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Chapter Twenty-three – Dinner with the High Queen



The dinner party was seated at the long table exactly at eight. The formal dining room of the Blue Palace was large. Not quite as big as the great hall in Dragonsreach, but then that was a multipurpose room, and this was just one of many in the palace. It was beautifully set, with stain glass windows along the outer wall and large and tasteful paintings covering many of the surfaces. Unlike most Nord formal chambers there were no heads of dead animals staring from the walls. There were plenty of shelves, though, stocked with memorabilia from a thousand years of high kings.


Elisif sat at the head of the table, wearing a simple but elegant gown, the circlet of the Jarl sitting on her brow. Nora had the seat of honor, to the right of the Jarl, the first place down the length of the table. Her people sat in a line down from her, Eldawyn to Nora's right. On the other side of the table were nobles of the hold, starting with Falk Firebeard, the Steward, and three Thanes and the court wizard in line down the table. A guard captain sat on that side as well, while the Jarl's Housecarl stood at the entrance to the room in full armor.


Drinks and appetizers were served first, good wine and cups of shrimp. Nora had found out that the sea provided much of the food in the city. That and the shipments by sea from the other provinces. Skyrim had a great number of farms, but there were many areas where the growing seasons were so short that they couldn't provide all the food.


Nora inhaled the shrimp, to the stares of the nobles and the smiles of her people.


“Not getting enough to eat, Thane Nora,” said Erikur, the obnoxious overweight Thane that she had taken an instant dislike to.


“Sorry for my lack of table manners,” said Nora, her face flushing.


“Think nothing of it, Thane Nora,” said Elisif.


“Just Nora, please, Elisif.”

Elisif nodded, then continued. “Balgruuf mentioned your eating habits, but he didn't say why you needed so much.”


“Did he mention anything else about me?”


“Only that you weren't from Nirn, and might not have figured out our culture completely.”


Nora laughed. “There's more to it than that. The fact is, I have to eat much more than a normal person each day to keep my body weight. I have a heightened metabolism, one which burns calories at an astounding rate.”


“Not from Nirn?” said Erikur in a loud voice. “What nonsense is this? How can someone not be from Nirn?” His eyes narrowed. “Unless she is some thing from Oblivion.”


“Thane Erikur,” said Elisif in her best haughty voice. “Do not insult our guest. If you cannot keep a civil tongue then you may leave.”


The way the Jarl was looking at her Thane told Nora much of their relationship with each other. Elisif couldn't stand the man, but tolerated him, probably for political reasons.


“So, tell me about this world of yours,” said the Jarl, leaning forward. The servants refilled glasses, and Elisif smiled up at the man pouring her drink. That told Nora much about the Jarl, and she found herself really liking the ruler of this Hold.


“How long before the main course arrives?” asked Nora, wanting to know how long she had for her presentation.


“About twenty minutes.”

“Then let me show you,” said Nora, thinking she enough time for a short presentation and pulling out a small half globe and setting it on the table. She had taken the device from her suit of power armor, fully charged, and with an edited video of the world before the war and the Commonwealth afterward.


“This was my world before the war.” The holo sprang to life, showing the great city of Boston, the glass towers, the streets filled with cars, a view of a power plant. A jetliner coming in for a landing. People watching a baseball game. The view of the wilds, deer, bear, birds in flight. Trees and flowers that looked much like those of Skyrim.


“What sorcery is this?” exclaimed Erikur.


“I sense no magic here,” said Sybille Stentor, waving a hand through some motions.


“It's the technology of my world. We didn't have magic.”


“Yet so many wonders,” said Falk Firebeard, eyes wide.


“And then came the war,” said Nora, as the view switched to the active fighting. Warplanes in the sky. Soldiers moving along, on foot, power armor moving with them in support. An aircraft carrier moving at sea, launching and recovering aircraft. A submarine diving. And then, the climax, the scene of the atomic warhead detonating on the outskirts of Boston as the ending act of the war played. The blinding flash, buildings coming apart, then a black screen as the aircraft taking the footage crashed.


