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Saturday, May 14, 2011

XXVII - House Redoran (part 2)

They spent the rest of the morning visiting the rest of the manors under Skar. The councilors had all apparently gotten word of Fen from Athyn Sarethi already, and every one of them, to Fen’s immense relief, agreed to support her. She and Julan left Ald Skar just past noon to have lunch before going back to Venim Manor.
“They seemed to like you,” Julan said, picking up a bottle of Mazte and examining it with a shrug. He tried to pull the cork out, but seemed to be having trouble with the seal. “Sarethi must have a lot of influence.”
“Now I need to get Bolvyn Venim to like me,” Fen said distractedly, flipping through the Red Book of House Redoran for the fifth time. “I really don’t want to have to fight anyone for this.”
“Well,” Julan grunted, tugging on the cork still. “How hard can he be to fight? I mean –” Julan was now hitting the edge of the bottle against the table. “– you’ve fought crazy Sixth House beasts, and if House Redoran is too cowardly to go into that manor, it should be simple.” He smashed the bottle against the table, hard, and it cracked, sending shards of pottery everywhere. Julan quickly caught the flowing Mazte in his goblet as the barmaid cast him an irritated look and swept over with the dustpan.
“I don’t know,” Fen muttered, rereading Bolvyn Venim’s page again in the Red Book. “Something tells me it won’t be that easy.”
When they finished, they returned to Ald Skar, which was only slightly less crowded than it had been in the morning. Venim Manor was the manor just right of the entrance, though they still had to push through a good amount of people hurrying back and forth to get to it. This time, Julan accompanied Fen inside, and the guards in Dwemer armor all glared suspiciously at them.
“Excuse me,” Fen said, approaching the guard that looked least likely to want to run her through.
“Fen,” he growled at once. “False Incarnate. Agent of the Emperor. Outlaw. Unbeliever. House Redoran knows how to deal with outlanders like you.”
“Shut up, you –” Julan started.
“I need to speak with Bolvyn Venim, please,” Fen said coldly. The guard’s eyes narrowed, and for a moment he looked as if he was going to refuse her. But then he curtly pointed to a behind him and stalked away, still throwing filthy glances over his shoulder at them. Through it, they found an enormous chamber with a kind of platform at the back of it, preceded by a long set of stone stairs. Guards flanked the stairs, and they glared at Fen with a hatred she had never seen before. They found the platform was populated by small clusters of tables where finely-dressed Dunmer sat writing, stamping, and sealing their way through stacks of documents. At the back of the platform, a tall, lean Dunmer man wearing glossy black-and-gold ebony armor was speaking to a page, his back turned to Fen and Julan. The page nodded and left past Fen and Julan, and the man turned to watch him go.
Bolvyn Venim had a hard, sharp-featured face. There were faint lines foretelling his age, but they were offset by the fierce, downward eyebrows and a small patch of black hair under his equally black lips. His head was shaved bare save for a dark fringe that ran down to the nape of his neck, and his skin was crisscrossed with scars. When he saw Fen, his face twisted into a position of positive rage. A young woman hurried up to him holding a stack of papers and started to speak, but he slapped the papers out of her hands without looking at her and crossed the room in three long strides, leaving the woman to scramble after the parchment on the floor.
“You!” he spat, stopping and glaring down at Fen. She urged herself not to step back. “I know who you are!” Everyone had fallen silent, staring at them.
“And I know who you are, Serjo,” Fen said calmly.
“Do not be cheeky with me, outlander!” Venim shouted. “You’re Fen, that Imperial whelp that thinks you’re the Nerevarine!”
“If I could speak to you about that, Serjo –” Fen started, but Venim raised an ebony-gauntleted hand and slapped her fiercely across the face, making her stumble to the ground.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Julan shouted as Fen quickly got to her feet, her cheek throbbing and her vision swimming.
“Julan,” she muttered, stepping between him and Venim and quickly steadying herself. She looked up at Venim again, boldly, ignoring the throbbing in her cheek. “All the other Redoran councilors have agreed to name me Hortator,” she said firmly. “And you will not, I presume.”
“You’re damn right, outlander!” he snarled, raising a hand again, but Fen wordlessly summoned a shield around her and his hand bounced away with a hissing sound as if it had been burned. “You filthy sorcerer,” he hissed, clenching his injured hand.
“If you will not agree to name me Hortator, then duel me,” Fen told him.
“Duel you?” Venim gave a short, cruel laugh. “I could crush you with one blow, woman.”
“Then prove it.” For a moment, they glared at one another, the only sound coming from the humming of Fen’s shield charm.
“Fine,” he spat finally. “You have played your tricks with the other Councilors, but they will not work on me. This has gone far enough. If you are not a coward, as well as a fraud, I will put a stop to your ambitions at the Arena in Vivec. I will meet you there tomorrow by noon if you dare face me in a duel to the death.”
