All Saints Farm, Elsweyr: Moonpaths.
During a private conversation with Baa’Ren-Dar at the Coronation feast he asked Rigmor and me if we would like to meet the Khajiit resistance in Elsweyr. He had previously mentioned they existed and that it consisted of various species of Khajiit from Anequina and Pelletine, the two client states of the nation.
We brought Blackwell into the conversation and he suggested we do it as soon as possible under the guise of a honeymoon. The official story would be we were both exhausted from the events leading up to our wedding and coronation and would be taking some time off in a secret location. That we would come back refreshed and continue the frantic work of repairing the damage done to Tamriel by war and mismanagement. There was no doubt that it would be a readily believed ruse as our exploits had been widely reported, sometimes accurately, in the popular news-sheets.
Baa’Ren-Dar said the resistance would be told who we are but we should be careful not to be recognised by any Thalmor we encounter. So we agreed that on the 14th of First Seed we would travel in an enclosed wagon to All Saints Farm which is a regular stop for Khajiit caravans. We would wait there and about midday a caravan would pick us up and transport us to Elsweyr via the Moonpaths.
Cyrodiil is well defended and we have no concerns about a coup or invasion. Rigmor’s pregnancy is starting to be visible and this will most likely be her only foreign visit till after Kintyra is born. It is imperative that we get some first-hand knowledge of some of the nations that need to be united and ready to help defend against the Akaviri. It is not our intention to sell membership of The Empire to any nation. All we want to do is understand any instability so we can plan what, if anything, to do about it.
We prepared disguises, adopted new names and practised conversations as our alter egos over the few days leading up to the 14th.
The team consists of me, Rigmor, Lydia, Kharjo and J’Zargo. The names to be used, in the same order, are Marcus, Jenny, Helskar, Do’Kahar and Jo’sava.
Kharjo was an experienced caravan guard and educated us as well as he could about Moonpaths. Khajiit revere the moons Secunda and Masser. A Khajiit’s specie, or furstock as they call it, is determined by the phases of the moons. Although all are similar in size and looks at birth their furstock soon shows itself and there are seventeen distinct variations. All are regarded equal by Khajiit society though the level of tolerance and bigotry shown by man and mer varies. Bipedal furstock are tolerated more than the four legged and bestial furstock though all suffer some form of racism.
Moonpaths are the ancient pathways used by Khajiit since before the first mer or man set foot on Tamriel. Kharjo explained how and when to travel and which Moonpath to use is dictated by the moons phases. Without a Khajiit guide no other race can follow the Moonpaths. They are not just a set of directions but a guide as to when it is safest or most profitable or most pleasing to their ancestors to use a particular Moonpath. The reliance on the phases of the moons means that Khajiit caravans can often linger in a place where extreme prejudice actually endangers them.
Kharjo explained that confusion arises when Khajiit refer to a single moon when discussing travel plans. It is not a physical moon visible only to them but a convenient way of describing the combined phases of the moons as a singular value. The word ‘moon’ also alludes to the ancestors who first mapped the Moonpaths.
Since we have no idea what our destination is within Elsweyr Kharjo is unable to predict travel time. He believes our guides will try to minimise both distance and time but make secrecy and safety the primary concerns.
It was nearing noon when I approached Rigmor and said, “Please Jenny, adhere to the plans we have made concerning battle.”
“I am better with the crossbow than bow but still, I am not going to contribute like I would with a sword in my hands.”
“We all know that but one knife or sword to the stomach and the bump could be in trouble. You were not too bad last practice session and your speed and accuracy will improve much faster when things are trying to close in and kill you. You have a hand and a half with you just in case.”
“It is weird not having one of my own swords Marcus. You are not even carrying a sword! Why use an axe?”
“Except for a couple of fights I have always used ‘The Sword’ in battle. It just feels too foreign when using a different one handed sword. A greatsword feels OK but is too slow for me. This axe is fast enough and does not feel as weird as another sword. They are all excellent weapons we carry but not as memorable as our normal weapons. The same applies to our armour. We can’t afford to have the Dominion recognise the leaders of The Empire associating with rebels. It would make future negotiations very difficult to say the least!”
“Pilvi’s ring is inside this wonderful rose locket you had made. It still gives me comfort but not as much as when on my finger.”
“Weapons, armour, jewellery and haircuts identify us as much as our faces. We are trying to look like normal caravan guards and something like Pilvi’s ring would mark you as something else.”
