The Emperor Reman III and his Potentate Versidue-Shaie took a stroll around the Imperial Gardens. Studded with statuary and fountains, the north gardens fit the Emperor's mood, as well as being the coolest acreage in the City during the heat of summertide. Austere, tiered flowerbeds of blue-gray and green towered all around them as they walked.
"This is excellent news," said the Potentate carefully. "I hope the Dunmer will honor the terms. We might have asked for more. The fortress at Black Gate, for example. But I suppose the Prince knows what is reasonable. He would not cripple the Empire just for peace."
"I have been thinking lately of Rijja and what caused her to plot against my life," said the Emperor, pausing to admire a statue of the Slave Queen Alessia before continuing. "The only thing I can think of to account for it is that she admired my son too much. She may have loved me for my power and my personality, but he, after all, is young and handsome and will one day inherit my throne. She must have thought that if I were dead, she could have an Emperor who had both youth and power."
"The Prince … was in on this plot?" asked Versidue-Shaie. It was a difficult game to play, anticipating where the Emperor's paranoia would strike next.
"Oh, I don't think so," said Reman, smiling. "No, my son loves me well."
"Morwha?" asked the Emperor. "I've forgotten: which god is that?"
"I am through with lusty women. The Empress, Rijja, all too lusty, a lust for love leads to a lust for power," the Emperor shrugged his shoulders. "But a priestess-in-training with a certain healthy appetite sounds ideal. Now what were you saying about the Black Gate?"
6 Sun's Height, 2920
Thurzo Fortress, Cyrodiil
Rijja stood quietly looking at the cold stone floor while the Emperor spoke. He had never before seen her so pale and joyless. She might at least be pleased that she was being freed, being returned to her homeland. Why, if she left now, she could be in Hammerfell by the Merchant's Festival. Nothing he said seemed to register any reaction from her. A month and a half's stay in Thurzo Fortress seemed to have killed her spirit.
"I was thinking," said the Emperor at last. "Of having your younger sister Corda up to the palace for a time. I think she would prefer it over the conservatorium in Hegathe, don't you?"
Reaction, at last. Rijja looked at the Emperor with animal hatred, flinging herself at him in a rage. Her fingernails had grown long since her imprisonment and she raked them across his face, into his eyes. He howled with pain, and his guards pulled her off, pummeling her with blows from the back of their swords, until she was knocked unconscious.
A healer was called at once, but the Emperor Reman III had lost his right eye.
Vivec pulled himself from the water, feeling the heat of the day washed from his skin, taking a towel from one of his servants. Sotha Sil watched his old friend from the balcony.
"It looks like you've picked up a few more scars since I last saw you," said the sorcerer.
"Azura grant it that I have no more for a while," laughed Vivec. "When did you arrive?"
"A little over an hour ago," said Sotha Sil, walking down the stairs to the water's edge. "I thought I was coming to end a war, but it seems you've done it without me."
"Yes, eighty years is long enough for ceaseless battle," replied Vivec, embracing Sotha Sil. "We made concessions, but so did they. When the old Emperor is dead, we may be entering a golden age. Prince Juilek is very wise for his age. Where is Almalexia?"
The men were distracted at a sight from around the corner of the palace—a rider was approaching through the town, heading for the front steps. It was evident that the woman had been riding hard for some time. They met her in the study, where she burst in, breathing hard.
"We have been betrayed," she gasped. "The Imperial Army has seized the Black Gate."