“Fine,” Fen returned sharply, and she turned her back and grabbed Julan’s arm to prevent him from leaping at Venim. She could feel the eyes of every person on the platform following them out.
“What an asshole,” Julan breathed as they came back out into Ald Skar. “You should have let me fight him, Fen.”
“In his own manor, surrounded by his guards?”
“I could have done him in. He hit you!”
“I have a feeling he’s going to try and do a lot worse than hit me in Vivec,” Fen muttered, gingerly touching her cheek. They returned to the Ald Skar Inn and ate in silence, after which Fen went straight to bed. Thankfully, she fell asleep easily and woke by nine the next morning.
Fen felt her heart pounding in her ears as she dressed. It felt reassuring to have the support of most of the Redoran councilors, but it would have been easier if she had the support of all of them.
She met Julan and they had a brief breakfast before taking the guild guide to Vivec, and from there, the gondola to the Arena canton.
“Julan,” Fen said nervously as they started up the ramp on the outside of the canton. “I don’t want you to help me.”
“What?!” Julan said incredulously, stopping in his tracks. The ramp was crowded with gamblers heading up to watch the upcoming match, and they shoved roughly around Julan until Fen pulled him to the side.
“The Redoran think very highly of honor. If you help me, the support I have from them will go out the window.”
“No, Fen,” he said at once, as she had thought he would. “No way.”
“What, you don’t think I can handle myself?” she said, forcing a smile.
“No! No of course not, I just –” Julan faltered. “Fine,” he sighed finally. “But if he’s about to kill you, don’t expect me to sit there and watch.”
“I’ll be fine,” Fen assured him, though she felt she was really trying to assure herself. “Absolutely fine.”
Inside the canton, Julan went up the stairs to the viewing gallery while Fen went down to the rooms for the fighters. Most matches in the Arena were conducted by the professional fighters here, but whenever the need should arise, its use was given to those who needed it. The workers seemed to be aware of the match between Fen and Venim, and they showed her the right door to enter through and briefly explained the rules to her.
“Ye all right?” a heavyset Nord waiting to open the door for her asked. “Ye look a bit peaky.”
“I’m fine,” Fen said unconvincingly, and he shrugged and checked his pocketwatch.
“Righ’ then. It’s time. Tear ‘em up.” He swung open the door and Fen walked slowly out into the Arena Pit, her stomach writhing. The pit was circular and high-walled. The stands overhead were crowded with spectators, and a chorus of shouting – whether it was praise or not, Fen couldn’t tell – met her ears. She anxiously scanned the crowd, looking for Julan, but there were too many dark-haired Dunmer men for her to be able to single one out.
Across the sand-filled pit, Bolvyn Venim stood before his door in his glossy ebony armor, a black longblade in his hand. When he saw Fen, he gave her a terrible, grisly smile and hoisted his longblade into both hands. The cheering of the crowd rose suddenly to a deafening roar. Fen closed her eyes, blocking out the noise and the fear and Venim’s smile and hearing nothing but the ticking of her grandmother’s locket against her chest. Time seemed to slow. Then Fen felt something, a force from deep within her, something that was powerful and convincing and could take down Bolvyn Venim with a single spell.
Fen opened her eyes.
The Arena pit was exactly how she had left it, the storm of people in the crowd and Venim’s slow smile on the other side. And then, as the bell rang for the battle to begin and the spectators screamed even louder, Fen ran forward to meet Venim, her face screwed up in concentration, a spell building on her fingertips –
She pressed her hand to Venim’s face, startling him and making him stumble as it took hold. She took this brief opportunity to try and knock the blade out of his hand, but he quickly recovered and swung it towards her. Fen ducked and fired an ice spell at him, but it bounced away and rocketed off towards the scorched walls of the Arena pit. Fen ducked under his blade again, thinking quickly. He didn’t have any shield spell, or it would be visible. So it had to be a sanctuary enchantment of some sort, ensuring that any targeted spells fired at him would have a greatly reduced chance of hitting him. Fen wracked her brains – she had studied sanctuary enchantments at some point. She summoned a Golden Saint to buy her time and backed off while the Saint parried with Venim, struggling to remember.
The laws of illusion magic say that no spell can physically alter anything. It can only alter perception of things. So if –
Fen’s train of thought was cut off as she felt a sudden, searing pain on her arm. She instinctively writhed away from the pain, gasping as she felt blood start to well up on her arm. It seemed she had taken a second too long to think, for Venim had rushed past the Golden Saint and straight towards her, sending up a spray of dirty sand behind him. Fen seized the Staff of Magnus from where it was strapped to her back and swung it over his head, surprising him. As he struggled to regain his footing, she quickly finished her thought.
