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Saturday, January 8, 2011

XII - The Nerevarine Prophecies

“This is my father’s bow,” Sul-Matuul said, taking the Bonebiter bow reverently in his hands and gazing up at the ceiling of the yurt, his eyes closed.. “You have completed the initiation rite. I name you Fen, Clanfriend of the Ashlanders.” He held the bow out to her, and Fen took it carefully and strung it across her back. “Keep it, and bear it with honor. You are a friend of our tribe, and may rest in any Urshilaku bed, but do not harm other tribe members, or take their things. And now I will fulfill my other promise. Go to the wise woman’s yurt, and Nibani Maesa shall examine you, and test you against the Nerevarine prophecies.”
“Thank you,” Fen said, and they left the yurt. “Here,” she said to Julan, pulling off the Bonebiter Bow and holding it out to Julan.
“What? But this is yours! You earned it!”
“You earned it just as much,” Fen answered. “Besides, I can’t shoot a wall if it’s right in front of me. It’ll be better off in your hands.” Julan took the bow with a kind of veneration. He pulled off the shoddy chitin bow he had been using and dropped it unceremoniously on the ground, replacing it with Sul-Senipul’s. “Now, do you know which one is the Wise Woman’s yurt?” Fen asked, glancing around the camp. The ashstorm had clearly hit and passed while they were in the burial caverns, and the sky was a weak, ashy brown now, the remnants of the storm hanging limply in the air.
“The big one with the rug outside,” Julan said, pointing, and they paused outside.
“Can we just go in?” Fen asked nervously.
“The ashkhan invited you,” Julan said simply, so Fen anxiously drew back the flap and doubled over to enter.
Nibani Maesa was a small Dunmer woman in stature, but her presence seemed to flood the wide yurt. She wore a simple robe of tanned guar hide and wore her snowy white hair in two braids on either side of her face. She looked young, but there was a knowing in her face that made it clear she had seen well beyond her years. She looked up as they entered, for she had been sitting cross-legged before the fire in the center of the yurt shifting a plate of bones around on her lap.
“So.” She set the plate down and stood up, coming over to them. Fen felt a chill race up her spine as the Wise Woman’s penetrating gaze passed over her. “They’ve told me of you, Outlander. Or, shall I say, Clanfriend. You are hard-headed. And ignorant. But perhaps it is not your fault. My lord ashkhan says you will ask me about the Nerevarine prophecies. He also says I will test you against the Nerevarine prophecies. I must do as my lord ashkhan says. So ask your questions, and I will test you.” She spared a brief, heavy glance at Julan, which made him shrink back slightly, then went to a crate and took out two large square cushions, which she laid down beside the round one she had been sitting at.
“There are many Nerevarine prophecies, and they suggest many things,” Nibani Maesa said as Julan and Fen sat down. The Wise Woman picked up a clay kettle on a table and filled the cooking pot with water. “Aspect and uncertain parents. The moon-and-star. Sleepers. Seven curses. The curses’ bane. The prophecy of the Stranger. The prophecy of the Seven Visions. The lost prophecies.” She sat back on her cushion, setting the kettle down, and studied Fen with her dark, probing eyes. “I am the wise woman. Ask your questions. And I will answer.”
“What is ‘aspect and uncertain parents’?” Fen asked.
“Tell me, Clanfriend, do you know your parents?”
“My father…” Fen paused. Speaking of Helseth was painful still. “I do not speak to my father anymore. And my mother…” Fen thought back. She had always been told that her mother was a minstrel’s daughter. But who had told her that? Her nurse-mary, her chambermaid, her father. People that had always lied to her. And when she had asked her grandmother, Barenziah had shaken her head. “I don’t know who my mother was.”
“If what you say is true, you are indeed born on a certain day of uncertain parents. This is part of the prophecy. But many have the same birthday, and many are not sure of their parents. It is interesting. But it does not make you the Nerevarine.”
“Then what is the moon-and-star?” The phrase sounded familiar to her, like a song one might know from childhood but had since long forgotten the verses.
“Legend says Indoril Nerevar’s family standard bore the moon and star, and Nerevar’s armor and weapons bore this sign. Some say he bore a moon-and-star birthmark. Some say he has a magic ring marked with a moon-and-star. Others say he was born under a moon-and-star. In any case, I think the moon-and-star is the mark of the Nerevarine, and you do not have this mark. So you are not the Nerevarine.” Fen immediately felt relieved. She knew there hadn’t been much of a chance of her fulfilling the prophecy, and she was glad that the burden of Morrowind was not for her shoulders to bear.
“You mentioned Sleepers,” she continued, knowing Caius would still want information. “What are they?”
“Rumors say that in the towns, mad cultists called ‘sleepers’ are attacking people, saying that Dagoth Ur has awakened, and will drive the outlanders from Morrowind. Perhaps it is just a coincidence. But I think it is a sign of the Nerevarine. Not necessarily a sign that you are the Nerevarine,” Nibani added pointedly, removing the kettle from the fire as steam began to pour from its mouth. She made a fluid motion and three clay mugs rose up from the table and drifted over to her. “Perhaps the time of the Nerevarine has come. And you have come at the same time. This is not passing a test,” she continued, pouring hot water into the mugs and crushing tea leaves into each one. “But it may mean you have some part to play in the coming of the Nerevarine.”
“So these people have gone mad?” Fen asked, accepting a clay mug from Nibani as Julan did the same.
“Yes,” Nibani answered. “Their minds have been twisted by Dagoth Ur’s tricks, and they do not know what they are saying.”
“But they know my name,” Fen said suddenly, remembering the man in the green robe and the old woman in Vivec. Julan shot her a sideways glance. “They’ve spoken to me. How do they know who I am?”
“Perhaps Dagoth Ur has placed your name in their heads and sent them to find you. This could mean that you are the Nerevarine. It could mean that you are not.” She didn’t seem to want to elaborate from this cryptic statement, so Fen went on.
“What are the Seven Curses?”
“It is another Ashlander prophecy of the Nerevarine. It is called ‘The Seven Curses of the Sharmat.’ But I do not know it, and I know no one who does. It may be lost. Such things happen. A wise woman dies, or forgets, or a clan is wiped out. Perhaps someone knows, but is keeping it secret. Perhaps it is in one of those many books of your settled peoples. I have heard that the Dissident priests of the Temple may have such books.”
“And the Stranger?” Nibani smiled knowingly, an expression that seemed out of place on her lips, and closed her eyes.
“This is the best known of the Nerevarine prophecies. We call it The Stranger:

“When earth is sundered
And skies choked black
And Sleepers serve the Seven Curses
To the hearth there comes a Stranger
Journeyed far ‘neath Moon and Star.

Though stark-born to sire uncertain
His aspects mark his certain fate.
Wicked stalk him, righteous curse him,
Prophets speak, but all deny.

Many trials make manifest
The Stranger’s fate, the Curse’s bane
Many touchstones try the Stranger
Many fall, but one remains.

There was silence for a long time while Nibani sat poised with her eyes closed and all that could be heard were the cracking of the flames. Nibani’s voice echoed in Fen’s mind. Many fall, but one remains.
“What does it mean?” Fen asked when Nibani had opened her eyes again.
“I am not sure. Urshilaku children can recite it by heart. It has been in our tribe for centuries. But wise women are unsure of its meaning.” Fen was reluctant to move on from the cryptic verse, but it was clear the Wise Woman had nothing more to say concerning it.
“What about the Seven Visions?”
“The full title of the prophecy is ‘Seven Visions of Seven Trials of the Incarnate’. Listen, and I will tell you the verses:

Seven trials
What he puts his hand to, that shall be done.
What is left undone, that shall be done.

First trial
On a certain day to uncertain parents
Incarnate moon and star reborn.

Second trial
Neither blight nor age can harm him.
The Curse-of-Flesh before him flies.

Third trial
In caverns dark Azura's eye sees
and makes to shine the moon and star.

Fourth trial
A stranger's voice unites the Houses.
Three Halls call him Hortator.

Fifth trial
A stranger's hand unites the Velothi.
Four Tribes call him Nerevarine.

Sixth trial
He honors blood of the tribe unmourned.
He eats their sin, and is reborn.

Seventh trial
His mercy frees the cursed false gods,
Binds the broken, redeems the mad.

One destiny
He speaks the law for Veloth's people.
He speaks for their land, and names them great.

