A/N: This story is a sequel to Between Times, and won't make sense at all unless you're familiar of the events of that story. Standard disclaimers apply- Oblivion and Morrowind belong to Bethesda.
Little moments, my teacher Caius was ever fond of saying. Little moments change the world. The stories of such moments framed my world from the time I was very small: the story of Emperor Uriel's assassination when he found himself trapped in a dead end in the underbelly of a prison, the Champion of Cyrodiil's escape from that prison that allowed her to turn the tide against Dagon's forces, Emperor Martin's sacrifice at the Temple of the One, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat at great price, for great purpose. In the right place at the right time, or in the wrong place at the wrong time, the outcome was the same: it was the little moments that wrote history.
It was the little moments, I thought then, that put us on the path to great ones.
Lessons were a constant in my early days, so much so that my earliest memories of them are blurred indistinct. I can't remember a time before I could ride a horse or disappear from sight, though I must have learned how at some point. I had teachers for diction and figuring, for etiquette and reading, but none of them were permanent fixtures at the palace. My teacher Caius was different, in ways I didn't always understand. Other teachers came and went, and so did my parents from time to time, but Caius was always there. History and law were his subjects, always, and my sisters and I endured his attempts at educating us well before we could pronounce half the names we were supposed to memorize.
They never seemed too important to me, anyway. My twin sister Meris was the firstborn and heir, bound for the throne from the moment she was born. She took to her lessons with a diligent sort of gravity I could never match, even when I tried. Slipping invisible and running off was more entertaining, and I would never rule anything, I told Caius, so why did I have to learn how?
But if it was unlikely that I would ever rule anything, it had to be even worse for Leona. She was third in line for the throne—fourth, at first, though her twin sister died the day they were born—and so had even less reason than I did to apply herself at lessons. But between the three of us we muddled through, always in each other's company, when we wanted to be, and when we didn't.
Growing up, those were the mainstays in my life: my sisters and the palace, my parents and Caius and endless lessons.
And always, for me, there were the dreams. The same impressions repeated themselves a thousand times over: the sound of wingbeats hammering in time with my heart, the sensation of being dragged helpless by a current, the sight of myself crushed in the giant hand of a god. The dream-smeared faces of people I didn't know tumbled through visions that left me cold and shaking when I woke up, running for my mother.
Nightmares don't come true if you tell them to someone, she said, and so I held to her in the dark and told her everything.
I was eight when the trouble started, though I didn't recognize it as trouble for a long time. My mother was gone for the temple, for Hogithum, same as every year, and my father and Caius had all but disappeared into places in the palace I wasn't allowed to go. Being so unsupervised was a new experience, and not one I liked—my father had promised to start teaching me to use a sword, and I couldn't help my disappointment when he put it off again—and in the ceaseless rain of spring, there was nothing to do but mope around the palace and try to find some entertainment.
"I heard something moving in Mother's workroom yesterday," Leona said that morning at breakfast, her feet kicking the rungs of her chair. "It sounded alive. And—" Her voice dropped. "Huge. We should go see what it is."
Meris glanced at her. "Or you could study, and mind your own business."
Leona's nose wrinkled. "Or you could stop being a bossy—"
"We can't," I interrupted. "And there's nothing alive in there."
"I heard it hissing," she insisted.
"Maybe a cat got stuck in there," Meris told her.
"Then we should go let it out," Leona said, as though it was obvious instead of a direct violation of the biggest rule we had. Mother's workroom was strictly off-limits. Even Father didn't go in there, not that any of us knew.
When Leona retorted and Meris argued back I looked out the window, tired of my sisters' bickering. The dull green of the far courtyard wall was almost obscured by the rain, but I could see the road, and better: someone arriving in a carriage, and not one I recognized. When I rose from my chair, Meris broke off arguing to frown at me. "Where are you going?"
"Nowhere," I lied, and took off to see who it was.
It wasn't a long walk to the entry hall, and I arrived in time to see the green doors open to admit my mother and Bastion, both of them soaked to the skin. As soon as his paws hit the carpet Bastion shook, water flying everywhere, and my mother winced until she caught sight of me and her face lit up. "Delyn!" She shrugged out of her wet cloak and handed it off to a servant.
I came over for a hug and looked to the cloak to try and determine if she'd brought back any presents, but it didn't seem likely, and her dress didn't have pockets big enough to hide anything good. "Did you have a good trip?" I asked, to be polite.
"No." She laughed and clawed wet hair off her forehead. "It started pouring the night before Hogithum and didn't stop."
I tried to make sense of that, and had to take a guess. "Is that bad?"
"It makes the whole thing pointless, yes," she said, watching Bastion snuffle at my fingers until I petted his big damp head. "You can't summon a daedra when it's raining; it's the Madgod's night, then. Come on, you should know that," she said with a nudge and a smile. "What have I been teaching you?"
"Sorry," I said automatically, and tried to remember if she'd told me before.
"No, don't be. But the whole trip was a complete waste," she told me, as I followed her through the hall and up the stairs. "I've never seen so much rain. The whole temple flooded, actually; we had to evacuate. And then get everything back in order once the water receded." She glanced back at the doors as though she could see the sky beyond. "Has it been raining in Mournhold this whole time?"
"Since the day after you left," I told her.
She looked faintly baffled at that, but by then my sisters had caught up to demand their share of hugs and hellos and to ask whether she had brought presents. "I did," she admitted. "I didn't carry them in with me. They were too heavy," she said, which made me wonder what it could be. Heavy could be good. Or heavy could be books. "I'll have them brought—"
She stopped and looked up the stairs, and I followed the direction of her gaze to find my father was at the top of the stairway, still and unsmiling. "We need to talk," he told her, and with no other word of greeting or explanation he turned and walked away.