The books in this section are......

The Real Barenziah, Part 7

The Real Barenziah, Part 8

The Real Barenziah, Part 9

The Real Barenziah, Part 10

An Oblivion

The Sage

The Light and The Dark

Confessions of a Thief

Vampires of the Iliac Bay, Part I

Vampires of the Iliac Bay, Part II

Biography of Queen Barenziah, Vol. I

Biography of Queen Barenziah, Vol. II

The Real Barenziah Part VII "Everything I have ever loved I have lost," Barenziah thought, looking over the mounted knights behind and ahead, the tirewomen near her in a carriage, "yet have I gained a measure of wealth and power, and the promise of more to come. Dearly have I bought it. Now do I better understand Tiber Septim's love of it, if he has oft paid such prices, for surely worth is measured by the price one pays." Barenziah, by her wish, rode mounted on a shining black mare, clad as a warrior in shining chain mail of dark elf making. As the slow days slipped by and her train rode a winding road eastward into the setting sun, around her rose the steep-sided mountain slopes of Morrowind. The air was thin and a chill late autumn wind blew constantly, but it was also rich with the sweet spice smell of the late-blooming black rose, which grew in every shadowy nook and crevice, finding nourishment even in the stoniest slopes. In small ÷villages and towns, ragged dark elf folk gathered along the road to cry her name or simply gape. Most of her knightly escort were Redguards with a few dark elves, Nords and Bretons scattered among them. As they wove their way into the heart of Morrowind, these grew increasingly uncomfortable and clung together. Even the dark elf knights seemed somewhat uneasy. Barenziah felt at home, felt the welcome extended to her by this land. Symmachus met her at the Mournhold borders with an escort of knights, about half of whom were dark elf in Imperial battle dress, she noted. There was a grand parade into the city and speeches of welcome from elders. "I've had the queen's suite refurbished for you," he said, "but you can change anything not to your taste, of course." He went on about details of the coronation ceremony which was to be held in a week. He was his old commanding self, but she sensed something else as well. He was eager for her approval of the arrangements. He asked her nothing about her stay in Imperial City or Tiber Septim, although Barenziah was certain that Drelliane had told him everything in detail. The ceremony itself, like so much else, was a mixture of old and new, parts of it dictated by Imperial format, as she was sworn to service of the Empire and Tiber Septim, as well as to the land of Mournhold and its people. She then accepted fealty from the people and the council. The council was composed of a mixture of Imperial representatives, advisors they were called, and native representatives of the people. These latter were mostly elders, in accordance with elven custom. Barenziah found that much of her time was occupied in attempting to reconcile these two forces. And the elders were expected to do most of the conciliating in the name of the reforms introduced by the Empire, such as land ownership and surface farming, which went clean against dark elven tradition, as laid down by their ancient gods and goddesses. Now, Tiber Septim, in the name of the One had decreed a new tradition, and the gods and goddesses themselves were expected to obey. Barenziah threw herself into work and study. She was through with love and men for a long, long time, if not forever. There were other pleasures, she discovered, as Symmachus had promised, those of the mind, of power. She developed a love ÷for dark elf history and legend, a hunger to know the people from whom she sprang, proud warriors and craftsmen. Tiber Septim lived another half century, during which she saw him on a few occasions, as she was bidden to Imperial City for one reason or another. He greeted her with warmth on these occasions and they had long talks together about events. He seemed to have quite forgotten that there had ever been anything more between them. He changed little over the years. Rumor said that his mages had found spells to extend his vitality, and even that the One had granted him immortality. Then one day a messenger came with the news that he was dead, and his son was now Emperor in his place. They'd heard the news in private, she and Symmachus. He took it stoically, as he took everything. "It doesn't seem possible," Barenziah said. "I told you. It's the way of humans. They are a short-lived race. It doesn't really matter. His power lives on, and his son now wields it." "You called him your friend. Do you feel nothing?" He shrugged. "There was a time when you called him somewhat more. What do you feel, Barenziah?" "Emptiness. Loneliness," she said, then she too shrugged. "That's not new." "I know," he said, taking her hand. "Barenziah, let me try to fill that lonely place." He turned her face up and kissed her. It filled her with astonishment. She couldn't remember his ever touching her before. She'd never thought of him in that way, and yet, undeniably, an old familiar warmth spread through her. She'd forgotten how good it was, that warmth. Not the burning heat she'd felt with Tiber Septim, but the warmth she associated with, with Straw! Straw, poor Straw. She hadn't thought of him in so long. He'd be middle-aged now if he still lived. Probably married with a dozen children, she hoped, and a wife who could talk for two. "Marry me, Barenziah," he was saying, "I've worked and toiled and waited long enough, haven't I?" Marriage. "A peasant with peasant dreams." The words appeared in her mind, as if from long ago. And yet, why not? If not him, who? The great noble families had been destroyed in the war and its aftermath. Dark elf rule had been restored, but not the old nobility. Most of them were upstarts, like Symmachus and not as good as he was. He'd fought to keep Mournhold whole and healthy when their so-called advisors would have picked their bones, sucked them dry as Ebonheart had been sucked dry. He'd fought for Mournhold, fought for her, while she and it grew. She felt a sudden rush of gratitude, and, undeniably, affection. He was steady and reliable. He'd served her well. "Why not?" she said, smiling. The union was a good one, both in its political and personal aspects. While Tiber Septim's son viewed her with a jaundiced eye, his trust in his father's old friend was absolute. Symmachus, however, was still viewed with suspicion by Morrowind's stiff-necked folk, suspicious of his peasant ancestry, his close ties to the Empire, while she was quite popular. "The Lady's one of our own in her heart," it was whispered, "held captive as we are." Barenziah felt content. There was work and pleasure and what more could ÷one ask of life? The years passed swiftly, with crises to be dealt with, storms and famines and failures and successes and plots to be foiled. Mournhold prospered well enough. Her people were secure and fed, her mines and farms productive. All was well save that the marriage produced no children. No heirs. Now elven children are slow to come, and most demanding of their welcome, noble children more so than others, thus many decades had passed before they grew concerned. "The fault lies with me, husband. I am damaged goods." Barenziah said bitterly. "If you want to take another..." "I want no other," Symmachus snapped, "nor do I know the fault to be thine. Perhaps it is mine. Whichever, we will seek a cure. If there is damage, surely it may be repaired?" "How so? When we dare not entrust anyone with my true story? Healer's oaths do not always hold." "It won't matter if we change the time and circumstances a bit. Whate'er we say or fail to say Jephre never rests. His ÷inventive mind and quick tongue are ever busy spreading gossip and rumor." Priests and Healers came and went, but all their prayers, potions and other efforts produced not even a period of bloom, let alone a single fruit. Eventually, they put it from their minds and left it in the gods' hands. They were yet young, with centuries ahead of them. There was time. Elves always have time. barbed_wire

