Author's Note: Another long chapter! Hooray/Oh noes!
Most of them are filler-character-back-story though...
Well, anyways, this was originally later chapter-release-wise, but since I thought chronologically it would not confuse most, this is Chapter 2 of Blood of the Septim Version Two. As always, your reviews are very welcome, and my greatest thanks for those who have reviewed the previous chapters!
Chapter 2: The Door to Paradise
Even though Martin Septim was sitting right in front of the fireplace, and was covered in a fur coat that Jauffre lent him, the cold night air was not lessened by the warmth those things brought. Indeed, it did not even ease his feelings in the slightest.
He dared not stare at the flames that licked each other, reaching up to the hearth's ceiling, before going down again. To do so would revive the memories of the Battle of Bruma that took place not even a fortnight ago. The flames that beckoned them inside the Oblivion gate. The heat of the always freezing Jerall Mountains.
He led the battle. He led those men to their deaths. He was responsible for the damage it caused Bruma. All for the sake of gaining the Amulet of Kings, to prove his heritage, that he was blood of a Septim.
A shiver ran down his spine as he remembered that foul night in Kvatch, the only home he knew, where the people appreciated what he was, who he was, before this madness even started. That was when the first gate to Oblivion appeared in who knows how long. And it devoured Kvatch until there was nothing left to rebuild; only the Chapel stood strong, but still in a state of ruin.
And when you learned you were Uriel Septim's bastard...
It was thanks to his friend, Josephus that he was pulled into his current fate. Martin briefly wondered what would have happened to himself if the Imperial man did not appear to close the Oblivion gate destroying Kvatch, and informing Martin of his bloodline. His true bloodline...
He probably would be dead. Either by the Daedra, or the Mythic Dawn assassins, or himself. A part of him tried to forget the past, that it was over and nothing could be done about Kvatch, Bruma, and soon the other cities—provinces even—would be needed to be put at risk to avoid such dangers that Tamriel would face.
Yet another part of him said he could never forget what happened. If you forget, you will forget who you are.
"There's a gloomy sight," a voice chirped. Martin nearly jumped from his seat, but Josephus only grinned and brought a chair beside his own, "No need to run away, friend. There's no one who wants to kill you now."
"How very wrong you are. I'm sure every body wants to kill me," Martin looked back at the flames, then away again, remembering the main reason why he tried not to stare at the fire. "Every body and their shadows too."
"I never knew you're scared of your own shadows!" Josephus put a hand to his heart, as if in shock. Martin frowned, looked down at his hands, then at the floor, never glancing at the flames. "Alright, don't be offended. I don't want to be hauled to the dungeons when you get to play Emperor."
"If," Martin corrected, "We don't know if we'll succeed this time, Josephus. There are many dangers you will face in Paradise, you know that."
Josephus rolled his eyes and put a chunk of bread on Martin's lap out of the blue. Where did he even get that? "I don't, actually. Care to explain, oh wise Emperor?"
"This is no laughing matter, Josephus." Yet when Martin ripped a part of the soft, warm bread, he could not help but smile at his friend. The friend that stuck with him and would travel all around Cyrodiil just to prove that Martin Septim was indeed an emperor. All around Cyrodiil and Oblivion would be more correct, perhaps.
"You take matters too seriously, my friend. If just the thought of me going into Paradise and, let me assure you, succeed in ripping that amulet off of Mankar Camoran worries you so much, how would you even rule Tamriel later? I could imagine more wrinkles on your face."
Martin's hand subconsciously traced his face and frowned. He had aged so much ever since Kvatch. When he was just a priest in the Chapel of Akatosh, he could have sworn he looked nothing like his father the Emperor. Now, he resembled him in appearance much more than what he considered comfortable.
Does he doubt his every move, I wonder? Does he hesitate to put his trusted friends in risk for the sake of Tamriel, or would he keep them away from danger?
