Somewhere in the Abecean Sea off the coast of Valenwood…
“Cutting it a little fine, aren’t we, Captain?” the argonian asked, standing alongside his commander on the bridge as they both gazed off the port side at another vessel. “We’re expected to be in port in seven hours. Do we have time for this?” he asked, his voice expressing concern, but not toward the imminent danger. Rather, the ports into Cyrodiil were under tight blockade and under the current political climate, all Imperial service ships were expected to inform the city of destination the estimated time of arrival. Neglecting to do so could end up with you being denied access to dock until the ship was inspected by an armed, over-zealous group of Legionnaires until cleared at best, or having those same Legionnaires attack and scuttle the ship after killing everyone on board at worse. To be fair, it only happened a couple times, and both were proven to be Thalmor infiltration attempts. Still, it was enough of a precedent for any Captain in the Empire’s service to be diligent about their paperwork.
“Drinks-Many Rivers, there is always time to do our duty.” The khajiit grinned, facing his second-in-command. “And who knows? Perhaps this one has what you need to forge a proper wedding band for your lady.” He paused for a moment, winking mischievously. “After all, you’ve paid her enough each time we dock in Anvil, it might as well be her dowry. Do you know she’s been seeing other men? You may wish to hurry before one of them whisks her away on you.” He chuckled, being rewarded with an elbow jab to the ribs.
“She’s a brothel prostitute, you belligerent imp. She’s just the only argonian who works there. You know this.” Drinks-Many-Rivers sighed. “Besides, I think I’d contract rock joint or bone-break fever off of the others.”
“Buying cure disease potions does take up a sizable amount of your cut.” The captain agreed, turning back to the ship. He grunted as he noticed the smaller, swifter vessel changing course. “Perhaps our reputation precedes us.” He turned to the helmsman, “Give chase, see if we can’t catch up. We’ve been on their tail for a week now, it would be a shame if they slipped us again. Don’t let it happen.” He said, walking towards the stairwell to the main deck. Mounted on the deck, hidden between a large canvas tarp was the ship’s newest acquisition, and Zaveed intended to test it. He knew as he approached the crew members hastily pulling free the tarp that the red flag with a sigil of a khajiit sabre buried point first into an altmer’s skull with an ice wraith wraped around the blade in black filled out the details, the symbol became infamous from the Abecean Sea to Topal bay among pirates, smugglers, and even the occasional Thalmor vessel. As the saying went, red meant death, and while the Empire wasn’t officially confronting their foes at sea, they were all too happy to do so with proxies like Zaveed’s ship, the Sea Wisp. The galleon was large enough to sport a 46 man crew, many of which who were ex-Legionnaires or mercenaries, men and women who were yearning for a life of adventure, and those seeking retribution against those the Wisp targeted. Zaveed could sympathize. After all, he used to be one of the men he now hunted for a living and sport.
The khajiit stopped to watch the men removing the tarp to reveal the new tool of their trade, a bow mounted ballista, a siege weapon based off of dwemer designs and crafted by some of the more brilliant members of the Legion, While the design lent itself to supporting assaults on strongholds, it would also prove to be a useful piece of equipment when it came to catching enemy ships. That was what Zaveed was counting on as he rested his hands on his axe heads. He felt the anticipation within him swelling as the crate that contained the actual projectiles was opened and a length of rope secured to the end of the one that would be loaded into the ballista. His pale blue eyes turned once more to the quarry. The irony that it took a former pirate to catch one of the more infamous ones was not lost on him. Today was shaping up well, after all.
_ _ _
The port city of Anvil came into sight, and the Sea Wisp had managed to arrive within the appointed time-frame. As the galleon maneuvered towards the docks, two Imperial galiotes slipped in alongside the ship on either side. They were committed to port at this point, whether they liked it or not.