“Well I intend to enjoy this adventure. I loved Torval but never got to see much of Baa’Ren-Dar’s homeland.”
I moved onto Kharjo and said, “Just remember to not let slip our nobility. We are not majesty, highness, Emperor or Queen or our real names. We must be diligent and careful.”
“No need to worry Marcus. We will get it right.”
J’Zargo approached me and asked, “Could we be declared outlaws if discovered?”
“Absolutely but you are not a Sentinel so will not be on their watch list. I am positive that they have very large dossiers on each of my chosen guard. A field trip like this will let you see how we operate. Plus you are representing the College.”
“Come now Marcus, we both know me being Khajiit made me first choice instead of the usual last. You need my good looks and charm.”
“And the bonus is you are expendable!”
The other three laughed and J’Zargo growled which made Rigmor go into hysterics.
I walked up to Lydia and tried to trick her with, “So what do you think of all this Lydia?”
“I think you have me mistaken for some other drop dead gorgeous Nord. The name is Helskar you hairy buffoon!”
Rigmor had almost calmed down but one glance from me and she was off again. She literally had tears rolling down her cheeks.
Kharjo said, “Listen! It always warms my heart when I hear a caravan on its travels.”
I could not hear it at all but then again I don’t have those huge Khajiit ears.
Soon enough I heard it and we all watched with anticipation as it rounded a corner and approached. There were only two Khajiit which makes sense. A normal compliment of guards plus us would probably grab the attention of an observant Thalmor.
It stopped in front of my team and I addressed the male first simply because he was closer.
“I am impressed. You are within a few minutes of noon. I am Marcus.”
I pointed to the others in turn, “This is Jenny, Helskar, Do’Kahar and Jo’sava.”
“I believe you will be our escorts.”
“I am Ku’rana and look forward to watching such an esteemed person and his friends earn their passage. I will enjoy small talk with my mate Verina while you all do the hard work.”
“Well met Ku’rana and be assured we know hard work and do not shun from it.”
“That we know Marcus. But still, it will make good tales to tell around future campfires. We look forward to once again stepping on the warm sands of our homeland and to do so we must leave immediately. However, if you do not ask Verina for permission it will be as if you insulted our Clan Mother. Warm sand on the feet is not as good as a warm body on other parts.”
I remember all too well having to stick pillows over my head when Iona and Kharjo were enjoying each other’s warm parts. I questioned the wisdom of increasing the chances of triggering a similar recurring nightmare. Politeness, and apparently protocol, demanded I seek permission from Verina.
I stood before her diminutive figure and could instantly tell she commanded respect. Very much like my not very large beloved.
“Verina, your mate had advised that I need to ask you for permission to travel with your caravan.”
“He called me his mate? Perhaps I am, mostly, but all cats stray from time to time.”
“May my companions and I travel with your caravan?”
“Let Verina think. Do, Dar, Jo, no matter, you look strong. We can use the extra claws. Two is too few to travel safely! We were instructed to do so and therefore it is necessary I accept your generous offer to fight and die for us if need be. You can all stow your gear in the back and jog alongside for the many miles we will be travelling before rest.”
“We are humbled to accept your equally generous offer and promise we will bleed and die without making a mess of your wagon.”
Verina chuckled then walked up to Kharjo, poked his midsection and said, “It will do you good my friend. You are fat! I thought running from Dovah and mean Nords would have made you skinny.”
He replied, “Do not forget how many times I have taken scars for you. I showed you once.”
“Yes, they were very small but I suppose when compared to other parts of you they seemed big in contrast.”
“I do not remember you complaining, just mewing like a cub.”
“That is true. It will be good to have you on one more voyage. You were always the bravest of them all. Also excellent at making customers pay way too much and have them walking away thinking they had a bargain. Your fake cries of mercy when bartering are things of legend.”
Kharjo was beaming with pride and Verina then addressed J’Zargo.
“Your family complained bitterly when you left for that place of learning. Why not stay and contribute like the other witch cats? What could you possibly learn that our ancestors have not passed down to us? I told them that you would learn how to kill many of our enemy with fire, cold and lightening. That is far better for our clans than ancient healing arts. Prevent the injuries and not react to them. We are all proud of you. Dealing with the hate of others is hard even when surrounded by friends and kin. You bravely took the challenge and have proven yourself most capable. I hope you also learn some of our ancestors’ ways on this voyage. New knowledge combined with ancient is the way forward for our people. If we had more with your knowledge we may have recognised the mer’s boast about Dawn Magic as the huge pile of steaming mooncow droppings it is!”
