High Rock: Nobility at its worse.
It was about midday when we finally crossed into High Rock. A few hours longer than what Toel, the Breton Reach merchant, expected. The delay was caused by several large groups of bandits. Not your normal bandits though. They wore the uniform of the New Imperials. So now we know where some of them ended up.
Toel was amazed by how quickly we despatched groups many times our number. It would have been even quicker if I used the Thu’um.
Toel quickly halted the wagon so we jumped off expecting an attack of some sort. Instead he was standing and staring ahead.
As I approached he said, “Damn, we’re on the doorstep of the kingdom yet the Gods ordain that we stumble across trouble now? What a farce!”
“What has caused this bit of blasphemy?”
He pointed to a stricken soldier a fair distance up the road, “Look over there, the man’s gasping for life. I’m not going any further until you find what’s going on.”
“Well spotted! We will go and check him or her out. Just relax Toel.”
I turned to The Sentinel and said, “We are in High Rock now so careful of your P’s and Q’s okay!”
We approached the stricken soldier. I knelt and asked, ‘What happened to you?”
“Those Witchmen, they are in the tower, they ambushed us when we was changing shifts…Ahhhh. Wa-warn The Divide and get them to send men. Please.”
The soldier died before I had a chance to heal him.
We cautiously approached the tower and there was no sign of life.
A young decapitated Imperial recruit indicated this was a joint outpost.
I passed several other corpses as I climbed to the top of the tower. There I was confronted by a Briarheart.
He said in a very baritone voice, “Another fleshling assails us? The king will have his towers, he will have his subjects and he will have your head. The Dark Mother assures this.”
“The Divine say fuck her!”
Other Briarheart I have fought were skilled dual wielding warriors. This one was no exception.
I blocked both swords with my shield.
Clubbed the left side of his head.
Split his skull open with the backswing.
He said something with his dying breath but I did not understand it.
Calder was behind me and said, “It is a long time since I saw you in action. That was more than impressive. That was brutal!”
We returned to Toel.
“No survivors. The Witchmen had attacked. I killed one of their Briarheart.”
“Bastards coat their blades and arrows with this vile poison, a resin so foul it can condemn giants to an agonizing death with nary a brush. Not sure how you came out of there alive to be honest.”
“You saw us destroy dozens of New Imperial thugs and these Witchmen are no different, just less clothing. He was a bit different than other Briarheart though. His voice was almost like he was possessed. We have faced far tougher than these.”
“Really? That’s hard to believe, these… scum… are a whole new low for the Reachmen. They carve up men, women, children and babe alike in their hideous rituals. Sadistic artists; how they play with the bodies they harvest and hoist them in that dense woodland north.”
“Do not mistake brutality for toughness. They were raw recruits and guardsman killed in that tower. There is very little that can stand in the way of experienced Imperial Troops. I have fought beside them when fools have tried.”
“They are foul, simply foul.”
“Can I expect any more Witchmen between here and the Divide?”
“You shouldn’t, the Divide is within spitting distance. If you keep to the road you should arrive there without harm. Unless you take a detour that is, that’s where my almighty prescience ends and uncertainty begins. And as we know, ignorance pays.”
“What are you going to do?”
“My clients are probably waiting with baited breath, taken long enough to get here already. I’ll need to skip on any indulgences on that bridge and head straight to Arnima. I will take a breather first.”
“Have fun with the Arnima guards.”
“Ha de ha. You should speak to Merosa, the governor. She is a Frumpy little woman but don’t tell her I said that. She will normally be within the temple, sparing a prayer to our mutual mother.”
“I will and may Mara smile upon you Toel.”
“I’ll see you around friend. Give my thanks to Merosa for keeping this road so safe, hahaha!”
As we were walking towards the Divide Calder yelled out, “DRAGON!”
I looked and it was not a dragon.
“That is not one of my brothers. That is a Gryphon. I have never heard of them being found anywhere but the Summerset Isles.”
Serana said, “Marcus is correct. I have seen them before, several millennia ago on a trip to the Isles with my parents when we were just mortal nobles.”
None of the locals even looked up. Gryphon, or at least this one, must be a common sight in these parts.
Further on a family of Orsimer were passing us. I said to the father, “Greetings, nice day for a walk is it not?”
