Lore:Mystery of Talara

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Mystery of Talara
The five-part story of Princess Talara

Part I

The year was 3E 405. The occasion was the millennial celebration of the founding of the Breton Kingdom of Camlorn. Every grand boulevard and narrow alley was strung with gold and purple banners, some plain, some marked with the heraldic symbols of the Royal Family or the various principalities and dukedoms which were vassals of the King. Musicians played in the plazas great and small, and on every street corner was a new exotic entertainer: Redguard snake charmers, Khajiiti acrobats, magicians of genuine power and those whose flamboyant skill was equally impressive if largely illusion.

The sight that drew most of the male citizens of Camlorn was the March of Beauty. A thousand comely young women, brightly and provocatively dressed, danced their way down the long, wide main street of the city, from the Temple of Sethiete to the Royal Palace. The menfolk jostled one another and craned their necks, picking their favorites. It was no secret that they were all prostitutes, and after the March and the Flower Festival that evening, they would be available for more intimate business.

Gyna attracted much of the attention with her tall, curvaceous figure barely covered by strips of silk and her curls of flaxen hair specked with flower petals. In her late twenties, she wasn't the youngest of the prostitutes, but she was certainly one of the most desirable. It was clear by her demeanor that she was used to the lascivious glances, though she was far from jaded at the sight of the city in splendor. Compared to the squalid quarter of Daggerfall where she made her home, Camlorn at the height of celebration seemed so unreal. And yet, what was even stranger was how, at the same time, familiar it all looked, though she had never been there before.

The King's daughter Lady Jyllia rode out of the palace gates, and immediately cursed her misfortune. She had completely forgotten about the March of Beauty. The streets were snarled, at a standstill. It would take hours to wait for the March to pass, and she had promised her old nurse Ramke a visit in her house south of the city. Jyllia thought for a moment, picturing in her mind the arrangement of streets in the city, and devised a shortcut to avoid the main street and the March.

For a few minutes she felt very clever as she wound her way through tight, curving side streets, but presently she came upon temporary structures, tents and theaters set up for the celebration, and had to improvise a new path. In no time at all, she was lost in the city where she had lived all but five years of her life.

Peering down an alley, she saw the main avenue crowded with the March of Beauty. Hoping that it was the tale [sic] end, and desirous not to be lost again, Lady Jyllia guided her horse toward the festival. She did not see the snake-charmer at the mouth of the alley, and when his pet hissed and spread its hood, her charge reared up in fear.

The women in the parade gasped and surged back at the sight, but Lady Jyllia quickly calmed her stallion down. She looked abashed at the spectacle she had caused.

"My apologies, ladies," she said with a mock military salute.

"It's all right, madam," said a blonde in silk. "We'll be out of your way in a moment."

Jyllia stared as the March passed her. Looking at that whore had been like looking in a mirror. The same age, and height, and hair, and eyes, and figure, almost exactly. The woman looked back at her, and it seemed as if she was thinking the same thing.

And so Gyna was. The old witches who sometimes came in to Daggerfall had sometimes spoke of doppelgangers, spirits that assumed the guise of their victims and portended certain death. Yet the experience had not frightened her: it seemed only one more strangely familiar aspect of the alien city. Before the March had danced it way into the palace gates, she had all but forgotten the encounter.

The prostitutes crushed into the courtyard, as the King himself came to the balcony to greet them. At his side was his chief bodyguard, a battlemage by the look of him. As for the King himself, he was a handsome man of middle age, rather unremarkable, but Gyna was awed at the sight of him. A dream, perhaps. Yes, that was it: she could see him as she had dreamt of him, high above her as he was now, bending now to kiss her. Not a one of lust as she had experienced before, but one of small fondness, a dutiful kiss.

"Dear ladies, you have filled the streets of the great capitol of Camlorn with your beauty," cried the King, forcing a silence on the giggling, murmuring assembly. He smiled proudly. His eyes met Gyna's and he stopped, shaken. For an eternity, they stayed locked together before His Highness recovered and continued his speech.

Afterwards, while the women were all en route back to their tents to change into their costumes for the evening, one of the older prostitutes approached Gyna: "Did you see how the King looked at you? If you're smart, you'll be the new royal mistress before this celebration ends."

"I've seen looks of hunger before, and that wasn't one of them," laughed Gyna. "I'd wager he thought I was someone else, like that lady who tried to run us over with her horse. She's probably his kin, and he thought she had dressed up like a courtesan and joined the March of Beauty. Can you imagine the scandal?"

When they arrived at the tents, they were greeted by a stocky, well-dressed young man with a bald pate and a commanding presence of authority. He introduced himself as Lord Strale, ambassador to the Emperor himself, and their chief patron. It was Strale who had hired them, on the Emperor's behalf, as a gift to the King and the kingdom of Camlorn.

"The March of Beauty is but a precursor to the Flower Festival tonight," he said. Unlike the King, he did not have to yell to be heard. His voice was loud and precise in its natural modulations. "I expect each of you to perform well, and justify the significant expense I've suffered bringing you all the way up here. Now hurry, you must be dressed and in position on Cavilstyr Rock before the sun goes down."

