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Saturday, October 23, 2010

II - The Blades Trainers

Fenara awoke with a start, still on her narrow bed with the letter from her father lying beside her. Feeling frustratingly disoriented, she shut the letter in the single book that was sitting on a shelf over her bed and stood up, stumbling over to the cabinets. She yanked one open and found a stale loaf of bread, which she didn’t even bother with. The rest of the cabinets were dusty and bare, so Fenara resigned to having to go out to get food. She found a tattered robe in the closet, which she donned in favor of the ragged dress she had been sporting, and slipped on a pair of thick guar hide shoes that hid in a dark corner of the closet. She found an old wooden comb in a drawer and untangled most of the snarls from her hair, then tied it back in a braid out of her face and went outside, feeling significantly refreshed.
Fenara was surprised to see that it was evening. She had assumed it was morning, and wondered vaguely if she had slept all through her second day in Balmora. Making sure she had her money and the list of Blades Trainers from Cosades, she started off down the stairs. Her determination broke, however, when she saw the decrepit street again, this time with a group of rats fighting over something by the water barrel. The hopelessness of her situation struck her again, and she walked across the river with her eyes on the ground before her.
Fenara had dinner at an inn called the Eight Plates, which was much cleaner and more cheerful than the South Wall Cornerclub. When she had finished, she took the list out of the pocket of her robe and smoothed it out on the table. There were three trainers in Balmora – Nine-Toes, Rithleen, and Tyermallin. She crossed the river again and followed the directions to the small house on the riverfront belonging to Nine-Toes.
An Argonian opened the door and welcomed her inside warmly, as if he knew she was coming. His home was shabby and small, but well-kept, Fenara noted. He brought two cups of tea to the small round table and sat across from her, immediately beginning to speak.
“It is good to meet you, Novice Fenara.” It struck her then that her grandmother had advised her against going by her real name.
“It’s Fen, actually,” she said quickly, unable to think of anything else off the top of her head. “Just Fen.”
“I apologize then, Novice Fen,” Nine-Toes said, dipping his head in acknowledgment. “Caius must have written your name wrong.”
“Um…yes, he must have.” Fenara took a sip of her tea. It was bitter tasting, quite different from the peppermint flavor she was usually served.
“Caius did write ahead to me just a few hours ago and told me you would be visiting. He asked that I share a bit of advice with you. I am a hunter by trade, and I am always pleased to give any kind of assistance needed to a fellow Blade.
“We Blades Trainers can offer you core training, but not much else. More advanced training is expensive. The more experienced you are, the harder it is to train you, you see.” Nine-Toes stood up suddenly and went to a small chest on a shelf. He unlocked it and pulled out four small cloth bags. At once, Fenara tasted the sickly sweet smell that had stagnated around the South Wall Cornerclub emanating from the bags. Nine-Toes saw her look of disgust and chuckled. “Moon sugar,” he said, holding up the bags as he sat down again. “It’s an illegal narcotic in Vvardenfell, used to make skooma. You’ve encountered it already?”
“Yes,” Fenara said, eyeing the bags warily. “At the South Wall Cornerclub.”
“Ah, yes,” Nine-Toes said knowingly, shaking his head slightly. “Truthfully, that establishment is more of a skooma den than a club. Avoid it if you can. But moon sugar, most alchemists won’t buy. Khajiit will, though. It’s grown from sugar cane in Elsweyr, and native Khajiit grow up practically suckling it from their mother’s teats. It will sell for a lot with Khajiiti merchants. You can sell these to earn yourself a little extra gold.” Nine-Toes pushed the little sacks across the table and Fenara reluctantly pocketed them.
“Thank you.”
“Anything, anything. Now then. I am a hunter. I range across the Ashlands and wastes, hunting for meat and hides. I know the native creatures of Vvardenfell, and know to avoid the diseased creatures and the blighted creatures, for they are foul and worthless – but deadly to the careless hunter. I know the Ashlands and the Grazelands, Azura’s Coast and Molag Amur and can tell you of these places.” Fenara had heard of a few of these regions in her tutoring, but had never left the walls of Mournhold, a fact that she decided to keep to herself. “Have you met Gudling the Rascal in your travels? Lately he's taken up residence at St. Veloth's Hostel in Molag Mar. If you're interested in the hunter's craft, he’s worth talking to.”
“I’m afraid I haven’t been in Vvardenfell for more than a fortnight,” Fenara said.
“Then you should speak with Elone. She is another of the Blades Trainers. She is a scout, and is very talented. She is set up in Seyda Neen, not far from here. You can take the silt strider or walk.”
“The silt strider?”
