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Saturday, May 28, 2011

XXIX - House Telvanni

Fen had, thankfully, experienced little interaction with the Telvanni during her time on Vvardenfell. The ancient and profane wizards made her nervous, for she knew that they had reputations of being less than stable. Now she only felt a fraction more confident as she and Julan teleported into the Mages’ Guild near Sadrith Mora and walked into the Telvanni town under a white sun in a stoneflower-blue sky.
The Telvanni style of housing had always mystified Fen. Their homes were built inside of enormous, squat mushrooms whose long bark-coated trunks wound around the perimeters of Sadrith Mora like a fence. She knew it had something to do with using a powerful Daedra soul to rapidly grow the mushrooms, but they still made her uneasy. Perhaps it was her position as leader of the Mages Guild, but being in a town surrounded by the stale-smelling spore houses made her feel slightly sick.
They pushed through the main street, making their way toward the enormous tower of Tel Naga that dominated Sadrith Mora from its lofty position on a hilltop. Councilor Neloth was in charge of Sadrith Mora, and Fen knew little about him. She mostly hoped to avoid a confrontation, and she made sure that both she and Julan were armed with their hospitality papers (documents that allowed them to be catered to services in Telvanni settlements) before starting up the steep road to Tel Naga.
The tower was composed of a single mushroom of monstrous proportions, turreted with smaller point-tipped growths and anchored to the ground by roots that were as thick as a tree trunk and dove in and out of the soil around the tower. They had been carved into a decorative circle over the entrance to the tower, a root whose top had been sliced off to form a flat, yet slightly spongy ramp up to the small circular door. Fen pushed open the door and they found themselves on a platform overlooking a large square room. The walls were muddy brown and carved into intricate patterns, heavily graphitized wooden pillars running straight up into the springy-looking yellow ceiling. The soft flesh of the mushroom on the floor had been smashed down and hardened, forming a crust underfoot as Fen and Julan stepped off the set of spiraling stairs and onto the floor of the hall. A Dunmer man in a richly embroidered blue robe stepped toward them out of nowhere, looking cross.
“You two appear to be lost.”
“We need to speak with Councilor Neloth,” Fen said. The Dunmer narrowed his eyes.
“It seems a great deal of people want to speak with the Master these days,” he said harshly. Fen frowned.
“I’m afraid it’s rather urgent, so if you would kindly direct us to his quarters, we would be most appreciative.” They glared steadily at one another for a beat.
“Master Neloth is out,” the Dunmer said, turning his back on them and starting towards a small circular doorway. “You’ll have to come back later.”
“When will he be back?” The man paused.
“The Master does not share every detail of his schedule with me,” he answered. He turned back to glare at them again. “Now I suggest you make yourselves scarce. If I see you in here again I’ll have you removed.” With that, the Dunmer turned and went regally down the hall and out of sight.
“Come on,” Julan muttered, but Fen stopped him.
“I have a feeling Master Neloth is here,” she whispered, looking around the great hall. “We just have to find him without getting caught.”
“What makes you think that?” Julan asked, looking exasperated.
“Call it a gut feeling,” Fen answered, stepping away from him and raising her eyes. The Telvanni, as she remembered, were fond of using flight to get to the upper reaches of their towers. Sure enough, there was a round door and a ledge up near the ceiling, with no conceivable way to reach it. “Let’s go before he comes back,” she suggested, and they levitated easily up to the ledge. Through the door, they were immediately faced with a narrow tube that moved straight upwards. Fen went first, floating up the vertical tunnel and landing easily in the hallway above.
“Don’t lose your temper,” she muttered as Julan dropped to his feet beside her.
“Only if he refuses you.” Fen shot him a furious look and he wilted slightly. “It was a joke, gods…” It didn’t take them long to find Master Neloth, sitting in a chamber surrounded by huge, pulsating crystals. His chair stood on a raised dais and he sat reading a letter, his chin propped on his elbow, dark shadows under his eyes. His face contrasted fiercely with the dazzling gold robe he wore. An attendant bobbed eagerly at Neloth’s side, waiting with a huge stack of parchment. As they entered, Neloth sighed heavily, passed the letter to the attendant, and picked a new one from the stack. As he started to unfold it, he paused, catching sight of Fen and Julan in the doorway.
