The moon was rising over the desolate quarry, steaming with swamp gas from a particularly hot summer as the Prince and his two guard escort rode out of the forest. The massive piles of earth and dung had been piled high in antiquity by some primitive, long-dead tribe of Black Marsh, hoping to keep out some evil from the north. Evidently, the evil had broken through at Dorsza Pass, the large crack in the sad, lonely rampart that stretched for miles.
The black twisted trees that grew on the barrier cast strange shadows down, like a net tangling. The Prince's mind was on his mother's cryptic letter, hinting at the threat of an invasion. He could not, of course, tell the Dunmer about it, at the very least until he knew more and had notified his father. After all, the letter was meant for him. It was its urgent tone that made him decide to go directly to Gideon.
The Empress had also warned him about a band of former slaves who attacked caravans going into Dorsza Pass. She advised him to be certain to make his Imperial shield visible, so they would know he was not one of the hated Dunmeri slavers. Upon riding into the tall weeds that flooded through the pass like a noxious river, the Prince ordered that his shield be displayed.
"I can see why the slaves use this," said the Prince's captain. "It's an excellent location for an ambush."
Juilek nodded his head, but his thoughts were elsewhere. What threat of invasion could the Empress have discovered? Were the Akaviri on the seas again? If so, how could his mother from her cell in Castle Giovesse know of it? A rustle in the weeds and a single sharp human cry behind him interrupted his ponderings.
Turning around, the Prince discovered that he was alone. His escort had vanished.
The Prince peered over the stretch of the moonlit sea of grass which waved in almost hypnotic patterns to the ebb and flow of the night wind billowing through the pass. It was impossible to tell if a struggling soldier was beneath this system of vibrations, a dying horse behind another. A high, whistling wind drowned out any sound the victims of the ambush might be making.
Juilek drew his sword, and thought about what to do, his mind willing his heart not to panic. He was closer to the exit of the pass than the entrance. Whatever had slain his escort must have been behind him. If he rode fast enough, perhaps he could outrun it. Spurring his horse to gallop, he charged for the hills ahead, framed by the mighty black piles of dirt.
When he was thrown, it happened so suddenly, he was hurtling forward before he was truly conscious of the fact. He landed several yards beyond where his horse had fallen, breaking his shoulder and his back on impact. A numbness washed over him as he stared at his poor, dying steed, its belly sliced open by one of several spears jutting up just below the surface of the grass.
Prince Juilek was not able to turn and face the figure that emerged from the grass, nor able to move to defend himself. His throat was cut without ceremony.
Miramor cursed when he saw the face of his victim more clearly in the moonlight. He had seen the Emperor at the Battle of Bodrum when he had fought in His Imperial Majesty's command, and this was clearly not the Emperor. Searching the body, he found the letter and a treaty signed by Vivec, Almalexia, Sotha Sil, and the Duke of Mournhold representing Morrowind and the Prince Juilek Cyrodiil, representing the Cyrodilic Empire.
"Curse my luck," muttered Miramor to himself and the whispering grass. "I've only killed a Prince. Where's the reward in that?"
Miramor destroyed the letter, as Zuuk had instructed him to do, and pocketed the treaty. At the very least, such a curiosity would have some market value. He disassembled the traps as he pondered his next step. Return to Gideon and ask his employer for a lesser reward for killing the heir? Move on to other lands? At the very least, he considered, he had picked up two useful skills from the Battle of Bodrum. From the Dunmer, he had learned the excellent spear trap. And abandoning the Imperial Army, he had learned how to skulk in the grass.
2 Hearth Fire, 2920
Gideon, Black Marsh
The Empress Tavia lay across her bed, a hot late summer wind she could not feel banging the shutters of her cell to and fro against the iron bars. Her throat felt like it was on fire but still she sobbed, uncontrollably, wringing her last tapestry in her hands. Her wailing echoed throughout the hollow halls of Castle Giovesse, stopping maids in their washing and guards in their conversation. One of her women came up the narrow stairs to see her mistress, but her chief guard Zuuk stood at the doorway and shook his head.
"She's just heard that her son is dead," he said quietly.