“They are giant beetles that are used for transportation. Their backs are hollowed out to ride in. I am surprised you have not seen it yet.” He chuckled. “They are hard to miss.” Nine-Toes then withdrew a map of Vvardenfell and a large sheet of blank parchment. He began to copy Vvardenfell onto the blank parchment, putting most detail into the southwest corner of the map, which he seemed to know well. When he was finished, there were still large portions of empty space across the rest of the map. “You should speak to the other Blades Trainers,” Nine-Toes said as he folded up the new map for Fenara. “They may know more of the geography in the rest of Vvardenfell than I. But you should also log parts of the map yourself. Copying down details in your own hand is the best way to familiarize yourself with a new place.”
“Thank you,” Fenara said gratefully, taking the map and putting it away. “I should be leaving soon, anyway.”
“It was very pleasant to meet you,” Nine-Toes said, picking up the tea cups and not seeming to notice that Fenara’s cold tea had hardly been drunk. “I understand the hour is growing late, but come see me another time if you would like training.”
“Thank you,” Fenara said again, and he showed her to the door. Glancing at her instructions again, Fenara saw the next place she ought to go was Tyermallin’s house, which was just down the road.
Tyermallin was an Altmer, tall and tired-looking, and did not seem nearly as interested in Fenara’s affairs as Nine-Toes had been. He was a healer, and didn’t seem terribly concerned with what was going on in the Blades. Tyermallin didn’t talk much, but dug around in a crate and found a battered alembic that he offered for her to take. Fenara left his home struggling with the cumbersome alembic under her arm, and left it on Rithleen’s doorstep to pick up on her way out when she left.
Rithleen, an athletic-looking Redguard woman, was far more hospitable than Tyermallin had been, and offered Fenara a brandy when she entered. Fenara had never been allowed to drink anything more than very mild wine, and declined the brandy, feeling nervous at just looking at the bottle.
“I’m a warrior,” Rithleen said, leaning back and letting her boots rest heavily on the table. Fenara clenched her hands in her lap, feeling uncomfortable. “Basically, I kill things. If you’re looking to be a mercenary or the like, I’d sign on with the Fighter’s Guild. They aren’t picky, and they won’t send up near Ghostfence.”
“Ghostfence?” Fenara repeated, forgetting her princess’ demeanor and leaning forward. Something about the word struck her, gave her an odd feeling.
“Haven’t heard of it?” Fenara shook her head. “Well there’re all sorts of stories behind it, but all you really need to know is that it’s a huge barrier blocking Red Mountain from the rest of the island. Which, trust me, is a very, very good thing.”
“Why?” Fenara asked, unable to contain her curiosity.
“You really are new, here, aren’t you?” Rithleen said, sounding amused. “Red Mountain generates all sorts of ash storms that carry the Blight, and the Blight can give you corprus. It’s a disease that’ll turn men into lumps of living flesh that go mad inside their own heads and limp around trying to kill anything that moves.”
“Oh,” Fenara said, and something caught in her throat. She cleared it self-consciously as Rithleen went on. “If you do end up having to go up by Ghostfence, just make sure to take some Cure Disease potions with you. If you’re careful, the Blight can be stopped before it really takes effect. Oh, and before you leave…” Rithleen stood up, the front legs of her chair falling heavily on the flagstone floor, and went to a large chest on the ground. She pulled out a dented steel helmet and matching cuirass. “These won’t do you much good, but you can always sell them for a little extra coin. I was planning on taking them over to the smithy to have them melted down anyway.”
“Thank you,” Fenara said gratefully, taking the heavy armor into her arms and wondering vaguely how she was going to get everything back to her tiny apartment.
When she got outside, however, the alembic was gone, clearly carried off by someone who had passed in the time Fenara had been in Rithleen’s.
“Serves me right, I suppose,” Fenara muttered to herself, disgruntled, as she heaved the armor into her arms and started to struggle back to the apartment. It had grown dark, and thunder boomed through the clouds. Fenara decided that she could wait to travel to the other trainers until morning, and just made it inside as the rain started to fall. She dumped the dented armor in a heap on the floor and peeled off her shoes and robe, falling back on the bed. It was still as narrow and uncomfortable as ever, and Fenara pulled out her braid and curled up on the lumpy pillow, trying to make herself as small as possible as rain hammered on the roof overhead.

* * *

She awoke early the next morning and started on her way before the sun was up. Thunder still echoed in the clouds and puddles formed where there were missing cobblestones in the road, but the rain had stopped for the time being. She didn’t like the thought of getting caught in a downpour, and decided to take the silt strider to Ald’ruhn and Seyda Neen, as Nine-Toes had suggested.
The silt strider was, indeed, hard to miss. It was a monstrous creature, standing on six spindly legs that were higher than the buildings around it and rocking slowly back and forth. It let of a low moan as Fenara climbed the stairs to the port, and she realized that this was the creature that she had heard when she first came to Balmora.