J’Zargo was at a loss for words which is probably a first for the very vocal Khajiit.
Verina stood in front of Rigmor and held out her paws. Rigmor clasped them in the universal exchange of greeting and respect.
“My dear friend’s lost cub has grown to become the biggest Den Mother of us all. When in Torval I often visited and for a long time you would either stare ahead or have your head in your arms. You would never say a word or even acknowledge me. Then on one glorious visit you flew into my arms and talked till my ears bled. It was apparent that you heard and saw all and had a keen mind. He said it was a visit to a library that brought you out of that dark place. The transformation brought tears to many of us who had learned to love this hairless, silent cub.”
Rigmor’s affection was evident and she said, “I had hoped you would be the leader of this passage along the Moonpaths. I owe all of you a great deal. My mate and I respect and admire the Khajiit people for their generosity and bravery and are saddened by the treatment you endure in some part of Tamriel. That old cat saved my life and he is like a father to me.”
“Skyrim has improved since they put a powerful Den Mother in charge. Now there is an even bigger one to talk sense into those who can’t see past form and accent and recognise the worthy soul of another mortal. We will have some time to talk and I hope to exchange with you wisdom on how to tame your mate. It will do him good.”
Rigmor stared at me and nodded wisely.
Verina quickly turned back to Kharjo and said, “I had almost forgotten about your unusual choice of a mate. I have always been curious about that. After all there are no folds of fur on the neck to sink your teeth into when mating. How do you get the correct rhythm going?”
I almost chocked with shock and so did Rigmor. Verina turned to her and exclaimed, “All that time amongst our people and you never witnessed this? It is not like your furry father is devoid of female attention. He still surprises me with his virility and Ku’rana could learn much from him. Perhaps he might join the emissary and me for a lesson next time?”
Ku’rana laughed, Kharjo laughed, J’Zargo laughed. Lydia, Rigmor and me just shook our heads in an attempt to remove the unwanted vision of Baa’Ren-Dar engaging in such diplomacy.
Verina turned her attention back to me and explained, “We travel with the Ja’Kha’jay moonstrings, first through Cyrodiil. This is easy but past Riverhold the khaj begins and we will need Ja’Kha’jay Raht.”
“I am looking forward to seeing the khaj, the desert. My mind does not comprehend there can be such distances of sand and little else. You will find we are capable guards if the need arises.”
Verina bowed and said, “Our mutual friend believes even trees have ears and we have been warned to be careful. I find I can’t honestly proceed without acknowledging a Son of Akatosh. It is truly an honour to meet one so blessed. Now let us get going before we miss the best moons.”
We stored our gear aboard the wagon and it lurched forward and maintained a steady pace. Even up and down steep inclines it did not vary. The mooncow was like a Dwemer automaton that left smelly piles in its path.
After about 30 minutes Ku’rana was ordered from the driver’s seat and he hoisted Rigmor aboard to take his place next o Verina. They immediately started nattering away and the occasional furtive glance confirmed my suspicion. I was the subject of some devious female plans.
The transformation to desert was almost immediate. It was if The Divine had got tired of planting trees and left the rest unfinished. My fascination with the endless sand soon turned to boredom. It was the same as the endless ice-fields of southern Skyrim. They are just as much a desert as what currently surrounded us.
After about two hours of travel the caravan stopped, the mooncow was released to graze and our escort started to cook a meal. Within sight of us was a large compound with many tents and Khajiit. It was obvious they could see us but nobody rallied forth to challenge us or even say hello.
I asked Ku’rana, “Why have we stopped here?”
“It appears our path is blocked. Perhaps someone should take a look?”
“We shall have look but make sure there is still food for your poor slaves when we return.”
“Tread softly friend. These roads are filled with brigands. Our Thalmor overlords are more interested in heretics than bandits.”
“Heretics? Your people worship both Aedra and Daedra and believe in a creation myth much different to us who worship The Nine. We are also vastly different in our beliefs to the Skaal of Solstheim or the Argonian or Bosmer or many of the peoples of Akavir. It is folly to announce others as heretics and it leads to unnecessary conflict. We can have no peace till the Thalmor accept religious freedom as a right of all mortals. They tell those of Black Marsh that the Hist can’t possibly be sentient as they are trees. They trample over The Green Pact then wonder why they are barely tolerated by the Bosmer. Cannibals they may be but we have no right to judge when it is part of their belief system and not ours. There are no heretics, just the Thalmor only worshipping one thing and that is themselves. Narcissism is the beginning of all the hate and intolerance they project.”