The ambassador needn't have worried. The women were all professionals, experts at getting dressed and undressed with none of the time-consuming measures less promiscuous females required. His manservant Gnorbooth offered his assistance, but found he had little to do. Their costumes were simplicity itself: soft, narrow sheets with a hole for their heads. Not even a belt was required, so the gowns were open at the sides exposing the frame of their skin.

So it was long before the sun had set that the prostitutes turned dancers [sic] were at Cavilstyr Rock. It was a great, wide promontory facing the sea, and for the occasion of the Festival of Flowers, a large circle of unlit torches and covered baskets had been arranged. As early as they were, a crowd of spectators had already arrived. The women gathered in the center of the circle and waited until it was time.

Gyna watched the crowd as it grew, and was not surprised when she saw the lady from the March approaching, hand-in-hand with a very old, very short white-haired woman. The old woman was distracted, pointing out islands out at sea. The blonde lady seemed nervous, unsure of what to say. Gyna was used to dealing with uneasy clients, and spoke first.

"Good to see you again, madam. I am Gyna of Daggerfall."

"I'm glad you bear me no ill will because of the whores, I mean horse," the lady laughed, somewhat relieved. "I am Lady Jyllia Raze, daughter of the King."

"I always thought that daughters of kings were called princess," smiled Gyna.

"In Camlorn, only when they are heirs to the throne. I have a younger brother from my father's new wife whom he favors," Jyllia replied. She felt her head swim. It was madness, speaking to a common prostitute, talking of family politics so intimately. "Relative to that subject, I must ask you something very peculiar. Have you ever heard of the Princess Talara?"

Gyna thought a moment: "The name sounds somewhat familiar. Why would I have?"

"I don't know. It was a name I just thought you might recognize," sighed Lady Jyllia. "Have you been to Camlorn before?"

"If I did, it was when I was very young," said Gyna, and suddenly she felt it was her turn to be trusting. Something about the Lady Jyllia's friendly and forthcoming manner touched her. "To be honest, I don't remember anything at all of my childhood before I was nine or ten. Perhaps I was here with my parents, whoever they were, when I was a little girl. I tell you, I think perhaps I was. I don't recall ever being here before, but everything I've seen, the city, you, the King himself, all seem ... like I've been here before, long ago."

Lady Jyllia gasped and took a step back. She gripped the old woman, who had been looking out to sea and murmuring, by the hand. The elderly creature looked to Jyllia, surprised, and then turned to Gyna. Her ancient, half-blind eyes sparkled with recognition and she made a sound like a grunt of surprise. Gyna also jumped. If the King had seemed like something out of a half-forgotten dream, this woman was someone she knew. As clear and yet indistinct as a guardian spirit.

"I apologize," stammered Lady Jyllia. "This is my childhood nursemaid, Ramke."

"It's her!" the old woman cried, wild-eyed. She tried to run forward, arms outstretched, but Jyllia held her back. Gyna felt strangely naked, and pulled her robe against her body.

"No, you're wrong," Lady Jyllia whispered to Ramke, holding the old woman tightly. "The Princess Talara is dead, you know that. I shouldn't have brought you here. I'll take you back home." She turned back to Gyna, her eyes welling with tears. "The entire royal family of Camlorn was assassinated over twenty years ago. My father was Duke of Oloine, the King's brother, and so he inherited the crown. I'm sorry to have bothered you. Goodnight."

Gyna gazed after Lady Jyllia and the old nurse as they disappeared into the crowd, but she had little time to consider all she had heard. The sun was setting, and it was time for the Flower Festival. Twelve young men emerged from the darkness wearing only loincloths and masks, and lit the torches. The moment the fire blazed, Gyna and all the rest of the dancers rushed to the baskets, pulling out blossoms and vines by the handful.

At first, the women danced with one another, sprinkling petals to the wind. The crowd then joined in as the music swelled. It was a mad, beautiful chaos. Gyna leapt and swooned like a wild forest nymph. Then, without warning, she felt rough hands grip her from behind and push her.

She was falling before she understood it. The moment the realization hit, she was closer to the bottom of the hundred foot tall cliff than she was to the top. She flailed out her arms and grasped at the cliff wall. Her fingers raked against the stone and her flesh tore, but she found a grip and held it. For a moment, she stayed there, breathing hard. Then she began to scream.

The music and the festival were too loud up above: no one could hear her - she could scarcely hear herself. Below her, the surf crashed. Every bone in her body would snap if she fell. She closed her eyes, and a vision came. A man was standing below her, a King of great wisdom, great compassion, looking up, smiling. A little girl, golden-haired, mischievous, her best friend and cousin, clung to the rock beside her.

"The secret to falling is making your body go limp. And with luck, you won't get hurt," the girl said. She nodded, remembering who she was. Eight years of darkness lifted.

She released her grip and let herself fall like a leaf into the water below.


Part II

She felt nothing, darkness enveloping her body and mind. Pain surged through her leg and with that sensation, a great feeling of cold washed over her. She opened her eyes and saw that she was drowning.