He looked taken aback then said, “The first kind words in days and it happens on our way out of The Reach. Typical.”
“Out of The Reach? You are moving you family somewhere?”
“Yes, before things turn sour for my kind. Many of my brethren have the same feeling of another disaster happening. My father told me of the pogrom he survived in his day. It is a terrible story I hope that I or my family never have to experience ourselves.”
“I am sorry to hear of such a thing. What exactly is happening?”
“There has been hatred against my kind in these lands for the longest time, but with that “Orsinium’s Sons” raiding and causing a stir among the Bretons, the retaliation from the Manmer will most likely have Orcs like me in the crossfire.”
“There are Orsimer who are using what occurred centuries ago to justify their violent actions? Do they not think of the ordinary people like you? It is such a sad recurring theme.”
“We were assured that’d we’d be safe here under the protection of the Empire, and that our skills will be appreciated by the locals. But now the Empire is weak and the Bretons grow angry. We don’t want to tempt fate by sticking around.”
“What about the new Emperor and his Queen. They have already passed decrees banning such racism.”
“They need to enforce them and that may take some time. We cannot risk waiting.”
“Where will you go then?”
“If you shared our race, I would tell you. But you don’t, so I am not risking our new home on the chance that you won’t rat us out to the Manmer. Hope you understand.”
“I am an honoured guest in all the Orsinium Strongholds of Skyrim. Some of my closest friends are of your race. But I am a stranger to you and so respect and understand your caution. Best wishes on your travels and hopefully one day soon you can return to your home.”
They walked past and I was determined to stop this endless cycle of mortals hating mortals because of race. It was stupid. It makes no sense no matter which Gods you worshipped. None of them said that other races are to be despised. For instance Khajiit think they are the prettiest and smartest etcetera but they do not hate others simply for not being Khajiit. The Thalmor claim of racial superiority is not something taught by The Divine.
Serana asked, “That term he used, Manmer?”
“Breton are descended from mer and man and have features of both. Some therefore call them Manmer.”
We walked a bit further and the Gryphon was watching us from atop a rock. I approached and he said something but his accent was too strong for me to understand it all. The ending I think was, “…enormous is coming so be prepared little wolf.”
He then flew off.
None of my colleagues understood him either but they all think he said “wolf” at the end.
Underneath where he was perched was a cave. I decided we would stick to the path and only enter such places if required.
We approached a gateway and the lone guard said, “Hold up. I haven’t seen you up here before, what is your business?”
“So you are standing there 24 hours per day and so know all that have walked past here before?”
“Well, no, but you garb is foreign so I ask once again, what is your business?”
“Witchmen sacked the watchtower to the west. I came to inform Governor Merosa.”
“Witchmen!? Bloody Mara, I never thought they would get this close. OK, you can go through to Merosa, tell her everything, for the sake of The Reach.”
As we approached the Divide a Town Crier was making everybody’s day miserable with the latest news, “Horrific doom befalls the hamlet of Sabbat! Torn to shreds by vile magic, it has been overtaken by death! Or should I say undeath?”
Rayya piped up, “You take us to the nicest places!”
Everybody laughed but I knew their unease was increasing. Mine was.
As we approached the gate to the Divide the flags of Evermore and The Empire were on display.
“Note the flag of Evermore.”
Serana was the first to reply, “It has a Gryphon on it.”
“Yes, it seems there is a history of them here. Peculiar I can’t recall reading of such.”
We were barely inside the city when approached by a common citizen of all, a beggar.
“Hey! New face… Do me a favour will ya, please, I’ll make it worth the trouble.”
“Actually I have passed this way every day for years. Must be the new haircut confusing you.”
“Don’t fret; I never look down on those in need as that is the command of Stendarr. What is it you want my good man.”
“Look, I need some gear friend – real fast like, I’m willing to part whatever gold I got here, if ya agree that is.”
“If I do agree you can keep your coin. But I can’t agree to something I have not had explained can I?”
“Just need ya to give the rest of this pouch to a fella named Elritch, down in Arnima. He’ll be festerin’ with the rest of our ilk, you know: beggars.”
“If I pass by, I’ll tell him. Give me the gold.”
The beggar passed me the pouch. I counted the coins and handed it back to him.