So I’m only thinking that it would be harder to hit him because of the spell! Filled with new confidence from this realization, Fen concentrated with all her might on Venim as he raced towards her, his sword aloft, and fired a spell of God’s Fire straight at him.
The blast hit Venim squarely in the chest and Fen caught sight of his wide, surprised eyes for a fraction of a second until he was engulfed in the explosion. When the smoke cleared, Venim was flat on his back, breathing hard, his skin blackened and burned. Fen hurried over to him and knelt. He turned, glaring at her.
“Do you yield?” she said breathlessly, through the din of the crowd.
“I – will never yield – to you,” he panted, groaning and closing his eyes. Fen was about to put an end to him peacefully, but his hand suddenly lashed out and, before she realized what was happening, she had landed, hard, on her back, winded. The spectators were positively screaming now. Fen struggled to her feet and saw Venim standing a short distance away, a hole burned in his armor, and through it, his skin charred and disfigured. The black sword was clenched in one trembling hand. A small trickle of blood stained the corner of his mouth.
“Give up, outlander,” he shouted, his shoulders rising and falling heavily. He wiped one arm across his mouth, smearing the blood over his chin. “Give up and I won’t take your head as a trophy.” Fen didn’t have enough energy to use God’s Fire again, so she settled for a smaller, albeit powerful frost spell. As she cast it, Venim came sprinting forward, his eyes half mad, a deranged scream escaping his lips. But he stopped squarely as the ice spell struck him in the chest, and he faltered.
“If I was going to give up, I would have done it a long time ago,” Fen whispered, and she used a final drain health spell to topple him into the blood-stained sand.
There was a sudden, enormous roar from the crowd, and Fen looked up to see most of them on their feet. She glanced back down at Venim, then turned and went back to the door she had entered through. The heavyset Nord opened it for her, looking impressed.
“Ye’re free to take ‘is armor, if ye like,” he said. “Rules o’ the game.”
“Let his family have it,” Fen said as the door closed, shutting out the noise. “Leave him some bit of honor.” Fen emerged from the fighters rooms to find Julan arguing fiercely with the guard outside them.
“Fen!” he said brightly. “See, I do know her!” he added to the guard. “Gods, are you okay? That was incredible. I was about to come down there.”
“I handled it fine, didn’t I?” Fen said with a smile. “Kind of.”
“Bolvyn Venim is insane,” Julan said, shaking his head as they mounted the stairs to the upper canton. “Completely insane. Good fighter, though. Nothing compared to you, of course. Did you see when he did that dive?”
“Yes. I was fighting him, remember?” But Julan ignored her and plowed on.
“And the feint right before you snared him, that was incredible!” Julan continued to reminisce about the fight, but Fen let her mind wander. The elimination of Venim meant she had the support of House Redoran. So the only people left to convince would be House Telvanni and House Hlaalu. She was past the halfway point of the Fourth and Fifth Trials.
“Fen.” She looked up and, to her surprise, saw Athyn Sarethi standing there with Varvur and two Redoran guards.
“Councilor Sarethi,” she replied, a little surprised.
“Congratulations,” he said warmly. “We came to watch the match. I had a feeling you would turn out victorious. Now, the Council met last night, and we are in agreement. You are the Hortator of House Redoran. I hope you are as successful in persuading the rest of Morrowind to unite against Dagoth Ur and his blighted hosts.” He reached inside his robe and withdrew a small object wrapped in silk, which he handed to Fen. “On behalf of the house and council, take the Ring of the Hortator, a token of your office. By this ring others shall know you as our chosen champion.”
“Thank you,” Fen said, taking the ring carefully.
“I also have a sealed package for you,” Sarethi said, gesturing to one of the guards with him. The guard handed him an envelope and a public broadsheet. “I do not know what it contains, but I received it from a contact in the highest ranks of the Temple. My guess is that it has something to do with the Temple’s position on your claim to fulfill the Nerevarine prophecies. And here is a copy of a recent public notice identifying you as an Imperial agent. I am satisfied of your sincerity, but I warn you that others may not be so understanding.”
“Thank you,” Fen said again, accepting the documents. “So much. Really, Serjo, this is a great honor to me.”
“Then let us hope you will honor Morrowind in turn,” Sarethi said, smiling warmly. “Now, if you will excuse us, there is a council meeting soon that I must be back in time for. Varvur?”
“Just a moment, Father,” Varvur said, and he turned back to Fen. “Will you ever come back to Ald’ruhn?” he asked, oblivious to Julan standing there.
“Oh, um – perhaps. Maybe,” Fen stammered, thrown off by the question. Varvur smiled.
“Come visit me if you do,” he said, and he brushed his hand against Fen’s in a familiar way before departing after his father.
“What a fetcher!” Julan said as soon as they were out of earshot.
“He was just – being nice,” Fen muttered, flipping over the broadsheet.
“That fetcher –”
“Shut up a moment, would you?” Fen looked down at the broadsheet, emblazoned with the title WELL-BELOVED PEOPLE OF MORROWIND! TAKE HEED! TAKE WARNING!