“No petitioners today!” the attendant said gleefully, starting to hurry forward and tripping on a root, sending his papers cartwheeling through the air. “Oh! So sorry, Master, so sorry!” he bumbled, hurrying to snatch up all the papers.
“It’s fine, Veras,” Neloth said in a strained tone. He lowered the parchment and raised his thickly arched eyebrows at Fen and Julan. “I specifically asked the guards to remove any visitors I might have today.”
“I apologize, serjo,” Fen said, dipping her head. “But the business I have with you is most urgent.”
“You and every other person in Nirn,” Neloth grumbled, leaning back in his chair and curling his hands around the arms. “I have been alive for over five thousand years, girl, far more than most Dunmer men of Morrowind. I haven’t time to deal with trifles.”
“My name is Fen, serjo,” she said, raising her hand to show him Moon-and-Star. “And I wish to be named Hortator of the Telvanni.” Neloth rolled his eyes.
“Hortator? War leader of House Telvanni? Is that necessary?” He sighed heavily. “Get me some wine, Veras. Why doesn’t anyone tell me about these things?” Veras dropped his papers again and hurried away. Neloth narrowed his eyes. “So. Do you want the job? Are you qualified?”
“I like to believe so, serjo.”
“Good. Then go ahead. I don’t care. Be the Hortator. Now go away.” Amazed at her luck, Fen led the way down the tunnel and back outside.
“That wasn’t too hard,” Julan mused as they started back down the hill. “Maybe they’ll all be like that.”
“That would make my life much easier, wouldn’t it?” Fen said as they joined the moving crowd on the main street. She grabbed Julan’s arm so they wouldn’t be separated and wove through the throng toward the docks.
“They didn’t give us one of those Rainbow Books,” he said as they went to buy passage on one of the ships. “How do we know what councilors to talk to?”
“There are five major Telvanni settlements,” Fen said, handing a few gold pieces to the shipmaster. “Vos, Tel Mora, Tel Aruhn, Sadrith Mora, and Tel Branora. There are five councilors, and they each occupy one of the cities. I think I remember hearing that the one in Tel Mora is called Dratha, but I don’t know any of the others.”
“Vos is Aryon,” Julan remembered suddenly. “They always used to complain about how soft he was up in the Varo Tradehouse. Maybe that means he’ll be easier to convince.”
“Let’s hope,” Fen replied as the last few passengers to Tel Mora came aboard and the ramp was lifted. The voyage up the coast of Vvardenfell to Tel Mora was only a few hours, and soon they had reached the settlement, which was considerably smaller than Sadrith Mora. The tower shot up right on the coast, with other mushroom houses growing out of the water around it. As Fen and Julan stepped off the dock, she noticed a tall Dunmer woman wearing sailing pants and a leather cuirass glaring in their direction, her hand on the hilt of her sword. She glanced the other way and saw a female guard in Dwemer boots gazing at them with a similar venom.
“Friendly bunch,” Julan muttered, and they mounted the stairs that led off the docks and into the shadow of the tower. As Fen looked around, she noticed that all the people in Tel Mora seemed to be women, and they all seemed to be giving them narrow-eyed looks as they passed. One Bosmer woman carrying several bolts of cloth even deliberately slammed her shoulder into Julan, sending him sprawling to the ground.
“What the hell is wrong with people here?” he said furiously, scrambling to his feet.
“I don’t think it’s them,” Fen said, glancing around again. “It’s you.”
Me?” he repeated incredulously. “I didn’t do anything!”
“It ‘s because you’re a man,” Fen replied.
“Julan, open your eyes!” she hissed. “They’re all looking daggers at you!” She pulled him into a small niche off of the main path. “Why don’t you water walk across the channel to Vos and I can meet you there after I talk to Dratha? I don’t want you getting into any trouble.”
“No way,” Julan said instantly. “I’m not leaving you to deal with these crazy wizards on your own. I’m coming with you.” Fen could see there was no point in arguing with him.
“Fine,” she answered. “But let me do the talking, all right?” They climbed the tower, passing several guards, all of whom were female. Inside, it was much like the tower of Tel Naga in d├ęcor, but filled with only women advisors. No one interrupted them, however, as they levitated up into the lavish chamber where Mistress Dratha was writing in an enormous leather-bound book.
Dratha was tiny, quite possibly the smallest Dunmer Fen had ever seen. Her feet barely scraped the carpet and her hands were about a fourth of the size of Fen’s. A pile of thinning white hair sat messily atop her head, pinned up in a dozen different places with loose wisps hanging down around her face, which was shriveled and tiny. It reminded Fen of the apples that used to grow on a tree in the Palace Courtyard that her nurse-mary would never let her eat because they were so wrinkled and spotted.