Her left leg would not move at all, but using her right one and her arms, she pulled herself up toward the moons above. It was long way through the swirling currents that wrenched back at her. At last she broke the surface and sucked in the cold night air. She was still close to the rocky shoreline of the capitol city of the kingdom of Camlorn, but the water had carried her quite a ways from the point where she fell at Cavilstyr Rock.

Not fell, she thought, correcting herself. She had been pushed.

Further down current, she allowed herself to drift. There the steep cliff walls sloped lower until they were close to the water's edge. The silhouette of a large house on the shore loomed ahead, and as she neared it, she could see smoke rising from the chimney and the flicker of firelight within. The pain in her leg was great, but greater still was the chill of the water. The thought of a warm hearth fire was all the motivation she needed to begin swimming again.

At the shore's edge, she tried to stand but found she couldn't. Her tears mixed with the sea water as she began to crawl across the sand and rock. The simple white sheet which had been her costume at the Flower Festival was tattered and felt like a weight of lead across her back. Beyond the point of exhaustion, she fell forward and began to sob.

"Please!" she cried. "If you can hear me, please help!"

A moment later, the door to the house opened and a woman stepped out. It was Ramke, the old lady she had met at the Flower Festival. The one who had started and cried "It's her!" even before she herself knew who she was. By contrast, when the old woman came to her, this time there was no glimmer of recognition in her eyes.

"By Sethiete, are you hurt?" Ramke whispered, and helped her up, acting as her crutch. "I've seen that gown before. Were you one of the dancers at the Flower Festival tonight? I was there with Lady Jyllia Raze, the daughter of the King."

"I know, she introduced us," she groaned. "I called myself Gyna of Daggerfall?"

"Of course, I knew you looked familiar somehow," the old woman chuckled, and led her hop by hop across the beach and into the front door. "My memory isn't as good as it used to be. Lets [sic] get you warm and have a look at that leg."

Ramke took Gyna's soaking rags and covered her with a blanket as she sat at the fire. As the numbness of the chill water began to leave her, it cruelly abandoned her to the intense agony of her leg. Until then, she had not dared to look at it. When she did, she felt vomit rise at the sight of the deep gash, fish-white dead flesh, plump and swollen. Thick arterial blood bubbled up, splashing on the floor in streams.

"Oh dear," said the old woman, returning to the fire. "That must rather sting. You're lucky that I still remember a little of the old healing spells."

Ramke seated herself on the floor and pressed her hands on either side of the wound. Gyna felt a flare of pain, and then a cool soft pinching and prickle. When she looked down, Ramke was slowly sliding her wrinkled hands towards one another. At their approach, the lesion began to mend before her eyes, flesh binding and bruises fading.

"Sweet Kynareth," Gyna gasped. "You've saved my life."

"Not only that, you won't have an ugly scar on your pretty leg," Ramke chuckled. "I had to use that spell so many times when Lady Jyllia was little. You know, I was her nursemaid."

"I know," Gyna smiled. "But that was a long time ago, and you still remember the spell."

"Oh, when you're learning anything, even the School of Restoration, there's always a lot of study and mistakes, but once you're as old as I am, there's no longer any need to remember things. You just know. After all, I've probably cast it a thousand times before. Little Lady Jyllia and the little Princess Talara was always getting cut and bruised. Small wonder, the way they was always climbing all over the palace."

Gyna sighed. "You must have loved Lady Jyllia very much."

"I still do," Ramke beamed. "But now she's all grown and things are different. You know, I didn't notice it before because you were all wet from the sea, but you look very much like my lady. Did I mention that before when we met at the Festival?"

"You did," said Gyna. "Or rather I think you thought I looked like Princess Talara."

"Oh, it would be so wonderful if you were the Princess returned," the old woman gasped. "You know, when the former royal family was killed, and everyone said the Princess was killed though we never found the body, I think the real victim was Lady Jyllia. Her little heart just broke, and for a while, it looked like her mind did too."

"What do you mean?" asked Gyna. "What happened?"

"I don't know if I should tell a stranger this, but it's fairly well-known in Camlorn, and I really feel like I know you," Ramke struggled with her conscience and then released. "Jyllia saw the assassination, you see. I found her afterwards, hiding in that terrible blood-stained throne room, and she was like a little broken doll. She wouldn't speak, she wouldn't eat. I tried all my healing spells, but it was quite beyond my power. So much more than a scraped knee. Her father who was then Duke of Oloine sent her to a sanitarium in the country to get well."

"That poor little girl," cried Gyna.

"It took her years to be herself again," said Ramke, nodding. "And, in truth, she never really returned altogether. You wonder why her father when he was made king didn't make her his heir? He thought that she was still not exactly right, and in a way, as much as I would deny it, he's correct to think so. She remembered nothing, nothing at all."

"Do you think," Gyna considered her words carefully. "That she would be better if she knew that her cousin the Princess Talara was alive and well?"

Ramke considered it. "I think so. But maybe not. Sometimes it's best not to hope."

Gyna stood up, finding her leg to be as strong as it looked to be. Her gown had dried, and Ramke gave her a cloak, insisting she protect herself against the cold night air. At the door, Gyna kissed the old woman's cheek and thanked her. Not only for the healing spell and for the cloak, but for everything else of kindness she had ever done.

