Loredas, 7th Sun’s Dawn, 4E 202
We crossed into Evermor just after eleven-thirty on the morning of the seventh. The carriage came to a sudden halt, and Lisrier leapt off swearing. I had spotted what concerned him and was going to call for a halt anyway.
I used zoom-vision to get a closer look.
I said to Lisrier, “The person is badly injured. Hard to tell what gender they are with the armour they wear. They don’t seem to be sporting Evermor insignia on the uniform.”
“Oh, they might be an Evermorin Conscript, but it is hard to tell from here.”
“A conscript? That is illegal in The Empire except during times of war and only then under exceptional circumstances.”
“It is the only way of keeping the guard numbers up. Those who can’t pay their taxes or other minor crimes are allowed to serve their country rather than rot in a jail cell.”
“Not the best way to have high morale amongst your guards.”
“Some grasp the opportunity and thrive. Some are sullen and get nothing out of the experience.”
“We shall see if they need help. Stay here.”
“Oh, I have no intention of going an inch further until you lot find out what is going on.”
We jogged up to the injured person. Only when he talked was his gender revealed.
“We are here to help. What happened?”
“Those Witchmen…Ughhh…In the tower, they ambushed us when we were changing shifts…Ahhh. Warn The Divide. Get them to send men. Please!”
“Okay, I promise, but first, let’s get you back on your feet.”
“Too late… Witchmen poison…”
Before I could cast Grand Healing, the young man spasmed then died.
Lydia said, “Lisrier claimed the Witchmen were north of Evermor city. It seems things have changed in the week he has been away.”
“Yes, let me inspect the body and then we will investigate the nearby watchtower.”
I knelt to have a look at the deceased. His limbs were rigid as if Rigor Mortis had set in. There was yellow foam around his mouth.
We made our way to the watchtower.
On the front steps was the decapitated body of a Legionnaire.
There were more decapitated bodies inside the tower.
We could hear chanting. The voice was of the deepest baritone and the chant in a language unknown to me. We drew our weapons and climbed the stairs to the watchtower’s roof.
A Briarheart was carving a burnt body and carefully removing bones and organs. His skin was a sickly yellow hue, and his chanting ebbed and flowed in unison with his gruesome work.
He noticed us and was not alarmed. He stood slowly then approached in a relaxed manner.
I let him approach. I wanted to see if he said anything useful.
He stood in front of me with both weapons drawn. I noticed poison coated their blades. A dweomer to increase one-handed combat skills glowed from his hands.
He said in his deep baritone, “Another fleshling assails us? The king will have his tower, he will have his subjects, and he will have your head. The Dark Mother assures this.”
He attacked, and I killed him with a slice across his midsection. As he fell, he seemed relieved and uttered, “Released from the flesh.”
I turned the body over and inspected it closely. The briar heart installation looked no different than those of the Forlorn. The Briarhearts in Skyrim typically have the grey, corpse shading of the undead. This Briarheart was a sickly yellow like he had suffered severe jaundice.
I scrapped a sample of the toxin from his weapons and placed it in a stoppered vial.
I then went and inspected the body he was carving. The burns were post mortem and not deep. The bones and organs the Briarheart removed were undamaged. His incisions had been almost surgical in their precision.
- Erandur: What in Mara’s name was that thing doing?
- Wulf: I can speculate. I think we interrupted the creation of a flesh sculpture. The precision and care in which the organs and bones have been removed suggest this. If the Briarheart carved for cannibalism, he would not spend the extra time required to be precise. He would hack at the body like a butcher.
- Erandur: Why burn the body?
- Wulf: The burns are not deep. I believe it was done to aid the separation of lungs, etcetera from the ribs and so on. But that is pure speculation.
- Lydia: Who is this Dark Mother he mentioned?
- Wulf: A Dark Lord. Most likely Namira since many of Reachmen tribes worship her. I have never heard that term used for her, but it might be a local one.
- Lydia: What about the king and the towers?
- Wulf: I have no idea at the moment. It seems to me that this Briarheart worked for the king, believing the Dark Mother would deliver on some promises.
- Celestine: I think the Briarheart hoped to be a subject of this king once he had his tower.
- Wulf: That is what it seems on the surface. We will have to learn a lot more, but that one sentence has undoubtedly given us a lot to ponder.
- Ghorbash: Any idea what tower the king wants?
- Wulf: Well, there are many in the mortal realm. For instance, The White-Gold Tower. Also, the Adamantine Tower, known in these parts as The Direnni Tower, so named in reverence to the Direnni Clan. But we don’t know enough on that subject either.
- Lydia: The Forsworn do flesh sculptures.
- Wulf: Yes, but very crude ones. The Ayleid were masters of that art. They also had a thing called a Gut Garden. I will leave the description of those to your imagination. Their treatment of Nedic slaves was brutal, but when they started slaughtering many to pursue this perverted art, Saint Alessia prayed for assistance to rescue her people. Lord Akatosh responded, and that led to the Alessian Slave Rebellion. So, in many ways, Ayleid depravity led to their downfall.
- Erandur: From the practices of the Ayleid, the bias against Daedra worship was born. Thousands of years later, mentioning you worship a Daedra in some societies instantly labels you a cannibal or worse.
- Wulf: And yet you Dunmer have a whole nation of civilised Daedra worshippers.
- Erandur: Such bias isn’t based on evidence or logic.
- Wulf: Let’s report our findings to Lisrier.
We made our way back to Lisrier, who was reading something when we approached. He almost jumped out of his skin when I started talking.
- Wulf: The watchtower was attacked by Witchmen, and there are no survivors. I killed one of their Briarheart. He was the only Witchmen there.
- Lisrier: Beware of the Witchmen. If you treat them like you would any common scoundrel hounding for your coin purse, then the next sight you’ll be seeing is that of your gods. The bastards coat their blades and arrows with vile poison. A resin so foul it can condemn giants to an agonising death with nary a brush. I am not sure how you lot came out of their alive, to be honest.
- Wulf: The Briarheart died in seconds. We have faced far worse than Witchmen.
- Lisrier: Really? That is hard to believe as these…scum…are a whole new low for the Reachmen. They carve up men, women, children and babies for their hideous rituals.
