in common clothing sitting next to him. She smiled and looked at the trees.

"Yes, very," he replied and looked around as well. Somehow he was very sad that he so barely had the opportunity to leave the palace. And that he would have to go back there very soon, because all his work didn't take care of itself and he still had to make some preparations for the meeting with the counts this evening, an event that he really didn't look forward to. It was a tradition that the counts of the cyrodiilic cities met with the ruler once a year, and the death of the emperor hadn't stopped that, so today he would have to meet all the counts so that they could tell him just exactly how incompetent they thought he was. He didn't have illusions regarding that.

"You don't come here a lot, do you? I've never seen you here before," the Bosmer said. Ocato liked her soft and clear voice immediately.

"No, I barely have the chance to," he answered with a sad smile.

"Too much to do?", she asked with a friendly expression.

"Yes. Unfortunately."

"Well, I guess I'm lucky. I'm a gardener. I work here," the Bosmer told him with a smile.

"I envy you," he said with a sigh. "I work as a scapegoat"

She chuckled. "Well that doesn't sound too pleasant"

"It definitely is not," Ocato sighed, but still had a small smile on his lips. He liked the straight forward nature of the girl. It was refreshing, compared to the way most politicians he knew were behaving.

"I'm Kjariel," she introduced herself.

For a moment Ocato wondered whether he should tell her his real name. She would probably recognize him then, and that would destroy the moment. But then again, if he really came to like her, it would definitely prove as an obstacle if she didn't know who he was. Even though it was way too early to say anything about that.

"I'm Ocato," he admitted reluctantly. Somehow his name sounded strange to his own ears without any honorific or title in front of it. That just showed how detached he really was from normal life by now.

"It's nice meeting you," she said smiling. For a moment Ocato was startled that she did not react in any special way to his identity, until he realized that the girl really seemed to have no idea who he was except for an Altmer in a red robe who sat on a bench looking at plants. Just as well.

"Nice meeting you, too," he said with a genuine smile. If he only had the opportunity to meet people more often to whom he was just anyone.

"Well, I'm sorry, but I have to continue working now," she informed him with regret in her voice that seemed to be real. "But I'd be happy if we met again someday. You know where to find me"

He nodded with a smile as she stood up. He looked after her. She wasn't particularly beautiful, but not bad looking either. She was really just normal. Something he barely encountered.

He remained sitting on the bench for a little while, letting his thoughts stray, for the first time in months on other things than his work. He found it very refreshing. Than he stood up and went back towards the door that led to the Green Emperor's way. He actually felt a lot better now. In passing he waved at Kjariel, who returned the gesture with enthusiasm, while she was otherwise busy trimming a hedge.

As he pushed open the door, he felt he was ready to take on anything.

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Kjariel was glad when in the evening she could return home. She shared a house in the Talos Plaza district with her sister and even though she loved the arboretum, for she felt it was the most beautiful place in the city, it was still hard work and returning home was something she looked forward to. Except of course for the times when she met nice people at work. Like that Altmer today. She had never seen him before, but she liked him immediately. He seemed a little stressed out but really nice, apparently glad for having a distraction.

She entered the small house and found her sister already sitting at the table waiting for her with dinner ready. Her name was Alaywen and she worked as a cook for some rich people living in the Elven Garden district. And she was good, a fact which benefited her younger sister.

"Hey there," she greeted friendlily when Kjariel entered.

"Hello," she answered in a tone that was more relaxed than usual.

"Had a nice day?", her sister inquired immediately. Ever since they had been children the older one had always been able to read her sister's subtle behaviors like a book.

"Yes. I had a conversation with a nice guy. It wasn't a long one, but I really liked him," Kjariel said, not even attempting to deny her sister's judgment.

"Really?", Alaywen said in an eager tone of voice and leaned on the table excitedly. She loved gossip. "Who was it?"

"Well, it was an Altmer. I think his name was Ocato or something," she said, angry at herself that she wasn't entirely certain whether she had memorized the name correctly.

Her sister just stared at her for a moment with a shocked expression, not saying a word.

"What?" Kjariel asked confusedly.