She paid for passage to Ald’ruhn first and sat down in the narrow hollow of the creature’s shell, settling herself as best she could while the driver spurred the beetle onwards and it began to walk, lurching uncomfortably from side to side. By the time they reached Ald’ruhn an hour later, Fenara was sick to her stomach and her head was spinning. She pulled herself out of the shell and vomited over the edge of the silt strider platform, then muttered a shaky apology to the driver and stumbled down the path and into the road.
It was only once Fenara’s feet touched solid ground that she paused to look around. She realized at once that Ald’ruhn was part of the Ashlands, a region Nine-Toes had described to her. The ground was rock strewn with sand and smooth, round-topped mountains rose around the city walls. The buildings were here all made of polished sandstone with curved roofs that made them look like crouching animals. At the front of the city, an enormous structure stood, with tall, solid-looking walls and a low roof that expanded outward, like the top of a mushroom.
Fenara quickly found the home of the trainer she was looking for, a Bosmer Nightblade named Gildan. Gildan was cheerful and pleasant, and suggested Fenara almost at once to someone named Wayn at the Balmora Fighter’s Guild.
As they talked, drinking tea at her small square table, a sudden howling became audible from outside, and Gildan quickly excused herself and came back inside a moment later carrying her laundry that had been drying outside. She looked distinctly dusty, and before she shut the door Fenara caught a glimpse of a fiercely howling wind outside that seemed to be carrying grains of sand in its drafts.
“Ash storm,” Gildan said to Fenara’s inquiring look. She shook the sand out of her clothes and left them on top of the dresser. “They’ve been getting worse lately.”
“Do people get the Blight here often?” Fenara asked, remembering what Rithleen had told her about ash storms carrying Blight.
“Oh, sometimes,” Gildan answered. “Most of us have developed a kind of immunity to it by now, living in Ald’ruhn for so long. And, to be honest, there aren’t many people here who don’t carry a few Cure Disease potions with them. I’ve seen children that have vials of it strung on twine hanging ‘round their necks. We’re as wary as everyone else, just more used to it by now.”
“Why don’t people move?” Fenara asked. Gildan smiled.
“Ald’ruhn has been around longer than these ash storms, and I’ll be damned if something like that could throw us out. A bit of ash isn’t going to get a whole town of stubborn Redoran to budge one bit.”
“Ald’ruhn is a Redoran town. It’s one of the three Great Houses that takes up residence in Vvardenfell. Hlaalu is the other, and they operate out of Balmora, and Telvanni is based in Sadrith Mora, way out on the east coast by the Sea of Ghosts. The Redoran are warriors, and it’d be a hard job to get them to move.”
“And the other houses?”
“Let’s see…Hlaalu are sneaking thieves, the lot of them. Slimy politicians, all the way through. Telvanni’s much the same, only they’re all uppity wizards that hate everyone else. I personally don’t care for any of them. I don’t belong to any Great House, but I suppose I lean towards the Redoran politics-wise.”
“Another thing,” Fenara said, thinking of the enormous structure she had seen. “What’s the giant building at the front of the town?”
“Oh, that’s Ald Skar,” Gildan said. “It was the shell of a giant crab, and when it died the rest of it decomposed and some rich landowners came in and build manors inside of it.”
“People live in that thing?” Fenara said, incredulous.
“Oh yes. All the Redoran councilors live in Ald Skar. Their manors are ridiculous. I’ve been in one once. Bigger than all of the outside part of Ald’ruhn, it was.”
When the clock on Gildan’s hearth rang nine times, Fenara quickly stood up.
“I should be going,” she said. “Thank you for your help.”
“Any time,” Gildan replied cheerfully, going to open the door for her. The ash storm was still raging fiercely outside. “Oh, I’m not going to send you out in that with nothing to cover your face. Getting that in your mouth is nasty.” Gildan went to her dresser and pulled out a well-worn headscarf of faded red, embroidered in purple. “Here.”
“Thank you,” Fenara said gratefully, wrapping it around her head and mouth, leaving her eyes visible. “I’ll return it to you next time I’m in Ald’ruhn.”
“Keep it,” Gildan said, waving her away. “I’ve got plenty.”
At some point, Gildan had mentioned guild guides at the Mages Guild halls that could offer teleportation services to any of the other guildhalls in Vvardenfell. Feeling that this method of travel would be far less sickening than using a silt strider, Fenara found the local guildhall and paid to be transported to Caldera.
Surane Leoriane was the trainer Fenara was directed to in Caldera. It was a small, Imperial-style town, and Fenara found the house without trouble. She took off Gildan’s headscarf before she entered and shook the ash out of the scarf and out of her hair.
Surane Leoriane was a Breton mage, which was apparently the class Fenara had been registered under. She offered Fenara flaky-looking saltrice cakes, which were flavorless and bland, but which Fenara ate without complaint as Surane explained the concept of enchanted items to her.
