Black Queen's Gambit - Part 1

Clark knew the location of Atrene Camp. It wasn't too far from Gweden, and Darwen had taken him there once. She'd said they'd be hunting bears, but she didn't ask him to bring a weapon, and they didn't see any bears. He suspected she just wanted to get him away from all the other women, and have him all to herself.

It was one of the few campsites that never seemed to harbor bandits, so it was a nice safe location for an afternoon of fun and games. He wondered if that was what Morgiah and Rinnala had in mind.

Clark had been asked to escort the two through Cyrodiil. They'd be arriving by ship from Firshold, but they wouldn't anchor in Anvil harbor. Instead they'd come ashore by rowboat, and head for the campsite, bypassing the town completely. Apparently they thought it was safer for them to stay away from cities, and main roads.

They were waiting at the camp when he arrived. An Altmer sailor from the ship was on guard, but Clark gave the right password and was allowed past to meet the Dunmers. Both were dressed as commoners, but you couldn't describe either as inconspicuous. Morgiah's preference for bright red clothes had been inherited by Rinnala, and both liked to feel the sun on their breasts.

He'd been told that the taller one would be the daughter, and he was glad that he had that difference to go by. Morgiah didn't look significantly older, but whether that was just a Dunmer's natural slow aging, or if she'd enhanced that effect with alteration or illusion magic, he couldn't tell.

It was apparent, however, who was in charge. Morgiah dismissed the sailor back to his ship. "Now the Earl's here to look after us, we won't be needing your services any more. Go back to Firsthold, in case my son needs the ship."

The sailor bowed, and left. The glance back at Rinnala suggested to Clark that his duties had included a bit more than just protection. Rinnala, on the other hand, was only looking at Clark.

He asked Morgiah what she had planned, but she'd been waiting for his arrival before making up her mind. "Do you think we could pass for sisters?" she asked him. "We don't want to travel as mother and daughter, or we might leave clues for anyone following our trail."

He was reluctant to offend Rinnala by suggesting she looked as old as her mother. A young lady wants to appear mature, not old, and one's mother is always of an older generation. "Why not just use similar names, and not tell anyone what your relationship is?" he suggested. "Sisters, cousins, whatever. You have a family resemblence that anyone could spot, but there's no need to be specific. Let them guess."

They both seemed to like that idea, and set to making up names. He suggested borrowing Falanu and Miranu. They were cousins, and looked as similar as these two, although they really were about the same age. They didn't think that was a good idea. The real Falanu and Miranu might become unintended victims, if anyone followed that false trail.

"Tolisi and Tanasa, then - I know they're both dead already." Those were rejected, too. Rinnala did not want a dead woman's name. Well, not a recently dead one, anyway. It's a different matter being named after an honored ancestor.

Morgiah lit the camp fire and started assembling the ingredients for a stew from the sacks they'd brought with them. Clark had expected cooking to be one of his duties, not something a Queen and Princess would do. Morgiah reminded him that she wasn't trusting anyone on this trip. She'd prepare her own food, until she knew him better.

As they ate, the two women continued proposing and rejecting names. He learned quite a lot from their reasons for discarding some of them. They belonged to people he didn't know, but the women did. Usually friends of one, but not the other. Clark learned a lot from the discussion.

After their meal, Morgiah pointed at one of the small one-person tents, and told Rinnala to go and get some sleep. The look she gave her mother made it clear that wasn't what she had in mind, but she did as she was directed. Morgiah, meanwhile, led Clark to the larger tent, pulled him inside, and closed the flap.

"You need to know something about why we left the Summerset Isle," she told him. "Have you heard of a group of thugs called 'the Beautiful'? Probably not, the news had only just reached Firsthold when we departed. They'd issued threats to most of the royal families, and illustrated what they meant by abducting the daughter of the King of Shimmerene. Not for ransom, you understand. They wanted to create fear, and what they did to her achieved just that. I don't think Rinnala knows about it, because I'm sure it would have quite put her off sex. You're not a woman, so you wouldn't be able to imagine what that poor creature went through."