The outlaw named Fen, stated trade of Mage, lately called 'Incarnate' and 'Nerevarine,' now is shown to the investigating Ordinators and Magistrates of this district to be an agent in the pay of the Imperial Intelligence Service. This outlaw's claims are false. The prophecies this outlaw cites are discredited. The dishonest character and base purposes of the outlaw in perpetrating this hoax are now made clear to all observers. Fen is sought for various crimes by Ordinators and town guards. Report all encounters with this outlaw to the proper authorities. If you see this outlaw in public, give the alarm.
Published by the authority of the Temple, the Order of the Watch, Magistrates of Vvardenfell District, under the signature and authority of Grandmaster Berel Sala, Captain of the Watch. Hear and Heed!

“I don’t believe this,” Fen muttered.
“What is it?” She handed the broadsheet to Julan, and he read it quickly, growing angrier with every word. “They want to arrest you because you’re telling the truth!” Julan snarled, handing her the broadsheet. She crumpled it into a ball and tossed it on the ground.
“It has some truth to it, I suppose,” she said, flipping over the envelope to read the front. To the Outlander lately proclaiming her identity as the Nerevarine, to be delivered with haste. Fen turned the letter over again and started to break the seal on the envelope. She noticed, as she did, the letters that the seal was stamped with.


A Daedric V, A, and S, clearly standing for Vivec, Almalexia, and Sotha Sil. The Tribunal. It was a message from the Temple.
“Come over here,” Fen muttered, and they stood in a small alcove out of the main part of the canton. She read the message out loud, quietly enough that it wouldn’t be heard by anyone in the main canton.

The assertions made being in direct contradiction of the doctrine of the Tribunal, namely, that you are the Nerevarine, the reincarnation of the Sainted Lord Nerevar, are, in addition to being against Temple teaching, incredible and implausible in the extreme.

The revelations made by the Inquisition, namely, that you yourself are in fact an agent of the Imperial Intelligence Service, otherwise known as the Order of Blades, lately made with substantial evidence by the Lord High Archordinator, Berel Sala, further calls into question the validity of and motivations behind your claims.