“I am walking dangerous roads my friend and you risk your gold being taken by bandits or worse. You keep your gold and I will give Elritch the same amount out of my pocket. It may be a day or two before I can get to him though.”
The dumbfounded beggar took the purse back and said, “You have earned yourself a friend. Anything you need, I mean anything, and I’ll return the favour. Just don’t go askin’ while my eyes are at the back of my head, that’s my happy time.”
“There is only one thing I would ever ask of you.”
“Give up the Skooma. Find something else to make you happy. It is hard when times are bleak but then the joy is oh so much sweeter.”
I fished my gem bag out and tossed him a decent sized diamond.
“Start with some new clothes and a pair of shoes. Hire a carriage out of High Rock if need be. Do not waste the life the Gods have given you.”
A bit further along Calder asked, “Why such generosity? We all give to beggars as that is the will of many of The Divine. But all that wealth to one who will probably spend it on Skooma. I do not understand.”
“He is testing us. Many places have a network of beggars who are more than they seem. The poverty of others can make people question their own good fortune. So they become the unseen of the world as people pretend they do not exist. These unseen people hear things and become privy to things others are not. They crawl through the filth and darkness underneath and become privy to even more. Sometimes they make good coin selling the secrets, far more than I what just gave him. Sometimes they give the information freely in the hope it can be used to better their lot in the world. But before they do either they test the honesty of those they think might be a customer for this knowledge. Many would simply abuse the beggar and tell him to fuck off. Many would take the coins and pocket them thinking what a fool the beggar was. Few would pass the test and actually seek out more beggars and deliver the coins as agreed. They are the ones to be trusted.”
“Where do you learn this stuff?”
“When every decision you make can mean the death of you or loved ones or everybody you pick things up quickly.”
We climbed several flights of steps to the temple which was above the rest of the buildings and could be seen from all directions. Out the front was a shrine to Mara. I put a couple of gold onto the collection plate.
The temple looked ornate from the outside.
We walked inside and witnessed a conversation between the Governess and who I think was senior priest though his robe was well worn and stained.
- Fenrig: You wanted to speak of Mortifayne? I’ve heard the news from the Council that his seat in Arnima may be put into question?
- Merosa: You heard correct Fenrig. He and his guards are demanding more gold from the merchants while also becoming more aggressive. No better than thugs. And that little lord does nothing but encourage it. I despise that unsightly man, every conversation with him is extremely unpleasant. His paranoia also makes it so we can’t have any of our own in that town to keep an eye on him.
- Fenrig: I have a missionary within the temple down there, he shares whispers with me on occasion. If you need consoling on this, you only need to ask.”
- Merosa: I shall keep that in mind.
- Fenrig: If I may beg my pardon, I shall return to servicing this temple.
- Merosa: Very well, make a prayer that nothing terrible arises from this disorder. It’s good to have the Gods listening in times like this.
Fenrig moved away and taking my protocol cue from Oliver back in Bruma, I asked, “Excuse me Governor. May I please approach? I have news concerning the Witchmen.”
“Certainly, you can approach. Good to see some commoners know their place.”
“I am Marcus. Your lookout tower was sacked by Witchmen. I killed one of their Briarheart.”
“Oh, a harbinger of grim news then, not the best first impression. Well, thank you for telling me in advance of my own guards. It was only a matter of time before they spilled further east.”
“Sorry to be the bearer of the news but that is all I am, the messenger, not the cause. Why that should leave a bad impression is a mystery to me.”
“Pardon me for that remark. You did address me correctly which is pleasing. We can’t have any yokel approach royalty like they’re of the same stock, it’s not good for the kingdom’s image.”
“I thought all mortals were equal in the sight of The Eight. Surely claiming nobility are a superior breed or have a higher standing with the Gods is blasphemy?”
“That is close to the treasonous thoughts of the rebel elements. Quoting the Gods will not protect your neck from the axe.”
“I am but a student of the Gods and mean no offence.”
“As for the tower, we will have the guard there as soon as possible – but for you, are you interested in some coin? We need someone to talk to us.”
“If it is a service for the Gods I cannot accept payment. If a routine message delivery, certainly I can use a few coins.”
“Nothing more pleasing to a mercenary than gold is there? From your mannerisms and accent I’ll make the sound assertion that you’re not versed with High Rock itself, and probably lack knowledge of this realm. However you will come to know the Kingdom’s people in short time, as our stone walls all but separate the encroach of savage from civilised.”
