With A Dragonborn Like This..
by Ms Katonic
This came from a prompt on the Skyrim Kink Meme to substitute the usual fan-made Dragonborn with any NPC. Two different people then seconded everyone's favourite murdering jester from the Dark Brotherhood, and my idle mind started plotting how that would actually work. This is the result. I can only apologise for any resulting trauma or nightmares or rewritten headcanon. Spoilers for the Dark Brotherhood and Main Quests on Skyrim, also various Daedric and Side Quests (see chapters list for the names of the ones in question), and a little input from the Thieves Guild and eventually the College (but their actual questlines are unlikely to be involved). All Skyrim/Elder Scrolls content is copyright Bethesda Software. I own nothing and am doing this purely for my own amusement. Warnings for an eventual Cicero/Delphine main pairing (this is the only scenario in which this makes any sense whatsoever), which will almost certainly turn a little kinky, what with me being unable to convincingly write Cicero as anything but a subby little deviant in bed. (Humble Cicero lives to serve? I bet you do...)
Notes pt 2. - I wasn't happy with this first chapter, not at all. So I have rewritten it. First two scenes are unchanged but the scene where Cicero and Delphine first meet has been redone, and then there's a lot of new material, up until Delphine's left alone with the Night Mother. Enjoy!
Chapter One: Jester Rising
To say that poor, wretched Cicero was having a more wretched day than usual was something of an understatement. It had snowed ever since leaving Dawnstar, there had been spiders and bandits (not that poor Cicero had minded the bandits, no, the Fool of Hearts had been all too pleased to introduce them to his daggers) and even one unfortunate thief who had mistakenly thought a sole jester would be easy prey.
"And if the thief should choose to sneak, why then I'll make the night bird shriek!" Cicero had sung as he'd slit the thief's throat before he'd even got part way through threatening him.
No, all that had been the easy part. Then the snow had abated as he'd neared Whiterun, right as one of the rear axles on the cart had snapped.
"Stupid shoddy Nord workmanship," Cicero had muttered, examining the remains of his back wheel. "Cicero should never have trusted that blacksmith in Dawnstar, no he should not. When you are settled in your new home, Mother, Cicero shall return and slit his belly open for you, maybe while his wife watches. And then maybe Cicero shall try his skills at midwifery too, deliver her child the quick way, hmm?" The thought made him giggle – it would be an interesting career change, that. But no. Mother came first, as always, and murdering the blacksmith who'd sold him this excuse for a cart in the first place would not help him get her to the Falkreath Sanctuary any sooner.
Still, guards were approaching, maybe they would help Cicero. Surely the nice Whiterun guards would lend a hand to a poor traveller just trying to bring his mother home. Even though the Dunmer leading them looked anything but friendly.
And then all thoughts of the Whiterun guards flew out of Cicero's head as a gust of wind nearly knocked him to his feet, before the ground shook and several tons worth of dragon crashed down next to him.
Cicero was not a coward, no, but his kills were usually rather smaller and not nearly as scaly, not even the Argonians.
"Do not hurt poor Cicero," the jester whimpered. "I can sing and dance and caper for you! Or kill your enemies. Only tell poor Cicero who needs to die and I will send them to the Void without any need for fire and teeth and claw to get involved."
The dragon growled and Cicero flung himself to the floor, gibbering fearfully. At least until it roared and a jet of flame engulfed the cart, roasting the horse alive and reducing the cart's wooden frame to cinders. The Night Mother's coffin promptly crashed to the ground, smoke rising off it. Cicero gasped, and his fragile grip on reality snapped.
When Irileth and her men finally ventured near the dragon, she could honestly say she'd never expected this. The dragon was thrashing around screaming and covered in blood, its eyeballs shredded and black ichor and blood streaming out of them. A grey stone coffin was lying discarded amid the charred remains of a horse and cart, and strangest of all, a small man dressed as a jester was clinging to the dragon's horns, stabbing the back of its head with an ebony dagger and screaming about how the dragon had killed his poor mother. Well. Singing at it in rhyming couplets, if you wanted to be precise, which was even more disturbing.
"Send my mother to the Void? I'll see your lizard soul destroyed!" the jester howled.
All her guards were looking at her, all thinking 'now what?' Irileth had to admit she had absolutely no idea where to go with this. Still, for all that he wasn't even armoured properly, the little jester seemed to be winning.
"Dragon burns and dragon chars, I'll slit its throat beneath the stars!" the jester chanted, pulling out his dagger before slamming it into the spot between the dragon's eyes. The dragon howled in pain, before collapsing into the ground, dead. None of the guards had so much as raised a bow. The jester pulled his dagger out, wiped the blade, before tumbling off the dragon's head as its body began to burn. Ignoring the guards completely, the jester scrambled over to the stone coffin and began to howl piteously, weeping as he implored his mother to speak to him, tell him she was alright.
"Commander, what should we do?" one of the guards asked her. "Do we bring him with us?"
"After what he did to that dragon, I'd hate to have to force him," another muttered.
"We won't force him," said Irileth, approaching as carefully as she could. It might have been many years since she left Morrowind, but she was still a Dunmer and although Sheogorath was one of the Bad Daedra, it was still a noted principle among Dunmer that His children were to be treated with respect and consideration. Irileth might not understand much of what was going on, but there was no doubt in her mind that this deadly little clown was one such.
Then things got even stranger as a white cloud rose up from the burning dragon, spiralling skywards into a vortex before being pulled sharply off to the left – towards the jester. The glowing cloud surrounded the little fool before being absorbed into him and disappearing. Behind her, all the guardsmen gasped, one of them even dropping his sword in shock.
"Dragonborn!" one gasped.
"Dragonborn?" Irileth asked. Great, more superstitious Nord legends. As if she'd not heard enough of those since the first reports of dragon sightings came flooding in.
"A mortal with the blood of a dragon," the guard replied, awestruck. "One who can kill a dragon and take its soul and its power after. Talos was one. And so is this man, it seems."
Irileth wasn't sure whether to believe this or not, but something strange was definitely happening. Time to take stock of the situation and try and restore some sort of order.