- Lydia: Brutality does not make them challenging. The ability to slaughter and torture civilians does not make them immune to our weapons and magic. We have faced dragons, vampires, various undead, and other enemies far more potent than Witchmen.
- Lisrier: Maybe, but have you seen how depraved they are. They play with the bodies and hoist them in that dense woodland to the north.
- Wulf: They are called flesh sculptures, and we have seen similar. But what are the Witchmen doing this far south? You said they were a problem north of the city of Evermor, not the entire kingdom.
- Lisrier: I don’t know what they are doing here and am unsure if the authorities are aware of this incursion.
- Wulf: Who is in charge of The Bridge. I should speak to them.
- Lisrier: Governor Merosa. She is a frumpy little woman, but don’t tell her I said that. She will generally be within the temple, sparing a prayer to our mutual mother.
- Wulf: Is the temple dedicated to Lady Mara?
- Lisrier: Yes. Temples to The Nine can be found in other towns and Evermor city.
- Wulf: I thought Breton had twelve gods in their pantheon. Namely Akatosh, Arkay, Dibella, Julianos, Kynareth, Magnus, Mara, Phynaster, Sethiete, Sheor, Stendarr, Y’ffre and Zenithar.
- Lisrier: In the other kingdoms. Evermor’s religion is The Nine, and no other god worship is tolerated.
- Wulf: And what of The Thalmor?
- Lisrier: Those sleazy bastards seem to do what they want to who they want. But they won’t stop the worship of Talos within Evermor, no matter how many citizens they persecute.
- Wulf: What will you do now?
- Lisrier: My clients are probably waiting with bated breath. It has taken long enough to get here. I will need to skip my usual indulgences in The Bridge and head straight to Arnima.
- Wulf: Then it is farewell and good luck, Merchant Gulinds.
- Lisrier: I’ll see you around, friend. Please, give my thanks to Governor Merosa for keeping this road so safe, hahaha!
We watched Lisrier turn the corner before I told The Sentinels, “Okay, I am going to cast a Mark here. Then I will teleport to the basement of Silverpeak Lodge, where I will summon you. We will then change into our normal armours. When we return here, you will be accompanying Envoy Valdr.”
I cast the Mark spell.
I then teleported to Silverpeak Lodge’s basement and summoned The Sentinels. An hour later, we were ready to return.
I cast the Recall spell and returned to the Mark I had left earlier. I then summoned The Sentinels, and then we started walking to The Bridge.
We had not gone far when Ghorbash stopped and pointed.
- Ghorbash: That is the biggest bird I have ever seen!
- Wulf: It would probably eat you if it heard you call it a bird.
- Ghorbash: Ah, what is it then?
- Lydia: What is all over the green flags we pass?
- Ghorbash: Oh, a Griffon. I thought they were made up children’s tales
- Wulf: It would probably eat you for saying that as well.
- Erandur: I like travelling with you, Wulf. I get to see green spew spitting people. Men with plant seeds for hearts. Dragons that turn into fire and get absorbed by you. Now a Griffon!
- Wulf: We will see how keen you are on our travels after our time here is done.
A group of three Orsimer were approaching. I hoped to get some local intelligence from them. I whispered to Ghorbash, “Remove your helm. Introduce yourself.”
Ghorbash did as instructed and stood by my side. When the Orsimer were close, they stopped, and Ghorbash introduced us.
- Ghorbash: Greetings, bloodkin. I am Ghorbash Gro-Dushnikh, bodyguard to Envoy Valdr, who is visiting Evermor on behalf of Emperor Titus Mede II. He is also bloodkin to every Orsimer in Skyrim.
- Wulf: May I ask your names?
- Burmag: I am Burmag Golphan, and this is my sister, Shelim.
- Marag-kil: I am Marag-kil.
- Wulf: His Imperial Majesty has asked me to investigate rumours of trouble in Evermor. You are heading for the border. Are you leaving the kingdom?
- Burmag: Yes, we are getting out of the reach before things turn sour for my kind. Many of my brethren have the same feeling of another disaster approaching.
- Wulf: And you fear history might repeat?
- Burmag: Yes, my father told me of the pogrom that he survived. It is such a terrible story that I hope that my family or I never have to experience one ourselves.
- Wulf: What has led to this situation?
- Burmag: There has been hatred towards my kind in these lands for the longest time, but with the ‘Orsinium’s Sons’ raiding and causing a stir amongst the Breton, the retaliation from the Manmer will most likely have Orcs like us in the crossfire.
- Wulf: Forgive my ignorance, but who or what are Orsinium’s Sons?
- Marag-kil: They are an extremist group formed from the embittered and aggressive remnants of shattered Orsinium. They are fanatics and so devoted to the cult of Malacath and their culture that any transgression against it is taken personally. I don’t know what they hope to achieve, but all Orcs have been grouped together with them. We get persecuted even more due to their activities.
- Burmag: We were assured that we would be safe here under the protection of The Empire and that the locals would appreciate our skills. But The Empire is weak, and the Breton grow angry. We do not want to tempt fate by sticking around.
- Shelim: There’s a promise of small havens scattered around Skyrim and a myth of a new Orsinium to the southeast. Let us hope that no Man gets a whiff of it this time. We can only rebuild our homes so many times.
- Wulf: The Empire is far from weak, but the garrison in Evermor has been too small. His Imperial Majesty recognises this, and if I recommend it, the garrison will be increased significantly. As for New Orsinium, his Imperial Highness, a Man, has donated the land and the money to ensure it is built. If Orsimer can establish a thriving city, then an independent nation is a possibility. Orsimer will have armies containing only Orsimer and equipped with armour and weapons made by Orsimer smiths and under Orsimer command. The Imperial Legion will protect New Orsinium as if it was the Imperial City. These things I can guarantee as His Imperial Majesty’s Envoy.
- Ghorbash: Orsimer are respected within Skyrim and Cyrodiil. We are free to establish strongholds and follow our traditions. We administer justice within the strongholds according to the Code of Malacath. The is no reason why New Orsinium cannot flourish and for Orsimer to be as respected as any other race.