The skirmish only a few hours earlier went without much of a hitch, the ballista had managed to tear down one of the enemy vessel’s masts with an improbably lucky shot as they managed to close within 200 meters, and forced it dead in the water. From there, the Wisp came alongside the enemy ship and her archers unleashed a brutal rain of arrows against the defenders. By the time the armoured attackers had boarded, securing the enemy ship to their own with ropes and hooks and laying down planks, the enemy longship looked more like a hedgehog than a sea-worthy vessel. In all, the slaughter took less than twenty minutes, in which in a bit of flourish, Zaveed forced the enemy captain to the edge of the deck, causing him to fall backwards as he deflected a blow from the khajiit’s axe. With a free hand, Zaveed caught the man’s coin purse, preventing him from falling into the warm sea. Zaveed simply grinned at the man before severing the chord that fastened the purse to the pirate’s belt, dropping him into the dark waters below. Even if the sharks didn’t get him, he surely would have drowned. It wouldn’t give his victims any comfort, but the man died slowly. As far as justice went, that felt the most rewarding.
As the ship passed the sea wall, Zaveed still clutched the large coin purse, feeling the weight. How many Septims were in there, 30, 50? In all honestly, it was a drop in the bucket from the combined wealth Zaveed’s crew had found below deck in the long ship. Chest and crates filled with food, armour, clothing, and weapons, along with several valuables from the pirates’ previous conquests. Much of it would go towards fueling the growing insurrection in Elswyer, where a growing resistance against the Aldmeri Dominion was growing steadily, like a fire catching. Khajiit were a sovereign, proud people. Having their country occupied by the Thalmor and having the men pushed into serving their war machines and supplying the Thalmor’s war efforts with supplies was crippling. Zaveed’s mother and father, as well as brothers seemed to be doing well, considering. The last time he had visited, they had almost passed the record for moon sugar yield and were able to afford their workers better wages as a result, which was a needed reprieve for the men and women who seemed to find the prices for necessities growing each month due to shortages due to Thalmor demand. Elswyer was in no hurry to rejoin the Empire, but that didn’t stop Emperor Mede from supporting those who would fight his enemies under the table.
In the time before war officially began, the crew of the Sea Wisp were the ones shaping history. Not that Zaveed was a stranger to being a world shaper; he was enjoying something of celebrity amongst the people for his involvement in liberating Tamriel from the last Emperor’s attempt to control the very souls of every sentient man, woman, and child across the continent. It was, in fact, the reason he was a sanctioned privateer working on behalf of the Empire to keep the seas safe and prepare for the looming war with the Aldmeri Dominion. Zaveed reflected it would likely be his last time in Cyrodiil during peace time, at least until the next war ended, one way or another.
Not long after, the ship was docked and the crew set about securing it, and the cargo. Arrangements were made with the harbourmaster and after Zaveed had cleared the ship’s identity and contents with the harbourmaster, the crew prepared for a much anticipated shore leave. With their Captain departing for Imperial City for the festivities, the crew prepared for what was shaping up to be two weeks’ worth of freedom. Some would doubtless take the time to try and visit family close by, others would likely squander all of their earnings during that time, and others would undoubtedly find themselves in situations that were best left unspoken in polite company. Securing and locking the cabin, Zaveed set about assigning last minute tasks to those who were remaining with the ship, either as punishment or by volunteering for a bit extra gold, the khajiit gathered his gear and headed down the ramp to purchase a horse. A group of crewmen struggling with crates caught his attention.
“Horogar, catch!” he called. A burly nord with an impressive beard turned at the sound of Zaveed’s voice. Moments later, the heavy coin purse landed firmly in his heavy hands. Zaveed pointed to each of the men. “Have an evening, courtesy of your illustrious and noble Captain.” Zaveed bowed to the mens’ cheers and call-outs before heading on his way. Before he could leave the docks and head into the City’s center through the massive, reinforced gates, a distinctly Imperial voice caught his attention. “I thought it might be you. Had to find out for myself.”
Zaveed turned, hands resting easily on his axe heads, and apprised the man who was hailing him. From first glance, he was a ranking officer in the Legions, rugged looks, dark, wavy hair, a cleft chin, and steady brown eyes. On his hip hung a mace, typically not a common sight on the Legion’s finest. The man had a ready smiled and an extended hand, which Zaveed clasped in a firm handshake. “I do not believe we have met, friend.” He said, tilting his head slightly in an attempt to recall the man. The Legionnaire let out a short laugh and shook his head. “No, I am certain you would remember. I am Captain Dontos Caspian, of the Tenth Legion. We are stationed in the Colovian West, which includes Anvil. Your reputation precedes you, Zaveed.” The man stepped away from the wall he had situated himself by to keep an eye on the docks and the coming and going of people through the gate and extended an arm towards the city. “As I understand it, you are making your way to Imperial City for the festival. As fate would have it, that too is my destination, as keeping a line of communication with the headquarters and the Legion is paramount in these uncertain days and I have reports to deliver on behalf of General Cornethian. What say you, Zaveed of Senchal?” the Captain asked.