"Dragonborn or not, the Jarl needs to know about this and maybe Farengar will have some answers. Assuming he and that Delphine woman have finished going over that Dragonstone tablet she retrieved for him anyway. Stand back and cover me, I'm going to try and talk to him. Azura help me."
Dropping to kneel by the jester, who was still sobbing over the coffin, Irileth touched his shoulder.
"Excuse me sir, is everything alright?"
"Mother, mother," the jester cried. "The dragon has killed you, and poor Cicero could do nothing. Nothing!"
"Killing a dragon on your own is hardly nothing," said Irileth. "I'm sorry about your mother, but that coffin looks sturdy and if you're transporting her remains, was she not already dead?"
"It is not the same," Cicero cried. "Oh Mother, why will you not talk to your devoted Cicero, whyyyyy?" He broke off into another howl.
"Friend Cicero," Irileth began, "I see the dragon has destroyed your cart. I can send one of my men to Whiterun to fetch another for you, so that we can take you and your mother to the city. There maybe you can have food and rest, and we can lay your mother to rest in the Hall of the Dead. Would that help? For you have done us a service by destroying that dragon, it would be the least we could do."
"The Hall of the Dead? Arkay's temple?" Cicero laughed bitterly. "Noooo, no, not Arkay's priests for the Mother, no! The Sanctuary is where Cicero was taking her, far to the south, where she can take her rightful place among her Family."
"Well, if you want to take her to your family tomb instead, I might be able to arrange that too," said Irileth. "But you can hardly leave her here by the road. Come with us to Whiterun, and we shall see what can be done."
Nodding tearfully, Cicero got to his feet and gave them no further trouble, unless you counted crying out to the men not to hurt his dear Mother as they loaded her onto the new cart from Whiterun, and humming softly all the way back to the city. Irileth could cope with the singing, as long as no one got stabbed. All was going rather well until they got to the city gates, the shadow of the Throat of the World falling over them. Then...
"DOVAHKIIN!" The Shout roared out over the tundra, causing all in its wake to cover their ears. Everyone, that is, except Cicero, who sat bolt upright, joy all over his face.
"Mother?" he cried. "Mother! You have spoken to poor, devoted, patient Cicero at long last. At long last! Oh Mother, Mother, Cicero lives to hear your words! But... Dovahkiin? Cicero is but a poor fool of little understanding, and he knows nothing of this Dovahkiin. Dovahkiin? Who is Dovahkiin? Where is Dovahkiin? Who does Dovahkiin want Cicero to kill? Mother, you must tell Cicero this if you wish him to help you."
The guard at the reins of the carriage looked nonplussed. "Well, you're Dovahkiin. You're the Dragonborn. That was the Greybeards calling you to their monastery at High Hrothgar so you can fulfil your destiny."
"High Hrothgar!" Cicero practically squealed. "Cicero has never heard of it, but if Mother says to meet the contact there, then Cicero shall oblige. We must go immediately!" He reached for the reins and things could have turned nasty had Irileth not seen and intervened.
"Cicero my friend, of course you shall go to High Hrothgar. But not yet. It is high on the Throat of the World, at the top of the 7000 Steps, you cannot surely think of taking your Mother up all those? Come into Whiterun, look, we are nearly there. We shall see your Mother is able to rest at Dragonsreach in safety while you go, and then when you return you can take her wherever you wish." Carefully, she took the harnesses from Cicero's hands, all the time talking to him gently as one would to a small child.
Cicero hesitated before giggling and letting her hand the reins back to the relieved driver.
"Of course, of course, foolish Cicero! There is no need for Mother to come with Cicero, not now he knows where he must go. Cicero can set out in the morning."
"That's right," said Irileth soothingly. "Cicero can set out in the morning." Inwardly, she shuddered. If this Cicero truly was the Dragonborn of legend, surely they were all doomed.
Balgruuf's reaction had been much the same on laying eyes on Cicero.
"That's the Dragonborn?" he'd grunted. "By the Eight. Proventus! I'm going to be in my quarters. See I'm not disturbed for the rest of the day, and send up the Honningbrew Reserve. Yes, all of it. I have a feeling I'll need it."
He'd stormed out, leaving Irileth alone with Farengar Secret-Fire and the adventurer known only as Delphine, who'd been helping Farengar transcribe the Dragonstone she'd brought him. The Mother's coffin was now set up in Farengar's study, and Cicero, apparently oblivious to the Jarl's disdain, was capering about quite happily.
"Dragon palace, Dragonsreach, all of Whiterun sprawls beneath. But should a dragon bear its teeth, Cicero its life shall thief!" the little jester chanted, picking up a couple of soul gems off Farengar's desk as he did so and beginning to juggle with them.
"Can't you stop him doing that?" Farengar asked plaintively. Irileth shook her head.
"Best leave him be. He's not sane or particularly stable, and we saw him kill a dragon by himself with a dagger and wearing the clothes you see him in now. He's a son of Sheogorath, it's better to let him have his little eccentricities – it'll stave off the bigger ones."
"Useful to know," Delphine murmured, eyeing the jester up with interest. So this was what a Dragonborn looked like. Not what she'd expected. She'd expected a warrior, a big burly Nord or at least a heavily armed warrior. Not this short madman in a jester outfit with no weapon but the ebony knife at his waist. Still, if you took him out of the jester outfit and put him in normal clothes, he wouldn't be bad looking, and she was sure there were muscles under that outfit. And while his eyes were darting all over the place and he didn't seem to be able to keep still for ten seconds at a time, there was a certain intelligent curiosity there. He was looking at every single thing in the room and she could see his mind categorising everything – alchemy lab, books, soul gems, enchanter, court mage, guards, housecarl – as his eyes would flicker over each thing, analyse it, assign it a place and then move on, not returning. Except to her. His gaze kept returning to only two things – one the coffin containing his mother's remains, his expression combining both love and worry. The second was her. Always his eyes kept coming back to her, and the expression in them said only one thing. Who are you? What are you? You don't belong here, I can't work you out, who are you?