The road close to the house went north and south. To the left was the way back to Camlorn, where secrets lay to which she alone held the key. To the south was Daggerfall, her home for more than twenty years. She could return there, back to her profession on the streets, very easily. For a few seconds, she considered her options, and then made her choice.

She had not been walking for very long, when a black carriage drawn by three horses bearing the Imperial Seal, together with eight mounted horses, passed her. Before it rounded the wooded pass ahead, it stopped suddenly. She recognized one of the soldiers as Gnorbooth, Lord Strale's manservant. The door opened and Lord Strale himself, the Emperor's ambassador, the man who had hired her and all the other women to entertain at court, stepped out.

"You!' he frowned. "You're one of the prostitutes, aren't you? You're the one who disappeared during the Flower Festival? Gyna, am I right?"

"All that is true," she smiled sourly. "Except my name I've discovered is not Gyna."

"I don't care what it is," said Lord Strale. "What are you doing on the south road? I paid for you to stay and make the kingdom merry."

"If I went back to Camlorn, there are a great many who wouldn't be merry at all."

"Explain yourself," said Lord Strale.

So she did. And he listened.


Part III

Gnorbooth was leaving his favorite pub in Camlorn, The Breaking Branch, when he heard someone calling his name. His was not the sort of a name that could be mistaken for another. He turned and saw Lord Eryl, the Royal Battlemage from the palace, emerge from the darkness of the alley.

"Milord," said Gnorbooth with a pleasant smile.

"I'm surprised to see you out this evening, Gnorbooth," grinned Lord Eryl with a most unpleasant smile. "I have not seen you and your master very much since the millennial celebration, but I understand you've been very busy. What I've been wondering is what you've been busy doing."

"Protecting the Imperial interests in Camlorn is busy work, milord. But I cannot imagine you would be interested in the minutiae of the ambassador's appointments."

"But I am," said the battlemage. "Especially as the ambassador has begun acting most mysteriously, most undiplomatically lately. And I understand that he has taken one of the whores from the Flower Festival into his house. I believe her name is Gyna?"

Gnorbooth shrugged: "He's in love, I would imagine, milord. It can make men act very strangely, as I'm sure you've heard before."

"She is a most comely wench," laughed Lord Eryl. "Have you noticed how much she resembles the late Princess Talara?"

"I have only been in Camlorn for fifteen years, milord. I never saw her late majesty."

"Now I could understand it if he had taken to writing poetry, but what man in love spends his days in the kitchens of the palace, talking to old servants? That hardly sounds like molten passion to me, even based on my limited experience." Lord Eryl rolled his eyes. "And what is this business he has now in - oh, what is the name of that village?"

"Umbington?" replied Gnorbooth, and immediately wished he hadn't. Lord Eryl was too canny an actor to reveal it, but Gnorbooth knew at the pit of his stomach that the battlemage did not even know Lord Strale had left the capitol. He had to get away to let the ambassador know, but there was still a game to be carefully played. "He's not leaving for there until tomorrow. I believe it's just to put a stamp on some deed that needs the Imperial seal."

"Is that all? How tedious for the poor fellow. I suppose I'll see him when he returns then," Lord Eryl bowed. "Thank you for being so informative. Farewell."

The moment the royal battlemage turned the corner, Gnorbooth leapt onto his horse. He had drunk one or two ales too many, but he knew he must find his way to Umbington before Lord Eryl's agents did. He galloped east out of the capitol, hoping there were signs along the road.

Seated in a tavern that smelled of mildew and sour beer, Lord Strale marveled at how the Emperor's agent Lady Brisienna always found the most public of places for her most private of conferences. It was harvest time in Umbington, and all of the field hands were drinking away their meager wages in the noisiest of fashions. He was dressed appropriately for the venue, rough trousers and a simple peasant's vest, but he still felt conspicuous. In comparison to his two female companions, he certainly was. The woman to his right was used to frequenting the low places of Daggerfall as a common prostitute. Lady Brisienna to his left was even more clearly in her element.

"By what name would you prefer I call you?" Lady Brisienna asked solicitously.

"I am used to the name Gyna, though that may have to change," was her reply. "Of course, it may not. Gyna the Whore may be the name writ on my grave."

"I will see to it that there is no attempt on your life like that the Flower Festival," Lord Strale frowned. "But without the Emperor's help, I won't be able to protect you forever. The only permanent solution is to capture those who would do you harm and then to raise you to your proper station."

"Do you believe my story?" Gyna turned to Lady Brisienna.

"I have been the Emperor's chief agent in High Rock for many years now, and I have heard few stranger tales. If your friend the ambassador hadn't investigated and discovered what he has, I would have dismissed you outright as a madwoman," Brisienna laughed, forcing a smile onto Gyna's face to match. "But now, yes, I do believe you. Perhaps that makes me the madwoman."

"Will you help us?" asked Lord Strale simply.