“I hope I do. It is crucial in my line of work.”
“To the east of this bridge lies the town of Arnima, formerly Raven Spring, lest you run into a resident whose mind is stuck in bygone years. Can get confusing, much like everything else this land. Within Arnima you will find Jackos, who trains the scout detachment there – he is the only man that I somewhat trust, who is not completely beholden to his lord. Ask him about rumours, tell him that I sent you, he should understand your intent. We’ve conducted affairs before; a simple nod from him will be more than enough information for you to infer. You don’t need to know any further than that.”
“You are awfully trusting of this barbarian from who knows where?”
“Ask yourself, would a noble or an unknown scoundrel have their head on a pike in case our little conspiracy became public?”
“So you think that is the reason you trust me with this. You think I am of a lower class and expendable. If you pray to our Mother Mara you may find the reason you trust me. You may even find the Gods are listening.”
“And you accuse me of blasphemy!”
“And you would be wise to listen to one sent by Mother Mara herself. Would you like to test the claim? Bring in the Priest Fenrig and we shall do so here and now. Ask the Prelate in Bravil. Look me in the eyes and tell me why you hope the Gods are listening and then deny it when they are.”
The Governor did look me in the eyes and after a few seconds lowered her gaze.
“You are more than a mercenary aren’t you?”
“No Governor Merosa, a mercenary is exactly what I am. There is something wrong in High Rock and I am here to find out what. The Witchmen are only part of it. The Orcs leaving in droves is another. All this petty politics is probably distracting the leaders while the mischief is under their noses. It is the age old story of how the Daedric Princes manipulate and manage to create chaos by simply whispering in the ears of the ambitious or dissatisfied.”
“What can I do to help?”
“We can help each other. Tell me what you know of the Witchmen.”
“I am no expert, nor historian, but what I can tell you should be the same that every Reachman would recite when speaking of those savages. Accounts state that this new incarnation of the Witchmen appeared near two decades back, just after the incident at Munstor.”
“You haven’t heard of it either? I feel I’ll be going over the history of every blade of grass in The Reach.”
“Do you have any experience outside The Reach? Do you know if Munstor is mentioned in any histories of High Rock? The words ‘incident at’ are a substitution for a less savoury word. Educate this foreign barbarian who, despite extensive reading in the Imperial and other libraries, has never heard of ‘the unsavoury thing that happened at Munstor.’ Stop throwing barbs at one you are not fit to judge!”
“Munstor was an abandoned fort, far to the north, that has since succumbed to its frozen locale. Peasants, serfs and other seditious souls had made a great exodus under cover of night, all leaving their fields, abandoning the lords they were sworn to serve. Of course when all your labour, thus wealth, absconds in but a moment, there will be tremors. So the lords had sent men to trail these workers all the way to Munstor. What they saw was an ostensibly bizarre affair. Both Witchmen and peasants forming a decadent commune, many turning to layabouts who engaged in petty pleasure and shirking the labour that had made them.”
“I would say the Witchmen at that stage were the same as the Forlorn in Skyrim. They treated the peasants with respect and saved their savagery for those who tried to enforce their values on them. The fact you have serfdom tells me why these people walked away from your slavery.”
“Yes, this was before they turned feral. Not to say they weren’t savage before, but that former identity was ultimately harmless unlike those you see now. The lords eschewed violence at first, instead opting to subvert the commune. Freeing their scum and exiles northward, with the condition they go live in Munstor. The hope was that the delusional elements of that town would abandon their fickle want for equality once ‘extreme’ personalities had entered their midst.”
“Not very smart these lords of yours. A commune such as Munstor relies on each individual contributing. They would have no use for the lazy. I assume a percentage of the exiles and scum were willing to work, just not for that lot of noble freeloaders.
“Correct. These scum that would haunt our societies were either subsumed into the mix or blocked from entry. This led many to evaluate the true intent of these radicals. We though they were just pacifists who’d allow any and all into their ranks, which would spell doom for any gathering. Panic stricken, many lords conspired, finally pushing for the siege that would be the communes’ undoing. Cutting off food, digging extensive tunnels to both poison their wells and revealing more avenues for attack. Lastly, clear diplomacy, to impart some reason into these serfs. Enough for them to return to civilization and abandon these naïve ideals.”