Josephus chuckled at Martin's disgusted look, nearly choking over his own bread. "Oh, my lord, don't be so scornful over your own face! I'm sure there are many ladies—indeed, many—just blushing if you happen to glance at them!" Josephus mimicked what Martin thought would be the voice of a dying cow, "Oh, my lord! It would be an honour to be looked upon by you!"
"You're scaring away the hypothetical ladies, Josephus."
"Nay, they'll come back when they know you're near."
Martin ran a hand over his face and wished his friend would stop talking. At least his face was covered when he blushed. Well, the heat of his face seemed to help the coldness in his body. "I don't know why I'm still here, alive and well, when I've people like you for company."
"No, no, you've got it all wrong," Josephus clicked his tongue in a scolding manner, his expression trying to mimic that of a mother angry with her child, "Nobody here is like me. Have you heard anybody laughing like me?" he laughed, "Or grin like me, making the women swoon?" he grinned at Caroline, who was passing by. She raised an eyebrow and continued walking towards the barracks, "She swooned! We just didn't see."
"I'm sure of that," Martin smiled, biting into his bread again. The Great Hall was nearly empty now, only two other people beside him and Josephus eating dinner. "So," Martin started, doing anything to break the silence.
"Who were you, before you wounded up in prison?" Martin felt as though Josephus grew uncomfortable by the question, and for a second, he thought Josephus might squirm. He never squirms. "If you are fine with telling the tale, of course—"
"Oh, it's alright. Before spending three weeks in prison, I was Josephus," he answered, a small smile gracing his lips, "yet so different from this Josephus."
"Well, obviously," Martin rolled his eyes, but Josephus' nonsensical humour was welcome. It was better than an eerie silence that would eventually lead Martin to think of the damnable plan to send Josephus to Paradise.
Josephus was silent for a while, and Martin thought he wouldn't continue when he then started, "It was the tenth of Last Seed, exactly half a year ago. I was... just a simple thief, trying to feed my little brother. My mother left us long ago, my father joined the Legion but never really came back home after a few months. It was devastating, especially for a twelve year old and his little brother half his age. Living the streets in Chorrol was difficult, but we made it through a few winters before I knew I couldn't pickpocket anybody who was in the market stalls. I needed something bigger, grander."
"Does this involve the Thieves Guild?" Martin frowned. He heard that his father the farmer—his false father all this time—always had problems with thieves pillaging his crops.
"It was the past, I'm sure you could forgive me. And I was desperate," Josephus' smile was completely gone now, his face filled with regret and shame. "I always wished I didn't need to take part of the guild, but I needed more money. If not, it could cost me and my brother's life. I couldn't do that."
Martin sighed. "Forgive me for judging you quickly. I quite forgot that your actions are excused for the endless tasks you completed for me."
Josephus nodded and looked into the flames, before throwing a burnt piece of his bread into it. "I regretted my crimes, and what I did in the past was foolish. But nothing could be done about that." He threw a look at Martin, and the soon to be emperor grew uneasy, "And if I'm correct you're not exactly innocent either. What was that thing you said about Sanguine's Rose?"
"Yes, I'm not so innocent, and I regret what I did same as you," Martin snapped. He did not want to mention his Daedra worshipping days. It was a rebellious phase for him when he was younger. Younger, naïve, and foolish. An awkward silence ensued. "What happened that you got caught?"
"Oh, I didn't get caught. I gave myself in."
Martin was flabbergasted. "What?"
"My brother was nine then, and I was fifteen. It was a peaceful afternoon in Chorrol. We've already bought ourselves a home, but it wasn't a manse. Nothing could go wrong... but then my brother acted strange. Said he saw one of our neighbour... oh, what was his name? It escaped me. Never mind. Said our neighbour died, murdered even, in Weynon Priory."
"How was it strange?" Martin asked.
Josephus shrugged, "My brother said that this neighbour's own daughter killed him. He acted all craven and suggested we completely move our arses to the Imperial City. He never liked the Imperial City, but I went along anyway."
"And you gave yourself in?"