The True Barenziah, Part VIII

Anonymous

The True Barenziah Part VIII Barenziah sat in the hall at dinner, pushing her food about on her plate, feeling bored and restless. Symmachus was away, having been summoned to Imperial City by Tiber Septim's great-great grandson, Uriel Septim. Or was it his great-great-great grandson? She'd lost count, she realized. Their faces seemed to blur into one another. Perhaps she should have gone with him, but there'd been the delegation from Tear on a tiresome matter that required delicate handling. A bard was singing, but Barenziah hadn't been listening. Lately all the songs seemed the same to her, whether new or old. Now a turn of phrase caught her attention. He was singing of freedom, of adventure, of freeing Morrowind from its chains. How dare he! Barenziah sat up straight and turned to glare at him and worse, then realized that he was singing of some ancient war with Skyrim Nords, praising the heroism of King Moraelyn and his brave Companions. That tale was old enough, yet the song was new ... and the ÷meaning...Barenziah wasn't sure. A bold fellow, but with a good voice and an ear for poetry and music. Rather handsome, too, in a raffish way. He didn't look exactly prosperous, nor was he all that young. Certainly he wasn't under a century of age. Why hadn't she heard him before, or at least heard of him? "Who is he?" she whispered to her dinner companion, who shrugged and said, "Calls himself Nightingale. No one seems to know anything about him." "Bid him speak with me when he has done." Nighingale came to her, thanked her for the honor and the purse she handed him. His manner wasn't bold, rather quiet and unassuming. He was quick enough with gossip about others, but she learned nothing about him, for he turned all questions away with a joking answer or a wild tale, yet one given so charmingly that it was impossible to take offense. "My true name? Milady, I am no one. No, no, my parents named me Know Wan, or was it, No Buddy? What doth it matter? How can parents give name to that which they know not? Ah, I believe that was the name, No Not. I have been Nighingale for so ÷long I do not quite remember, oh, since last month at the very least, or was it last week? All my memory goes into song and tales, you see. I've none left for myself. I'm really quite boring. Where was I born? Why, Knoweyr. I plan to settle in Dunroman when I get there, but I'm in no hurry." "I see. And will you then marry Atleshur?" "Very perceptive of you, milady. Perhaps, although I find Inaste quite charming, too, at whiles." "Ah, you are fickle, then?" "Like the wind, milady, I blow hither and yon and hot and cold." "Stay with us awhile, then, if you will." "As you wish, milady." Barenziah found her interest in life rekindled. All that had seemed stale seemed fresh and new again. She greeted each day with zest, looking forward to conversation and song with ÷Nightingale. Unlike other bards he never sang her praises, nor other women's but only of high adventure and bold deeds. When she asked him about this, he merely said, "What greater praise of thy charm couldst thou ask, than what thy own mirror gives thee? And if words thou wouldst have, thou hast those of the greatest bards of the land? How should I vie with them, I who was born but a week gone by?" For once they spoke privately, for Barenziah, unable to sleep, had bidden him come to her chamber that his music might soothe her. "Thou art lazy and a coward, else I hold no charm for thee." "Milady, to praise thee I must know thee and thy spirit is wrapped in clouds of enchantment." "Not so, 'tis thy words that weave enchantment, and thy eyes. Know me if thou wilt, and if thou dare'st." He came to her; they lay close, kissed and embraced. "Not even Barenziah truly knows herself," he whispered softly. "How can I? Barenziah, thou seekest and know it not, nor yet for what. What would you have, that you have not?" "Passion," she whispered, "passion. And children born of it." "And for thy children, what? What birthright will you give them?" "Freedom," she whispered, "freedom to be what they are. Where can I find these things?" "They lie beside you and beneath you if you dare stretch out your hand to take them." "But Symmachus..." "I tell you, in me lies the answer to part of your quest and below us in these very mines, lies that which will grant us the power to fulfill achieve it. That which Moraelyn and Edward between them used to free High Rock from Nord domination of their spirit. Properly used, none can stand against it, not e'en that power which the Emperor controls. Freedom, Barenziah, freedom from the chains that bind you. Think on it, Barenziah." He kissed her again, softly, and withdrew. "You're not going?" she cried out, for her body yearned for him. "For now," he said. "Pleasures of the flesh are nothing beside what we might have together. I would have you think on it." "I don't need to think. What must we do? What preparation must we make?" "Why, none. You can enter the mines freely. Once below I can guide you to where this thing lies and lift it from its resting place." "The Horn of Summoning," she whispered. "Is it true? How do you know? 'Tis said it's buried 'neath Daggerfall itself." "Nay, long have I studied this matter. Ere his death King Edward gave the horn for safekeeping into the hand of his old friend King Moraelyn, who secreted it here in Mournhold, under the guardianship of the god Ephen, whose birthplace this is. Now thou know'st what it hath cost me many long years and weary miles to learn." ÷ "But the god?" "Trust me, dear heart. All will be well." Laughing, he blew her a last kiss and was gone. On the morrow they passed the guards at the great doors that led below. Barenziah made her usual tour of inspection but instead of leaving afterwards, she and Nightingale entered a long-sealed door that led to an ancient part of the workings, long abandoned. The going was treacherous, for some of the old passages had collapsed and they had to clear a passage or find a way around. Vicious rats and huge spiders scurried here and there and sometimes attacked them. "We've been gone too long," Barenziah said. "They'll be looking for us. What will I tell them?" "Whate'er you please," Nightingale laughed. "You are the queen, aren't you?" "Symmachus--" "That peasant obeys whoever holds power. Always has, ÷always will. We shall hold the power, love." His lips were the sweetest wine, every touch of fire and lightning. "Now," she said, "take me now. I'm ready." Her body seemed to hum, every nerve and muscle taut. "Not yet. Not here, not like this." He waved around at the ancient dusty rubble and grim rock walls. "Just a little longer." "Here," he said at last, pausing before a blank wall. "Here it lies." His hands wove a spell and the wall dissolved to reveal the entrance to an ancient shrine. In the midst stood a statue of the god, hammer in hand, poised above an adamantium anvil. "By my blood, Ephen, I bid you wake! Moraelyn's heir of Ebonheart am I, last of the royal kin, sharer of thy blood. At Morrowind's last need, with all elvendom in peril of their souls, release to me that which thou guardst! Now do I bid thee strike!" At his words the statue stirred and quickened, and the blank ÷stone eyes glowed red. The massive head nodded, and the hammer smote the anvil, which split asunder with a thunderous crash, and the stone god himself crumbled. Barenziah clapped her hands over her ears and crouched down, crying aloud. Nightingale strode boldly forward and clasped what lay among the ruins with a cry of ecstasy, lifting it high. "Someone's coming!" Barenziah cried. "Wait, that's not the Horn, it -- it's a staff!" "Indeed, my dear, you see truly, at last!" Nightingale laughed aloud, then -- "I'm sorry, my darling, that I must leave you now. Perhaps we'll meet again one day. Until then -- ah, until then, Symmachus," he said to the mail clad figure who'd appeared behind them, "she's yours." "No!" Barenziah sprang up and ran toward him, but he was gone -- winked out of existence -- just as Symmachus, sword drawn, reached him. His blade cleaved a single stroke through empty air, then he stood as still as if he'd taken the stone god's place. Barenziah said nothing, nothing, nothing... ÷ Symmachus told the half dozen elves who had accompanied him to say only that Nightingale and the queen had lost their way, and had been set upon by spiders. Nightingale had fallen into a deep crevice that closed upon him. His body could not be recovered. The queen had been badly shaken by the encounter and deeply mourned the loss of the friend, who had fallen in her defense. Such was his power of command that the slack-jawed soldiers, none of whom had caught more than a glimpse of the event, were half-convinced that it was true. Barenziah was escorted above and taken to her chamber where she dismissed her servants and sat stunned, too shaken even to weep. Symmachus stood watching her. "Do you have any idea what you have done?" he said finally. "You should have told me," Barenziah whispered, "The Staff of Unity and Chaos! I never dreamed it lay here. He said--" A mewling moan escaped her lips and she doubled over in agony. "What have I done? What now? What's to become of me?" ÷ "You loved him?" "Yes, yes, yes. Oh, may the gods have mercy on me, I did love him." Symmachus hard-lined face softened slightly and his eyes glittered with a new light, and he sighed softly. "Ahhh, that's something then. You will become a mother if it's within my power. As for the rest, my dear, I expect you have loosed a storm upon the land. It'll be awhile yet in the brewing. When it comes we'll weather it together." He stripped her clothing from her and carried her to the bed. Out of grief and longing, her body responded to his as never before, pouring forth all that Nightingale had woken in her. She was emptied, and then filled, for a child was planted and grew within her. As the babe grew in her womb, so did her feeling for patient faithful Symmachus, rooted in long friendship and affection, now at last ripen into the fullness of true love. Eight years later their love was blessed again with a little daughter. Directly after Nighingale's theft of the staff Symmachus had sent secret messages to Uriel Septim of the matter, but ÷had not gone himself, choosing rather to stay with Barenziah during her fertile period and father the child upon her. For this, and for the theft, he suffered Uriel Septim's disfavor and suspicion. Spies were sent in search of the thief but Nighingale seemed to have vanished whence he'd come, wherever that was. "Dark elf, in part, perhaps," said Barenziah, "but part human, too, I think, in disguise, else would I not have come so quickly to fertility." "Part dark elf, for sure, of ancient R'Aathim lineage, else he could not have freed the staff," Symmachus reasoned, "and I think he would have lain with thee. As elf he did not dare, for then he would not have been able to part with thee. He knew the Staff lay there, not the Horn, and that he must teleport to safety, for the Staff is not a weapon that would have seen him clear, unlike the horn. Praise the gods he hath not that! It seems all was as he expected, yet how did he know? I placed it there myself, with the aid of the rag-tail end of the R'Aathim clan who now sits king in Ebonheart as a reward. Tiber Septim claimed the Horn, but left the Staff for safe-keeping. Nightingale can use the Staff to sow seeds ÷of strife and dissension, if he wishes, yet that alone will not gain him power. That lies with the Horn and the ability to use it." "I'm not so sure it's power that Nighingale seeks," Barenziah said. "All seek power," Symmachus retorted, "each in our own way." "I have found what I sought," Barenziah said. barbed_wire