“I was in cryo sleep, frozen, for two hundred years, and woke to this.” Scenes of the blasted landscape, rusted cars, houses that had been smashed, buildings that still stood but missed one or another wall. Then the two headed beasts, radstags, Brahman, radroaches. The true horrors, mutated bears, a pair of deathclaws on the attack, a swarm of feral ghouls running down the street, a mirelurk mother coming out of the sea. Supermutants, their lair with hanging bags of meat. A shot of Nora, recognizable in her strap on armor, sending a missile into a giant being that was a larger version of the supermutants.


“But there had been some rebuilding, and I helped them with even more.” A settlement, Sanctuary Hills as it was when she found it. Then rebuilt, new concrete structures. A view of the laser turrets taking out a deathclaw. Hangman's Alley, Coastal Cottage, Longfellow's cabin, some of the others. A view of the Prydwin in flight, vertibirds coming and going. Minutemen walking down one of the roads, power armor moving in support. The inside of the institute. A man stepping onto a platform and disappearing in a flash of light.


The presentation took fifteen minutes as the people around the table sat and watched, speechless.


“I went into cryo, a chamber that froze me and kept me young, just as the bombs were dropping. I woke up to see my husband murdered in front of my eyes, my baby stolen. And then the bastards put me back to sleep for another sixty years. So I woke in a world that I didn't recognize, to try and find a baby who had become a grown man without my knowledge. And I started helping people, taking out the gangs that were making their lives a holy hell. Uniting the people, until we had something worth defending.”


“I am so sorry about your husband,” said Elisif in a quiet voice. “So we have something horrible in common.”


“Yes, Elisif,” said Nora, a tear running down her cheeks. “We do. And I can see why you hate Ulfric.”


“So you were a hero in that world as well,” said Thane Bryling, a middle-aged woman sitting next to Falk.

“No. I just saw things that needed doing and I did them. I don't think that makes me a hero, though it did get me installed as president of the Commonwealth, against my will.”


“How could they make you the leader against your will?” asked Falk.


“We had an election, and the damned fools kept writing in my name. I kept winning by a super-majority, and finally gave in to the inevitable.”


“Sounds like you were a hero to me,” said Falk.


“What is this,” complained Erikur, slamming a hand on the table. “Some illusion she summoned, and you are all eating out of her hand.”


“Enough,” yelled Elisif, glaring at the Thane. “Erikur, you may leave the table. And you can come back to court when you are prepared to apologize to Nora Jane Smith. Or is it Queen Nora?” asked Elisif, looking over at the Sole Survivor.


“It was President,” said Nora, glancing over as Erikur got to his feet and stormed out of the chamber.


“I inherited him from my father in law,” said Elisif, looking down. “He is one of the richest men in Skyrim, and his wealth is a benefit to the realm. But sometimes I wish he had never been appointed Thane. Unfortunately, short of treason, I cannot dismiss him.”


“I understand.”


“Your world. It was so wonderful, then became so horrible,” said Elisif, closing her eyes. “But you made it better.”


“Not on my own. There were a lot of people that helped. Many died along the way.”


“That's always the way,” said Falk, looking into Nora's eyes. “Leaders lead, and their followers suffer, and things get done. But most leaders are quick to take all the credit. Not you, which heaps even more honor at your feet.”


Nora felt herself blushing from the praise.


“I would like to know about that, platform that made the man disappear?” asked Sybille, leaning forward in her chair. “Where did he go?”


“The teleportation network,” said Nora, smiling. “One of our greatest accomplishments. It moves people and objects from place to place in an instant, letting them avoid the roads. I really wish you had something like that here. These distances are daunting.”


“There might be some advanced spells in Alteration that can accomplish the same,” said the mage. “Expensive to cast, and well beyond your capabilities at the moment. But I think you will become able to cast them in time.”


“You have told us much about your world,” said Elisif, watching as servants came in with platters of food.


Beef, seafood, potatoes, vegetables, loaves of hot bread and small plates of butter. These were placed along the center of the table, and Nora assumed this was a buffet. Her stomach growled; the shrimp already forgotten. The people on the other side of the table started using their forks to hoist meat onto their plates, then spooned the other parts of the feast. Falk prepared a plate and set it before Elisif. Nora nodded at her people and they set to as well.


“I thought we should have a traditional buffet,” said Elisif, looking at Nora, “so you could feed that metabolism of yours.”