- Marag-kil: If everything is so rosy in the strongholds, why do you wear an Imperial uniform and risk your life for a Man?
- Ghorbash: My brother is chief of my stronghold. He allowed me to live there, but the pressure of the traditionalists was too much. We would not fight to the death, and I did not want to be chief. He did not want to kill or be killed by his brother. I served with distinction in the Legion. Then Envoy Valdr offered me a position. I am more than his bodyguard. I am his friend, and you, Marag-kil, should show great reverence for he is The Dragonborn and the greatest warrior on Nirn.
- Burmag: We have heard of your exploits, Dragonborn. We admire you for more than your martial ability. Perhaps you may make a difference in Evermor. But we will not wait to find out.
- Marag-kil: Ghorbash, you understand that we can only lift a finger against those above us when we are ready to spill blood. I am not yet prepared to challenge my father if I ever will be. Maybe one day, I will sneak back in when he is not looking. But he is an Orsinium’s Son, and his bloodlust is strong. I would be killing him for a position I do not desire, as you did not desire to be chief of your stronghold.
- Ghorbash: We weaken ourselves by killing our people due to tradition. What is the use of proving you are the best warrior when enemies outnumber you and the second and third best warrior would have evened the odds? There has to be a balance between tradition and practicality.
- Marag-kil: I would not mention such a concept to an Orsinium’s Son. That would be regarded as an insult.
- Ghorbash: Yet I and my kin have freedoms they only dream about. And I guarantee I have killed more enemies of the Orsimer in battle than any Orsinium’s Son!
- Burmag: Envoy Valdr, Breton have no love for Orsimer. When the time comes, they will show their true face. Friend, lover, teacher, all goes out the window when the mob forms.
- Wulf: You may be right, Burmag, but I will try all I can and as hard as I can to stop that mob from forming. I thank you for talking to me and wish you all the best.
The Griffon watched our conversation with the Orsimer. I approached to see if it had anything to say.
He did, but it was cryptic. He said, “And the clouds gather again, how futile, your tears will not wash away the roots. The feast draws near little wolves.”
He then flew away at an impressive speed.
Ghorbash asked, “What was that all about?”
“That, dear Ghorbash, was Griffon mumbo jumbo.”
“You have no idea what it meant?”
“Not the slightest, but I think that Griffon is trouble.”
“Well, if we kill it, I have got dibs on the legs! Huge drumsticks! I wonder if he tastes like chicken?”
We approached an open gate with a single sentry on duty. He wouldn’t be able to stop a determined Skeever. But still, I had to be diplomatic. Apparently, that is what diplomats do.
He yelled down, “Hold up. I haven’t seen you here before. What’s your business?”
“As Penitus Oculatus, it is usually us asking that question. But since you are only doing your duty, I will answer. I am Envoy Valdr, here on behalf of His Imperial Majesty. I have the relevant paperwork if you think I am silly enough to risk my neck by impersonating such a high rank.”
“No, no, I can see by your shiny uniforms and impressive array of weapons you are people of rank. Do you need assistance, Envoy Valdr?”
“I need to speak to Governor Merosa. Witchmen have sacked the nearby watchtower. We were too late to save the garrison but eliminated the Witchmen.”
“Witchmen?! Bloody Mara, I never thought they would get this close. You will find Merosa in the temple. Tell her everything, for the sake of The Reach.”
We walked through the gate and were treated to some local gossip delivered by Nords. All five of us had to suppress giggles.
- Dalor: Igmar, have you heard the news from Skyrim? They say that Ulfric was captured and killed!
- Igmar: He was not killed! A dragon came to rescue him!
- Dalor: A dragon?! Haha, Dalor! You’re mad, brother. The dragons hated us back then, and they would hate us now. Time doesn’t mend grudges.
- Igmar: Aye…You can say that again. But hate makes you miss the best things in life, like good mead.
Igmar wandered off in the direction of, I assume, good mead.
- Wulf: Dalor, is it? I am Envoy Valdr. Your accent makes me think you are from Whiterun.
- Dalor: Yes, I got evicted from my home in Whiterun for ‘running a Skooma ring’. Of course, that wasn’t true, but my neighbours thought otherwise. With little septim or assets, I packed up and moved out here. The land is very cheap and the food even more affordable because of the trade that runs straight through.
- Wulf: Excuse me for a second Dalor. Lady Kynareth has given me a target.
I equipped my bow, nocked an arrow and fired at a deer hundreds of feet away.
I put my bow away before the dead deer hit the ground and gave its last kick.
- Wulf: You can have that deer. It is just a regular deer, and it will stop glowing green in a minute.
- Dalor: Lady Kynareth made a deer glow like some sort of game?
- Wulf: It is not a game. She gives me a slight increase in the power of my Thu’um each time I am successful.
- Dalor: You know the Thu’um?
- Wulf: Yes, I am The Dragonborn. I am also the Thane of Whiterun and good friend of Jarl Balgruuf. I find your story a bit suspect, Dalor. If you were innocent, Jarl Balgruuf would have listened and told your neighbours to stop their gossip. But your past is exactly that. I assume you now live an honest and honourable life in Evermor.
- Dalor: Um…ah…yes, of course.
- Lydia: Dalor, you and Igmar seem ignorant of what has occurred in Skyrim. Ulfric was killed months ago, and dragons are friends with us. Well, most of them.
- Dalor: How did Ulfric die?
- Lydia: Envoy Valdr chopped his head off in single combat.
- Wulf: Ulfric was a Thalmor puppet and a traitor to both Skyrim and The Empire. I let him die with his axe in his hand so he could enter Sovngarde. I spoke to him there, and he was remorseful. Death often brings such wisdom.
- Dalor: You went to Sovngarde?
- Lydia: We had to so we could fight and defeat Alduin for the second time.
- Dalor: You fought beside The Dragonborn, in Sovngarde, against The World Eater?
- Wulf: Lydia landed the last blow in the fight. Lord Shor was impressed and gave her a priceless gift.
- Lydia: I was able to speak to my fiancé, who died fighting Alduin in Helgen.