The Real Barenziah, Part IX

Anonymous

The Real Barenziah Part IX As Symmachus had predicted, the theft of the Staff of Chaos had few short term consequences. The current emperor, Uriel Septim, sent some rather stiff messages expressing shock and displeasure at the staff's disappearance and urging that Symmachus make every effort to locate its whereabouts and communicate this to the newly appointed Imperial BattleMage, Jagar Tharn, in whose hands the matter had been placed. "Tharn!" Symmachus snarled in disgust and frustration, as he paced about the small chamber where Barenziah, now some months pregnant, was sitting serenely, knitting a baby blanket. "Jagar Tharn, indeed. I wouldn't give him directions for crossing the street." "What have you against this person, husband?" "I just don't trust that mongrel elf. Part wood elf, part dark elf and part only the gods know what. All the worst ÷qualities of all his combined races. No one knows much about him. Claims he was born in Valenwood, of a wood elf mother. Seems to have been everywhere since--" Barenziah, sunk in the contentment of pregnancy had only been humoring Symmachus thus far, but this piqued her interest. "Nightingale? Could he have been this Jagar Tharn, disguised?" "Nay. Human blood seems to be the one missing component in Tharn's ancestry." To Symmachus, Barenziah knew, that was a flaw. Symmachus despised wood elves as lazy thieves and high elves as effete intellectuals, but he admired humans, especially Bretons, for their combination of pragmatism, intelligence and energy. "Nightingale's of Ebonheart, of the House of Mora, I'll be bound -- that house has had human blood since her time. Ebonheart was jealous that the Staff was laid here when Tiber Septim took the Horn from us." Barenziah sighed a little. The rivalry between Ebonheart and Mournhold reached back almost to the dawn of history. ÷Once the two had been one, all the mines within held by Clan R'Aathim, whose royal house held the High Kingship of Morrowind. Ebonheart had split into two separate city states, Ebonheart and Mournhold, when Queen Lian's twin sons, Moraelyn's grandsons, had been left as the heirs. At the same time the office of High King had been vacated in favor of a temporary War Leader to be named by a council in times of provincial emergency. Still, Ebonheart remained jealous of her prerogatives as the eldest city state of Morrowind, still first among equals, and claimed that guardianship of the Horn should rightfully be entrusted to the elder. Mournhold responded that Moraelyn himself had placed the Horn in the keeping of the god Ephen, and Mournhold was unarguably the god's birthplace. "Why not tell Jagar Tharn of your suspicions then? Let him recover the thing. As long as it's safe, what does it matter where it lies?" Symmachus stared at her without comprehension. "It matters," he said softly, "but not that much," he added. "Certainly not enough for you to concern yourself further over it. You just tend to your -- knitting." ÷ In a few more months Barenziah produced a fine son, whom they named Helseth. Nothing more was heard of the Staff or "Nightingale." If Ebonheart held it, certainly they did not boast of it. The years passed swiftly and happily. Helseth grew tall and strong. He was much like his father, whom he worshipped. When Helseth was eight years old Barenziah bore a second child, a daughter, to Symmachus' great delight. Helseth was his pride, yet little Morgiah held his heart. Shortly after Morgiah's birth word came that a plot against the Emperor had been unmasked and that the chief co-conspirators Jagar Tharn and Ria Silmane were dead. Symmachus rejoiced at this news. "I told you so," he crowed. Yet thereafter relations with the Empire slowly deteriorated, for no apparent reason. Taxes were raised and quotas increased with each passing year. Symmachus felt that the Emperor suspected him of having had a hand in the plot and sought to prove his loyalty by making every effort to comply with the increasing demands. He lengthened working hours and raised taxes and even made up some of the difference from both crown funds and their own private holdings. Yet still the demands increased and commoners and nobles alike grew restless. ÷ "I want you to take the children and journey yourself to Imperial City," Symmachus at last said in desperation. "You must make the Emperor listen, else all Mournhold will be in revolt come spring. You have a way with men, you always did." He forced a smile. Barenziah forced a smile of her own. "Even you." "Yes, even me," he said dully. "Both children?" Barenziah looked over toward the corner windows where Helseth was strumming a lute and singing a duet with his little sister. Helseth was fifteen, Morgiah just eight. "Perhaps they'll soften his heart. Besides, it's time that Helseth was presented at the Imperial Court." "Perhaps, but that's not your true reason. You do not think you can keep them safe here. If that's the case, then you're not safe here either. Come with us," Barenziah urged. He took her hands in his. "Barenziah. Love. Heart of my heart, ÷if I leave now, there'll be nothing for us to return to. I'll be all right. I can take care of myself, and I can do it better if I need not fear for you and our children." Barenziah laid her head against his chest. "Just remember that we need you. We can do without the rest if we have each other. Empty hands and empty bellies are easier to bear than an empty heart. My foolishness has brought us to this pass." "If so, 'tis not that so a place to be." His eyes rested fondly on their carefree children. "And none of us shall go without. I cost you everything once, Barenziah, I and Tiber Septim. Without my aid the Septim dynasty would never have begun. I helped its rise. I can bring about its fall. You may tell Uriel Septim that, and that my patience is bounded." Barenziah gasped. Symmachus was not given to empty threats. She'd no more imagined that he would ever turn against the Empire than that the old house wolf lying by the hearth would turn on her. "How?" she demanded, but he shook his head. "Better that you ÷know not," he said. "Just tell him that, if he prove recalcitrant, and do not fear. He's Septim enough that he will not kill the messengers." The late winter journey to Imperial City was an easy one. One of the things the Septim Empire had accomplished was the building and maintenance of good highways throughout Tamriel. * * * * Barenziah stood before the Emperor's throne, explaining Mournhold's straits. She'd waited weeks for an audience with Uriel Septim, fobbed off on pretext or another. "His Excellency is indisposed." "An urgent matter demands his attention." "I am sorry, your Highness, there must be some mistake. Your appointment is for next week. No, see..." And now it was not going well. He did not even seem to be listening to her. He hadn't invited her to sit, nor had he dismissed the children. Helseth stood still as a carved statue, but little Morgiah had begun to fidget. He had first greeted the three of them with a too-bright smile of welcome that did not reach his eyes. Then, as she presented her children, he had gazed at them with a fixed attention that was real, yet inappropriate. Barenziah had been dealing with humans for nearly five hundred years now and had developed skill at reading their expressions and movement that was far beyond that any human ever learned. Try as the Emperor might to conceal it, there was a hunger in his eyes, and something more. Regret. Why? He had several fine children of his own. Why covet hers? And why look at her with an intense, though, brief yearning? Ah, well, perhaps he was tired of his Lady. Humans were fickle minded. But after that one long, burning glance, his gaze had shifted away as she began to speak of her mission, and he sat still as stone. Puzzled, Barenziah stared into the pale set face, looking for some trace of the Septims she'd known. She hadn't known Uriel Septim well, having met him only once when he was still a child and then at his coronation twenty years before. He'd been stern and dignified then, yet not icily remote as this man was. Despite the physical resemblance, he didn't seem to be the same man at all. Not the same, yet something about him was familiar to her, more familiar than it should ÷be, some trick of posture or gesture ... Suddenly she felt very warm, as if lava had been poured over her. Illusion! She had studied well the arts of illusion since Nightingale had fooled her so badly. She had learned to detect it and she felt it now, as certainly as a blind man could feel the sun on his face. Illusion, but why? Her mind worked furiously even as her mouth went on reciting details about the Mournhold economy. Vanity? Humans were oft as ashamed of the signs of age as elves were proud of them. Yet the face Uriel Septim wore seemed consistent with his age. Barenziah dared use none of her magic arts. Even petty nobles had means of detecting, if not shielding themselves from these in their halls. The use of magic here would bring down his wrath as surely as drawing a knife would. Magic. Illusion. Suddenly she thought of Nightingale and briefly he sat before her, only saddened. Trapped. And then that vision faded and another man sat there, like Nightingale and yet unlike. Pale skin, red eyes and elven ears and about him a fierce glow of concentration, an aura of energy, a shrinking horror. This man was capable of anything! And then, once again she beheld the face of Uriel Septim. How could she be sure she wasn't ÷imagining things? Perhaps her mind was playing tricks on her. She felt a sudden vast weariness, as if she'd been carrying a heavy burden too long and too far. "Do you remember, Excellency, Symmachus and I had dinner with your family shortly after your father's coronation. You were no older than little Morgiah here. We were greatly honored to be the only guests that evening, except for your best friend Justin, of course." "Ah, yes," the Emperor said. "I believe I do recall that." "You and Justin were such friends. I was told he died not long after. A great pity." "Indeed. I still do not like to speak of him." His eyes were wary. "Ah, as for your request, my lady, we shall take it under advisement and let you know." Barenziah bowed, as did her children. A nod dismissed them, and they backed away from the presence. Barenziah took a deep breath. "Justin" had been an imaginary friend, although Uriel had insisted that a place be set for Justin at every ÷meal! Not only that, "Justin" had been a girl, despite the boy name. Symmachus had kept up the family joke long after "Justin" had gone wherever such childhood friends go, inquiring seriously after Justin's well-being whenever he and Uriel Septim met, and being responded to as seriously. The last Barenziah had heard "Justin", after an adventurous youth, had married a high elf and settled in Lilandril. The man occupying the Emperor's chair was not Uriel Septim! Nightingale! A chord of recognition rang through her and Barenziah knew that she was right. It was he, indeed! Symmachus had been wrong, so wrong ... What now, she wondered. What had become of Uriel Septim, and, more to the point, what did it mean for her and Symmachus and Mournhold? Thinking back, Barenziah guessed that their troubles were due to this false emperor, Nightingale, or whoever he really was. He must have taken Uriel Septim's place shortly before the unreasonable demands on Mournhold had begun. That would explain why relations had deteriorated so long (as humans judged time) after her offense. Nightingale knew of Symmachus' famed loyalty to, and knowledge of, the Septims and was making a pre-emptive strike. If that were indeed the case they were ÷all in terrible danger. She and the children were under his hand here in Imperial City and Symmachus left alone to face the troubles of Nightingale's brewing. What must she do? Barenziah urged the children ahead of her, a hand on each shoulder, her womanservant and guards trailing behind. They had reached their waiting carriage -- even though their apartment was only a few blocks from the Palace, royal dignity forbade their walking, and for once, Barenziah was glad of that. Even the carriage seemed a kind of sanctuary now, false as she knew that feeling to be. A boy dashed up to one of the guards and handed him a letter, then pointed towards the carriage. The guard brought it to her. The boy waited, eyes wide. The letter was brief and complimentary and simply asked if King Eadwyre of Wayrest, High Rock, might be granted an audience with her, as he had heard much of her, and would be pleased to make her acquaintance. Barenziah's first impulse was to refuse. She wanted only to leave this city! Certainly she had no inclination for any dalliances with a dazzled human. She looked up frowning and one of the guard said, "The boy says his master awaits your reply yonder." She looked in the ÷direction indicated and saw a handsome elderly man on horseback, surrounded by a half-dozen courtiers and guards. He caught her eye and bowed respectfully, removing his plumed hat. "Very well," Barenziah said to the boy, on impulse. "Tell your master he may call on me tonight, after the dinner hour." The man looked polite and grave, and rather worried, but not in the least lovesick. barbed_wire