“Thank you, Elisif,” said Nora, starting to pile food on her own plate.


“Now, you have told us about your world. Do you have questions about ours?”


“Many. Your husband was High King, the overall ruler of Skyrim. Does that make you High Queen?”


“It's complicated,” said Elisif, looking over at Falk.


“Elisif was not born to the nobility of Skyrim,” said the steward after swallowing some food. “She was ennobled by marrying Torygg, but some of the Jarls, like Ulfric, don't recognize that. She has a strong claim to the crown, but a Moot must assemble to confirm that claim, or not. And with the war driving a wedge between the Holds, that is not possible.”


“And excuse me, Elisif, as to the nature of the next question, but it is said that Ulfric tore Toryyg apart with his voice. I can't do that, and I wonder what I must do to prepare myself for a possible confrontation with Ulfric.”


“It hurts to think about it,” said Elisif, looking down, tears starting to flow.


Nora felt her heart going out to this woman. She obviously wanted to do well by her people, but was caught up in the political strife of this land. Sure to grow into the position, right now she was in over her head, and if not for her court she would be foundering.


“Ulfric did kill Torygg with his voice,” she said, shaking her head. “He shouted Torygg to the ground, made him helpless, then thrust his sword through my husband's body. So in a sense he did kill the High King with a shout.”


That was good to know. If that's all Ulfric could do, then Nora could probably take him. Not that she had any intention of confronting him right now, but she had to be prepared for everything.


“I really don't want to talk about this now, if it please you, Nora.”


“Of course, Elisif. And I'm sorry to make you relive those memories. But I have one more question. Something else that bothers me about this land.”


“Ask,” said Elisif, straightening in her chair and wiping away her tears with a napkin.


“The Thalmor,” she said, and there were many gasps around the table. “Why are they allowed to do what they are doing in Skyrim? I see them arresting people with impunity, ostensibly to punish them for worshiping a god they don't believe in.”


“The White Gold Concordant,” answered Falk, anger in his voice. “The war of twenty years ago was bad, hurting both sides, but the Thalmor, as grievously hurt as they were, were on the verge of winning. So the Emperor was forced to sign a treaty that would allow his Empire to survive. It was a bad treaty, but it would have allowed the Empire to grow strong again. The elves are slow to reproduce, while we humans are not.”


“Then why not attack them now?” asked Nora, not understanding the reasoning. “If you have grown stronger than them, why wait until they catch up?”


“Because of this damned war,” said Elisif, her voice harsh. “The strength of Skyrim's arms are turned against each other in this civil war. And the Empire is forced to send troops to support their side. Which leaves them with no strength to challenge to Thalmor.”


“You realize that the Altmer don't all support the Thalmor, right?” asked Eldawyn, earning the stares of the table. “Many of us hate them. If you could give those people aid, they might be able to topple the Thalmor from within.”


“Yes,” said Falk, nodding to the Altmer. “We know that not all of your people support their hateful policies. But to support rebels risks violating the Concordant, and plunging us back into war. So nothing is done.”


It sounded like a nightmare to Nora. The humans were still in the best position to strike, but they were disorganized and disunited. And the Thalmor were taking advantage of the strife to push their policies. And the strength of the one God who would wholly side with the humans was weakened by the persecution of the Thalmor. Yet another thing to think of. It was just like when she was roaming the Commonwealth. The tasks kept piling up, until she had too many to concentrate on. She had handled it there by taking out one opponent at a time.


The meal went on for hours, eating and drinking, questions asked and answered. The conversation was stimulating, often disturbing, and the hours passed quickly.


“If I ate as much as you, Nora,” said Elisif, as the Dragonborn consumed a third piece of cake, “I wouldn't be able to fit through the palace doors.”


That brought laughter from the table, and Nora blushed. There had been times in the past where food was scarce, and she had hated herself for taking such a large share. This was not such a time.


“Speaking of eating, I would like to talk with you about some Khajiit friends of mine.”


Elisif's face hardened, and Nora wondered if she had said something wrong. “Have my people been tormenting those poor cats again,” she finally said. “I've told my people that they and the Argonians are to be treated the same as the humans of the city.”