Well, it had been a long time since she'd really belonged anywhere, so she couldn't fault him for wondering. Still, it seemed she'd caught his interest. A good thing. It would make it so much easier to do her job if he was already intrigued. Assuming he really was Dragonborn, of course. Still, Irileth wasn't easily deceived, and if he really had killed a dragon on his own with just that dagger... well, someone with that kind of prowess would be useful regardless.
"Killed it on his own, you say?"
Irileth nodded. "Yes, and took its soul after, or at least that's what the men tell me. It just looked like light to me."
"Interesting," said Delphine thoughtfully. "And the Greybeards called him on the way back."
"Looks that way," said Irileth. She eyed Delphine with suspicion. "What's it to you anyway?"
"Irileth, trust her," said Farengar. "She's an old contact of mine, and she knows more about dragons than anyone else I know. She can help us. Besides," and here he lowered his voice, "if we play this right, she can take that fool off our hands for us. I for one don't see a problem with that. NO, Cicero or whatever your name is, leave the spell tomes alone!"
Too late. Cicero had picked up a Destruction tome and before anyone could stop him, the tome was gone and so was a sizeable portion of Farengar's map of Skyrim, lost to Cicero's newly-won knowledge of the Flames spell.
Cicero giggled, blushing slightly. "Cicero did not know books did that! Cicero will have to be more careful. Cicero has hardly done magic before! Cicero could be a mage! Maybe Archmage! A master of Destruction magic! Lots of new ways to kill people!" He giggled even more, flushed with his new-found achievement. Farengar for his part looked as if he'd dearly like to demonstrate a few new ways to kill people on Cicero himself.
"Maybe you should just sit down and leave the books alone for now, hmm?" said Irileth, wishing she'd never got herself mixed up in this. "After all, if you'd been facing the other way, that could have been your mother with a hole burnt through her, couldn't it?"
Cicero gasped, sinking into a chair and sitting on his hands. "Mother! Burnt! Oh nonono! Cicero will not touch anything else. Cicero will be good. Cicero will not harm the Mother, no."
"Fond of his mother, is he?" Delphine asked, her curiosity piqued. She looked the coffin up and down. Now that wasn't a modern style of coffin, not at all. No one buried their dead like that any more. Whoever was in there, she couldn't be his real mother. Could be insanity... but she was beginning to wonder if this Cicero was as mad as he looked. The fixation was obsessive, of course, but if it wasn't his actual mother... Delphine's Blades training from years ago came back to her as she recalled one organisation whose leader was referred to as mother, an organisation whose members were very skilled in the art of dagger-wielding.
The most sensible thing at this point would be to make her excuses and leave, let Farengar and Irileth deal with this mysterious new Dragonborn. But once a Blade, always a Blade, and Delphine was no coward. She was also just a little bored of the quiet life of an innkeeper. No, she couldn't walk away. So what if he was a Dark Brotherhood assassin? If he could kill a dragon and take its soul, she was quite willing to overlook that little detail. She turned to address Cicero directly.
"Cicero, did Irileth tell you that you need to go to High Hrothgar to meet the Greybeards?"
Cicero darted over at her words, grinning as he finally let his eyes fall on her directly, leaning over the desk as he gazed up at her. She'd estimate his age as late thirties, not a fresh-faced youth by any means – but she had the feeling that once he'd been a very accomplished seducer, if the way he was smiling up at her was any indication. She made a mental note to keep her wits about her. That smile was dangerous.
"Yes, yes!" Cicero giggled. "She said Cicero was Dovahkiin, that Mother had called her Cicero and wanted him to go to High Hrothgar. But Mother cannot come, not up 7000 Steps, no. So Cicero will go alone, and leave Mother behind." At this, nervousness crept into his voice. "Mother will be safe, won't she? Outside a Sanctuary, without her Cicero to guard her? Irileth has made promises but Cicero worries..."
Of course he would, no Dark Brotherhood assassin would want to leave the Night Mother's remains unattended for long. Delphine sensed a weakness and took full advantage.
"Well now, Cicero. As it happens, I have a secret place she can rest, where no one else can get to. I can keep her there for you while you go to High Hrothgar – if you do something for me."
Cicero raised both eyebrows, clearly surprised by her generosity.
"You would do that?" he asked in wonder. "For a stranger? The kindly adventurer would open her home to humble Cicero?"
"Delphine," she told him. "My name's Delphine. I'm an innkeeper, I'm used to having strangers in my home. But I'm hoping we won't be strangers for long. You're Dragonborn, apparently. Wouldn't be right to leave you stranded in your hour of need, would it now?"
Cicero looked up at her and for one moment, his dark eyes stared straight up into her blue ones, his brow furrowed as he looked at her, really looked at her, far more intently than anyone had in a very long time. Delphine began to wonder if this had been a good idea. Then Cicero laughed and sat upright.
"Sanctuary-giver to the Mother, yes, yes, Cicero will do whatever you like!" Cicero giggled. "Does it involve sneaking and stabbing? Please say yes!"
In her previous life as a Blade, she would have been honour-bound to kill him, of that she was sure. She was now certain who she was dealing with - the constant references to the Mother and to Sanctuaries gave it away. All trainees in the Blades learnt what the Dark Brotherhood was – while not as big a threat as the Thalmor, they were still the best assassins in Tamriel and it was wise to know the enemy. To have the Night Mother in her grasp and her apparently Dragonborn Keeper at her beck and call – no, Delphine really could not pass this up. Time for a little deception.
"There'll be death aplenty, Cicero. But first, you need to go to High Hrothgar and meet the Greybeards. Before you do that though, know that they'll almost certainly ask you to travel to the tomb Ustengrav and retrieve something for them. So why don't you and I go and get it, then I can watch Mother for you while you visit the Greybeards. How does that sound?"
Cicero whooped in delight, leaping off the table and dancing around the room. "An adventure! Cicero's going on an adventure! With his new Sanctuary-giver! And Mother shall have a new home, and there shall be killings and stabbings for everyone!"
"Stabbings?" said Irileth warily. Respect for the insane only went so far after all.
"We'll only kill things that deserve it," said Delphine hastily. "The Mother's named you Dragonborn, Cicero, that means she wants you to kill dragons."