- Dalor: Not all Nords, but certainly some of my friends, have avoided news from Skyrim. We may be enjoying our lives in Evermor, but we are homesick. It may seem strange that we are ignorant of what you say, but it was our deliberate choice. Perhaps we should pay more attention.
- Wulf: You should because this place may become unbearable if we are unsuccessful in our mission.
- Dalor: Yes, Igmar and I have been discussing that very thing. We do not know a fraction of what is happening. However, we recognise the building tension. We see Orsimer friends of ours leaving with the clothes they wear and nothing else. It is like that old saying. Rats know when to abandon a sinking ship. Not that Orcs are rats. It is just a saying.
- Wulf: I wish you and Igmar the best of luck. Just keep a few things in a bag just in case you have to run.
- Dalor: Ah…if you think it is that dire, then I will take your advice.
- Wulf: Look, the deer is normal once more. Don’t let it go to waste, for it is a gift from a Divine.
- Dalor: We will butcher it and give the meat to some starving farmers.
- Erandur: Farmers who grow the crops and tend the meat animals are starving?
- Dalor: Everything is counted down to the last carrot. The lords take their share of the produce and leave little for the farmers to sell. The prices traders will pay are set, and the farmers must sell all of their remaining produce. Then they must buy back their produce at inflated prices and get taxed on the money paid by the traders. They end up starving when surrounded by acres of food and fields full of meat. Anywhere else, it would be called slavery.
- Wulf: Which it is. Some way will have to be found to end the feudalism in this kingdom.
We continued walking, and my unease with Evermor was increasing with each step.
I had to laugh. Over the entrance to The Bridge hung the flags of Evermor and The Empire. In the middle was a mounted goat’s head. I am unsure as to the symbolism, but for some reason, I found it amusing.
We climbed some steps to the Temple of Mara. Honesty seemed prevalent in The Bridge as a donation tray next to a shrine still had septims on it.
I reminded The Sentinels, “We have to be diplomats. That means we have to bite our tongues and not respond to things that deserve scorn, anger and disgust. We can’t mediate if one side or the other dislikes us because we offended them somehow.”
The temple was impressive in size, and the quality of the stained-glass windows was superb. I hope they spend some of the donations on actually helping the people of the town.
We entered the temple then listened to a conversation between Governor Merosa and Priest Fenig.
- Fenig: Governor Merosa, 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, Brother Fenig. His seat is in question because he and his guards are demanding more gold from the merchants while becoming more aggressive. They are 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.
- Fenig: 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. 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 gods listening in times like this.
I approached Merosa.
- Wulf: Governor Merosa, may I have a minute of your time.
- Merosa: Have we arranged a meeting? Or is it your intent to address nobility lacking proper decorum? Speak quickly lest you rile my temper.
- Lydia: Ma’am, you are addressing Envoy Valdr here in Evermor at the personal request of His Imperial Majesty.
- Erandur: Ma’am, I am a Priest of Mara. Not only is Envoy Valdr here at the request of His Imperial Majesty, but he was also asked to come here by Lady Mara herself. Did you not just say it is good to have gods listening in times like this? Well, they have listened.
- Wulf: Governor Merosa, may I have a minute of your time? I suggest you address me with proper decorum, lest you rile my temper.
Merosa realised how big a blunder it was to insult an Imperial Envoy. She turned white and began to shake. I did not intend to bully the woman and felt sorry for her. She is a product of Evermor politics, and I must consider that.
- Merosa: Pardon the introduction, yet understand the need for it. We can’t have any wandering yokel approach royalty like they’re of the same stock. It is not good for the kingdom’s image.
- Wulf: Where ma’am, in The Ten Commands of The Nine Divines, does it say that nobles are of a different stock than other mortals? A noble’s duty within the Imperial Empire is to serve the people and ensure they follow the Ten Commands by setting an example. That is how you improve the image of a village, town, city, kingdom or province.
- Merosa: I…ah…well…
- Wulf: Relax, ma’am. I am here to help resolve the issues plaguing Evermor, both political and religious. Within minutes of arriving, we came across a watchtower that Witchmen had attacked during their change of shifts. Both shifts were massacred. I killed the only Witchmen there, a Briarheart unlike any I have encountered before.
- Merosa: Oh, you are a harbinger of grim news. I thank you for telling me in advance of my guards. It was only a matter of time before they encroached further east. We’ll have the guard there as soon as possible.
- Wulf: Where should I start if I want to decipher the political situation in Evermor quickly?
- Merosa: To the east of this bridge lies the town of Arnima, which was formerly called Raven Spring. Within Arnima, you will find Jackos, who trains the scout detachment there. He is the only man that I somewhat trust as he is not wholly beholden to Lord Mortifayne. Ask him about rumours. Tell him I sent you, and he should understand your intent. We’ve conducted affairs before. Usually, a simple nod from him would be more than enough information for you to infer. But of course, you will want to know more. He may be of use.
- Wulf: I thank you for your time and information.
I turned my back on Merosa and headed for the shrine where Priest Fenig was praying. Such a curt dismissal was effective in establishing relative rank. I provided Merosa with scant information, and she will now be scrambling to find out what she can. We heard the door to the temple close and knew Merosa had exited. We stopped to have a quick conference.
- Celestine: Merosa would usually send those she regards as expendable. They inadvertently become involved in her dispute with Lord Mortifayne. Most likely, they don’t realise their danger, and if they are taken for torture, all they can say is they are passing on a nod.
- Erandur: If a poor sod is suspected of spying for Merosa, it would be their word versus that of a noble. I don’t think anybody would believe them if they claimed Merosa asked them to do it.
- Lydia: And the nod tells Merosa that there is information at a pre-arranged drop.
- Wulf: I think the nobility in Evermor is going to test my patience severely.
- Ghorbash: Envoy Valdr, you must be a good boy and not cut off any noble heads. That would not be diplomatic.
- Wulf: I will not watch innocents suffer. That will be the line where diplomacy will be abandoned.
Fenig was kneeling before a statue of Lady Mara. She does not expect such subservience, and I cannot recall any Priest or Priestess in Skyrim doing so before any Divine. He noticed us approaching and stood to face us.