“What does this prophecy mean? It tells us who the Nerevarine will be, and the trials he must undergo before he fulfills his destiny. Some parts I understand. Some parts I do not. But I cannot pretend to understand it all.
“The Incarnate cannot fail,” Nibani continued, her voice sharp with sudden severity. “What others have tried, he will do. What Nerevar started, the Incarnate shall finish. That is what the ‘Seven Trials’ verse says. The first trial refers to your birthsign –  to your birth on a certain day to uncertain parents, just like in the Stranger prophecy. I am not sure what the Second Trial means. Will the Nerevarine come as a spirit who is not harmed by blight or age? I don't know. But I think Curse-of-Flesh means the blight disease corprus, which causes terrible, distorted growths on its victims. Perhaps the Nerevarine can heal this disease. Perhaps that will be a sign of the Nerevarine.”
“And the Third Trial? The caverns of Azura’s eyes?” Nibani fixed her with an odd stare whose meaning she could not read.
“In legend there is a shrine to Azura called the Cavern of the Incarnate. There are secrets I may not tell you about this cavern. Do not ask.” Nibani paused and moved her hand again – this time a thin, dust-coated book rose from an open chest and drifted over. The Wise Woman opened it to a certain page and held it out for Fen and Julan to see – the page was a crude drawing of a figure raising a sword before an enormous group of people. Banners stuck out from the crowd, bearing different Daedric letters.
“Now, the Fourth Trial. A ‘Hortator’ is a war-leader chosen when Dunmer great houses must put aside their normal feuds to unite against a common enemy. This has not happened since the Empire invaded our land,” she said, nodding to the drawing. She closed the book and set it carefully aside. “And the Fifth Trial. The Ashlanders are sometimes called the Velothi, for the prophet Veloth who guided us to this land many, many centuries ago. And the Four Tribes are the four tribes of Vvardenfell, the Urshilaku, the Ahemmusa, the Zainab, and the Erabenimsun. It would truly be a miracle to unite these four tribes who have so long raided and warred with one another. But the Nerevarine must be one who performs miracles.
“I am not sure what the Sixth Trial means. ‘The tribe unmourned’ may mean the Sixth House, House Dagoth, which was exterminated after the Battle of Red Mountain. But it may also mean the Dwemer, or the Dwarves, as Westerners call them. And ‘eating sin’ is doing atonement for another’s sin.
“And the Seventh Trial. ‘The cursed false gods’ must be the Tribunal. They are surely false gods, evil sorcerers and necromancers, and they murdered Nerevar so they might set themselves up as gods. ‘Binds the broken’ must refer to Nerevar’s broken promise to the Ashlanders to honor the ways of the Spirits and rights of the Land.
“The ‘One Destiny verse says this: Veloth’s people are the Dunmer, all Dunmer, Ashlander and Great House. The last time the Velothi were united were with Nerevar at the Battle of Red Mountain. Now Nerevar will come once again and unite the Dunmer. He will restore Morrowind to the Dunmer, and restore the former greatness of the Velothi people. That is all I know of the Seven Visions.”
“And what of the Lost Prophecies?”
“We do not have every prophecy concerting the Nerevarine,” Nibani said, a touch of unhappiness in her otherwise unwavering voice. “There are many more, but the words have not been known for many years. The Seven Curses. And others. Some are forgotten. Some hidden. Some deliberately lost. The wise women are the memory of the Velothi people. But it is a faulty memory, and we are mortal, and our knowledge dies with us. But we hear that the Dissident Priests of the Temple study our Nerevarine prophecies, and record them in books. Such written words never die. You must go to them and ask for these books, and bring what you find to me.
“Now, Clanfriend, I am sure you wish to know: do I pass the test?” She smiled and set her teacup down. “Ask, friend, and I will tell you.” For a moment, there was silence, save for the flames crackling gently. Then Fen cleared her throat.
“Do – Do I pass the test?”
“You are not the Nerevarine,” she said simply, and Fen felt the sense of relief again. “You are one who may become the Nerevarine.” At this, something flipped over in her stomach – she couldn’t tell if it was surprise or dread. “It is a puzzle, and a hard one. But you have found some of the pieces, and you may find more. Do you choose to be the Nerevarine? Then seek the lost prophecies among the Dissident priests of the Temple. Find the lost prophecies, bring them to me, and I will be your guide. And take these copies of the Stranger and the Seven Visions,” she added, opening the book again and extracting two grubby sheets of parchment, which she handed to Fen. “Now. I have told you all I know. Go. Think on what I’ve told you. And do what must be done.” Wordlessly, Nibani Maesa stood up and went to the tent flap, holding it open for them to leave.
“So Nibani says you aren’t the Nerevarine!” Julan said brightly as they came back outside. Night had fallen thickly while they were inside, and the camp was dark and quiet. “No surprises there. Shall we get back to adventuring?”
“She said I’m not the Nerevarine, but I could become the Nerevarine,” Fen muttered, taking out the rolled-up tent and walking to an empty spot beside another yurt. “Odd.”
“Well, that doesn’t really mean anything,” Julan said quickly as Fen unrolled the tent and stood back. She cast a simple spell and the tent raised itself up, rather clumsily. “The way these prophecies work, anyone who fits the description could be the Incarnate in theory, but only one person will actually achieve it,” Julan told her earnestly, bobbing behind her as she finished the spell. “That’s how we have failed Incarnates. Like the verse said, ‘many fall but one remains.’”
“Maybe the lost prophecies could tell me more,” Fen muttered to herself, ducking down and entering the tent, Julan close behind her.
“Oh, they probably don't even exist. It’s a waste of time. Can’t we just go and do some guild jobs or something?”
“But don’t you want to know what the lost prophecies say?” Fen asked, kneeling down and lighting the firepit in the middle of the tent. It flared into life and the tent was bathed in a cozy yellow glow. “They might help you figure out what you need to do next.”
“Hmm...that’s a good point! And now that I think about it...” A slow smile crept over Julan’s face. “You pretending to be the Nerevarine might not be such a bad thing!” Fen opened a basket in the corner and found an extra bedroll, which she tossed to Julan.
“What does that mean?” she asked warily.
“It means that the Temple and everyone else will be focusing on you as the Incarnate, and assuming I’m just a companion, when it’s actually the other way around!”
“Oh, so I get to be your decoy?” Fen said dryly as Julan sat down on the bedroll and pulled off his boots.
“Oh, don’t be like that. We make a good team, don’t we? This is going to be great, you’ll see! Is there any food in there?” Fen cast him an exasperated glance and reached for a wicker basket.

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