"Dragons!" Cicero gasped, pirouetting up to her. He didn't seem remotely afraid of the prospect of killing dragons, in fact he looked quite pleased. "A challenge for out of practice Cicero. Cicero will need armour then, or Cicero might get burned. And his dagger will need to be sharp. And arrows! To catch a dragon in flight needs bow and arrows. Cicero cannot throw a dagger at a flying dragon, not if he wishes to see it again, no."
"Whatever you need," Delphine promised. Insane he might be, but clearly he was by no means incapable. He'd do. Time to get him some basic equipment. "We'll swing by Warmaiden's on the way out and head for my home in Riverwood tonight. Once the Mother's settled, we can head out to Ustengrav in the morning." With a hand on Cicero's shoulder, she led him out of the room, shooting a parting wink at Farengar.
"See, I told you she'd take him off our hands," said Farengar, breathing a sigh of relief and gathering the spell tomes and soul gems that Cicero had knocked everywhere.
"You did," said Irileth. Several things about that last conversation had left her wary and uneasy and she wasn't sure why. All the same, she'd be glad to get the new Dovahkiin out of the city quickly. Snapping orders at the guards, she set about making arrangements to get the strange coffin shipped to Riverwood. The sooner it and its creepy guardian were out of Whiterun, the better.
Cicero watched nervously as the guards manhandled the coffin down the Dragonsreach steps to where that Dunmer Irileth had promised a cart would be waiting to take it to Riverwood. Cicero had no idea where that was but his new friend Delphine had assured him it wasn't far.
Delphine. Now here was a mystery. Claimed to be an innkeeper, looked like a mercenary adventurer for hire, seemed to know a bit about this Dragonborn business, offering assistance and hospitality... and seeming to know rather more about his precious cargo than he was happy with. Still, he'd not sensed hostile intent or dislike in her. She'd been appraising him carefully, and there was something predatory about her, yes, but that hadn't been hate in her eyes. That had been pleasure, he was sure. Carefully reined in pleasure, but delight and anticipation nonetheless. Odd. Very odd. Still, he needed help and she was offering. What the price was going to be, he had no idea, but he didn't have a lot of options right now. Should all go wrong of course, he could always stab her and run, but he couldn't flee far with Mother and too many people had seen them leave together. He would need to be careful, ensure he was over the border in Falkreath before anyone suspected anything. But something told him not to worry, she wasn't an enemy. That was good, he wouldn't actually enjoy stabbing her. She was nice. Kind. Gentle. Helpful to poor stranded Cicero. Pretty. Very pretty indeed, especially given she was clearly older than him. He'd always liked older women. Maybe her ulterior motive was nothing other than a desire to seduce a younger man into her bed.
Foolish Cicero. You are Keeper now, you have no time for that sort of frivolity. It was true, he had a job to do and a Falkreath Sanctuary to find. He couldn't be running off on adventures and climbing mountains and hunting dragons just because an attractive woman told him to.
He wanted to though. It had been years since his last contract. Years since his last lover. Years alone in the dark, alone with Mother, alone alone alone alone alone alone...
"Cicero?" Delphine's voice cut through, alarmed. "Are you alright?"
Curses. He'd forgotten how to keep thoughts in his head again, hadn't he?
"Yes, yes, perfectly!" he laughed, smiling at her and hoping she didn't think he was completely insane. "Cicero was just thinking how long his journey's been and how glad he is you're helping him."
She didn't look convinced all was well, but she did look a little sorry for him.
"That's quite all right, Cicero," she said gently, patting his back. "I can hardly leave the Dragonborn of legend stranded and alone, can I?" She leaned forward, lowering her voice as she murmured in his ear. "Not when he's got the Night Mother in his charge."
She knew. Sweet Mother, she knew. Cicero's dagger was in his hands in seconds, ready to kill to protect his lady if he had to. But no. Too many people. Too many guards. Not here. He put the knife away, pleased to see the uncertainty in Delphine's eyes as she glanced nervously at it.
"Who are you?" he said softly. "What do you want with us? How – how did you...?"
"How did I know?" said Delphine, her voice pitched low to avoid eavesdroppers. "How do you think, Cicero."
Good question. There were books, but not common ones and they all conflicted with each other, and Delphine didn't look like a scholar. But there was one way she might know, and it might also explain why her first impulse had been to help him, not turn him away.
"Are you... one of us?"
No response but a smile. Cicero felt his heart skip. It was true! She was a fellow assassin, a Dark Sister in hiding, maybe even one of Astrid's people. She'd recognised the Night Mother and was helping the Keeper home. Cicero could barely contain himself, ecstatic at his good fortune.
"Sister, sister, you're a sister!" he squealed, flinging his arms around her, holding her tight. He heard her gasp, but he didn't care, she was a sister, a friend, an ally! He could trust her, he could!
"Where is your Sanctuary?" he whispered. "Are you with Falkreath?"
"Not here," Delphine whispered back, disentangling herself from him. "When we get home. I don't really have a Sanctuary any more, Cicero. I work alone now. It's better that way. Safer."
Cicero knew how that felt. He squeezed her hand in sympathy. Wayrest then, had to be, he knew all the other former members of the Brotherhood. She was a Breton after all, she must have been based there and escaped when the corsairs came. She must have decided it was safer to go into hiding than seek out the rest of the Brotherhood. A sad decision – Cicero could never have done that. After losing Bruma, he'd not even considered doing anything other than seeking out his siblings in Cheydinhal. He'd been heartbroken and griefstricken and in sore need of comfort. What else could he have done but go find it? Delphine had clearly decided otherwise. Had she not needed comfort? Or had she been afraid she'd bring trouble down on everyone else? Sounded like it. His heart went out to her. Poor lonely Delphine. Well, not any more. He'd look after her, find out why she'd been so worried, see if he could take her to Falkreath after all this Dragonborn business was out of the way. It would be nice to have a friend there. Sithis knew he didn't have many.
Finally, they made it back to Riverwood. The Jarl's men had helped them unload the giant crate containing the coffin and left it in Delphine's bedroom before leaving them to it. Delphine had waved them off and tipped them for their trouble, before leaving Orgnar to watch the bar while she disappeared into her bedroom, closing the door behind her.