- Fenig: Soldiers of the Legion, would you care to help this humble priest?
- Wulf: We spend a lot of time helping priests.
- Fenig: As someone who serves in the light of The Nine, it is to be expected that I might require assistance. The matter is light for people who possess your skills, I am sure.
- Lydia: Brother Fenig, you are addressing Envoy Valdr here in Evermor at the personal request of His Imperial Majesty.
- Erandur: Brother Fenig, I am Brother Erandur, a Priest of Mara. Not only is Envoy Valdr here at the request of His Imperial Majesty, but he was also asked to come to Evermor by Lady Mara herself.
- Fenig: You expect me to believe Mother spoke to a layperson? Blasphemy is a serious offence, and your position within the Imperial Legion will not spare you the jail time earned!
- Wulf: Brother Fenig, I am also known as Wulf, Dragonborn and Champion of The Divines. Many gods speak to me, including Lady Mara. And we are not with the Imperial Legion. We are Penitus Oculatus and speak with the authority of His Imperial Highness at all times. I suspect you are under some duress so let us forget the awkward introduction. How can we help you?
- Fenig: I require a particular sap belonging to a Spriggan Matron, and I think just one belonging to a lesser. I need these because, with the help of the other priests, we may be able to concoct some immunity for the pox that spills from the west.
- Wulf: You speak of the one where bright green and acidic liquid can be forcefully expelled by those called Afflicted? Their skin is reddish in hue with black encrustations.
- Fenig: Yes, and it has left the states of the west stricken. It mainly claims the poor but has been seeping up into nobility.
- Wulf: I am surprised to hear a Priest of Mara refer to nobles as being above the poor. The only reference to subservience in the Ten Commands is to obey our Emperor.
- Fenig: Well, the pox was first sighted amongst those Witchmen, lifeless along the road towards Evermore. We don’t know if it’s of natural or Daedric origin.
- Wulf: It is a creation of Peryite. It was first introduced into High Rock at least eight months ago and inflicted Breton first.
- Fenig: How do you know it is of that Dark Lord’s doing?
- Wulf: I spoke to him. As I told you before, I speak to a lot of gods and not just The Nine. As for a cure, I have collected samples of the plants used by Peryite to gestate the disease. These I have given to The College of Winterhold. The best Restoration Mages in Tamriel are there and also investigating a cure. They have already been speaking to High Rock mages. I will get you the sap as it is wise to have a parallel set of people investigating.
- Fenig: I will pass on your information to others. The pox seems to strike the children and elderly the hardest, and a handful of the young died within Arnima last month.
- Wulf: Do you know where Spriggan can be found?
- Fenig: The Matron has been sighted just below the Nord’s inn on the north side of the bridge.
- Wulf: Okay, other Spriggan will be close to her.
- Fenig: Mother’s blessings to you all.
- Wulf: And blessings of The Nine to you, Brother Fenig.
We left the Temple of Mara and proceeded towards Arnima.
- Erandur: Brother Fenig seemed…strange. That is the best way I can describe it.
- Wulf: I get the feeling that Temple and Castle are not as separate as they should be.
- Erandur: Brother Fenig has deliberately placed a missionary in mortal danger by using them as a spy!
- Wulf: We will have to learn the nuances of religion in Evermor and work within them.
- Celestine: I suspect the search for a cure was not undertaken till nobility became infected.
- Wulf: It sounds like they are at a very early research stage, yet we know the plague has existed for months.
- Celestine: There is also nothing to indicate the disease is more dangerous to the elderly or children. It is one hundred per cent fatal to all who contract it unless Peryite sustains them.
- Wulf: Finding out how he sustains them would help find a cure.
- Lydia: I am already finding this place is not to my liking.
- Wulf: Well, I think we are going to be here for some time. I may swap the squad out after a few days. We shall see.
After seeing some road signs, Ghorbash asked, “Sometimes they put an ‘e’ on the end of Evermor. Why is that?”
“The spelling of words changes over time. I prefer the original spelling without the ‘e’. It must be confusing when they completely change the name of a place. Raven Spring to Arnima, for instance.
The exit to this part of The Bridge had two guards on duty.
They were so busy gossiping they completely failed to notice two unusual undead enter The Bridge.
We disposed of them before the guards had even drawn their weapons.
Celestine said, “They looked like flayed corpses. Their organs, muscles and sinew are still intact. They remind me of the donated cadavers we used at The College of Winterhold in Restoration class.”
“New country, new forms of undead. The Ashmen of Solstheim were new to us.”
The guards were still busy talking rubbish when we exited The Bridge to inspect one of the undead. We then noticed another undead hurrying to catch a rider plodding along on his horse, totally unaware of the danger.
I abandoned the idea of reprimanding the guards and rushed past the rider to confront the undead.
The undead tried to flee towards a small town. As I cut it down, more of them attacked.
We ended up destroying over a dozen of the undead in the burnt town.
Lydia noticed a mine entrance. We decided to make sure no more of the strange undead were inside.
There were a few that were acting as sentries. They were not just mindless automatons.
We entered the mine and found evidence of Malachite mining.
Valuable gems and many coins were also found evidence that the mine was not abandoned.
I turned to The Sentinels.
- Wulf: The mine was in use not long ago.
- Ghorbash: Malachite is quite valuable. I don’t think this place was abandoned.
- Wulf: The weird undead were probably the miners and townspeople.
- Lydia: There are probably necromancers involved.
- Wulf: They will be dead necromancers if I see them.
We destroyed many more undead.
Then we discovered a single necromancer.
He attacked and died.
I turned the corpse over to see who he was. He was Breton and on him was a hastily scribbled set of notes. I read the relevant sections to The Sentinels.
What would be the best way to carry out this spell? I’m not sure. The others told me to conduct it on living persons. Preferably a village or small settlement to see the spell’s results and warn anyone who pursues us. Thereby we hit two birds with one stone.
I’ve settled on a small hamlet called Sabbat, and no one suspects a thing. This really is a first because every other time I’ve tried something similar to this, some scoundrel always sniffs me out and goes hollering at the guard. The elder mentioned the temporarily abandoned mine at the end of the scaffolding across this cliff. It has been deemed unsafe because of the shaky supports.