"Don't get your knickers in a twist, my lord," Josephus smiled wryly, "we're about to get there and probably would have now if you didn't interrupt.
"In spite of that, though, we arrived in the Imperial City not days after we left Chorrol. There were friends of my 'friends' in the city. Soon enough we agreed to meet somewhere and planned a heist for one of the merchants in the Market District. It was nice, having people to talk to and understand what you want.
"My brother, however, was the exact opposite. He, of all people, followed in our father's footsteps. He joined the city guards to get a place for himself, some place where I'm not. The barracks was fine for him, he said. They got food and bed. A modest pay too, but it was only... eh, what it is. Modest."
"Your brother? When you yourself is—pardon, was a thief?" Martin asked incredulously, "I don't see why he'd do that other than for wealth."
"Me neither," Josephus said, shrugging and taking the final bite of his bread, "but he can be an idiot sometimes. A traitorous idiot."
"Let me guess; he was the one who reported your crimes to the guards?"
Josephus scoffed. "I'm starting to think you didn't even pay attention to anything I said. I gave myself in, he was a guard. How difficult is it to remember those details?"
"You're telling someone a tale that person doesn't know. He could not really understand the tale the first time you tell it." Martin crossed his arms. "I could list a few things that a first-time hearer wouldn't pay attention or care about: the murder, your age. A good story-teller would probably leave the ages to the hearer's imagination, and let them ask questions that would allow you to elaborate the tale further. Not put them all in one breath. That is what a good story-teller would be. And so far you do not look like a very good paradigm."
A sigh escaped Josephus' mouth, and he rubbed his hands together and swept the bread crumbs from his leather trousers. "At least I'm not singing the tale," he grinned, "And my brother, oh, he was a twit. His daily need was sleep and eat and sh—"
"You were a thief, not a bard!" Martin tried to cover his ears to block out Josephus' singing. It only caused the Imperial man to laugh heartily, and briefly choking.
"Oh, well now. I guess if you put it that way being a thief isn't so bad. But I digress; when my friends and I got through the whole scheme, we had a good drink in the inn. And guess who was there to share mead with me? My brother, who did not even arrive on my sixteenth name day that year. Oh, sod it. He's still a stick in the mud, I'm sure.
"So there I was, drunk from all the mead and the adrenaline from victory. My brother wasn't donning his guard armour, so I figured; maybe he's the same brother in Chorrol who would look after my back when I was trying to steal a chicken's egg."
"He was not," Martin concluded, and took a deep breath. It nearly stung his dry throat.
"He was not," Josephus confirmed, "It turns out, when I told him of my new-found friends and riches, he was a city guard at heart."
Martin nodded understandingly and blinked the fatigue out of his eye. He wanted to sleep, but he must stay alert and ready to perform the necessary ritual to open the portal to Paradise. Then he remembered if he does that, he might not even sleep for a long time. Think of all the nightmares he would have in the following days.
"So I told him of my success, he just stared at me and my friends, and he rebuked me. It was not too long before he clasped me in irons and hauled me to the dungeons himself. My sodding friends were lucky to escape. I'm starting to think maybe my brother only hauled me off because he had a grudge or something," Josephus said, breaking off Martin's dark thoughts. He shook his head as he continued to look at the flames. "I've never seen him again, not even when I went to the same inn the whole thing happened after I escaped from prison, more or less officially pardoned by your father."
"That is quite the tale," Martin said nonchalantly, his attention already gone a few sentences ago, "I don't know whether to think you were fortunate or not."
"I'd think a mix of both," Josephus turned to him and smiled, "it's been an honour serving you, my lord. If there is anything that could justify my sins, it would be this. Being a friend of yours."
Martin turned to look at Josephus and tried to see if he was being sarcastic or not. His brown eyes showed no mirth, but it was something... something unfamiliar that Martin had seen some time before, a happier time in Kvatch.