Cicero was waiting, sitting on her bed in his brand new leather armour that she'd bought for him, looking rather despondent. He'd been fairly accepting of the need to have more things than just his motley to wear, and liked his new armour and his new sword and new bow and arrows very much. Maybe they weren't the most expensive out there, but they would do for now. She just wished he would do something about the jester hat. The rest of his motley he'd changed out of and packed away but still he clung to that damn hat like his soul depended on it. In the end she'd had no choice but to let it go. As Irileth said, best to let him have his little eccentricities if it kept the bigger problems at bay.
"Well, we made it," she said, forcing herself to sound cheerful. "How are you doing?"
A slight smile flickered on Cicero's face. "This – this would be it? Sister, when you said you had a safe place, Cicero was thinking it would be a little more secure than this."
Delphine produced her key to her secret cellar. She'd never shown it to anyone before, not since she'd found it and outfitted it with its secret door and all its supplies. She just hoped Cicero was impressed. Opening the wardrobe, she twisted the key and pulled back the false panel to reveal the stairs. One magelight later and she beckoned Cicero to follow her down.
She didn't look as she lit the sconces, just listened as Cicero caught his breath, clearly impressed.
"You have all this... down here?"
Delphine nodded, grinning. "Yes. Hauled a workbench down here and built most of it myself. If we move those bales of straw and a few other things, maybe put the weapons in that chest instead of on the rack, do you think Mother's coffin would fit down here?"
"Does anyone know about this place?" Cicero breathed, staring in wonder.
"No, that's the beauty of it," Delphine grinned. "The storeroom was here when I moved in, but not in use. So I changed the door into a hidden one, took that room for my own bedroom, set up a workbench down here and spent months acquiring raw materials to build all this. No one knows this is even here except me... and now you."
Cicero had his hands to his face as he giggled, then giggled some more, then burst out laughing.
"It's perfect. It's perfect!" he cackled, skipping over to her and pulling her into a hug before letting her go and racing up the stairs. "Come, come, let us get Mother down here."
It was a tough job but they managed it eventually. In the end, Delphine had suggested taking the Night Mother out of the coffin and moving that first by pushing it downstairs then taking her down, which Cicero had agreed to as long as she didn't try and look at the Night Mother. Delphine had fetched a blanket and left Cicero to do what he had to with the coffin's contents. She'd tried not to look at the wrapped remains lying on her bed as she re-entered. Cicero had also unpacked a lot of other things which had been in the coffin too – a chest full of oils, some old rags, and some big, heavy books which he waved her away from furiously when she tried to take a look.
"They are only Cicero's Keeping Tomes," he'd said nervously. "Nothing interesting in there, just guidance on how to Keep Mother." Delphine had wisely let it go and concentrated on helping him with the empty coffin.
Finally, all was done, the coffin was in place, the Night Mother secured into it and all Cicero's worldly goods brought down to join it. Delphine sat back on her table, watching Cicero stare at the coffin with pride.
"We did it, Mother," he whispered. "Got you to safety. You can stay here for a few days, rest. Cicero will be gone for a little while but he will return, he promises, and then we can go to your new home! Your new crypt!"
Evil he might be, crazy he definitely was, but when he was like this, he was oddly cute. Delphine fought back the urge to smile. Best to at least try and keep things business-like, although she'd worked out he definitely responded better to a bit of kindness than anything else.
"You're going to be all right down here?" Delphine asked. She spent a fair bit of time down here herself, but she never slept here. Too dark and dank and questions might be asked if she was found not in her bed when she was supposed to be.
"Cicero will be fine," he said softly, turning to face her. "Sister, I – thank you!" Seconds later he was in her arms, clinging on to her with his head resting on her shoulder, sighing happily as he snuggled in to her. Delphine hadn't had this much physical contact with anyone in quite some time. She guessed the same was true for him, and maybe he needed company more than she did. She rubbed his back awkwardly, hoping he didn't read too much into it.
"It's alright," she told him. "You're safe now. I'll help you."
Cicero glanced up, smiling at her. "So are you, my sister. You have been alone too, haven't you? Alone since Wayrest fell. Alone in the world, afraid to find your brothers and sisters in case trouble followed you there. Is that not so?"
Delphine closed her eyes. Yes, Wayrest, sacked by corsairs in the pay of the Thalmor, and her family of birth murdered in the process. So there'd been a Dark Brotherhood Sanctuary there as well that had been destroyed. Interesting, and very very convenient.
"There's something you should know, Cicero," said Delphine softly. "I'm hiding out here for a reason. I'm on a Thalmor wanted list. The corsairs that sacked Wayrest, I think the Thalmor had a hand in it, and I think they were looking for me or some clue on how to find me. I wasn't in the city at the time, I was here in Skyrim but when I heard, I knew. So I laid low for a bit and ended up here. I couldn't seek anyone else out, couldn't risk leading the Thalmor to anyone else or the Thalmor finding me through them. I'm taking a risk with you. But if you really are Dragonborn, and you have the Night Mother too, then the risk is worth it."
Cicero's grip tightened.
"Cicero thought as much," he murmured. "But Delphine need not fear, the Thalmor are no match for sly Cicero, no. Maybe they had a hand in destroying other Sanctuaries, maybe they killed other brothers and sisters of Cicero's. But Cicero survived and so will you while he is with you." He looked up, hopeful. "There is a Sanctuary in Falkreath, led by a woman called Astrid. Cicero was going there with Mother – it is the last surviving Sanctuary in all Tamriel. Cicero was taking Mother there in the hope he might find a Listener among them, a new leader for the Brotherhood, to hear the Night Mother's words and do her will. It is not Cicero, at least he didn't think it was, not until he heard the Dovahkiin call. Now he has to wonder. So he will follow the call for now, go to Ustengrav with sweet Delphine, then up the 7000 Steps to see what these Greybeards want. Then... well, Cicero will need to tend to Mother again and head on to Falkreath to find a new Listener. Delphine could come too?"
Oh no. Absolutely not, it was one thing letting the new Dragonborn assassin believe she was a fellow member of his order so as to win his trust. It was quite another to go with him to their Sanctuary and join up.