"Ocato?", the older wood elf repeated incredulously. "Lord chancellor Ocato, the head of the Elders council had a nice chat with you?" Kjariel stared at her blankly for a moment. "The man that practically rules the Empire right now?"

At this Kjariel suddenly paled. She put a hand in front of her mouth and whispered, "Oh divines…" For a moment nothing was heard in the small kitchen except for Kjariel's fast breathing. "Oh this is so embarrassing," she said suddenly and lowered her hand. "I had no idea who he was, I talked to him like I would to anyone else, when he told me his name I absolutely didn't recognize who he was. Oh I should've known…"

Alaywen however couldn't help but chuckle at her younger sister's embarrassment. Finally she decided to jump in. "I'm sure it's not that bad. If he had minded he would probably have told you. Besides, odds that you'll ever see him again are extremely low, so why even care?"

Kjariel stopped her babbling to consider her sister's words. "Yeah… you're probably right."

Pity, though, she thought to herself, I really liked him…

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It was amazing how fast any optimism could vanish when faced with a really huge workload and then the arrival of the annoying count of Leyawiin and his arrogant wife. Followed by constant interruptions all over the rest of the afternoon when all the other counts arrived. Not to mention the lecture he had gotten from Giovanni Civello after he had returned from his little walk on security and how important it was that he never went anywhere unprotected.

Ocato had been tempted to say that a battle mage is never unarmed, but had refrained from it, for he hadn't wanted the discussion to last any longer than absolutely necessary, for as well meant the young Imperial's warnings might have been, they were just very annoying to him.

Now the head of the Elders council stood in front of the door of the reception hall, which was located in one of the higher levels of the Imperial palace, fighting the sudden urge to run away and stick his head in a huge pile of pillows until the counts and countesses that were awaiting him on the other side of the door were all gone.

But of course that was not an option. He straightened his festive robes, which looked almost the same as his usual attire except for the fact that they were of a vibrant green, and pushed open the door to be met by a wall of noise. It was amazing how loud they could be, considering that it were only the counts and countesses of 7 Imperial cities and their servants (which were many, hence the counts' and countesses' urge to show off their wealth). He was a little sad that the count of Kvatch wasn't here and way again painfully reminded of how much death the Oblivion crisis had caused. He had liked the count of Kvatch, too.

At first no one seemed to notice his arrival and for an irrational second he heeded the hope that maybe no one would during the course of the evening. But Narina Carvain from Bruma crushed that hope. With a huge smile that he assumed to be false plastered across her face she walked over to him and greeted him.

"Chancellor! I'm so glad to see you," she told him and leaned forward to greet him with kisses in the air, a gesture in which he participated none too eagerly.

"Well, it's nice to meet you, too, countess," he replied even though he didn't really mean it. He had never particularly liked her and she had always ignored him when the Emperor had still been alive, so he wasn't too fond of having a long chat with her.

"I just have to congratulate you on the way you have handled all this." He assumed she was referring to the Oblivion crisis. "Few would have managed as well as you have. I think I speak for all of us, when I say thank you." The chancellor seriously doubted that she really spoke for everyone here, considering the disapproving glance Regulus Terentius shot at him while deep in conversation with someone else and the whining of Marius Caro upon his arrival about how little the council cared about the local affairs of Cyrodiil. Still he didn't protest to her statement.

"Thank you for your kind words," he said and suddenly noticed that the Imperial woman was standing just a little too close to him for his liking. Not close enough to count as inappropriate, but close enough to make him feel uncomfortable. He suddenly remembered that the countess was not married.

"Well you really deserve them, chancellor," she said, still smiling widely and moving just a little closer, as if trying to show off her attributes, which in the chancellors opinion was not a good move, since Narina Carvain was far from an attractive woman. She was stocky built like most Imperials and didn't have a beautiful face. He eyebrows were far too thick.

But apparently that didn't stop her from trying. He looked around swiftly, eyeing all the counts, knowing he would have to face the eccentric ways of all of them in just one evening. Returning his gaze to the still present huge smile on Narina Carvain's lips, he knew that this was going to be a long evening.

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