“We were informed that you have no love for these parasites. That is abundantly clear.”
I asked Verina, “I do not like to just wander into danger without some foreknowledge. Who do you think is behind this blockade?”
“Renrijra bandits, probably. Khajiit is curious about your skills. Perhaps you can help Do’Kahar lose some of that flab. Verina likes a good show.”
“Sorry to say you will not see my Thu’um. That would announce to those with ears for many miles that a Son of Akatosh may be present. Also Jenny is to refrain from chopping enemies into tiny pieces with that huge sword on her back. She will have to be happy with making smaller holes with her crossbow. Do not fret, the blood will still fly and screams and cries for mercy will still be heard.”
I stood in front of my crew and reminded them not to call out our real names or ranks in the heat of battle.
As I was saying this a pack of hyena ignored the larger number of biped with sharp metal things and attacked the mooncow. We soon dispatched them and I collected some of their meat. I like to test new things for their alchemical qualities and hyena meat was an unknown to me.
We crouched down and crept closer to the bandit compound. I had no doubt they would try and extort a fee to remove the blockade or simply attack in the hope of stealing all we carried. Perhaps both!
It never ceases to amaze me that a bit of anger can make those safe behind walls lose all sense and rally forth in a vain attempt to kill those who have offended them. I took aim at a sentry near the blockade who was too stupid to even take advantage of the protection a nearby wall would provide. He fell with a scream and they attacked us like a disorganised angry mob, which they were.
Rigmor was calm and methodically loaded and aimed as we had drilled a thousand times. Except these were not inanimate targets or practice dummies but snarling Khajiit intent on removing her from the mortal realm. She did not miss once.
Our guides were content to watch the slaughter until a stray bandit arrow knocked the roast we were to have for dinner onto the sand. They both charged into the melee to avenge the insult.
Combat with an axe requires less finesse and more brutality than a well-balanced sword. I found myself parrying with my shield more often. Without the benefit of the pointy end of a sword I simply swung hard when an opportunity presented itself. Each death still registered in my internal tally and memory. It did not care I found a new way to slaughter and maim.
The last charging bandit fell and we approached the camp to check for any hiding or injured. Every single bandit has left the compound and attacked us across a vast expanse of open ground. Idiots! Dead idiots!
I returned to Ku’rana and reported, “All the bandits are dead.”
“When Khajiit turns to Renrij he has no reason to be. The sand will bury their shame. Let us have a good meal and some laughter and then when the moon is correct we shall move along.”
Verina was busy over a cooking pot that contained what looked like Elsweyr Chowder. I was looking forward to trying it as Baa’Ren-Dar had consumed the entire pot at our wedding feast. He then poached the two Khajiit cooks employed at the Imperial Palace.
I asked Verina, “What is next on our journey?”
“We ride to Tenmar Forest on the road to Senchal. Into the forest we pass, with Ja’Kha’jay Pahmar. The distance is not great but we will be delayed as we need wild moon to go there. So I suggest after our meal you take turns to catch up on some sleep.”
I found Rigmor patting and talking to the mooncow.
“You did extremely well with the crossbow during that skirmish.”
“It just seems so impersonal killing from a distance. I would rather not kill at all but the sword seems somehow more morally acceptable to me as a weapon.”
“Many people think the same. Ragnar, Tiber Septim and many other renowned warriors in history did not use projectile weapons. Yet many like my father had no qualms using the Thu’um to kill at a distance. But this is a morose subject. Let us sit and enjoy a good meal and some banter. I then want you to sleep. We do not know what tomorrow may bring.”
“This may be our last adventure together for quite some time my beloved. Do not worry about leaving me behind if you have to visit other provinces. It is better we do these things early in our reign so we at least have some idea of the actual politics and not the propaganda.”
“I don’t know about you but I need a distraction to get rid of certain images of our elderly friend from my imagination.”
Rigmor laughed and we walked arm in arm to join a circle of lively conversation around a warm fire. Much of the food was heavily spiced and I found myself having several bowls of the chowder. I wonder how much I will have to offer to entice the Khajiit chefs back into my service.
Rigmor finally curled up on some thick furs. There is nothing to hold in the baking heat of the day and I soon learned that nights in the khaj were bitter cold. I wrote this journal entry, curled up next to Rigmor and pulled some more furs over the top of us.
I know not what time I fell asleep.