"It is a tricky business interfering in the affairs of the provincial kingdoms," Lady Brisienna looked into the depths of her mug thoughtfully. "Unless there is a threat to the Empire itself, we find it is best not to meddle. What we have in your case is a very messy assassination that happened twenty years ago, and its aftermath. If His Imperial Majesty involved itself in every bloody hiccup in the succession in each of his thousand vassal kingdoms, he would never accomplish anything for the greater good of Tamriel."

"I understand," murmured Gyna. "When I remembered everything, who I was and what happened to me, I resolved to do nothing about it. In fact, I was leaving Camlorn and going back home to Daggerfall when I saw Lord Strale again. He was the one who began this quest to resolve this, not me. And when he brought me back, I only wanted to see my cousin to tell her who I was, but he forbade me."

"It would have been too dangerous," growled Strale. "We still don't know yet the depths of the conspiracy. Perhaps we never will."

"I'm sorry, I always find myself giving long explanations to short questions. When Lord Strale asked if I would help, I should have begun by saying 'yes,'" Lady Brisienna laughed at the change in Lord Strale and Gyna's expressions. "I will help you, of course. But for this to turn out well, you must accomplish two things to the Emperor's satisfaction. First, you must prove with absolute certainty who is the power behind this plot you've uncovered. You must get someone to confess."

"And secondly," said Lord Strale, nodding. "We must prove that this is a matter worthy of His Imperial Majesty's consideration, and not merely a minor local concern."

Lord Strale, Lady Brisienna, and the woman who called herself Gyna discussed how to accomplish their goals for a few hours more. When it was agreed what had to be done, Lady Brisienna took her leave to find her ally Proseccus. Strale and Gyna set off to the west, toward Camlorn. It was not long after beginning their ride through the woods that they heard the sound of galloping hoof beats far up ahead. Lord Strale unsheathed his sword and signaled for Gyna to position her horse behind him.

At that moment, they were attacked on all sides. It was an ambush. Eight men, armed with axes, had been lying in wait.

Lord Strale quickly yanked Gyna from her horse, pulling her behind him. He made a brief, deft motion with his hands. A ring of flame materialized around them, and rushed outward, striking their assailants. The men roared in pain and dropped to their knees. Lord Strale jumped the horse over the closest one, and galloped at full speed westward.

"I thought you were an ambassador not a mage!" laughed Gyna.

"I still believe there are times for diplomacy," replied Lord Strale.

The horse and rider they had heard before met them on the road. It was Gnorbooth. "Milord, it's the royal battlemage! He found out you two were in Umbington!"

"With considerable ease, I might add," Lord Eryl's voice boomed out of the woods. Gnorbooth, Gyna, and Lord Strale scanned the dark trees, but they showed nothing. The battlemage's voice seemed to emanate from everywhere and nowhere.

"I'm sorry, milord," groaned Gnorbooth. "I tried to warn you as soon as I could."

"In your next life, perhaps you'll remember not to trust your plans to a drunkard!" laughed Lord Eryl. He had them in his sight, and the spell was unleashed.

Gnorbooth saw him first, by the light of the ball of fire that leapt from his fingertips. Later, Lord Eryl was to wonder to himself what the fool had intended to do. Perhaps he was rushing forward to pull Lord Strale out of the path. Perhaps he was trying to flee the path of destruction, and had simply moved left when he should have moved right. Perhaps, as unlikely as it seemed, he was willing to sacrifice himself to save his master. Whatever the reason, the result was the same.

He got in the way.

There was an explosion of energy that filled the night, and an echoing boom that shook birds from the trees for a mile around. On the few square feet where Gnorbooth and his horse had stood was nothing but black glass. They had been reduced to less than vapor. Gyna and Lord Strale were thrown back. Their horse, when it recovered its senses, galloped away as fast as it could. In the lingering glowing aura of the spell's detonation, Lord Strale looked straight into the woods and into the wide eyes of the battlemage.

"Damn," said Lord Eryl and began to run. The ambassador jumped to his feet and pursued.

"That was an expensive use of magicka, even for you," said Lord Strale as he ran. "Don't you know well enough not to use ranged spells unless you are certain your target won't be blocked?"

"I never thought - that idiot -" Lord Eryl was struck from behind and knocked to the wet forest floor before he had a chance to finish his lamentation.

"It doesn't matter what you thought," said Lord Strale calmly, flipping the battlemage around and pinning his arms to the ground with his knees. "I'm not a battlemage, but I knew enough not to use my entire reserve on your little ambush. Perhaps it's a matter of philosophy, as a government agent, I feel inclined toward conservatism."

"What are you going to do?" whimpered Lord Eryl.

"Gnorbooth was a good man, one of the best, and so I'm going to hurt you quite a lot," the ambassador made a slight movement and his hands began to glow brightly. "That's a certainty. How much more I'm going to hurt you after that depends on what you tell me. I want to hear about the former Duke of Oloine."

"What do you want to know?" Lord Eryl screamed.

"Let's start with everything," replied Lord Strale with perfect patience.


Part IV

Gyna never saw the Emperor's agent Lady Brisienna again, but she kept her promise. Proseccus, a nightblade in the service of the Empire, arrived at Lord Strale's house in disguise. She was an apt pupil, and within days, he had taught what she needed to know.

