The night of the 25th of Rain's Hand, 3E401, was unseasonably warm. Sweat trickled down Jauffre's face and neck as he hurried along the corridors of the Imperial Palace towards Emperor Uriel's private apartments. Being summoned at this time – just past midnight - was unusual enough to get the young Blade worried. At only 28 years, Jauffre was the youngest Blade ever to be promoted to the rank of Captain of the Emperors' personal guard, but this rank had been earned through determination, efficiency, and a knack to always know what was required. However, this particular gift seemed to escape him tonight. Quite literally, Jauffre did not have the foggiest idea what his Emperor would want at this late hour.
Ever since his restoration to the throne of Tamriel, Uriel Septim VII had worked tirelessly to repair the damage the rule of the impostor Jagar Tharn had visited upon the Empire. He often rose before dawn, reading reports from his agents in the provinces, and setting the appropriate measures in motion through other agents. State affairs of a more official nature filled the remaining hours of his days, and he usually retired around 10:30 pm, not requiring a guard in his private chambers. So, being quietly summoned to those quarters past midnight was enough to worry Jauffre.
So deep in his musings was he that Jauffre almost strode past the thick wooden door. He stopped, checked himself, and knocked. After a mere moment, as if he had been waiting behind the door, Uriel himself opened and motioned Jauffre inside.
"Good of you to come so quickly, Captain", the Emperor greeted him. The Breton could smell the brandy on Uriel Septim's breath. This worried Jauffre even more, for he never knew the Emperor to be a drinking man.
"I have a task for you", Uriel said. Jauffre noticed how haggard he looked. Always a vigorous man, even after his long incarceration in Oblivion, Uriel Septim looked younger than his fifty five years. Tonight, though, his face was grey and lined like that of a much older man. He seemed to have aged two decades at least in the few hours since Jauffre had last seen him.
The Emperor gestured towards a corner, away from the candles and the fire that lit his living room. A flat basket stood on a low table. Jauffre stepped closer to the basket. A baby, a small boy, swathed in a blanked, lay sleeping inside. The boy looked to be perhaps a month old.
"Sire?" the Blade questioned, keeping his voice low so he would not wake the slumbering infant.
"I want you to find a good place for him, Jauffre. I need not know where, or how. Just keep him safe."
"Yes, Sire." Jauffre picked up the basket and made to leave, not asking any more questions, when Uriel spoke again.
"Wait!" the Emperor commanded. He leaned over the basket, gently stroking the baby's forehead. "Jauffre will take good care of you, Martin", he crooned softly. "I trust him with my life, so I can trust him with yours." He placed a kiss upon the baby's forehead, and then straightened to face his loyal guard once more. With a nod, he dismissed Jauffre.
Jauffre, for his part, did not need the tender scene to know that he was holding a royal prince, bastard though he may be, in his arms. The resemblance was strong, and this boy, Martin, would grow up to be the spitting image of his father. The Breton's agile mind was already considering how to keep this boy's identity hidden, when his very features would always betray his parentage. A rural setting then, away from the Imperial City and its spies, where people never saw Uriel Septim's face except on the occasional coin and no-one would recognize his youngest son. A farm near Skingrad came to mind, and a good friend who would gladly raise another son and not ask questions about his origins. Just as he closed the door behind himself, Jauffre saw the Emperor drop heavily into an overstuffed chair and reach for the half-empty bottle of Cyrodilic brandy placed on the small table beside it.
"You can come in now", Emperor Uriel Septim VII said to the empty room. A narrow, hidden door in the walnut panelling on the far side opened to reveal a dark clad Imperial.
"I have done as you asked, Sire", the man said without preamble. "She will have a decent, if quiet, funeral."
Uriel Septim nodded and refilled his glass, casting a questioning look at his agent. The man shook his head slightly; he wanted his wits about him in a night like this. With a shrug, Uriel set the bottle down again.
"I had to enlist help, though", the man continued.
"Naturally. Is he bright?" the Emperor asked.
"Bring him in, then." Uriel leaned back in his chair, feeling more tired than ever before in his life.
The agent returned quickly from the secret passage with another Imperial in tow. The second man's eyes darted around nervously as he was suddenly standing in the presence of his ruler.
Uriel Septim looked up from the empty brandy snifter in his hand, and considered refilling it yet again.
"What is your name?" he asked softly.
The man – soldier, to judge by his posture, even though he was wearing civilian clothes – gulped and stood at attention.
"Adamus Phillida, watchman, Sire", he replied. "Sire… the young woman… she was murdered. Poisoned. I am certain the Dark Brotherhood had a hand in this – nobody else would be able to both obtain the poison, and get past the Palace security."
"I'm sure you are. However, the Dark Brotherhood is a mere tool. And the one who hired them cannot be touched. Could not, even if there was a shred of evidence, which we do not have."
Completely missing the Emperor's tired, almost resigned tone, the watchman continued: "There is also evidence of an infant child in the room, Sire, but the child itself is missing. Should we not conduct a search?"
"Bright enough?" Uriel Septim VII asked in the direction of his agent. The man shrugged lightly.
"I never said experienced in these matters, Sire", he replied.
The Emperor nodded. "Fair enough", he muttered, and spoke to the watchman again: "You need not concern yourself with the child. He is safe, and will grow up into a fine young man. His life will not always be easy, but safer than any life he could have here. He will be bright, inquisitive, more so than is good for him on occasion. He will also be hot-headed and stubborn. And brave. Yes, he will certainly be brave." He nodded again, staring off into the distance, perhaps the future, of which the Dragonborns could occasionally get a glimpse, or so it was believed.
"Anyway, do not let an old man's ramblings keep you from what is left from your night's rest, Captain."
"Watchman, Sire. I do not have the honor…," Phillida started automatically, and then winced as he realized just who he had corrected.
"You are, effective next week. I shall work out a reason until then. And… Caius?"
"Yes, Sire?" the agent replied.
"About that reassignment we spoke about…"
They had never spoken of any reassignment, but young Caius Cosades grasped the opportunity with both hands.
"The post in Balmora will suit me just fine, like you said, your Majesty", he replied with a bow. Sometimes you simply had to gamble in this line of work, even with your superiors.
"You are too crafty for your own good", the Emperor conceded. "Incidentally, I believe security at the country estate is far too lax. Her Majesty the Empress must be protected. I'm certain you understand."
"Good. Then see to the new security measures before you leave for Morrowind next month. And I shall hold you responsible that Captain Phillida also understands."
"And now, gentlemen, I bid you good night, for I shall get good and thoroughly drunk now, and need neither of you to witness this. And tomorrow… tomorrow we shall all pretend that nothing untoward has happened. Because nothing has happened. Do you both understand?"
"Yes, Sire", Caius Cosades and Adamus Phillida chorused, and left the Emperor to his bottle and his dark musings the same way they had entered.
Before a month had passed, additional guards where stationed at the Septim country estate, to which her Majesty the Empress had retired some time earlier, and Empress Caula Voria effectively became a prisoner in her own home, never to set foot outside the estate or lay eyes on her husband again for as long as she lived.
Adamus Phillida was promoted to Captain on the pretence of solving another, completely unrelated case. The seed of hatred, though, had taken root in the young soldier's heart when he saw a young woman dead for no other crime than loving a married man, and he devoted his career to hunting down the tools of her death.
Caius Cosades was indeed reassigned to Balmora in Morrowind, where he continued to loyally serve the Empire.
Martin never learned who his mother was, and of his father only after his death. But that is another story, told elsewhere.