The Real Barenziah, Part X

Anonymous

The Real Barenziah Part X Barenziah stood at the open tower window, waiting. She could sense her familiar's nearness, but though the night sky was clear as day to her eyes she could not yet see him. Then suddenly he was there, a swift moving dot beneath the wispy night clouds. A few more minutes and the great nighthawk was there, wings folded, talons reaching for her thick leather armband. She carried the bird to its perch where it waited, panting, while her impatient fingers felt for the message secured in a capsule on one leg. It drank, then ruffled its feathers and began to preen, secure in her presence. A tiny part of her consciousness shared its satisfaction with a job well done, rest earned ... yet beneath that was an unease. Things were not right, even to its bird mind. Her fingers shook as she unfolded the thin sheet and pored over the sheet of cramped writing. Not Symmachus' bold hand! Barenziah sat, slowly, fingers smoothing the document while she prepared her mind and body to accept disaster calmly. ÷ The Imperial Guards had deserted Symmachus and joined the rebels. The loyal troops had suffered a decisive defeat. The rebel leader had been recognized as king of Morrowind by the Emperor. Symmachus was dead. Barenziah and the children had been declared traitors of the Empire and a price set on their heads. "My lady?" Barenziah jumped, startled at her servant's approach. "The Breton is here. King Eadwyre," the woman added helpfully, noting Barenziah's puzzlement. "Is there news, my lady?" she said, nodding at the nighthawk. "Nothing that will not wait," Barenziah said quickly. "See to the bird." King Eadwyre greeted her gravely and courteously, if rather fulsomely. He claimed to be a great admirer of Symmachus, who figured prominently in his family legends. Gradually he turned the conversation to her business with the Emperor. Finding her noncommittal, he suddenly blurted out, "My Lady Queen, you must believe me. The man posing as the Emperor is an impostor! I know it sounds mad, but I -- " "No," Barenziah said, with sudden decisiveness. "You are correct. I know." Eadwyre relaxed back into his seat for the first time, eyes shrewd. "You know? You're not just humoring a madman? My lady I -- we -- need your aid." Barenziah smiled grimly at the irony. "Of what assistance might I be, my lord?" Quickly he outlined a plot. The Imperial Sorceress Ria Silmane had been killed and declared a traitor by the false emperor, yet she retained a bit of her power and could yet contact a few of those she had known well on the mortal plane. She had chosen a Champion who would undertake to assemble the missing staff pieces and use the staff's power to destroy Jagar Tharn, who was otherwise invulnerable, and rescue the true Emperor, who was being held prisoner in another plane. However, the chosen Champion languished now in the Imperial Dungeons. Tharn's attention must be diverted while he freed himself with Ria's help. Barenziah had Tharn's ear and eye. Could she provide the necessary distraction? "I suppose I could obtain another audience with him. Would that be sufficient? What do you mean, his eye?" Eadwyre looked uncomfortable. "It was whispered among the servants that Jagar Tharn kept your likeness in a sort of shrine in his chambers. That surprises you?" "Yes. And no." "Our chosen one may need a few days to escape." "You trust me in this? Why?" "We are desperate, my lady. We have no choice. But yes, I do trust you. Symmachus -- " "Is dead." Barenziah explained quickly and coolly. "My Lady. What dreadful news!" For the first time Eadwyre's urbane poise was shaken. "Under the circumstances, we can hardly ask -- " "Nay, my lord king. Under the circumstances I must do what I ÷may to avenge myself upon the murderer of my childrens' father. In return I ask only that you protect my orphaned children as you may." "Most willingly do I so pledge, most brave and noble lady!" Old fool, Barenziah thought. She did not sleep that night, but sat in a chair beside her bed, hands folded in her lap, thinking long deep thoughts. She would not tell the children, not yet, not until she must. She had no need to seek another audience with the "Emperor" for a summons came in the morning. She told the children she expected to be gone a few days, bade them give the servants no trouble and kissed them goodbye. Morgiah whimpered a bit, for she was bored and lonely in Imperial City. Helseth looked dour but said nothing. He was very like his father. At the palace, Barenziah was escorted not into the great hall, but to a small parlor where the Emperor sat at a solitary breakfast. He nodded a greeting, and waved his hand at the window. "Splendid view, isn't it?" Barenziah stared out over the towers of the great city. It dawned on her that this was the very chamber where she'd first met Tiber Septim and a strong wave of inchoate feeling swept over her. When she turned back at last Uriel Septim had vanished and Nightingale sat in his place, laughing. "You knew," he said accusingly, scanning her face. "I wanted to surprise you. You might at least pretend." Barenziah spread her arms, "I'm afraid my skills at pretense are no match for yours, my liege." "You're angry with me." He pretended to pout. "Just a little," she said icily. "I do find betrayal offensive." "How human of you." "What do you want of me?" He wiped his mouth and stood erect. "Now you are pretending. You know what I want of you, my love." "You want to tantalize and torment me. Go ahead. I'm in your power." "No, no, no. I don't want that at all, Barenziah." He came near, speaking low in the old caressing voice that sent shivers over her body. "Don't you see? This was the only way." His hands closed on her arms. "You could have taken me with you!" Tears gathered in her eyes. He shook his head. "I didn't have the power. Ah, but now, now I have it all. Mine to have, mine to share -- with you." He waved his hand toward the window and the city beyond. "All Tamriel to lay at your feet -- and that is only the beginning." "It's too late. Too late. You left me to him." "He's dead. A scant few years...what does it matter?" "The children -- " "I'll adopt them. We'll have others together, Barenziah. I have powers you do not dream of!" He moved to kiss her but she slipped his grasp and turned away. "I don't believe you." "You do, you know. You're still angry, that's all." His smile did not reach his eyes. "What do you want?" She shrugged. "A walk in the garden. A song or two." "Ah. You want to be courted." "Why not? You do it so well. It's been long since I've had the pleasure." And so they spent their days in courtship, walking, talking, singing and laughing together, while the Empire's business was left to underlings. "I'd like to see the staff," Barenziah said idly one day. "I only had a glimpse of it." "Nothing would give me greater pleasure, heart's delight, but that's impossible." "You don't trust me," Barenziah pouted, but she softened her lips for his kiss. "Nonsense, love. It isn't here. In fact, it isn't anywhere." He laughed and kissed her again, softly. "Now you're talking in riddles again. I want to see it. You can't have destroyed it." "Ah, you've gained in wisdom, since last we met." "You piqued my interest somewhat. The staff can't be destroyed and it can't be removed from Tamriel, not without the direst consequences to the land itself." "Ahhh. All true. And yet, as a I said, it isn't anywhere. Can you solve the riddle?" He pulled her to him and she leaned into his embrace. "Here's a greater riddle still," he whispered, "how to make one of two. That I can and will show you." Their bodies merged, limbs tangled together. Later, ÷when they'd drawn a bit apart and dozed, she thought, sleepily. "One of two, two of one, three of two...what cannot be destroyed or banished might be split apart, perhaps..." Nightingale kept a diary. He scribbled entries in it each night after quick reports from his underlings. It was locked but the lock was a simple one, so Barenziah managed to sneak quick looks at it while he was occupied in toileting himself. She discovered that the first staff piece was hidden in an ancient dwarven mine called Fang Lair, although its location was given only in vague terms. The diary was crammed with jotted events in an odd shorthand, and was very hard to decipher. All Tamriel, she thought, in his hands and mine, and more perhaps, and yet ... For all his surface charm there was a cold emptiness where his heart should have been, an emptiness of which he was quite unaware, she thought. One could glimpse it now and then, when his eyes would go blank and hard. Peasant dreams, Barenziah thought, and Straw flashed before her eyes, looking sad, and then Therris, with a mocking smile and empty eye sockets. Symmachus, who did what must be done, quietly and efficiently. Nightingale. Nightingale, who would rule all, and more, and yet spread chaos in the name of control. Barenziah got reluctant leave from Nightingale to go to her children, who had to be told of their father's death and of the emperor's offer of his protection to them. Eadwyre called on them while she was there, and she told him what she had discovered so far, and explained that she must remain awhile yet and learn more as she could. Nightingale teased her about her elderly admirer. He was quite aware of Eadwyre's suspicion, although as he said, no one took the old fool seriously. Barenziah managed to arrange a reconciliation of sorts between them. Eadwyre publicly recanted his suspicions and his "old friend" forgave him. Thus he was invited to dine with them at least once a week. The children liked Eadwyre, even Helseth, who disapproved of his mother's liaison with the "Emperor" and consequently detested Nightingale. He had become surly and temperamental and frequently quarreled with both of them. Eadwyre was not happy either and Nightingale delighted in ÷publicly displaying his affection for Barenziah. They could not marry, of course, for Uriel Septim was already married. He had exiled the true Empress shortly after taking Septim's place, but had not dared to harm her. She was held by the Temple of the One. It had been given out publicly that she was in ill health, and rumors had been circulated that she had mental problems. The Emperor's children had also been dispatched to various prisons disguised as "schools". "She'll grow worse in time," Nightingale said carelessly, eying Barenziah's swollen breasts and belly with satisfaction. "As for his children ... well, life is full of hazards, isn't it? We'll be married. Your child will be my true heir." He did want the child. Barenziah was sure of that. She was far less sure of his feelings for her. They quarrelled, often violently, usually about Helseth, whom he wanted to send away to school. Barenziah made no effort to avoid these quarrels. Nightingale had no interest in a peaceful life and he thoroughly enjoyed making up afterwards. Occasionally Barenziah would take the children and retreat to their old apartment, declaring she wanted no more to do with him. She was six months pregnant before she finally deciphered the location of the last staff piece -- an easy one, since every dark elf knew where Dagoth-Ur was. When next she quarrelled with Nightingale she simply left the city with Eadwyre and they rode hard for High Rock and Wayrest. Nightingale was furious, but there was little he could do. His assassins were rather inept, and he dared not leave his seat of power to pursue them in person, nor could he openly declare war on Wayrest. He had no legitimate claim on her on her unborn child. The nobility had disapproved of his liaison with Barenziah and were glad that she had gone. Wayrest was equally disapproving and distrustful of her, but Eadwyre was much beloved by his prosperous little city, and allowances were readily made for his eccentricities. Barenziah and Eadwyre were married a year after the birth of her son by Jagar Tharn. Eadwyre doted on her. She did not love him, but she was fond of him, and that was something. It was nice to have someone, and Wayrest was a very pleasant place, a good place for children to grow up, while they waited, and hoped, and prayed for their Champion's success in his long mission. barbed_wire