I think this will be an excellent place to conduct my affairs.
Alright, I altered the spell slightly from the master’s intent. I hope he doesn’t mind. The spell now has a larger area of effect. Imagine being one of the first necromancers to make living subjects essentially as mindless and obedient as those reanimated corpses. They will have more motor functions and be capable of more complex tasks. Maybe I’ll get lucky and strike a couple of women with it.
Catastrophe! I don’t know what to do!
I can’t return to the others as they’ll tear me apart. The spell tore through the hamlet, searing the flesh of all the people in its way. I could hear the screams for days from this mine. Fortunately, they were still obedient, but not anywhere near the sophistication that we hoped. I’ve left them at my flank. I hope I can mine enough ore from this mine to bribe one of those guards. I know many of them only need a few septim to turn the other way.”
- Celestine: So now we have a coven of necromancers adding to the mayhem.
- Lydia: We have Witchmen, nobles at each other’s throats, Orsinium’s Sons, a weird Griffon, Thalmor and who knows what else. You take us to the most fun places, Wulf.
- Wulf: I brought you and Celestine with me because you are the most experienced Sentinels, and I will need your guidance.
- Celestine: It doesn’t hurt that I am Breton.
- Wulf: Yes, that could also be useful.
- Ghorbash: I fear it may not be clear who the good and bad people are.
- Wulf: We will just have to make those decisions as each scenario unfurls.
- Erandur: Lady Mara will guide us.
- Wulf: I will discuss the necromancers with Brother Fenig when we return with the Spriggan sap.
When we looked in the direction of Evermor city, we noticed a magical barrier surrounded it. It seems they have cut themselves off from the rest of the country.
The roads of Skyrim have many lanterns to light the way. We found the roads of Evermor to be pitch black. I had to resort to night-vision.
We encountered a skirmish between Evermorin Scouts and Orsimer.
We rushed over, but the Orsimer cut down the guards then ran at us.
I yelled, “We have no drawn weapons and are not your enemy!”
One Orsimer replied, “And we are nor Orsinium’s Sons, just traders, but that did not stop these Evermorin Scouts, these Manmer, from attacking us without cause. No more, now we fight!”
We cut them down.
Ghorbash said, “My bloodkin were right to flee this place. Perhaps we are too late to stop this type of bloodshed?”
“We have only just arrived, Ghorbash. We shall do our best, so don’t despair already.”
“Wulf, I am sorry. This place is already proving bad for my soul.”
“I know what you mean.”
We entered a village called Forlorn. It featured recent destruction and not all of it from the water, which had inundated much of it.
Our next pleasant surprise came in the form of a farmer begging for compassion from an Arnimain Guard.
- Farmer: Sir, a moment if you will?
- Guard: Spit it out.
- Farmer: The taxes, Sir, they are too great for what we produce. Could you be so merciful as to have the Lord hear of this? We will not slacken if his lordship is generous.
- Guard: That coin is going to a better cause. It is for the realm and the gods-appointed lord so that this land doesn’t descend into chaos. Are you so selfish to forgo our welfare just for another loaf of bread?
- Farmer: Sir, forgive me for what I speak, but the people starve, and anger simmers. Whispers of dissent are heard from those most in need. We cannot face more disorder in these trying times!
- Guard: And if those whispers become loud enough that I happen to overhear them, then we will see more heads adorn the pikes. There is only one way to reason with rebellious scum, and it’s not with mercy. Now get back to your duties, serf, lest my temper sours further.
- Wulf: Guard, I would like to speak to you.
The guard turned to me and crossed his arms.
- Guard: But I don’t want to talk to you, so fuck off!
- Lydia: I strongly advise you to change your tone.
- Guard: Ha, all that fancy armour, and you need a girl to speak for you. Now fuck off before, as I said to the serf, my temper sours further.
The guard turned and took a few steps. I tapped him on the shoulder, and he swung around with his hand edging towards his sword. Lucky for him, he decided to drop his hands to his sides.
- Lydia: Take it easy, Envoy Valdr. There is no need for bloodshed!
- Wulf: Are you an Arnimain Guard?
- Guard: What a fucking genius. How did you figure that out? Would it be the fact we are out the front of Arnima?
- Wulf: We are Penitus Oculatus. The Inspector just called me Envoy Valdr. Do you know what that means?
- Guard: That you are a higher-class whore than other Legionnaires?
- Wulf: It means that we represent His Imperial Majesty, Titus Mede II, in all matters. It also means that, by Imperial law, you must answer my questions.
- Guard: And what are you going to do if I tell you to get fucked for the third time and walk away?
I drew my sword and used my Thu’um.
“I WILL KILL YOU!”
The guard’s eye went wide. He looked at my raised sword then cowered before me.
“Yes, I am The Dragonborn, and you are now a messenger! Tell your colleagues that Envoy Valdr will kill any of you that show disrespect to The Emperor. For that is who I am according to the laws of The Empire. I speak and act with His Imperial Majesty’s voice in all matters. Do you understand the message you are to give?”
“Y…yes…ahh… Envoy Valdr.”
“Good. Now get out of my sight!”
The Guard ran like a dragon was after him.
- Lydia: You are bullying the bully. Does that always work?
- Wulf: Most of the time. He probably won’t say a word to his colleagues, though.
- Ghorbash: To pass on the message, he would have to admit to being scared.
- Erandur: What was that about a gods-appointed lord as he said to the farmer?
- Wulf: Blasphemy. The Divines do not appoint any noble. But it is obvious Lord Mortifayne cares not for the Ten Commands. He may have well been appointed but not by The Nine.
- Lydia: That is a bit of a leap of logic, considering you have not met the man.
- Wulf: Yes, Lydia, you are correct. Perhaps he thinks he is a devout follower of The Divines.
- Erandur: As I mentioned earlier, after Brother Fenig, I feel we might find their form of worship a bit odd.
- Wulf: And I repeat, we will have to learn the nuances of religion in Evermor and work within them.
The farmer had been watching us from a distance. I signalled The Sentinels, and they remained where they were while I approached the man. I walked past a Shrine to Stendarr and a bowl of congealed stew. Most likely, it was the farmer’s dinner.