“Do you like living here?” Fenara asked during a lull in the conversation.
“It’s all right,” Surane said disconcertedly, standing up from the table and going to get the tea kettle, which had just started to whistle. “The town itself is nice, but the people are insufferable sometimes. Lots of rich Imperials live here, because this town was rich when it was chartered for its ebony mines and it’s just bound to get richer.”
“There are ebony mines here?”
“Oh, yes. The Caldera Mining Company is what pours gold into this place. Of course, everyone on the Company’s board is corrupt and greedy, and everyone knows it, but is anyone going to do anything about it? Of course not, because this is an Imperial town, and whatever the Imperials do has to be right.” They finished their tea, which had not tasted nearly as bitter on Fenara’s tongue as Nine-Toes’ had, and Surane directed her to Llaros Uvayn at the local governor’s mansion to talk to about enchanting. “Caius told you to talk to Sjorvar too, didn’t he?” Fenara nodded. “He owns a small guar ranch just north of Caldera. It should only take you about fifteen minutes to walk there.”
“Thank you,” Fenara said, and she excused herself. It was, indeed, a short walk until she found the guar ranch, where Sjorvar Horse-Mouth was crouched next to a guar, examining its paw. Fenara stayed back at first, wary of the enormous creatures. She had only ever seen them in books and from the palace windows, and up close their sloping jaws and round, beady eyes made her nervous.
“Can I help you, lass?” Sjorvar said, noticing her and standing up, setting the guar’s paw down.
“I’m Fenar – Fen. I was sent by Caius.”
“Ah, yes, old Cosades told me you were coming.” He pulled a dark, heavy-looking leaf from his pocket and held it in front of the guar, who sniffed it eagerly then took it in its teeth and lumbered away. “I was just checking Lumpy’s pads. He was limping yesterday, but seems fine now.” Sjorvar patted the guar fondly on the nose, then invited Fenara to sit with him on a long bench outside his cottage.
“What do you train?” Fenara asked him.
“Blunt weapons,” he said, picking up a mug of beer and two goblets. Fenara quickly shook her head and he shrugged and set one down, filling the other. “And axes. I’m not much into that wishy-washy magic stuff. But my friend Galbedir is. She’s at the Balmora Mages’ Guild. I’d have a chat with her at some point if I were you. Good to have some scrolls in your pack whenever you travel.” He took a long drink of beer and leaned on his knees, gazing fondly at the guar that grazed around them. “Ever herd guar?” Fenara shook her head. “It’s the thing to do when you retire, I’ll tell you. I love these animals. Not much care to it, either, just clean up their dung and give them some Hackle-Lo leaf every now and then, and they’re fine on their own.”
“Er…yes,” Fenara said, unsure of how to respond. Sjorvar didn’t seem to have much else to say, but Fenara wasn’t sure how to excuse herself without being rude. At some point, though, Sjorvar remarked at the late hour of the afternoon and, relieved, Fenara thanked him and walked back to Caldera. She teleported to Balmora and regretfully discovered that there was no Mages’ Guild in Seyda Neen, meaning she would have to walk or take the awful, lurching silt strider again.
Opting to walk, Fenara set off from Balmora in the direction Caius’ instructions pointed her in. As the sun began to set, Fenara realized that the landscape around her was changing, and soon the mushrooms and hanging vines around her were replaced by flowers bursting with color and trees of lush, deep green. It couldn’t begin to compare with the flora of Mournhold, of course, but it was a nice change from the dreary mood of Balmora.
Soon, though, Fenara reached Seyda Neen, which settled back into swampland. The village was small, a little cluster of dilapidated shacks and thatched-roof cottages tucked into a peninsula in the swamp. The Tradehouse where Elone was supposed to be was the only real place of interest, with a weathered wooden sign hanging in front, and Fenara went inside and found Elone easily.
She was a Redguard woman standing behind the bar, serving drinks to people and cheerfully chatting and laughing with them. Fenara watched her jealously for a moment. She had always wished that she could be talented with people, but her father had kept her so sheltered that she had never really had an opportunity to develop a talent with talking to others.
When Elone had a break, Fenara introduced herself, and the Redguard smiled warmly and offered her a free flin. Declining the drink politely, Fenara sat down at a bar stool as Elone served another person at the bar, then came back to talk.
“I don’t train much, honestly,” Elone said. “But you can take this. I haven’t had much of a chance to travel, so this guide will probably be more help to you than I will.” Elone reached under the counter and handed Fenara a scroll entitled Guide to Vvardenfell.
“Thank you,” Fenara said, rolling up the scroll and tucking it away. Elone had to serve other customers, so Fenara thanked her for her time and left the Tradehouse. There didn’t seem to be much else in Seyda Neen, so Fenara started the walk back to Balmora.

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