"It is a simple charm, not the sort of spell that could turn a raging daedroth into a love-struck puppy," said Proseccus. "If you do or say anything that would normally anger or offend your target, the power will weaken. It will alter temporarily his perception of you, as spells of the school of illusion do, but his feelings of respect and admiration for you must be supported by means of a charm of a less magickal nature."

"I understand," smiled Gyna, thanking her tutor for the two spells of illusion he had taught her. The time had come to use her new-found skill.

The Prostitutes Guildhouse of Camlorn was a great palace in an affluent northern quarter of the city. Prince Sylon could have found his way there blindfolded, or blind drunk as he often was. Tonight, however, he was only lightly inebriated and he resolved to drink no more. Tonight he was in the mood for pleasure. His kind of pleasure.

"Where is my favorite, Grigia?" he demanded of the Guildmistress upon entering.

"She is still healing from your appointment with her last week," she smiled serenely. "Most of the other women are in with clients as well, but I saved a special treat for you. A new girl. One you will certainly enjoy."

The Prince was guided to a sumptuously decorated suite of velvet and silk. As he entered, Gyna stepped from behind a screen and cast her spell quickly, with her mind open to belief as Proseccus had instructed. It was hard to tell if it worked at first. The Prince looked at her with a cruel smile and then, like sun breaking through clouds, the cruelty left. She could tell he was hers. He asked her her name.

"I am between names right now," she teased. "I've never made love to a real prince before. I've never even been inside a palace. Is yours very ... big?"

"It's not mine yet," he shrugged. "But someday I'll be king."

"It would be wonderful to live in such a place," Gyna cooed. "A thousand years of history. Everything must be so old and beautiful. The paintings and books and statues and tapestries. Does your family hold onto all their old treasures?"

"Yes, hoarded away with a lot of boring old junk in the archive rooms in the vaults. Please, may I see you naked now?"

"First a little conversation, though you may feel free to disrobe whenever you like," said Gyna. "I had heard there was an archive room, but it's quite hidden away."

"There's a false wall behind the family crypt," said the Prince, gripping her wrist and pulling her towards him for a kiss. Something in his eyes had changed.

"Your Highness, you're hurting my arm," Gyna cried.

"Enough talk, you bewitching whore," he snarled. Holding back a sharp jab of fear, Gyna let her mind cool and perceptions whirl. As his angry mouth touched her lips, she cast the second spell she had learned  [sic] her illusionist mentor.

The Prince felt his flesh turn to stone. He remained frozen, watching Gyna pull together her clothing and leave the room. The paralysis would only last for a few more minutes, but it was all the time she needed.

The Guildmistress had already left with all her girls, just as Gyna and Lord Strale had told her to. They would tell her when it was safe to return. She had not even accepted any gold for her part in the trap. She said it was enough that her girls would not be tortured anymore by that most perverse and cruel Prince.

"What a terrible boy," thought Gyna as she raised the hood on her cloak and raced through the streets toward Lord Strale's house. "It is good that he will never be king."

The following morning, the King and Queen of Camlorn held their daily audience with various nobles and diplomats, a sparse gathering. The throne room was largely empty. It was a terribly dull way to begin the day. In between petitions, they yawned regally.

"What has happened to all the interesting people?" the Queen murmured. "Where's our precious boy?"

"I've heard he was raging through the north quarter in search of some harlot who robbed him," the King chuckled fondly. "What a fine lad."

"And what of the Royal Battlemage?"

"I've sent him to take care of a delicate matter," the King knit his brow. "But that was nearly a week ago, and I haven't heard one word from him. It's somewhat troubling."

"Indeed it is, Lord Eryl should not be gone so long," the Queen frowned. "What if a rogue sorcerer came and threatened us? Husband, don't laugh at me, that is why all the royal houses of High Rock keep their mage retainers close to their side. To protect their court from evil enchantments, like the one that our poor Emperor suffered so recently."

"At the hand of his own battlemage," chuckled the King

"Lord Eryl would never betray you like that, and you well know it. He has been in your employ since you were Duke of Oloine. To even make that comparison between he and Jagar Tharn, really," the Queen waved her hands dismissively. "It is that sort of lack of trust that is ruining kingdoms all over Tamriel. Now, Lord Strale tells me -"

"There's another man that's gone missing," mused the King.

"The ambassador?" the Queen shook her head. "No, he's here. He was desirous to visit the crypts and pay homage to your noble ancestors, so I directed him there. I can't think what's keeping him so long. He must be more pious than I thought."

She was surprised to see the King rise up, alarmed. "Why didn't you tell me?"

Before she had a chance to reply, the subject of their conversation was coming through the open door to the throne room. At on [sic] his arm was a beautiful fair-haired woman in a stately gown of scarlet and gold, worthy of the highest nobility. The queen followed her startled husband's gaze, and was likewise amazed.

"I had heard he was taken with one of the harlots from the Flower Festival, not a lady," she whispered. "Why, she looks remarkably like your daughter, the Lady Jyllia."

"That she does," the King gasped. "Or her cousin, the Princess Talara."

The nobles in the room also whispered amongst themselves. Though few had been at court twenty years ago when the Princess had disappeared, presumed murdered like the rest of the royal family, there were still a few elder statesmen who remembered. It was not only on throne that the word "Talara" passed through the air like an enchantment.