When they entered, Dratha set down the quill – which looked like it was longer than her arm – and looked up at them, her eyes hidden under her folds of translucent skin.
“Who are you?” she snapped in a surprisingly strong voice.
“My name is Fen, sera, and this is my companion, Julan.” Dratha pushed away from the table and got to her feet. She looked like she barely came up to Julan’s chest.
“Why do you travel with a man?” Dratha snapped, shuffling over to them. She prodded Julan sharply in the stomach and he leaped back. “You think you aren’t good enough? You have to have him with you to get by in this world? Is that what you think, girl?”
“Oh, no…um…not at all,” Fen said quickly, glancing at Julan for help.
“Fen’s a much better fighter than me,” he added. “She –”
“He’s my slave,” Fen cut Julan off. “Still – um – learning not to talk out of turn.” She stepped sharply on Julan’s foot.
“Ow! Fen, what –”
“Quiet!” Fen commanded, and Julan stared at her. “Or I’ll send you outside to wait.” She looked back at Dratha, who was watching with a grin of approval.
“Good to see women actually taking a stand for themselves!” Dratha said, clapping her gnarled hands together. “Good, good, good. Now, your name is Fen? What do you want?”
“I wish to be named Hortator of the Telvanni,” she replied simply. Dratha smiled knowingly.
“So there’s something to those old prophecies after all,” she said quietly. “I shouldn’t wonder. Pig-headed Battlemages don’t pay attention to Lady Azura’s portents as they should. And you are the foretold Nerevarine?”
“I am.”
“Well, then.” Dratha hobbled over to her desk and pulled out four scrolls, which were huge in her arms. “You shall be our Hortator. You have my vote. And my blessing. And these scrolls.” Dratha dumped the scrolls into Fen’s arms. “They will come in handy where you’re going.”
“Thank you,” Fen said gratefully, packing them away.
“It is good to see Nerevar coming back as a woman,” Dratha said, patting Fen’s arm in a grandmotherly fashion. “And I’m too old to die. I’d like it if Morrowind was left the way it was.” She glared at Julan, her eyes hard. “And you. You listen to your mistress, you do what she tells you.” With that, Dratha shuffled back to her desk, climbed into the chair, and picked up the huge quill to resume her writing. She said nothing more, so Fen took this as her cue to leave.
“So I’m your slave now?” Julan grumbled as they exited the tower.
“It worked, didn’t it?” Fen said cheerfully. The Fourth and Fifth Trials seemed like they would be much easier to finish with two fifths of House Telvanni on her side in one day.
They water-walked across the channel to Vos, where Aryon’s tower grew around an Imperial-style fort, the long tendrils curled around the stonework in intricate fashions. Aryon, a modest, kind-faced man, listened to Fen’s request thoughtfully.
“Yes, I understand,” he said when Fen had finished her story. “You are willing to take the responsibility, and I am willing to vote for you as Hortator. I think the other Telvanni councilors will also cooperate, though some might need a little persuading. Archmagister Gothren is a problem. He will not refuse you directly, but will delay indefinitely. I recommend that you to kill Archmagister Gothren.”
“Kill him?” Fen had not expected Aryon to suggest murder so simply.
“Archmagister Gothren never directly refuses requests; he just delays indefinitely, never giving an answer. I don’t know of any solution, other than killing Gothren. I’ll tell you plainly. I stand to gain if Archmagister Gothren dies. I say this so you won’t think I’m trying to trick you. My advice is still good. Gothren won’t name you Hortator, but he’ll never come out and say so. And in House Telvanni it is customary to settle disputes in this manner.” Aryon stood up. “When I was a representative, my councilor was the old Archmagister. Upon his death, he gave me the Robe of the Hortator to keep. It is the sign that the Telvanni have given you their support, and if you win all the councilors’ support, I will bestow it to you.”
By the time they left Tel Vos, it was growing exceedingly late. Julan wanted to stay the night at the Ahemmusa Camp, but Fen was exhausted and managed to convince him to sleep in the Varo Tradehouse. She rented them two rooms and went straight to bed, though she found it impossible to sleep. If all went well, she would be named the Telvanni Hortator the next day. And after that…she would meet with the Archcanon of the Temple. She held Moon-and-Star up above her, running a finger along the curve of the crescent. Nibani Maesa had said, all those months ago, that Fen was not the Nerevarine. That she could become the Nerevarine…She let her hand drop.
Have I become the Nerevarine yet? she wondered to herself, and soon her eyes had fallen closed.

* * *
Guess who's in Solstheim?

I expect to finish writing the Bloodmoon segment near the end of the summer, and it will probably start going up mid-December. I am enjoying it so far, and I hope you will too :)


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