On Oblivion

Morian Zenas

On Oblivion It is improper, though common, to refer to the denizens of the dimension of Oblivion as demons. This practice must probably dates to the Alessian Doctrines of the prophet Marukh which, rather amusingly, forbade traffic with "daimons," and then neglected to explain what demons are. It is most probable that "daimon" is a mispelling of "daedra," the old Elvish word for the strange, powerful creatures of uncertain motivation who come from the dimension of Oblivion. In later tractates by King Hale the Pious of Skyrim, almost a thousand years after the publication of the original Doctrines, the evil of his political enemies is compared to "the wickedness of the demons of Oblivion ... their depravity equals that of Sanguine itself, they are cruel as Boethiah, calculating as Molag Bal, and mad as Sheogorath." Hale the Pious thus longwindedly introduced four of the daedra lords to the written record. The written record is not, after all, the best way to research Oblivion and the daedra that inhabit it. Those who, in the words of the Alessian Doctrine, "traffic with ÷daimons" seldom wish it to be a matter of public record. Nevertheless, scattered throughout the literature of the first era, are diaries, journals, notices for witch burnings, and guides for daedra-slayers which contain only a few contradictions. These I have used as my primary source material. They are at least as trustworthy as the daedra lords I have actually summoned and spoken with at length. Oblivion is a place composed of many lands, thus the many names for which Oblivion is synonymous: Coldharbour, Quagmire, Moonshadow, and others. It may be supposed that each land of Oblivion is ruled by one prince. The princes whose name appears over and over (though this is not a sure test of their authenticity, to be sure) are the aforementioned Sanguine, Boethiah, Molag Bal, Sheogorath, and Azura, Mephala, Clavicus Vil, Vaernima, Malacath, Hoermius (or Hermaeus or Hormaius, there is no consistant spelling) Mora, Namira, Jyggalag, Nocturnal, Mehrunes Dagon, and Peryite. From my experience, Daedra are a very mixed lot. It is ÷almost impossible to categorize them as a whole except for their immense power and their penchant for extremism. Mehrunes Dagon, Molag Bal, Peryite, Boethiah, and Vaernima are among the most consistently "demonic" of the Daedra, in the sense that their spheres seem to be destructive in nature. The other daedra can, of course, be very dangerous, but seldom purely for the sake of destruction, as these five can. Nor are those five aforementioned daedra identical in their destruction. Mehrunes Dagon seems to prefer natural disasters, earthquakes and volcanos, to vent his spleen. Molag Bal prefers employing actual daedralings, and Boethiah inspires the arms of mortal warriors. Peryite sphere seems to be pestilence, and Vaernima's torture. Summoning daedra is not a difficult proposition, but it is usual an expensive one. Most Mages Guilds have a summoning room, but this is most often reserved for the highest echelon of guildmembers. Witches covens are much less class sensitive, and the Necromancers, the Dark Brotherhood, and many secretive kings and queens of Tamriel have private summoning rooms. Daedra princes usually demand some sort ÷of service of those who summon them, though I am fortunate enough to have good relations with some and need not perform. In preparation for the second chapter of this series, I will be investigating two matters that have intrigued me since I began my career as a daedra researcher. The first is on one particular Daedra Prince, referred to in multiple articles of incunabula as Hircine. Hircine has been called "the huntsman of the Princes" and "the father of manbeasts," but I have yet to find anyone who can summon him. The other, and more doubtful goal I have for the next chapter is to find a practical means for mortal man to pass through to Oblivion. It has always been my philosophy that we only need fear that which we do not understand, and with that thought in mind, I pursue my goal. barbed_wire