“No, Elisif. I haven't seen any abuse. In fact, I've seen Khajiit in the city, interacting with your people. However, these are traders, and they say they are not allowed in the city. But I wish them to become residents. In fact, I want to set them up in business.”


She outlined her plan, Elisif listening intently. “Very well,” said the Jarl, jotting some word down on a piece of paper and handing it to Nora. “That should smooth your task.” Elisif smiled, then yawned.


“Now, I must excuse myself. Court starts early, and I must be well rested to make good decisions.”


“Goodnight, Elisif,” said Nora as the Jarl got to her feet and left the room, followed by her Housecarl. Soon the other members of the court excused themselves, leaving Nora and her friends alone in the dining hall.


“Any thoughts,” she asked her people.


“I like her,” said Elesia, looking toward the entrance to the hall. “She has so much on her shoulders, but she keeps on keeping on. But that Erikur is a jerk.”


“Agreed,” said Annekke. “I was so sure that the Stormcloak position was the just cause, since that was all I was exposed to. Now, I'm not so sure. Not ready to jump in on the side of the Empire, but not so ready to condemn them either.”


“Someone needs to bang all their heads together and get them pointed at the real enemy,” said Sofia with passion.


Nora nodded at her friend. Sofia still wasn't back to normal, and likely wouldn't be for some time. But even a day had made a huge difference, and she was showing signs of the cocky sarcastic lady again.


“I really don't like to contemplate the deaths of so many of my people,” said Eldawyn, slurring her words. “But the Thalmor need to fall. They hurt everyone, and their victory can only result in more strife, and more wars down the line. Unfortunately, their defeat may result in the same.”


Nora's line of thought was going in the same direction. Not all of the Altmer were on the Thalmor side. However, enough were that a good percentage of the Altmer would have to be wiped out for a lasting peace to be achieved. Nora didn't want to go down the path of the Nazis, genocide, so she had to find another way. Not that it was something she could do anything about right now, since she had so many other things to do.


“I think tomorrow I will go check out the docks,” she told her people. “I promised a wine merchant that I would see about getting her spices released.” And Nora might just have enough political capital here to get them to see reason.


“I'm all for helping the merchant make more of that delicious wine,” said an unsteady Eldawyn, as Nora lent a shoulder to help her up the steps to their room.


Elisif had given them the best suite in the palace, outside of her own. A huge bed with a blue bedspread in keeping with the theme of the palace. Chairs, tables, an attached bath, it was actually more of small home than a room. Nora tucked Eldawyn into bed, looking down on the softly breathing elf. She thought the Altmer a fine people, on the whole. If only they didn't breed so many assholes.


She pulled out one of the tomes that Sybille had given her. Telekinesis, an adept level spell that took magicka per second to cast. She started reading the tome, taking the time to let her mind adjust to the casting, knowing that she wouldn't be able to do much without practice. Well, she had the time and the will, so she would master it.


She called up the spell, holding out a left hand and saying the words under her breath. The power focused through her hand and she picked up a metal flagon, lifting it inches into the air. That was as far as she could go, and she held it there, letting her implant count, until it fell. The implant counted just a little more than twelve point four seconds. The Dragonborn waited for the time it took to regenerate her magicka. It felt in her mind like a bottle was filling, and her implant told her it was thirty-eight seconds, faster than before. She cast telekinesis again, lifting the cup slightly higher this time, though it still fell at twelve point four seconds. Nora decided that the time was based on her magicka, and wouldn't increase until that did. While the amount of movement she could generated depended on her concentration on the spell, and that she could increase with practice. So she went back to it, lifting the cup, then letting her magicka rebuild.


After an hour of practice she felt exhausted. She had thought originally that magic would be a purely mental exercise, but it seemed to sap her physical strength as well, something to remember in a fight. Finally she could take no more, though she was able to lift the cup feet into the air and move it the length of the room. Falling into bed, she thought about waking Eldawyn for some lovemaking, though her friend was in such a deep state of sleep that she decided to leave her alone. Probably more like a drunken haze, but Elda had a long day ahead of her, using Sybille's enchanting table and the great number of soul gems the party had collected. Nora regretted not waking up her friend when she woke with the memory of her latest nightmare. She was fighting a dragon with the Solitude guard, when a huge deathclaw came out of nowhere and slaughtered everyone.


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