"And it will be good for Rinnala to get away from the court for a while. I remember being in the same situation in Wayrest. I was the odd one out, the only Dunmer girl in a sea of Bretons. I also had Princess Elysana to contend with. Not only was she a rival for every man in Wayrest, but she wasn't above spreading lies about her half-sister and brother. I took the first chance I got to be out of there."

"I was still in the minority in Firsthold, but I was the Queen, and that makes a big difference. I was so grateful to Karoodil, I was almost faithful to him. And I probably could have been, if he didn't go off chasing pirates so much. The Altmer are a xenophobic lot, and only have eyes for their own. If we hadn't had ambassadors from all around Tamriel, I don't know what I'd have done for amusement."

"The common people are just as bad. You probably recall that I had to put down an uprising led by Lady Gialene not so long ago. If we'd stayed, I'm sure that would only have happened again. Bringing Rinnala away from Firsthold is just what she needs. It's not just for her safety, she's at the age where she needs to explore her tastes, and she needs a better selection of partners than she'd have back there."

Clark wondered whether the mother needed a wider selection, too. Morgiah had much of her legendary mother Barenziah's intelligence, and it wasn't just coincidence that Morgiah had decided to pass for Rinnala's sister. She knew that everyone would expect her to be just as promiscuous as the younger woman, and he suspected she was going to make the most of the opportunity.

"I've seen the way Rinnala was looking at you," Morgiah told him. "Of course, she looks at most men that way, at her age. She'll doubtless feel a bit constrained by her mother's presence on this trip, but if she's got any brains, she'll find a way to get you alone. Don't disappoint her."

"Do I give you any reason to suspect that I would?" he asked.

"No I'm sure that Orsinium arranged for you to escort us with that in mind," she responded. "The Orc who taught her Blade and Blunt undoubtedly taught her other things, and he'd have reported her tastes to his masters when he passed on our request. So we assume you're just what she asked for. The only question is whether she really knows what she wants. After all, that's why she's looking around, just like any woman of her age."

"I don't know anything about you, and so I can't trust you, yet. I sent one of the ship's crew into Anvil to ask around, and he came back with a bit of information about a brothel outside town called Gweden Farm. And you're the Earl of Gweden, any connection?"

"Yes, in the sense that my title does come from that place. It was a private joke of Ocato's, because my Earldom derives from running the Imperial City's best brothel. The Potentate is a regular customer, and we have a few mutual interests. I'm just the manager, it belongs to the Count of Kvatch, as does the local one." He could see that this wasn't all news to Morgiah, and his honest response was making her more comfortable trusting a stranger.

"I've heard of the Red Dragon Club," Morgiah continued. "It does have a good reputation among the diplomatic community as a clean establishment with a good wine cellar." She didn't seem to mind letting him know what she already knew. That was probably a good sign.

"Gweden Farm serves a good glass too," he told her. "It's not so far from Skingrad, and in my opinion at least, the best wines in Cyrodiil come from Tamika's vineyard there. We should make a point of sampling some when we pass through."

"Well, we have to give that a miss. We won't be going through any of the cities on our journey. That's exactly what anyone sent to follow us will expect, and they'll have spies looking out for us in them. Our plans are to go cross-country, and stop in campsites like this one. It will mean forgoing the protection of the Legion and city guards, but I'm not sure they're any more trustworthy than anyone else."

"A lot of these campsites are popular with bandits," he pointed out. "You just can't predict which will be safe, and which won't."

"A lesser risk than entering the cities. Bandits go around in small bands, and we're not incapable of handling that limited a threat. They probably won't be any worse than the wild animals of the forests. We just need your local knowledge to keep us away from goblins. They're tribal, and tend to congregate in large numbers. Tough fetchers, too."

"Where are we headed next, then?" he asked.

"I'll let you know when we leave here," replied Morgiah. "And that might not be for a few days. We don't want to stay here long enough for anyone to find us, but we also don't want to be predictable. Our departure will be as randomly determined as I can make it."

Morgiah pulled the flap of the tent aside just a little, so she could peek through the gap towards Rinnala's bedroll. Her daughter looked like she was sleeping, but she knew better than to rely on appearances. "Go bring the other bedroll in here," she told him. "If I leave you here alone, you might not get any sleep."