“Naïve ideals that work in most parts of Tamriel and other parts of Nirn. The exact ideals of equality championed by your new Emperor and Queen. The exact ideals as taught by the Gods you profess to obey. Silly slaves, I mean serfs. Get to the inevitable conclusion Governor.”
“The lords saw the beneficiaries within Munstor, a gathering of Hagravens who were prolonging this siege to impossible lengths. Then crumbs of discontent were found amongst our militia. Fear gripped the nobility that these ideas could spread to every serf. Nobility, not just from Evermore, but from all over High Rock sent aid when they heard how severe the crisis was. All of High Rock seemingly united, to crush this small town. Yet only a Luddite would think so simply. This was to crush an idea, a canker that’d undo the very world we haven. So the lord’s strength was honed into one blow. Throwing all their might at those walls. They fell, and what mercy we would have spared upon those misguided serfs was instead replaced with conviction to stamp out a chaotic ideology.”
“Did you join in this blasphemous and treasonous act? Did you help kill these citizens of The Empire?”
“I? No, they however did. To the last man, woman and child. A Pyrrhic victory in the truest sense, Evermore had lost half its serf class yet the lords were elated that the existential crises of revolution was averted. Exceptionally harsh measures were put in place for anyone that even uttered the communes’ name, or who dare evoke the same rebellious sentiments. And so that concludes the tale of Munstor.”
“How dare they? How dare they kill their citizens who only wanted what other people of The Empire enjoy? A person is entitled to a fair days wage for a fair days work. Not to work to fatten the purse of some noble who thinks they were born superior. Slavery is banned in The Empire and I would like these lords to stand before a court and argue that serfdom is not slavery. You dare call the Witchmen savages yet condone the most barbaric of acts?”
I turned to Serana and asked her, “You know the Emperor and Queen well. What would they do to these lords?”
She replied, “Execute them in public for murder even if they call themselves King, Queen, Jarl, Count or Governor.”
I turned to the Governor and she shrank from the anger in my eyes.
“So ‘the incident at Munstor’ is really the ‘massacre at Munstor”. You and your kind have played into the hands of the Daedric Princes. The Hagraven are evil beings but not capable of prolonging a siege. They have always been part of Reachmen magic and spiritual beliefs. The worst they used to do is black magics to create the Briarheart. You yourself said the Reachmen were not savages yet they have always had Hagraven live within their larger communities. Their ‘surprise’ discovery within the commune was just an excuse to allow some of the more queasy lords to sleep at night after the massacre.
You said, ‘a canker that’d undo the very world we haven.’ Mother Mara used the same word except the canker that concerns her does not have innocent citizens of The Empire at it dark, foul centre. It has the black souls of those who listen to the Daedric Lords. This canker will not just ‘undo the very world we haven.’ It will grow and grow and cross borders and consume the whole of civilisation. It will destroy the world that the average mortal is content with, family, good and fair employment and the freedom to worship who they choose.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I am going to lance this canker. See what it contains and wipe out the disease that caused it. I will deliver your message to Jackos as the mercenary I am before you. It is obvious to me you are planning the same sedition these citizens were massacred for. You yourself said it was evolution and it is. It is inevitable which makes the deaths at Munstor even more meaningless.
Listen well for this is no idle threat. I will do what is required to remove the disease from this land. Mother Mara said I could negotiate a solution. Pray to her that I can because I will use all resources at my disposal to resolve it and believe me, they are substantial and without regard to false ideologies of born supremacy.
The Governor nodded her head. Good enough.
“You will have only the blinkered view of why the ‘Orsinium’s Sons’ are suddenly active. I say they are in league with whoever is behind the Witchmen. You believe the massacre created the current Witchmen. Do you have evidence of that transformation?”
“Bear with me, as what follows can drift into conjecture.”
“Conjecture is useful when presented as such and not as fact. Many an advisor could learn that lesson.”
Merosa said, “Rumours from the siege reported seeing figures watching the slaughter unfold in the town, neither part of the Kingdom’s militia or the defendants. Scouts were dispatched to see who the strangers were, and upon their return they displayed strange idols, with the scouts claiming them as gifts from those shady silhouettes. Though their names nor identities were never disclosed. Most of the nobility had discarded these charms immediately, except for that wretched Mortifayne, who was enamoured by that hideous amulet that still rings his filthy neck.”
