30th of Frostfall, 4E 171
Everyone in the courtyard stared in stunned silence at the grisly offering that had tumbled from the upended cart brought in by the Thalmor ambassador. His Imperial Majesty, Titus Mede II, schooled his features from shock to stern anger. The Blades, he thought, recognizing the Akiviri helmets encasing the severed heads that spilled callously on the stone walkway in front of the White-Gold Tower at the heart of the Imperial City. All of them? he wondered, but something told him that he knew the answer, and his face grew tighter still. He forced himself to look up at the Altmer emissary.
“So,” he said softly, “It has come to this.”
The high elf sneered. “Too long has mankind misruled Tamriel, and its glory has diminished with each passing moment. The Aldmeri Dominion will allow no further degradation under your stewardship. We lay claim to the lands we have demanded, and we shall seize them by conquest since we must. War is the only language you humans seem to understand.”
Now furious, the emperor roared, “Come and take them!”
* * *
3rd of Sun’s Dusk, 4E 171
The emperor read reports of Dominion forces striking hard and fast on the southern borders of Cyrodiil and Hammerfell with a grim countenance. They had come so swiftly, but of course they had. The Thalmor had to know that he could never acquiesce to their demands, or he’d find himself in the middle of a civil war. No, he’d been forced to refuse and in so doing go to war with the Dominion. His generals had warned him about the Empire’s current military weakness, so now they were struggling to mobilize any resistance to the incursions by the damned Mer.
There was a knock at his door and he bid the guards to let the expected visitor in. Claudius Maro, a promising young captain of the Penitus Oculatus entered the chamber, his heels clicking on the stone floor. He bowed deeply and held the pose until the emperor bid him rise and report. Titus listened to the young man’s security briefing and found himself forgetting the war for a moment as he reflected upon what a bright career might be in store for such a competent and efficient agent. Thoughts of the future were banished when the summary turned inevitably toward the war.
“Sire, there has been a…novel idea proposed that could aid our efforts against the Aldmeri Dominion – albeit indirectly. Still, I thought I should bring it to your attention. If I may?” The emperor waved him to proceed, and Captain Maro continued.
“We’ll have more need of guards and soldiers than jailers in the immediate future, and prisoners in Imperial custody are a drain on the coffers that we could do without, both in terms of manpower and upkeep.” The emperor’s curiosity was piqued, and it must have showed on his face because the young officer warmed to his subject.
“The proposal is an offer of clemency for any inmate – excluding those incarcerated for treason – who will agree to be bound to service in a special branch of the Legion. The purpose of this newly created unit will be to seek out artifacts of power lost to the Empire by accident or mischief and return them to Imperial control. As you are aware, this is already one mandate of the Penitus Oculatus. This initiative would simply expand upon that effort and provide us additional manpower for, ah…less cost.”
“Criminals are inherently a lawless bunch,” said the emperor. “What is to keep them from fleeing from us as soon as freedom is theirs?”
“A few things, sire. Firstly, we will appeal to their sense of greed by offering them a portion of any treasure not claimed by the Empire from these assigned expeditions. Second, they will be assigned a minder until such a time as they have proven their loyalty to the Empire through their service in this effort. Lastly, any further crimes committed by those who accept this clemency – including desertion or dereliction of duty – will be condemned to death. The agent in charge of each clement will be authorized to carry out the sentence.”
The emperor sat quietly for several moments, considering the proposal. Turning criminals out to become…well…adventurers had actually served the Septim Empire well, historically. He thought of the tales of the “Hero of Kvatch” who’d purportedly been released from custody by Emperor Uriel VII shortly before his assassination and then worked with Martin Septim to stop the Oblivion Crisis. After the last Septim sacrificed himself, shattering the Amulet of Kings to defeat Mehrunes Dagon at the Temple of the One in the Imperial City, the “Champion of Cyrodiil” had apparently gone insane and disappeared. Stories of a cache of powerful magical artifacts being kept in Battlehorn Castle were later debunked when the keep was sacked. Invaders had searched it top to bottom and not uncovered even a single gold septim. Still, rumors persisted that the madman (or madwoman; the stories conflicted) had taken a vast number of legendary relics collected during his (or her) adventures and scattered them across Tamriel.
An amused smile formed on the emperor’s face as he considered the notion that history was cyclical. Perhaps it would take a released prisoner to turn the tide of the war further down the road. He could appreciate the romance of the fated hero rising from humble origins. Titus Mede II was not blessed with the gift of prophecy, as Uriel Septim VII had supposedly been. To find his champion – or champions – he would have to cast a wider net. He made his decision.
“And you believe the rewards outweigh the risk?”
“Sire, I do. We do,” said the officer with the conviction of youth.
“Have the necessary orders drafted, Captain. You will have your chance to prove your idea’s merit.”
“Thank you, sire.” Captain Maro turned on his heel and walked out of the emperor’s office chamber.
The emperor smiled.