The Sage

Aegrothius goth

Sage Crackle, snap, hiss ... Flicker, bright, dim ... The fire in the hearth provides light and heat. Neither seem to affect the old man. His reclining figure stares into the flames and ÷flames reflect back from his deep dark eyes. Indigo blue robes reflect and yet absorb the firelight and highlights of golden threads twinkle as the flames flicker. His beard and hair are long and snowy white; in the firelight they almost appear to be ethereal like that of a godling. At his side is a tall pointed hat which is the same color as his robe and also twinkles with highlights of gold. The face is lined with age, yet almost appears youthful; wisdom and intellect exude from his personage. This is the Sage who is known in all of Tamriel as the champion and counselor to all users of magic. His thoughts wander, and he remembers ... ... Gyron Vardengroet was born to a poor and humble Breton family in the village of Moonguard. The only child of Frieda and Horstle Vardengroet entered life during a rare eclipse of Tamriel's moons. It was soon apparent that he was unusually gifted in the magical arts. He was found levitating the family dog when he was only a year old. Most Bretons have a great talent for magic, but as he grew Gyron displayed a talent far greater than that of his peers. The village wizard began to take an interest in young Gyron and ÷soon took him under his wing. In spite of the young man's proclivities for being rowdy, the old Wizard Grungdingler liked him and worked hard to teach him the magical arts to the extent of his own skills. Finally the day came when Grungdingler could teach Gyron no more. The young mage had surpassed his master, and he was somewhat unsettled with the apprentice mage's questions about life, death and immortality. Grundingler called Gyron to him and gave him a letter addressed to Morkledder, the Guildmagister of the Mages Guild in Shornhelm. The young mage told his parents of his fortune, packed his meager belongings, and set out for the journey to Shornhelm. After many months of travel through the foothills of the Kurallian Mountains, Gyron arrived at the gates to the great City-State of Shornhelm high in the mountainous terrain of High Rock. After the life of a quiet Breton village, Shornhelm was a wonder to Gyron. He explored the city from one end to the other, and eventually found the Mages Guild. Presenting Grungdingler's letter to Morkledder, Gyron was received warmly. Morkledder explained to Gyron that he would need ÷to be tested before any commitment to further training could be made. After a night of rest and meditation, Gyron was shown into the main hall of the Mages Guild which was now filled with magic users of all kinds. It was very quiet. The young mage felt as if his heart was in his throat as he approached the Council of Three, the leaders of the mages in this City-State. Morkledder rose and explained to Gyron the various tests he would be subjected to to prove his worth as a mage. The youth then turned and left the Council Chamber, the eyes of the many mages on him, and went forth to complete the tasks that had been defined for him. Returning to Shornhelm several years later, Gyron was admitted to the Mages Guild and shown to the Council Chamber where he was met by Morkledder. The ancient mage reviewed the journal entries, the artifacts gathered, and most especially the spellbook entries presented to him by Gyron. An expression of amazement spread across the old wizard's face; there had never been a novice to accomplish what Gyron had during the testing. Morkledder then called a full session of the Guild presenting Gyron as a full Wizard. Gyron remained with Morkledder for several years and ÷studied hard. In private session several years after the testing, Morkledder admitted to Gyron that the Guild at Shornhelm could teach him no more and that he should seek further enlightenment at the Crystal Tower on Sumurset Isle. After packing his possessions once again, Gyron set off on another long journey. He arrived at the Crystal Tower several years later after having traversed the province of Hammerfell where he had many adventures, met many other mages and shared his experiences and knowledge with them. He heard stories of wonderful plants that when combined with other elements could restore life to those dead, prolong life to those yet living, and in the proper combination bestow immortality on the user. Gyron was always quick to advise and guide mages who were less experienced than himself. He loved being able to help. He made many friends and stories began to spread across the land about this exceptional user of magic. When he entered the Crystal Tower, he was greeted by several mages all clamoring for his attention. His reputation had preceded him. However, the crowd hushed and parted at the arrival of a very imposing figure dressed all in indigo blue robes trimmed in gold, wearing a high pointed hat and carrying the most beautifully carved staff Gyron had ever seen. The Elder of the Council of Wizards, Esthlainder, looked closely at the young wizard, nodded and turned to walk back into the tower. Without delay, Gyron followed him. The audience that followed stunned the young mage. Esthlainder explained to him that Gyron's coming had been foretold for many years, and he had been expected. The mages had been told by the Gods that one of their own would come along to provide guidance, knowledge and aid. Gyron was that promised champion and leader. Gyron was confused and uncertain. How could he be such an extraordinary person? What must he do to fulfill his destiny? Many questions spilled from him to which Esthlainder could not provide the answers. The Elder suggested that Gyron stay with them in the Crystal Tower for a while and study. This he did. The day finally came when The Elder admitted to Gyron that the Crystal Tower could no longer provide anything new and that he needed to travel the lands of Tamriel and seek the wisdom and knowledge. The Elder sighed and told Gyron how ÷sad he was that the Crystal Tower was losing him, but that his destiny must be fulfilled. With this, the Elder presented Gyron with a package wrapped in the same beautiful indigo blue as the Elder's Robes. Gyron was told to take the package with him but open it only when he was at least a day's travel from the Crystal Tower. After a long day's walk, Gyron set up camp in a beautiful glade next to a brook of crystal clear water. Finally, he thought, I can open the Elder's package. As he untied the golden cord that had bound the package, he found that the wrapping was not wrapping at all but an exquisitely tailored robe identical to the one worn by the Elder. As he opened the robe, a high pointed wizard's hat popped out of the package, and with a "whoosh" and "pop," the same intricately carved staff that the Elder had carried appeared. A note from the Elder advised that the garments were indestructible and that the staff had many magical properties for Gyron to discover. It went on further to explain that from this day forward Gyron would be known as The Sage. Tired from his walking and with an inner glow of ÷accomplishment, The Sage settled down for the first night of his long pilgrimage across the lands. After many months of further travels and adventures, The Sage returned to Moonguard and was warmly welcomed by the villagers and most especially by his parents, Frieda and Horstle. News of his coming had preceded him and the whole village had worked hard to build and furnish a cottage for the mage in the pleasant forest just outside the town. After a festive banquet that evening, Gyron retired to his new home. The Sage settled into his life outside Moonguard. He received many visitors who have traveled from near and far to seek his guidance, help, and training. The years passed. It was not long before first Horstle and then Frieda died. The Sage was devastated by his loss. In his grief he swore to dedicate the rest of his life to defeating death so that grief like his could be avoided by others. He returned to the Great Library at the Crystal Tower and researched the many flowers, herbs and plants that he had heard about and seen during his travels. In his cottage, he ÷labored tirelessly over the spellbooks, vials and collection of flora from all over the lands. He tested the potions on himself. The years went by, but The Sage seemed not to age anymore. At some point he had found the right combination in his experiments, but could not determine which combination it had been as the change had been most subtle. He had secured a life without end. And the years continued to pass. Mages came to him for help which he freely gave. The Sage settled into his life of advising and guiding and the years continued to pass. Unfortunately, his fame became so great that the call for his help was unmanageable. He reluctantly packed his possessions for the last time, and moved far into the Kurallian Mountains and built a magical fortress. Only the most worthy magic user could gain access and help from The Sage. However, following his heart, even today The Sage often leaves his mountain abode and travels the land helping young mages gain experience and to grow. ... Snap, crackle ... The firelight flickers... The old mage stirs as the memories fade and flicker like the firelight. Bang, bang, bang... echoes from the pounding knocker on the great oaken doors of the fortress... The Sage rises and heads for the doors knowing that yet another mage in need has found him and is worthy of help. barbed_wire