"I don't think that would be a good idea, Cicero," said Delphine, trying to keep her voice steady and hope the horror wasn't too obvious. "I wouldn't want the Thalmor to start chasing tales of a Dragonborn, find out I was involved and come after us."
Cicero smirked at that, polite disbelief writ large all over his face. "Cicero doesn't think that's the real reason you don't want to go. Cicero thinks you'd rather cut your own hand off than go to Falkreath Sanctuary. It is all right, sister. Cicero understands. Cicero doesn't want to go either. Cicero knows they're heretics, abandoning the Tenets, doing what they want instead of what Mother wants. That's how they've survived. You ran so as not bring harm to your Family. They have walked away because they no longer believe." Cicero patted her cheek, smiling knowingly at her as if they shared some dark secret. "But you and I, we still believe, don't we? Cicero tends to Mother, and you have taken us in and helped us because you still believe in the Night Mother even after all these years on your own. Cicero understands. Cicero knows. Cicero... Cicero just never thought he would meet another like him."
I am nothing like you, Delphine wanted to scream, wanting to push him away. Except the truth was, she did know how that felt. Always running and hiding, constantly on the watch, running an inn because it was the focus for gossip and rumour, becoming the pillar of a Nord community with plenty of helpful villagers always ready to warn her of Thalmor patrols or suspicious characters so she could make herself scarce and if necessary, intercept and dispose. Known by all of Riverwood but never able to get close to them or be honest about herself. Not alone... but lonely. How ironic, that the person who she'd let get closer than anyone in years was a psychopathic lunatic who'd clearly also been alone too long. An even more worrying development was that this felt nice, this being held and touched business. She'd almost forgotten what it was like. Definitely time to get some professional distance back up – she was fairly certain Blades were not meant to get involved with their Dragonborns.
"We need to get to Ustengrav first," she told him, gently peeling his fingers from her and pushing him back, safely at arms length once more. "Then get you to High Hrothgar. After that... who knows. One thing at a time, hmm? Now, can I get you anything? Food, drink? You'll need a bedroll, but I've got a few spare."
"You're too kind," Cicero purred, backing away and turning his attention back to the Night Mother. "Cicero is well for now. Some supper later would be nice, but for now, no, I need nothing. Nothing other than to tend to Mother in private and ensure she is all right."
Delphine was more than happy to leave him to it. She left him to do whatever he needed to. Time to return to being an innkeeper again.
Dawn broke and Delphine was woken by the hinges on her door squeaking, and a muffled curse at the noise. Rubbing her eyes, she opened them to see a fully dressed Cicero trying to tiptoe out. He glanced up and grinned, embarrassed.
"Cicero is very sorry," he babbled. "Cicero didn't know the door would squeak like that. He didn't mean to wake sweet Delphine from her slumber."
"It's fine," she said sleepily, brushing her hair into shape. "The hinges do that on purpose – I don't like the idea of people being able to sneak into my room while I'm asleep. Or out of it, but that particular scenario doesn't happen often. Did you need something? What time is it?"
"Early," Cicero replied. "But daylight. Cicero recalls you saying you wanted an early start so he is up and about and attending to his business. He was going to bring you breakfast!"
Delphine had no idea what his culinary skills were like, but it was a sweet, if completely unnecessary gesture.
"You really don't have to do that," she told him. Cicero stared at his feet, scuffing at the floor.
"Cicero wanted to," he said softly. "As a way of saying thank you."
Which was lovely, but breakfast in bed was a little too intimate for her liking.
"Tell you what, let me get up and then we can have breakfast together," she said. "I'll tell you where everything is and you can make it if you like."
That cheered Cicero up considerably, and she found herself treated to eggs and bacon and toasted bread with milk, the eggs scrambled with garlic and herbs Cyrodiil style. Dear gods, but it was delicious and if he'd not been an obsessive lunatic with a mission, she'd have considered hiring him as a cook right there.
"You can cook for me again any time," she told him as she finished the meal. Cicero giggled at that.
"Come to Falkreath and Cicero will happily feed you," he purred, every bit the practised flirt. Talos, she really needed to watch herself. He was a dangerous man, and not just because of the murderous insanity. The seductiveness he could turn on and off like a tap was worse than the violent tendencies, not least because part of her, the part that hadn't had anyone touch her in years and desperately wanted someone to make her feel special, would happily give in to it. Talos, but she needed to get laid. With someone who wasn't Cicero.
A day travelling, a day spent dealing with beasts and bandits but thankfully no dragons. It turned out Cicero's martial skills were every bit as good as Irileth had said – he was an excellent shot with the bow and his skills with blades were like nothing Delphine had ever seen. She wasn't sure whether it was the precision of the strikes, or the speed, or the blood everywhere or the laughter as he struck, but she'd not forget seeing him in action in a hurry. She didn't know whether to be impressed or appalled. All the same, it was good to have him at her back. Many times his arrows would be taking down foes before she'd even spotted them. Unfortunately for her, that included one member of a Thalmor patrol that she'd been hoping to slip past. One of the elven warriors collapsed, a poisoned arrow in her throat and Cicero sprang out from the rock he'd sneaked behind, sword in one hand, dagger in the other, shouting "For the Night Mother!" as he pounced on the wizard. Delphine had sworn and dropped back to take on the other soldier and hopefully stop the Dragonborn dying horribly. She needn't have worried. Cicero had darted and weaved and got in under the Thalmor Justiciar's reach before he could really react and soon had him lying in a pool of blood.
Five minutes later, and it was all over with three dead Thalmor lying in the road and a dancing jester in the midst of it all. He skipped up to her, grinning from ear to ear.
"Thalmor paid the corsairs to destroy Wayrest, so Cicero has killed them for his sweet Delphine. Is Delphine pleased?" he purred.
"You're a damn liability, Dragonborn," she told him sternly, quashing the guilt as his face fell. "But a talented one," she felt obliged to admit. "Three less Thalmor in the world is no bad thing, I suppose. Come on, we need to get to Morthal for tonight."