“These amulets may have nothing at all to do with the dark path the Witchmen now tread. Until I see one I do not know. I heard the town crier mention Sabbat. What has occurred there?”
“The settlement of Sabbat lies just beyond the southern gate. It is a town recently ravaged by a mage that we’re still sniffing out. However our search was impeded by the risen dead that malcontent left in their wake.”
“This mage may provide some clues as to what darkness pervades this land. I would once again suggest it is the same that drives the Witchmen and the Orsimer rebels.”
“It’s a possibility, yet I’m not staking more men on a hope. We are but a fledgling town when it comes to arms, our guard exists for our immediate defence, not to be used in any failed excursion.”
“We will find this mage. I will let you know when the danger of the undead is lifted.”
I said that with a finality that even the most arrogant of nobility would recognise as dismissal. Merosa left the temple with an occasional glance behind and a shake of her head.
When the temple door closed behind her Serana said, “Surely she must suspect who you are.”
“That is why her act of superiority died. She is just another noble who puts their comfort above the needs of their people. To upset a powerful individual without knowing who they are is not a wise move in the game of politics. It sickened me in Cyrodiil. This place is even worse. Excuse me while I cleanse my soul a bit.”
I walked up to the statue of Lady Mara and silently prayed, “I am here and so far I am enraged. I dread to see what other darkness will be revealed on the morrow. They have opened the doors to evil and I see no devout followers of The Divine here. How can they claim to be when they disregard your own command to ‘Preserve the peace and security of home and family.’?”
I walked away from the statue in a bleak mood. Serana walked up and said, “You do not plan to walk this strange land at night and it is getting late. Let us find a good inn and have a meal and a few ales. Let your anger find rest tonight.”
Just then a very large Breton spoke up and said, “Stranger, fancy an extra blade to accompany you through the menagerie that is the reach.”
“Selling yourself in a temple of Mara? That is low, even for we who work for blood money.”
“What if I was sent by one of the most devout to guide others in their pilgrimage? I do spare a little prayer for every unfortunate bastard that happens to meet my axe.”
“Then you would be most welcome but only if you understand that we will not be walking the trodden paths but deliberately wandering where others fear to go, or are just more sensible in their choices.”
“I can aid with both my axe and my local knowledge.”
“My name is Marcus. This is Serana, Calder, Rayya and Argus. You are?”
“I am Ulkarin.”
“Pleased to meet you Ulkarin. So how much of that conversation with the lovely Governor did you unintentionally overhear?”
“Enough to watch you go from humble mercenary to one who commands respect and can teach the leaders around here what being a real follower of our Mother entails.”
“I do not demand respect but am always pleased to earn it. One last trial to see if you will fit into our band of devout killers, where is the best inn that can fit us in and has reasonable ale?”
“I must insist on the coin though. I do have expenses.”
“500 Septims per week or part thereof do you?”
“Agreed. Now follow me to the inn.”
The inn was a ways out of town and not on the Bridge. The innkeeper was pleased to see an influx of customers and delighted that we booked every room he had for the night.
I gathered my companions into one of the rooms, except for Argus who stood outside to prevent snooping.
“Ulkarin, you are a citizen of Tamriel and therefore beholden to its laws and also a devout follower of Mother Mara. Primate Uravasa trusts you so I shall. Any deliberate selling of what I am about to divulge will be regarded as treason. I would also consider it blasphemous.
Ulkarin smiled and said, “Primate Uravasa did not tell me who you are. She said you had been sent by Mother Mara herself. That makes me your man 100%. If you were to now tell me you are Emperor Wulf Septim I would believe it without any further proof required.”
“Good, then just remember that I am Marcus, a mercenary. Tomorrow we will travel to Sabbat. What happens for the rest of the day is dependent on what we find there. Let us eat and drink shall we?”
With that we made the innkeeper even happier as coins were exchanged for food and ale and mead and I even grabbed a battered lute, wiped off the cobwebs and filled the place with songs from many lands.
I retired to my room and wrote this journal entry.
I went to bed with no real plans on how to tackle what ailed this country. There were too many unknowns for me to hazard a guess of who was behind it.
I know not what time I fell asleep.