Zaveed grinned. “If you insist. Lead on, friend. I am certain you are in as much of a hurry as I am.” He said. Caspian smiled in turn. “Putting it mildly. Come, I’ll show you to the stables. I trust you ride.”
The privateer walked with Caspian, and found himself in the Legion stables outside of the city gates not long after. Horses were prepared for them and the six guards who would serve as Captain Caspian’s escort, and they rode out down the Eastern road, which would take them by a few cities before reaching Imperial City, including a now-thriving Kvatch. Zaveed rode alongside Caspian’s black stallion with his own brown and black mere. They rode in comfortable silence for a few minutes before the Captain spoke up. “You know… I owe my life to you, even if we’ve never met.”
Zaveed remained quiet, watching the rode ahead and the forest. One could never be too attentive when travelling. The khajiit waited for the Captain to continue.
The Imperial sighed, shaking his head. “I can’t explain what it was like, being under that spell. I felt like my thoughts were my own, nothing really seemed amiss, but I became so obsessed with preserving the Empire and serving Emperor Felix that I… did a lot of things I regret, and would never have done otherwise.” His face hung heavy, recalling memories he clearly wished were gone. “The worst part was, it wasn’t like some unseen force was driving me to do these things. I felt like it was the right thing to do, that I came to the conclusions myself. It wasn’t until after the spell was at the beginning of the Siege of Storms that it occurred to me what I’d done. I… wasn’t the only one who had regrets. Some couldn’t handle it and sought death shortly after. I nearly quit my posting in the Legion, but I suppose it’s hard to throw away the purpose in your life after so many hard years.” He turned to face Zaveed. “So, what about you? Why was it that you remain free-willed when so many others were not themselves? Why did you risk your life to stop the auroras?” he asked.
Zaveed collected his thoughts, pulling a bottle of Aldo wine from his travel pack and pulling the cork free. After a spell, he spoke. “If a disturbing and highly horrendous necromancer are to be believed, my not-so-distant ancestors had been directly influenced or blessed by some divine power. According to him,” he mimicked the accent of the dunmer necromancer as he held the bottle out towards Caspian, “’Mortals cannot hold power over the aedra and daedra, because I said so.’” The Captain laughed, taking the bottle from Zaveed and taking a swig before handing it back. “As insufferable of a bastard as he was, one can’t help but wonder if he was right. Regardless, my companions and I did not have much of a choice. I was never one to revel in the idea of going into hiding until I’m old and grey, I’ve accepted I will most likely leave a young, dashing corpse one of these days, so might as well make sure that happens while doing something useful.” Zaveed shrugged, drinking deeply from the bottle. The taste of grapes was strong, despite the bitter taste of the wine.
“Like you, I’ve also done some pretty terrible things in my time, only I don’t have the defense of being enthralled by a lovely dancing sky to absolve me of my crimes. Apparently, an Emperor’s pardon is the same thing, to my delight. I had learned something of myself those few weeks, with those people I am going to be reuniting with in the capital. Chief among them is how to care for more than myself, and that apparently people gravitate towards me to lead them during a crisis. I have a lot of red on my ledger, as they say. I thought perhaps by redeeming the souls of everyone in Tamriel, perhaps I’d make up for some of my wrong-doings. And I thought it would prove to be a most enjoyable tale.” Zaveed grinned from behind the lip of the bottle. “I am who I am, and I make no apologies for it and the things I’ve done, but I must say the lot I have stumbled into in life seems to agree with me. It wasn’t that long ago that I used to have to flee at the sight of Legionnaires, and now look at me! The honoured guest of the Emperor himself and something of a folk hero.” He paused, handing the bottle back to Caspian. “Is it true they made statues of us?” he asked.
Caspian drank deeply from the bottle and laughed lightly. “You’ll have to wait and see, khajiit. Wait and see.”