"Lord Strale, will you introduce us to your lady?" the Queen asked with a polite smile.

"In a moment, your highness, but I'm afraid I must first discuss pressing matters," Lord Strale replied with a bow. "Might I request a private audience?"

The King looked at the Imperial ambassador, trying to read into the man's expression. With a wave of his hand, he dismissed the assembled and had the doors shut behind them. No one remained in the audience room but the King, the Queen, the ambassador, a dozen royal guards, and the mysterious woman.

The ambassador pulled from his pocket a sheaf of old yellowed parchment. "Your Highness, when you ascended the throne after your brother and his family were murdered, anything that seemed important, deeds and wills, were of course kept with the clerks and ministers. His entire incidental, unimportant personal correspondence was sent to archive which is standard protocol. This letter was among them."

"What is this all about, sir?" the King boomed. "What does it say?"

"Nothing about you, your majesty. In truth, at the time of your majesty's ascension, no one reading it could have understood its significance. It was a letter to the Emperor the late king your brother was penning at the time of his assassination, concerning a thief who had once been a mage-priest at the Temple of Sethiete here in Camlorn. His name was Jagar Tharn."

"Jagar Tharn?" the Queen laughed nervously. "Why, we were just talking about him."

"Tharn had stolen many books of powerful and forgotten spells, and lore about such artifacts as the Staff of Chaos, where it was hidden and how it could be used. News travels slowly to westernmost High Rock, and by the time the King your brother had heard that the Emperor's new battlemage was a man named Jagar Tharn, many years had passed. The king had been writing a letter to warn the Emperor of the treachery of his Imperial Battlemage, but it was never completed." Lord Strale held up the letter. "It is dated on the day of his assassination in the year 385. Four years before Jagar Tharn betrayed his master, and began the ten years of tyranny of the Imperial Simulacrum."

"This is all very interesting," the King barked. "But what has it to do with me?"

"The late King's assassination is now a matter of Imperial concern. And I have a confession from your Royal Battlemage Lord Eryl."

The King's face lost all color: "You miserable worm, no man may threaten me. Neither you, nor that whore, nor that letter will ever see the light of day again. Guards!"

The royal guards unsheathed their blades and pressed forward. As they did so, there was a sudden shimmering of light and the room was filled with Imperial nightblades, led by Proseccus. They had been there for hours, lurking invisibly in the shadows.

"In the name of His Imperial Majesty, Uriel Septim VII, I arrest you," said Strale.

The doors were opened, and the King and Queen were led out, heads bowed. Gyna told Proseccus where he would most likely find their son, Prince Sylon. The courtiers and nobles who had been in the audience chamber stared at the strange, solemn procession of their King and Queen to their own royal prison. No one said a word.

When at last a voice was heard, it startled all. The Lady Jyllia had arrived at court. "What is happening? Who dares to usurp the authority of the King and Queen?"

Lord Strale turned to Proseccus: "We would speak with the Lady Jyllia alone. You know what needs to be done."

Proseccus nodded and had the doors to the throne room closed once again. The courtiers pressed against the wood, straining to hear everything. Though they could not say it, they wanted an explanation almost as much as her Ladyship did.


Part V

"By what right do you arrest my father?" cried the Lady Jyllia. "What has he done?"

"I arrest the King of Camlorn, the former Duke of Oloine, by my right as an Imperial Commanding Officer and Ambassador," said Lord Strale. "By the right of law of the Emperor of Tamriel which supercedes [sic] all provincial royal authority."

Gyna came forward and tried to put her hand on Jyllia's arm, but she was coldly rebuffed. Quietly, she sat down at the foot of the throne in the now empty audience chamber.

"This young lady came to me, having completely recovered her memory, but the story she told was beyond incredible, I simply couldn't believe it," said Lord Strale. "But she was so convinced of it, I had to investigate. So I talked to everyone who was here at the palace twenty years ago to see if there could be any truth to it. Of course, at the time of the King and Queen's murder, and the Princess's disappearance, there was a full inquiry made, but I had different questions to ask this time. Questions about the relationship between the two little cousins, Lady Jyllia Raze and the Princess."

"I've told everyone over and over again, I don't remember anything at all about that time in my life," said Jyllia, tears welling up.

"I know you don't. There has never been a question in my mind that you witnessed a horrible murder, and that your memory lapse and hers," said Lord Strale, gesturing toward Gyna "Are both very real. The story I heard from the servants and other people at the palace was that the little girls were inseparably close. There were no other playmates, and as the Princess's place was to be close to her parents, so the little Lady Jyllia was always there as well. When the assassin came to murder the Royal Family, the King and Queen were in their bedroom, and the girls were playing in the throne room."

"When my memory came back to me, it was like opening a sealed box," said Gyna solemnly. "Everything was so clear and detailed, like it all happened yesterday not twenty years ago. I was on the throne, playing Empress, and you were hiding behind the dais, pretending you were in a dungeon I had sent you to. A man I had never seen burst into the room from the Royal bedchamber, his blade soaked in blood. He came at me, and I ran for my life. I remember starting to run for the dais, but I saw your face, frozen in fear, and I didn't want to lead him to you. So I ran for the window.