The Light and The Dark

Irek Unterge

The Light And řThe Dark "Yes, children, it is no accident that this land of Tamriel has been called 'The Arena'." The old man altered his position on the large rock that bore his weight, and straightened his long gray robe. Rheumy eyes lost their focus as they gazed out over the sun-warmed valley in the mountains of High Rock. For a moment he saw a vision of ancient horrors instead of the fresh greenery of spring. A chill washed over his aged bones. "Is this a suitable topic for the young and innocent?" he asked himself. The young must be taught, but must they learn of such things now, when they should be playing in the sunlight? This is a tale for the dreary winter, with the wind howling outside a walled town and the doors and windows closed and bolted against the blast and cold and -- other things. He glanced with affection at his two grandchildren: the little towheaded boy with a hint of mischief dancing in his eyes even on those rare occasions when sitting quietly, and his older sister. A serene lass, the old man thought. Her hair ÷like a dark flame and her slightly pointed ears were the only obvious signs of elven blood. So like her grandmother, the old man thought. The past is past, and I'shira had brought him so much peace and happiness after a lifetime of battle. He forced his thoughts back to the present. "Sorry, children. I was remembering things. Old people do that, you know." "Are you going to tell us the story of Jagar Tharn and the Emperor and the Eternal Champion?" His grandson asked. "That's my favorite!" "Not exactly, son. They were a part of it, in a way. As are I'ric and Moraelyn and Edward and Reymon and many others. Even the gods play a part. This is a far older story, and even the priests won't tell it my way. They have their own interpretations, and their fears as well. I'm too old and have seen too much to have any fear left, except that our people will forget. And forgetting is dangerous. So I, and a few others, carry this tale and try to spread it among the younger generations. You aren't really old enough to understand it all, but I can feel that my end is ÷not far off. I must ask you to remember anyway. In a few years, perhaps, if I still live, we can discuss it again. If not, well, you must seek out others who know, and compare notes." "You talk as if you are going to die, Granther," his granddaughter spoke up. "That can't happen. You will live forever!" Chuckling, "I'm afraid not, dear. But I have a little while left, enough for the story". The children settled back against the bole of a large oak, knowing that the old man could not be hurried. Leaning forward, he began: "Long, long ago, before there were any people at all; even before the gods, Tamriel was chosen as a battleground by two -- things. It is difficult to find words that fit them well. I call them the Light and the Dark. Others use different names. Good and Evil, Bird and Serpent, Order and Chaos. None of these names really apply. It suffices that they are opposites, and totally antithetical. Neither is really ÷good or evil, as we know the words. They are immortal since they do not really live, but they do exist. Even the gods and their daedric enemies are pale reflections of the eternal conflict between them. It's as though their struggle creates energies that distort their surroundings, and those energies are so powerful that life can appear, like an eddy in a stream." "Do demons and trolls come from the Dark, Grandpa?" "Not exactly, son. The undead evils we know, and the demons that live on Oblivion tend to align with the Dark. Their natures are more akin to it. Humans and the other peoples of Tamriel, even the misunderstood Dark Elves, are more aligned with the Light. Our evils are not always of the Dark, but some are, and these are the truly dangerous ones. Jagar Tharn was almost wholly aligned with the Dark, and that is really why he was so monstrous. It was not because he was a black mage, as some would have it." "Did his magic come from the Dark, Granther?" The girl's interest was piqued by mention of magic. Her heritage is beginning to show itself, thought the old man. ÷ "No, magic power comes directly from the energies swirling about both entities. These energies are impersonal and all mixed up. Black magic is more a matter of intent than effect. The Mages' Guild holds that a fireball, say, directed against a creature intent on causing harm, is not black magic; but the same spell directed at one seeking peace is. In this, they are right. Destruction of a fire daedra strengthens the Light and weakens the Dark just a little. In the same manner, destruction of a unicorn strengthens the Dark." "What about the gods? Do they come from the Light?" The boy's eyes were animated, but tinged with apprehension. He adored stories of the gods and goddesses of Tamriel's pantheon, and the heroes who served them. The old man chuckled. "The gods have an unusual origin, if some of the oldest tales are true. The oldest inhabitants of this world -- no one seems to be sure what race they were -- had a system of myths that they believed in for a thousand years. The people of et'Ada believed for so long and so well, that their beliefs may, just may, have drawn upon the energies surrounding Tamriel to bring the gods themselves ÷into being. If that is so, the conflict between the Light and the Dark provided the energy, and the et'Adans the structure, that created the gods of Tamriel. No one really knows since it was so long ago and so little survives from that time. It no longer matters; the gods have their own existence now, and mostly align with the Light, except for a few who are, shall we say, a little ambiguous." "Why do we have to remember, Granther? What is the danger you spoke of? If the Light and Dark are so big and powerful, can we influence them? Should we try? What should we fight for?" "I see that your critical faculties are developing, Solara. That is good. The answer is simple, but quite large enough for mere mortals like us. The Light and Dark are evenly matched, and perhaps will never resolve their conflict. Mortals and the beings of the Aetherius sometimes can perceive traces of them. Therein lies the danger; to most of us the Light is more congenial, even inspiring, and moves us to behavior that we would call good. To creatures like us, the Dark is -- horrible. Those who have visions of it are often driven mad, and the ones who are not would be better ÷dead. The Dark is to us a monstrous emptiness, an emptiness that sucks the soul toward it -- to be twisted, maimed, and ultimately destroyed. What we can see of it seems utterly evil. Perhaps somewhere else this would not be so, but in our world, it is." The old man paused to gather his thoughts, gazing once more at the fresh new life of spring. "What we must do is never to forget that the Dark is always there, beckoning to the weak-souled among us. Should it gain ascendancy over Tamriel, through agents perverted by its awful attraction, terrible things could happen. All that we hold beautiful or desirable, even love itself, would be swept away. Peace and hope would be no more. For Tamriel, that would be the worst possible disaster. What I saw during Jagar's reign nearly killed me, almost destroyed my mind. When he was destroyed, I thought the worst was over, but it was not. The forces of the Dark are on the march again, and new heroes must rise to join the Eternal Champion in the fight against them." The old man and the two children sat in silence for several ÷minutes. Finally, the children assisted their grandfather to his feet, and they walked slowly away. Toward home, and hearth, and lunch. barbed_wire

Confessions of a Thief

Anonymous

Confessions Of A Thief I'm a thief. Now, don't get me wrong. I ain't saying this out of pride, but I ain't ashamed of my occupation neither. Thieves got a perfect right to exist in the Empire. People say we're dishonest. Of course, those people are usually either merchants or priests, which really slays me. Sort of the snake calling the worm legless. Rulers like us. Crime in moderation is good for the economy. The trick is to keep it at a good even pace, with a well timed lull and a minor wave to keep the fat bottoms from becoming compacent. Of course, stupid, but talented thieves will keep stealing, empty their pockets, and steal some more. This ain't good for no one. That's where the guilds come in. A thieves guild is what they call a crime regulator. We protect each other and punish the clumsy and greedy. The kings depend on us to keep the amateurs out of business. Yeah, occasionally, a king will come down on us. I've even seen my Thieves Guildmaster get himself stuck in prison once or twice. Some cohort of mine said her first Guildmaster got himself hanged. Then the Thieves Guild has to get foul on the king, and, let someone who knows tell you, the results ain't pretty. I got into the guild, the way I've seen most thieves do it. It ÷was a few years back, when that bully Jagar Tharn was sitting on the throne only everyone thought he was the Emperor. My parents farm turned into eight acres of dust and rock, and they threw me and my brothers out. I was always a skinny thing, but by the time I made it to the closest town, I was a good deal more skinnier. Just cause the town had some dirt that plants could grow on didn't make them that much richer than my folks were. I tried to get all kinds of jobs, but the hungrier and more raggedier I got, the quicker anyone who might have work would kick me out. When the rainy season finally came, it came like a sea, and I didn't have nowhere to stay. Lucky I found the unlocked cellar door. Turns out that the owners of the house slept like old dogs, cause I robbed them blind (and tripped into things like I was the blind one) and they never woke up. I sold all the stuff at a dirty pawners I knew and spent the next two days living like a potentate. Then I got my first visit from the local thieves guild. I remember what the guy looked like, but not exactly what he said. Something like, "Hey, kid, if you want to steal in these parts, you're going to have to join the Guild. Otherwise, I or someone like me is going to break your skinny arms so you can't steal." I've know some people who've refused membership in the Guild and kept on stealing anyhow. ÷I've broken someone of their arms. As for me, this was the first offer I'd had for a career since my pa told me that if I didn't milk the cow, he'd rip my head off. In comparison, this guy at the tavern was almost a gentleman. I agreed right away. Sure, I had to prove my worth to the Guild before I could join and even now. But having two working arms is only part of the benefit. They trained me, taught me, and kept me out of prison. How many other guilds can boast a forgery expert on the premises? So the next time you're calling some swindling merchant or usurious priest a thief, think about it. There is honor among thieves -- I should know. barbed_wire

Vampires of the Iliac Bay, Part I

Anonymous

Vampires of the Iliac Bay, Part I There are over one hundred distinct kinds of vampire in Tamriel. The Iliac Bay region alone has nine variations with unique powers and abilities. I have this information not only because I have been researching this blight of the world for the last ten years of my life, but because for the seven years before that, I was one of the creatures. Vampirism is a disease, like brain rot or cholera, but far, far more insidious. One can become a vampire through certain magical items or by the curse of a powerful wizard, but the most common cause is the bite or scratch of a vampire. There are no symptoms of vampirism except this -- if the victim sleeps after the attack but before he becomes a vampire, his sleep will be plagued with nightmares. During this two to four day period, when the disease has been spread but the victim is still mortal, most any temple ÷healer can remove the curse of vampirism. There will be no further warning. I do not remember dying. I had been a scout for an order of knights which shall go nameless for this. A daughter of a local nobleman had been kidnapped by a mysterious character, and my captain had located his hideout. Deep in the dank underground chambers, I searched until I found the girl. Or what remained of her, a corpse the color of snow, drained of every drop of blood. I knew what the mystery man was right then, but he found me before I found the exit out. He took a good sized hunk out of my fighting arm before I managed to outrun him. I figured I was lucky to be alive. Some luck. My trip back to the knightly order was a five day journey. I decided to get some rest early to get my arm in better shape in case I found any more trouble. I can't remember the dreams I had that night -- only that I was doing something horrible and I couldn't stop myself. I woke up screaming. The next night, at an inn a little closer to my destination, my sleep was deep and dreamless. On the third night, I died. Of course, I didn't know that I died. I had gone to sleep in a nice warm feathered bed and I woke on a cold wet stone mortuary slab. Dazed, I opened the door to the masoleum I was in, which I think must have been locked. I was in a cemetary not far from a town I knew, so I wandered in. It was late at night, so there were precious few souls in the streets. I paused to read a public notice and noticed the date. The date was two weeks later than I thought it must have been. As I puzzled over that, I saw a girl, a wench at my favorite tavern in that town, wandering toward me. I hailed her. She ignored me. I called her by her name, and she turned to me, smiling, but with an expression that told me she did not know who I was. I had visited her tavern on my way over to the mystery man's hideout, but she didn't know me! I told her my name. She angrily told me that it was a very poor joke, that I looked nothing like the brave knight who used to visit the town, and that if I didn't know he was dead. My emotions were a tangled skein. I could tell she was not joking, that I looked nothing like myself. I was touched by her ÷sorrow at my death, and horrified by the idea dawning on me of what I had become. Suddenly, an overriding instinct overcame all my thoughts -- hunger. Without even thinking about what I was doing, I reached out and tore her throat open. I drained her until she looked like the corpse in the mystery man's dungeon. The rest of my story is told in Vampires of the Bay, Chapter II. barbed_wire