The farmer looked nervous. He saw me terrify the guard and probably had no idea what the Thu’um is.
“Relax, good farmer. I am Envoy Valdr. May I ask your name?”
“Beresic Ysceley, Sir. Farmer Ysceley when not being addressed as ‘serf’, Sir.”
“I have been sent here by His Imperial Highness, Emperor Titus Mede II, to investigate reported problems in Evermor. I want to avoid bloodshed and am not beholden to a lord like that guard is. Would you like to avoid bloodshed, Farmer Ysceley?”
“Yes, we all want peace. That is why I risked so much to speak to that guard. If things don’t change, there will be an uprising, and we would be slaughtered. But only enough of us butchered to make a point like twenty years ago. They would still need fit and healthy serfs to do all the hard work so nobles can enjoy multiple courses at supper time. Apparently, I am not patriotic for wanting a loaf of bread for my family.”
“I am not going to ask questions about who might be planning this uprising. I just need you to ask them to be patient. To wait and see what I can achieve before taking any action.”
“It is hard to reason with starving people.”
“Then take this coin but spend it wisely and with traders you can trust.”
As well as my bag of gems, I also carry several small bags of coins. The bag I handed Farmer Ysceley had one hundred septims in it. His eyes widened when he felt the weight of the bag. He tried to hand it back.
“Sir Valdr, I cannot accept this.”
“Stendarr says, ‘Be kind and generous to the people of Tamriel. Protect the weak, heal the sick, and give to the needy.’ I am here as I was asked by both our Emperor and The Nine. You would not deny me the chance to follow the Ten Commands of The Nine Divines, would you?”
“You were truly sent here by The Nine?”
“You heard my Voice, the Thu’um. I am Dragonborn, blessed by Lord Akatosh and placed on Nirn to help The Nine and the mortals of this world. I was asked to come here by Lady Mara. She spoke on behalf of The Nine and is worried for the people of this kingdom. If you spend the one hundred septims in that bag wisely, people do not have to starve while waiting to see if my mission is successful.”
“I have never seen such a fortune! But I know traders we can trust. They will sell our produce back to us at the pittance they paid for it. It is not they who set the prices for our produce but our Lord.”
“I will leave now as the longer I speak to you, the more curious guards may get.”
“Then do me a favour. Yell at me as if you are one of the local nobles or guards.”
I didn’t want the farmer’s reaction to appear staged, so I did as he requested.
“STOP YOUR SNIVELLING AND GET BACK TO WORK!”
Farmer Ysceley was genuinely startled and turned to flee.
I turned with contempt and joined The Sentinels.
Lydia asked, “Okay, Wulf, how much did you give him?”
“One hundred septim.”
“Your heart is bigger than your brain sometimes.”
“It is an investment in peace, Lydia. He is a risk-taker. Otherwise, he would not have aired his concerns with the guard.”
“Yes, well, don’t get upset if you find him swinging at the end of a rope or his head atop a spike.”
“Do you see that light shining down over there?”
“Yes, what is it highlighting?”
“A statue of Lady Mara. I sense a bit of trickery going on. Let’s go have a look, shall we?”
Near the front gates to Arnima was a statue and shrine of Lady Mara. Shining down on it was Magelight. A simple spell that would need renewing several times per day.
On the stone table that held the shrine were expensive items of jewellery, well-made weapons and pieces of armour, and simple produce likely from starving farmers. Devotion to Lady Mara is demonstrated via your actions and not donations. You cannot buy her favour with gifts. Several Arnimain Guards watched us as if we are common thieves about to steal from the table. I ignored them as something else caught my eye.
Across the river were many undead.
I used zoom-vision and night-vision so I could see details.
Lydia asked, “I can see the glowing undead. What are they, Wulf?”
“They are Skeletal Warriors but with a purple miasma around them. They seem to be sentries, and some are standing next to barricades.”
“Are we going to investigate them?”
“No, not until I know more about what they may be guarding.”
We made our way to the Procul Praesidium. It is a fort used as both barracks and embassy. It is strange to have an embassy in a country you rule, but The Dominion uses it for that purpose and don’t pay for separate facilities and guards. In a way, it is a deliberate insult to The Kingdom of Evermor by The Dominion.
We reached the front gates, where a sentry saluted me.
“Soldier, I am Envoy Valdr. Is Commander Drugo in residence?”
“Yes, Your Excellency. He is expecting you.”
“Well done, you are the first person in Evermor to use the correct term of excellency.”
“Well, this place does act as an embassy, and we have been trained in such things.”
“Are there any representatives of The Dominion present?”
“Justiciar Naruman is in residence, Excellency.”
“Thank you, soldier.”
We had a quick look around the compound before entering the embassy.
It did not take us long to find Commander Drugo, who smiled as we approached.
“Commander Drugo, I am Envoy Valdr.”
“Yes, also known as Commander Valdr, The Dragonborn. I am honoured to meet you. Your very presence will boost the morale of our troops.”
I shook the Commander’s hand. Then he saluted and said, “Oops, protocol! Excellency, let me formally welcome you to our humble embassy. I hope you find both the accommodation and our hospitality to your liking.”
“At ease! Commander Valdr, please do me a favour.”
“Yes, Your Excellency, of course.”
“Cut the protocol crap unless we are in a meeting with others.”
“Of course, Envoy Valdr. Such protocol gives me the shits as well.”
“It is unusual to see a Commander of the Penitus Oculatus in charge of Legion troops.”
“Evermor is an unusual place. I have spent a lot of time with Mede, and he recognised me as a fine soldier and a diplomat. The latter skills learnt while trying not to fall asleep at formal meetings between Mede and other dignitaries.”
“Did His Imperial Majesty outline what I will be doing here?”
“There is only so much you can write on those tiny scrolls the pigeons carry. He wrote that you would be here because The Divines and himself want you to investigate and hopefully find a peaceful solution to Evermor’s problems. I assume you now act as Field Marshal as well as Mede’s voice?”
“Yes, I am supposed to command the troops, but I will leave you in charge unless some pitched battles are on the horizon.”