"We had climbed on the outside of the castle before, just for fun, that was one of the first memories that came back to me when I was holding onto that cliff. You and I on the castle wall, and the King calling up to me, telling me how to get down. But that day, I couldn't hold on, I was trembling so much. I just fell, and landed in the river.

"I don't know if it was entirely the horror of what I had seen, or that combined with the impact of the fall and the coldness of the water, but everything just went blank in my mind. When I finally pulled myself out of the river, many miles away, I had no idea who I was. And so it stayed," Gyna smiled. "Until now."

"So you are the Princess Talara?" cried Jyllia.

"Let me explain further before she answers that, because the simple answer would just confuse you, as it did me," said Lord Strale. "The assassin was caught before he managed to escape the palace - in truth, he had to know he was going to be caught. He confessed immediately to the murders of the Royal Family. The Princess, he said, he had thrown out the window to her death. A servant down below heard the scream, and saw something fly past his window, so he knew it to be true.

"It was not for several hours that little Lady Jyllia was found by her nursemaid Ramke hiding behind the dais, coated with dust, shivering with fear, and unable to speak at all. Ramke was very protective of you," Strale said, nodding to Jyllia. "She insisted on putting you to your room right away, and sent word the Duke of Oloine that the Royal Family was dead, and that his daughter had witnessed the murders but survived."

"I'm beginning to remember a little of that," said Jyllia, wonderingly. "I remember lying in bed, with Ramke comforting me. I was so muddled and I couldn't concentrate. I remember I just wanted it all to be play time still, I don't know why. And then, I remember being bundled up and taken to that asylum."

"It'll all come back to you soon," Gyna smiled. "I promise. That's how I began to remember. I just caught one detail, and the whole flood began."

"That's it," Jyllia began to sob in frustration. "I don't remember anything else except confusion. No, I also remember Daddy not even looking at me as I was taken away. And I remember not caring about that, or anything else."

"It was a confusing time for all, so particularly so for little girls. Especially little girls who went through what you two did," said Lord Strale sympathetically. "From what I understand, as soon as he received the message from Ramke, the Duke left his palace at Oloine, gave orders for you to be sent to a private sanitarium until you'd recovered from your ordeal, and set to work with his private guard torturing the assassin for information. When I heard that, that no one but the Duke and his personal guard saw the assassin after he gave his initial confession, and that no one was present but the Duke and his guards when the assassin was killed trying to escape, I thought that very significant.

"I spoke with Lord Eryl, who I knew was one of those present, and I had to bluff him, pretending I had more evidence than I did. I got the reaction I was hoping for, though it was a dangerous gambit. At last he confessed to what I already knew to be true.

"The assassin," Lord Strale paused, and reluctantly met Jyllia's eyes, "Had been hired by the Duke of Oloine to kill the Royal Family, including the Princess as heir, so that the crown might be passed to him and to his children."

Jyllia stared at Lord Strale, aghast. "My father -"

"The assassin had been told that once the Duke had him in custody, he would be paid and a prison break would be arranged. The thug picked the wrong time to be greedy and try to get more gold. The Duke decided that it would be cheaper to silence him, so he murdered him then and there, so the man would never tell anyone what really happened," Lord Strale shrugged. "No tragic loss as far as murders go. In a few years' time, you returned from the sanitarium, a little shaken but back to normal, except for a complete absence of memory about your childhood. And in that time, the former Duke of Oloine had taken his brother's place as the King of Camlorn. It was no small maneuver."

"No," said Jyllia, quietly. "He must have been very busy. He remarried and had another child. No one ever came to visit me in the sanitarium but Ramke."

"If he had visited and seen you," said Gyna. "This story might have turned out very differently."

"What do you mean?" asked Jyllia.

"This is the most amazing part," said Lord Strale. "The question has long been whether Gyna is the Princess Talara. When her memory returned, and she told me what she remembered, I put several pieces of evidence together. Consider these facts.

"The two of you look remarkably alike now after twenty years of living very different lives, and as little girls and constant playmates, you looked nearly identical.

"At the time of the assassination, the murderer who had never been there before, only saw one girl on the throne, who he assumed to be his quarry.

"The woman who found Lady Jyllia was her nursemaid Ramke, a creature of unstable mind and fanatical devotion to her charge - the type would never accept the possibility that her beloved little girl had been the one who disappeared. The nursemaid was the only single person who knew both Princess Talara and the Lady Jyllia who visited you while you were in the sanitarium.

"Finally," said Lord Strale, "Consider the fact that when you returned to court from the sanitarium, five years had past, and you had grown from a child to a young lady. You looked familiar, but not quite the same as your family remembered you, which is only natural."

"I don't understand," cried the poor girl, her eyes wide, because she did understand. Here [sic] memory was falling together like a terrible flood.

"Let me explain it like this," said her cousin, wrapping her in her arms. "I know who I am now. My real name is Jyllia Raze. That man who was arrested was my father, the man who murdered the King - your father. YOU are the Princess Talara."