Whenever Tsarrina came to the Imperial City to help with the book-keeping, Clark would take her place at Gweden. He was sure that the place would run itself perfectly well without him, but it kept up the appearance of being a dutiful manager for the Count of Kvatch. Besides that, there were a few other reasons he liked to visit the place.

One of them was Virgilia, the Imperial who'd made an early impression on him when he first visited as a reporter. But this time, she was with a tall Altmer mage, and the way she was looking at him made him think it wasn't just another customer.

"This is Randonil," she told him. "Remember how I told you about sneaking an invisible fellow student into my bedroom when I was trying to lose my virginity? This is him! And I know you're not a reporter any more, but I think you'd like to hear the rest of the story."

To be honest, Clark had only given that job up reluctantly. Whenever he could, he still wrote anonymous articles for the Courier. It was good writing practice, and that helped with his books. Those too, he thought ruefully, were just a hobby now.

It was his own article about Gweden that had got their story going again. Randonil had completely lost track of Virgilia when her parents sent her away to live with her Aunt Rosentia. He'd given up all hope of seeing her again at the Arcane University, and immersed himself in his studies to try and forget. But then he'd read about Gweden in the Black Horse Courier and something seemed very familiar.

He'd graduated some time before, and was doing some research work for the senior staff, but nothing that couldn't be interrupted. He got permission to travel down to the Gold Coast to see if Virgilia really had found her way there. Somewhere between Skingrad and Kvatch, he'd been waylaid by bandits.

That hadn't been entirely unexpected, and he hadn't had too much trouble defeating them, but with his magicka reserves dangerously low, he had no defense against the necromancers who turned up next.

Cursing his luck, he'd been dragged off to Fort Linchal and imprisoned there. He wasn't sure what they had in mind for him, and why they hadn't killed him immediately. The cell they put him in kept his magicka drained, and he had no option but to wait for things to develop as they might. At least he'd written ahead to the Count's Arms let them know he was coming. When he didn't turn up, someone might come looking for him.

It took longer than he'd expected. Wilbur had sent a message back to the University, instead of raising the guard in Anvil. Raminus Polus had alerted the Arch-mage.

"That's the boss, of course," Virgilia pointed out. "He was here at Gweden when Raminus' Dremora messenger popped out of nowhere and gave him a note. It's a good thing thing Prizna wasn't in the room, or she'd have been scared she was being called back!"

"So you were there and saw it?" Clark asked.

"Of course. That's probably the only reason I was able to persuade him to let me come along. Raminus didn't provide a lot of information, just that Randonil was coming to look for me, so naturally he quizzed me for anything I knew."

She continued explaining everything that had happened next. They'd gone up to the city to ask around at the University for any clues to the disappearance. Maybe one of Randonil's colleagues would have some ideas on his route, or something. "I brought my armor with me. It wasn't much use as armor, because it doesn't cover much, but it was better than nothing."

Clark and Randonil grinned at each other when she said that. They both liked the idea of nothing, especially on Virgilia.

"Well, it's quite good at being armor now," Virgilia told them. "Raminus suggested that we ask Delmar to enchant it with Shield, so it would function properly. It's better than Ebony now, even if it does still remind me of goblins."

"We left it with him, while we went off to Cheydinhal. The Arch-mage had to install Deetsan as chapter head, and give her a promotion to Warlock. There was also a candidate for the Mages Council there to interview, an Orc battlemage by the name of Orgul gro-Kurak."

"Then we came down to Anvil, to ask Carahil to join the council, too. She wouldn't do it until the Arch-mage found someone to replace her, so we went back to the University, to see if Raminus had any news, and to collect my armor."

"That's when we got the tip-off that the necromancers had been seen taking someone towards Fort Linchal. The three of us, Orgul, the boss and I, all went off to the fort to look for Randonil. Orgul hates necromancers, something to do with a family crypt I think, so he was eager to get involved."

Randonil reminded her that Raminus had taught her a few extra spells, so she could actually help them. "She's a quick learner. I'm sure she'd have done well at the University if she'd had the chance to continue her studies. It wasn't just her other obvious talents that attracted me to her."

He hadn't seen any of the action, being stuck in a cell deep in the fort while most of it was going on. "And Virgilia's been too modest to tell me about it. Apparently she thinks I'd be upset about her putting herself in danger to rescue me."

"To be honest, I was hiding behind Orgul and the Champ most of the time," she admitted. "One of the spells Raminus taught me was healing, and it seemed to be a better use of my reserves than trying to hurl fireballs or lightning."

"Orgul didn't use that kind of spell either. He seemed to prefer summoning a war-axe and hacking with it. He said it was better in confined spaces like the corridors of the fort, and that the necromancers might absorb spells cast at them. My impression was that he just liked being hands-on when he dispatched a necromancer."

Randonil agreed with that judgement. "I'm no battlemage, and they do get more weapons training than the rest of us, but Orgul did seem to delight in splitting necromancer's skulls with his axe on the way out. And it was he who insisted that we clear the place, and not just leave once I was found."

"Did you ever find out why they kept you alive?" Clark asked Randonil.

"No, although it's possible they hoped that I'd join them. Many of the necromancers are Altmer, so perhaps they thought I'd be sympathetic. The other possibility was ransom, but I gather no notes were delivered to ask for any payment."

"You haven't told him what happened afterwards," Virgilia reminded Randonil.

"Oh, yes, the best part! We all continued to Anvil, and the Arch-mage talked to Carahil again about joining the Mages Council. When she repeated her objection, he made me her replacement! Apparently he'd had a recommendation from Raminus Polus that I was ready for a chapter position, and it all just fit so perfectly."

"So Randonil's in charge in Anvil, and we can see each other all the time!" Virgilia bubbled.

Clark wondered what the Altmer thought of Virgilia continuing her employment at Gweden. He'd known about that when he came here to look for her. "I'm the same age as she is," he pointed out. "That's a trivial part of an elf's life expectancy. I won't be looking for a wife for a century or more, and she's as much fun as I need now, the way things are. Her capacity for this greatly exceeds my meager needs. And she's learning so much, I can't complain."

"It would have been splendid to be each other's first, but it didn't happen that way. We've consoled ourselves with the fact that we actually knew what we were doing when it did happen. That first experience of each other was a lot better than it would have been."

"Talking of first times," Virgilia interrupted, "I've not had two of my favorite men together at the same time before."

"It's a good thing Tsarrina's not here to hear you say that," Clark told her sternly. "She'd be expecting double the income from you in future!"

"Three in the bathtub might be a first too," Randonil suggested. Clark doubted it, but it did sound like a good idea. They headed down the basement stairs. He had a few more ideas for "firsts", but he'd save them for later.