“That will work.”
“I need simple accommodation and a place for my men to bunk down.”
“There is plenty of room in the barracks for your men. A guest room has been prepared for you.”
“How do you regard The Reach?”
“It is important enough for us to have been entrenched in this swamp for centuries. I have a feeling its value will be immeasurable in the immediate future.”
“You suspect another Great War is imminent.”
“Yes, and during the last one, most of The Empire’s trade to High Rock was conducted by sea. Vessels skirted the shores of Tamriel all way to this province.”
“That relied on our naval superiority. We might not have that next time around,”
“Precisely. The Reach during the Great War was too dangerous even though a trip through it would take a fraction of the time of the sea route.”
“It doesn’t matter how long it takes as long as ships leave at regular intervals. But we risked supply to High Rock being cut off completely if we could not use overland routes through The Reach and the navy were hard-pressed.”
“Correct, and The Dominion would have learned from the first war and be much more likely to target those shipping routes the second time around.”
“Therefore, we need a safe passage through The Reach, and that is why it is important.”
“Yes, and at the moment, there is great danger from Reachmen and maybe the Orsimer if we don’t squash Orsinium’s Sons. Others are hassling our troops as well, including Redguard pirates using Black Powder weapons.”
“I have little doubt I will recommend an increase in troop numbers. How is the current moral?”
“We are not ecstatic about our stay. But we have and will continue to perform our duties here to the best of our abilities. My troops are seasoned and are experienced with long campaigns. However, this place tries to destroy morale with its shifting alliances, treatment of its civilians and snobby nobility. Add to that the blatant racism against anybody who is not Breton, and it is a difficult place in which to live. Only the Legionnaires’ comradery prevents many of my men from running away to where love exists. They would not abandon their comrades to survive alone in this stinking hellhole.”
“We have had a long three days over the mountains. Therefore, we will retire for the night.”
“Your room is top of the stairs and to the right. There are only two rooms upstairs. Justiciar Naruman uses one. If the room smells like cheap cologne, you have entered the wrong one.”
“Is there anything I should know about Naruman?”
“He takes Thalmor arrogance to the next level. Please don’t dice him into little pieces. He may prove valuable to your cause.”
“Oh, I am sure good old Justiciar Naruman will become a valued friend!”
“On that worrying note, good night to you, Envoy Valdr.”
“I may seek a briefing on some matters in the morning.”
“Of course. There are no disasters scheduled, so I should be in my office. Well, your office now.”
“Good night and blessing of The Nine, Commander Drugo.”
The Sentinels left to find their bunks in the barracks and hopefully get a meal.
I started making my way upstairs when the worst thing to end a long day accosted me. Justiciar Naruman blocked my path.
“The Legionnaires have been busy gossiping with the news of your arrival, Envoy Valdr.”
“I should think that the arrival of an Envoy is crucial information rather than idle gossip, Justiciar Naruman.”
“I am quite peeved I was not informed beforehand of your imminent arrival. I will have to write a strongly worded letter to Mede and remind him of the protocol.”
“Talking of protocol, you will address my Emperor as His Imperial Majesty.”
“Oh, of course. May I ask, why have I never heard of you mentioned in diplomatic circles, Envoy Valdr?”
“Because I am normally known as Commander Valdr, The Dragonborn.”
“Oh, I didn’t associate the two. Valdr and Valdr. How silly of me!”
“And why do you think I have become Envoy to Evermor?”
“I have no idea. Perhaps your first task is to apprehend a fugitive the local cretins have been shielding from justice.”
“Oh, and who might this fugitive be?”
“He is of high value. A Blade, hidden for decades yet now revealed. We had scouts follow his trail to a decrepit ruin west of here.”
“Is there anybody else hunting him down?”
“An Imperial by the name of Vaeser who is festering withing Evermor city. He has contracted many to find this fugitive, and I fear he intends to warn the Blade of my intent.”
“Then I shall speak to Vaeser as he also works for His Imperial Highness and will understand I pose no threat to this Blade. You see, I have already provided a haven to Blades that you inbred pompous asses failed to locate. As Dragonborn, I am their leader and proud of it.”
I was glad The Sentinels were not with me. Their laughter would have revealed that lie!
“There are lists containing details of those who will soon suffer fatal, ah, accidents. And it may so happen that your name could be inked onto that list. So unfortunate, we could have worked well together.”
“Justiciar, I have killed hundreds of Thalmor and even more assassins. The only reason why I don’t separate your head from your puny body is it is my first day here, and I don’t want to start a precedent. You slaughter one Justiciar, and you have to keep cleaning your sword after killing those seeking vengeance. It gets boring.”
“You wouldn’t dare!”
“Did I dare kill dozens of you vermin at the Skyrim embassy? As Envoy, I have full diplomatic immunity. I could carve you into tiny pieces and not even have to explain my actions. You are a piece of shit. Don’t give me a reason to scrape you off the bottom of my boot.”
I left Naruman shaking with anger and no small amount of fear.
The room set aside for me was small and humble. The bed was no better than those found in a good inn. I leaned a chair against the closed and locked door, an old but very effective warning of an unwanted intruder.
I lay on the bed then contacted my beloved.
“Rigmor, can you talk?”
“Yes, I am in my little house, away from the hustle and bustle of the castle.”
“This place is a nightmare, and I have only just started my investigation.”
“So, who are the protagonists.”
“Apart from some mead swilling Nords, every local I have met has a grudge against somebody. There are many factions and so much hatred! It is as if they were all under a dweomer or a curse.”
“Well, tell me your worries, and we shall work through them together.”
“Do you know what is the most frightening?”
“What is it, my dear Dragonborn.”
“The Divines once thought I could handle something like this without your support.”
“You probably could, but you don’t have to. So, start listing who hates who so I can get an idea of the political mess you are in.”
“Well, there are the Orsimer who are hated by….”
Rigmor and I talked for several hours. Her time dealing with Cyrodiil politics has made her an intelligent and observant politician.
I know not what time I fell asleep.
I know I thought that Rigmor might help with immediate advice if she was in Evermor. Supposing I can figure out a way to keep her from the danger, that might be an option.