That had cheered Cicero up and he'd been quite happy from then on. They'd made it to Morthal and Cicero had skipped up to the bar, requesting a room for him and sweet Delphine. Needless to say, Jonna the innkeeper completely misinterpreted the situation and got them a double room. Cicero had leaned against the doorframe, smirking as if he'd intended this all along. Delphine definitely needed to watch herself with this one.
"I'm sorry, Jonna, he's not actually my... look, how busy are you likely to be tonight?"
"Take a look around," Jonna had snorted. "They're not exactly beating down my door. Another ten septims, I got no problem renting you two single rooms, or this one and a single. Apologies for the misunderstanding."
"Oh, it's not your fault," said Delphine, glaring at Cicero, who still looked utterly unrepentant. "Why don't I keep this room, and Cicero can have one of the singles, hmm?"
Jonna was fine with that, took the extra septims and went back to the bar. Delphine closed the door behind her and turned on Cicero, grabbing the front of his armour.
"Don't you even think about pulling a stunt like that again, do you hear me?" she growled. Cicero gasped, but that wasn't fear in his eyes, far from it. Oh gods, he must like this sort of treatment. Delphine let him go like she'd been burned.
"Get your things, go to the room across the hall. You're staying there tonight, and if you're anywhere near my bed during the night, you will be losing fingers, understand?"
Cicero nodded quickly, grabbed his things and fairly sprinted across the inn, shutting himself in his room. He emerged forty-five minutes later in his motley, looking a little dishevelled and flushed but otherwise perfectly cheerful and pleased to see her. He even bought her dinner, being charm itself and toning down the flirty behaviour a little. Good. Very good. She could do without him poking and teasing and flirting and wriggling and squealing and doting on her and... Damn, but she needed to find a lover. Just a fling. Just to get laid, get it out of her system. Then she could go back to normal, work with Cicero as Blade and Dragonborn without her libido flaring up every five minutes.
She definitely wasn't interested in Cicero. Absolutely not at all.
Ustengrav loomed up ahead in the early morning swamp mists. Two bandits were fighting a necromancer who'd managed to raise one of their colleagues.
"Well, what do you think?" Delphine murmured from where Cicero and she were hiding. "Wait for them to fight and turn on the victor? Or intervene now before the mage wins and raises all of them?"
Cicero just grinned, dipping his arrows in poison and taking aim.
"Don't worry, sister," he purred. "Cicero can deal with this."
One bowshot later and the mage was staggering to the ground, bleeding, while the bandits finished him off. Then Cicero was breaking cover, zigzagging to avoid their arrows as he took on the two bandits by himself. A minute later, and it was all over, just bodies and blood and a grinning Cicero. Delphine felt just a little sickened by it all. It wasn't even the blood, just the sheer speed and the fact that Cicero didn't even look tired.
It was a pattern repeated throughout Ustengrav. Arrows from the shadows brought down most enemies, sneaking and stabbing dealt with a few more and for those that remained, Cicero had no trouble dispatching the ones that came his way. Delphine likewise had little trouble dealing with the few Cicero hadn't made it to. It was the most exciting thing she'd done in years. True, there'd been Bleak Falls Barrow, but it hadn't been so much fun alone. Truth be told, she could watch Cicero fight all day. He moved like a dancer, twisting this way and that, blades flashing as he carved up the opposition. She'd never seen anything quite like it, and whether it was Dark Brotherhood training or the gift of the dragon blood, she had no idea, but maybe the world wasn't quite as doomed as everyone in Dragonsreach had thought.
Dragonborn he certainly was. They'd found a Word Wall, just curved rock with ancient Nord carvings to her eyes, just like the one in Bleak Falls Barrow. Cicero had stared at one particular word and asked why it was glowing and what did 'Feim' mean anyway? Then he'd gasped and told her the dragon had gone, the one in his head.
She'd told him to try Shouting and he'd gone ethereal, staring down at himself in amazement. It hadn't lasted long, but it had proved he could Shout. He'd looked a bit worried by the fact, the poor thing.
"It's not a bad thing," she'd whispered as she'd cuddled him, hoping to reassure him. "It's a gift. Means you're special."
Cicero had shivered in her arms as he clutched on to her. He'd not even taken the obvious flirting opportunity her words had presented, and he'd been quiet as he followed her back up to the bridge.
The puzzle stones had given them a bit of trouble but eventually they'd worked out that if she stood by the farthest one, he could activate the second and run for the gate, just making it past before it shut. Of course that had left her stuck on the other side. For a heartstopping moment, she'd thought he'd go on and leave her, but he found a release on the other side that got it open.
Flame jets and spiders next, and finally a huge chamber where dragon statues arose from the water and the Horn of Jurgen Windcaller was there on top of the tomb. Needless to say, Draugr burst out as soon as Cicero picked it up.
A few minutes of fierce fighting later and it was done. Cicero sagged against the altar, gasping for breath and she did likewise.
"We got it," she gasped. "It's really here!"
"We did!" Cicero laughed, holding up and spinning it in his hand, before putting it away. He looked up, eyes meeting hers, expression deadly serious for once, and for a second she thought he was going to kiss her. He didn't and that was definitely not disappointment she was feeling, not at all. Instead, he just hugged her.
"Thank you," he gasped. "Thank you! Sweet sister Delphine, Cicero cannot thank you enough!"
"Whatever for?" she asked, surprised. Cicero let her go, eyes shining as he laughed.
"For bringing me here! For letting poor Cicero kill all these things! Cicero hasn't had so much fun in years!" He smiled at her, that sweet, evil smile that unsettled her just as much as it made her want to see it again. "Cicero will never forget this or you, sweetest of sisters. Thank you. And if you ever need Cicero's help in any more dangerous ruins, you need only ask."
"You're welcome," Delphine replied. Well, at least she had a willing and compliant Dragonborn at her service. That was something. He might be wedded to the Night Mother, but it seemed at least some portion of his loyalty now belonged to her too.
If that made her smile, it was only because that would make hunting dragons a lot easier, and not because that smile of his was something she could watch all day.
"You will be all right while I'm gone, won't you?" Cicero asked, sounding a little plaintive. "Won't you? Sweet Night Mother?"