It was trust. Josephus trusted Martin with his life, and vice versa. He believed that Martin was Emperor Uriel Septim's bastard and brought him safely to Weynon Priory, and then to Cloud Ruler Temple, and to all sorts of danger just to prove that Martin was blood of a Septim.
And Martin would send off his most trusted ally into Paradise, an unpredictable place filled with peril, and the fate of the empire was on their shoulders.
Josephus stretched in his seat and yawned, and too casually asked, "So, when will we open the portal to Paradise?"
Martin was envious as to how the Hero of Kvatch and Bruma, so-called Knight of the Thorn, and judging from his brilliant story, a thief, could possibly take this task any less seriously. Then again, those titles could not have been earned without experience. Josephus would know better than to cower and brood over such a thing as simple as doing a ritual to open a portal.
But that was Martin's task; opening the portal. Josephus' was retaking the Amulet of Kings and making it out alive. It was obvious whose task was much more risky, and it may be that this would all be for nothing. He was not a Septim heir. Or Mankar Camoran, in all his madness, destroyed the Amulet of Kings; blatantly smashing it into pieces, or reform it in such a way that it would not be possible to light the Dragonfires with it.
And to think that Martin was here, all gloomy and solemn as if somebody died.
Somebody will, a small part of Martin said, so many will if you don't do this.
Martin was no fool, though. He knew that even as Emperor he could not keep anyone alive. He remembered a fellow devout of Sanguine once, a Khajiit by the name of K'mhari—if memory served—who would always, always, say, "Sacrifices must be made." It only intensified when Sanguine saw fit for the Khajiit to... entertain a few folks from Bravil and made a show of painting his bare skin in various colours, only to roll his body against every wall there was to smear with his body. He snapped his tail in his crazed state, but Sanguine made sure that they celebrated his success on crossing every citizen in Bravil.
He didn't want to remember what celebration they held.
The point stood, however, that whether or not he would be Emperor, sacrifices would be made and must be made. A sinister shiver ran down his spine and he closed his eyes momentarily to calm his thoughts. The burden on his shoulder felt heavier than ever when he was affected with fatigue, but he must not sleep, must not doze off, and must not lose focus.
Josephus sighed and stood up, "Well, with your leave, my lord, I suppose I would be going to the East Wing and vent out my frustration over my failure as a bard by..." he paused to think, looking around the room and finding that it was already empty. Baurus must have left already, his shift ending a few moments ago.
(When Martin first met Baurus and vice versa, Baurus was very honoured and decided upon himself to be Martin's personal bodyguard.
He was a very capable warrior, but sometimes he would still insist on calling Martin by his title. Martin was convinced that the other Blades members had no mind on calling Martin by his name, but Baurus did not even notice his difference with the others.
Baurus, if Martin were to judge, was very serious about his job. He would not leave Martin's side when he was researching upon the Mysterium Xarxes, until he would rest in his chambers specifically made for the emperor. While Martin was glad that Baurus made sure that Martin's life was worth more than his and would gladly die for him, he was sure Baurus was still guilty for Uriel Septim's death.
He made sure to lighten Baurus' duties after that.)
"I suppose singing in the Library Wing wouldn't hurt anybody outside a twenty feet radius," Josephus shrugged and began humming a tune to himself, his voice going quieter when his voice was blocked out by the doors splitting the East Wing and the Great Hall. It was all silent, save for the crackling of fire until, "AND MY BROTHER, OH, HE WAS A TWIT. HIS DAILY NEED WAS SLEEP AND EAT AND SHH!"
Being sure nobody was there and not even looking, Martin Septim smiled and began to prepare the items for Paradise.
I know, I know! "Florence, wha—what are you doing? Writing long filler paragraphs just depicting Martin's feelings and Josephus' background? That's precarious."
Well... um, I don't know.
harari24: Thank you! I really didn't think I'd get positive feedback, or any at all, but I guess you've proven that wrong! I'll try to update as soon as I can and trying to beat the procrastinator in me. Once again, thank you for the review!