Vampires of the Iliac Bay, Part II

Anonymous

Vampires of the Iliac Bay, Part II I told in the first chapter of my story how I became a vampire and of my first kill. While it might (and, indeed, should) horrify the reader that my first victim was a friend of the mortal I used to be, it is my understanding that they are not uncommon first kills. I left the snow white corpse in the alley and ran to the only place I felt perversely safe, the masoleum. For the first couple days of my undeath, I starved myself while I considered my fate. I relearned what I was capable of doing, and found that I was stronger, faster, tougher, and more agile than before. I had powers that as a knight I had only seen powerful mages wield. Later, I discovered additional abilities, such as a total immunity to disease. Helpful when descending on a plague-stricken city like a jackal. I also found my weaknesses. I could no longer stand the light of the sun -- exposure to it for longer than a few seconds burned me terribly. It also pained me to enter temples and other places of worship. The worst effect, of course, had to be my blood lust. If I did not kill a warm blooded creature once a night and drink its blood, my hunger would gnaw at me, and any wounds I suffered would not heal no matter how much I rested. Is this the moment for me to admit that there was a time I loved being a bloodsucking creature of the night? It is not impossible to live only at night, merely occasionally inconvenient. And I wouldn't have to kill humans every night, merely warm-blooded creatures. Orcs have a delicious, rich brothy blood; rats are a little sweet for the only meal of the night; werewolves are a real treat, almost decadent the tincture between human and beast. A real gourmet's delight. About a month after I died, I was having the best time of my life. One night, I received a letter from someone who said he was "family." Curious, I went to visit him at his tavern, and was told about the tribe of vampires to which I ÷belonged -- the Montalion. In return for me performing certain duties for the "family," the man at the inn would train my in my vampiric abilities and skills. Though I never got very much detail, I surmised that the two main differences between the different vampire clans is geography and powers. Montalion alone have the gift for teleportation, but the other eight have powers of their own. My mentor (that is the title he used) would congratulate me after each mission I performed, and came to trust me more and more. If asked, he would tell me about the Montalion's newest alliances, who they were manipulating, who they were stalking. It was then I started to become frightened at last. They, and all of their rival clans, were draining the blood of Tamriel itself. I panicked. I had to find a cure. But nowhere could I find any book or rumor suggesting that vampirism is anything but permanent. So I resolved to kill myself, but I wanted to bring the Montalion down with me. I joined guilds they opposed, and failed any mission given to me spectacularly. I thought my mentor would turn against me, ÷but he only became quieter, less forthcoming with information, never violent. He was not concerned. He had probably seen vampires like me before. Here's why he never attacked me: immortals can afford to be eternally patient. At last, he refused to give me any further missions. He wouldn't even talk with me, but he never left his tavern. I could come and go, and he'd watch but never talk. That's when I got another letter. There are several of us, you see, former vampires who know what to look for. We're patient too: we learned it in our unlife. We watch and listen, and anonymously contact the vampires we know wish to end the curse. Ending the curse is possible, but only just. It is very dangerous, but when you are cursed, the only real danger is no escape. barbed_wire

Biography of Queen Barenziah, Vol. I

Stem Gamboge, scribe

Biography of Queen Barenziah, Vol. I Late in the Second Era an heir, a girl child, Barenziah, was born to the rulers of Mournhold in Morrowind. She was reared in all the luxury and security befitting a royal dark elf child until she reached five years of age. At that time, His Excellency Tiber Septim demanded that the decadent rulers of Morrowind yield to him and institute Imperial reforms. Trusting to their vaunted magic, they impudently refused and much of Morrowind was laid waste in the conflict that ensued. The little Princess Barenziah and her nurse were found among the wreckage. General Symmachus, himself a dark elf and born in Mournhold, suggested to His Excellency that the child might someday be valuable, and she was placed with a loyal supporter who had recently retired from the Imperial army. On retirement, Sven Advensen had been made Baron of Blackmoor, a small town in central Skyrim. Baron Sven and his wife reared her as their own daughter, saw to it that she was educated appropriately, and more importantly, was taught the Imperial virtues and piety. In short, she was made fit to take her place as a member of the new ruling ÷class of Morrowind. The girl Barenziah grew in beauty, grace, and intelligence. She was very sweet-tempered, a joy to her adoptive parents and their five young sons, who loved her as their elder sister. Other than her appearance, she differed from young girls of her class only in that she had a strong empathy for the woods and fields, and was wont to escape her household duties to wander there. Barenziah was happy and content until her sixteenth year, when a wicked orphan stable boy whom she had befriended out of pity told her that he had overheard a conspiracy of her dear guardian. Baron Sven, said the boy, had dealt with a Redguard visitor to sell her as a concubine in Rihad, as no Nord or Breton would marry her on account of her black skin, and no dark elf would have her because of her foreign upbringing. "Whatever shall I do?" the poor girl wept, trembling, for she had been brought up in innocence and trust, and it never occured to her that her friend would lie to her. The wicked boy, who was called Straw, said she must run away if she valued her virtue, but he would come with her and protect her. Sorrowfully, Barenziah agreed to this plan and that very night, Barenziah disguised herself as a boy and the pair escaped to the nearby city of Whiterun. After a few days there, they managed to get places as guards in a disreputable merchant caravan. The caravan was heading east by side roads in a dishonest attempt to elude the lawful tolls charged on the highway. Thus they eluded pursuit until they reached the city of Rifton, where they ceased their travels. They felt safe in Rifton, close as they were to the Morrowind border so dark elves were commonly seen. The story of how Barenziah finally came to the throne of Mournhold after this fitful start is told in Volume II of the Biography of Queen Barenziah. barbed_wire

Biography of Queen Barenziah, Vol. II Stem Gamboge Biography of Queen Barenziah, Vol. II The first volume of this series told the story of Barenziah's origin, heiress of the throne of Mournhold until her father king rebelled against His Excellency Tiber Septim and brought ruin to the province of Morrowind. Due to the benevolence of the Emperor, the child Barenziah was not destroyed with her parents, but reared by the Baron Sven of Blackmoor. She grew beautiful, pious, and trusting in his care. This trust was exploited by a wicked orphan stable boy at Baron Sven's estate, who with lies, tricked her into fleeing Blackmoor with him. After many adventures on the road, they settled in Rifton, a Skyrim city on the border of Morrowind. The stable boy Straw was not altogether evil. He did love Barenziah in his own selfish fashion, and the lie was the only way he could think of that he might have her. She, of course, felt only friendship for him, but he was hopeful that she would change her mind. He wanted to buy a small farm and settle down in marriage, but his earnings were barely enough to feed and shelter them. After only a short time in Rifton, Straw fell in with a bold villian of a Khajiit thief named Therris, who proposed that they rob the Imperial commandant's house. Therris said that he had a client, a traitor to the Empire, who would pay well for the information they would find there. Barenziah happened to overhear this plan and was appalled. She stole from their rooms and walked the streets of Rifton in desperation, torn between loyalty to the Empire and to her friend. In the end, loyalty to the Empire prevailed over personal friendship, and she approached the commandant's house, revealed her true identity and warned him of her friends' plan. The commandant listened to her tale, praised her courage and assured her that no harm would come to her. General Symmachus had been scouring the countryside in search of her since her disappearance had just arrived in Rifton, hot in pursuit. He took her into his custody, and informed her that, far from being sold, she was to be instated as Queen of Mournhold as soon as she turned eighteen. Until that time, she was to live with the Imperial family in the new Imperial City, where she would learn ÷something of Imperial government and make the acquaintance of people of importance. And so it came to pass. In the Imperial City, Barenziah became great friends with Tiber Septim during the last years of his reign; Tiber's heir Pelagius also came to love her as a sister. The ballads of the day praised her beauty, chastity, wit, and learning. On her eighteenth birthday, the entire Imperial City turned out to watch her procession back to Mournhold. Sorrowful as they were at her departure, all knew that she was ready to be the glorious sovereign of the new kingdom of Mournhold.