He'd packed his things, got everything ready, secured the belongings he wasn't taking near the Night Mother's coffin. All that remained was for him to actually leave. Delphine watched him stroking the coffin door, looking miserable at the thought of going. He'd looked a bit nervous on leaving the coffin the first time, but this seemed more so. She guessed it wasn't just the leaving, it was the leaving her with someone else.
"Delphine will look after you," Cicero said softly. "She is a Sister, she believes in the Dread Father. You can trust her. And... and if you need anything... you could talk to her? If you will not talk to humble Cicero, will you not talk to Delphine? She could listen to you? She listened to poor Cicero, she would listen for you."
"Cicero," said Delphine softly. "The day's moving on. You need to go soon."
Cicero sighed and nodded. He kissed the coffin, checked the door was locked, whispered "Goodbye Mother" to it and followed Delphine out. She secured the door behind her and escorted him outside.
"Go safe, Cicero," she told him. "You know the way, right?"
"Take the south road, follow the signs to Helgen, round the town, east over the pass then follow the signs to Ivarstead. Up the steps from there," Cicero repeated. She'd made him memorise the instructions the night before. He'd looked pensive all evening and he'd been worse this morning. Now he was staring up at her, forlorn and bereft.
"Come with me?" he whispered. "They'd like you!"
"I don't think they would somehow," said Delphine, being all too aware of the history the Blades and Greybeards had had in the past. The Greybeards had never entirely forgiven Talos for throwing his lot in with the Blades and forging an Empire. She wasn't going to stir that whole mess up again until she had to. "It's you they asked for, Cicero. You need to do this alone. You're Dragonborn, not me."
Cicero nodded, still looking sad. "Cicero shall miss you," he said softly. "And Mother of course. But when he comes back, he'll take Mother with him. Not you though."
"Not me," said Delphine softly. She was feeling a little sad herself. Devious and manipulative he might be, violent and insane definitely, but he'd been genuinely sweet and affectionate to her, and it was a long time since anyone had been that. She'd miss him too. "But if all goes well in Falkreath, if you find your Listener... they could look after Mother and you could come and visit. Maybe go on a few more adventures with me, hmm?"
Cicero had smiled, still looking sad. "Cicero would like that," he said. "If it goes well." One last hug, and then he'd turned and left, walking away, glancing over his shoulder and waving. She'd watched until he left the village and retreated into the inn, busying herself with work and chores for the next few hours until she could be sure Cicero was definitely gone and not likely to return for anything. Then she told Orgnar to hold down the bar before retreating into her cellar. Time to take advantage of Cicero's absence to plot her next move while Cicero was off with the Greybeards. Talos only knew what Arngeir would make of Cicero, but at least it got him off her back for a while. Leaving her alone with the latest update from Farengar on the Dragonstone's secrets, and the Night Mother's coffin.
The letter from Farengar could wait for now. Delphine eyed up the coffin, curious. The leader of the Dark Brotherhood was here, right here in her inn. And Cicero was far away and not expected back for at least a week. No one to stop her having a look inside...
Unable to resist, she opened the coffin and promptly leapt back, repressing a scream. A woman's mummified remains stood slumped before her. It was true, it was really true, what her Blades trainers had taught her. The Night Mother was the corpse of a long-dead Sithis worshipper and founder of the Brotherhood. She'd heard it had been destroyed years ago when the Brotherhood had been wiped out of Cyrodiil. But no, Cicero had kept it – her – safe all these years. He'd talked about it on the way to Morthal, how for months, maybe years, he'd believed himself the last Dark Brother alive, same as she thought she was the last Blade. Then he'd recalled details of another cell remaining in Falkreath and had finally made contact. He'd been on his way there with the Night Mother when the dragon struck.
Delphine shivered. All true, it was all true. He was really a Dark Brotherhood assassin, and now a Dragonborn too. Truly she was playing a dangerous game, letting him believe she too was a Brotherhood member in hiding – but what choice did she have? She needed a Dragonborn, as surely as he needed a Dark Brotherhood family to belong to. If acquiring one meant pretending to be the other... so be it.
She traced a finger down the Night Mother's crinkled cheek. "The turns my life takes at times," Delphine murmured. She stepped back and prepared to close the coffin, when it happened. The Night Mother glowed.
"You... you're the one..." a feminine voice rasped in her head.
"What is this?" Delphine whispered, reaching for her sword. Was Cicero's madness catching?
"You're the one..." the voice repeated itself. "You're the Listener."
"Listener?" Delphine cried, memories of long ago discussions of the Dark Brotherhood's hierarchy coming flooding back. Very little was known and even less agreed on, but virtually all accounts agreed that the order was headed by a figure called the Night Mother, who conveyed her wishes to the most senior living member of the organisation – the Listener. "I'm not even in the Dark Brotherhood, how can I be Listener?!"
"But you are dark," the Night Mother crooned. "So many have you sent to their deaths. So long have you been alone in the darkness, you have the touch of Sithis upon you. And you have willingly and knowingly given Sanctuary to my Keeper and I, when you did not have to and none other would have."
"Pretending," Delphine whispered. "I was just pretending... This isn't real, this can't be happening. This... this is insane!"
"Pretender you were, but real this has become. And a child has called to their Mother. Take my Keeper to Volunruud, speak with Amaund Motierre there. Accept his gold, eliminate the target. So begins a contract bound in blood. And remember these, the Binding Words, for my Keeper will not believe you otherwise. Darkness rises when silence dies."
The glowing stopped. Delphine sank back into her chair, stunned. Had she really just been appointed leader of the Dark Brotherhood? Not only that, it appeared she'd been given a contract to fulfil.
Head in her hands, Delphine could only rest her head on the desk and weep. This was not part of the plan, dammit! But Delphine was Delphine, last of the Blades, and now apparently last of the Dark Brotherhood along with Cicero and possibly this other cell in Falkreath (not that she had any intention of contacting them in the slightest). And Delphine had not got so far by being either weak or unable to adapt. No, this had not been in the plan... but the plan could be changed. Pulling a notebook and her map of Skyrim to her, Delphine began to plan for Cicero's return. A whole new world of possibilities had just opened up.