However, as incredible as your claims are, as much as they are in direct contradiction of the teachings of the Temple, and tainted as they are by the inferences to be made upon your close association with the covert policies and interests of the Emperor, the interests of the Temple and its leadership, and in particular, the interests of His Immortal Lordship, Vivec, are best served by a close and personal examinations of the claims being made, and close and personal examinations of the motivations and character of the claimant.

The Temple, through its examinations of its records, in particular, the records of the Heirographa and Apographa, is intimately familiar with the many and varied claims of signs and feats that would mark the Nerevarine according to prophecy.

Therefore, in the event of the fulfillment of certain of those most remarkable and scarcely credible claims – namely, that the claimant should, at one time, be the acknowledged holder of several ancient titles of power and authority of the Dunmer people, to whit, Hortator of the Great Houses and Nerevarine of the Ashlander tribes – the Temple proposes that the claimant of the identity of the Nerevarine shall present herself for inspection before his Reverend Honor, Archcanon Lord Tholer Saryoni, High Archcanon and Chancellor of Vivec, Archcanon of the Canonry of Vvardenfell, Arch-Priest of the High Fane, for a review and consideration of her claims and identity. However, until such time as the claimant actually has been named Hortator separately and jointly by the three Great Houses of Vvardenfell, and at the same time has been named Nerevarine separately and jointly by the four tribes of the Ashlanders, there is no purpose in reviewing or discussing these claims.

Because of the Temple's official position on the prophecies of the Nerevarine, and in the interests of preserving the security of the claimant from those parties who might wish to do her harm, it is convenient that the claimant of the title Nerevarine shall present herself in secret to Archcanon Saryoni in the archcanon's private quarters in the High Fane of Vivec.

To signify agreement with these terms and conditions for a meeting with the Archcanon, the Nerevarine claimant may present herself to the healer of the High Fane of Vivec, Danso Indules, and the necessary arrangements will be made. Once again, no purpose is served by a meeting until the claimant is named Hortator of the three Great Houses and is named Nerevarine of the four Ashlander tribes.

written at the request of and in the name of his Reverend Honor Tholer Saryoni, Archcanon and Chancellor of Vivec,

Dileno Lloran, priest of Vivec, assistant to the Archcanon

Fen lowered the letter slowly and leaned against the wall, closing her eyes. This was all moving far too quickly. The Temple knew that she had originally been employed under the Blades, and that was troubling. More troubling was the fact that the Archcanon of the Temple wanted to meet with her. Fen felt a sort of trepidation regarding the representative demi-god Vivec, for it was he who had helped murder Nerevar, and Nerevar’s soul that was in her body.
“Wait,” Fen heard Julan say. “So they want you to talk to the Archcanon? Is that it?”
“Only if I finish the Fourth and Fifth Trials,” Fen said slowly. She folded the letter and turned it over, running her fingers over the broken seal. “Come on. No point in worrying about it yet.” She tucked the letter away and they went back out into the hall, which had become crowded with people leaving the match. “Let’s take the guild guide back to Balmora,” she said, steering Julan out of the moving crowd and to the outer edge of the canton. “If the Ordinators are looking for me, I don’t want to be here longer than necessary.” She pulled the hood of her robe low over her face and let Julan go first as they headed for the gondola. Thankfully, they didn’t meet any Ordinators along the way.
Once they were in the guildhall, Fen pulled off the hood. Malven Romori, a Dunmer woman with short-cropped dark hair, was the only person in the foyer, and upon seeing Fen she gasped and hurried to bolt the door.
“Arch-Mage!” she said breathlessly, hurriedly taking Fen’s hand. “Thank Vehk that you are safe!”
“What’s happened?” Fen asked, frowning.
“There were Ordinators here just earlier in the day! They’re searching for you, Arch-Mage, they say you’re a heretic.”
“They didn’t hurt anyone, did they?”
“They bullied Sirilonwe a bit, but she’s fine.” Fen paused.
“There really is a warrant for my arrest, then?”
“Yes, Arch-Mage,” Malven said, leading Fen and Julan downstairs. “They’ve put leaflets in all over the city. You can’t go four paces without seeing one.” Malven hesitated as they came out of the stairwell. “Arch-Mage, they say that…they say that you claim you’re the Nerevarine.” Fen said nothing. “It isn’t true, we told them,” Malven prompted uncertainly. “We told them our Arch-Mage would never claim such outlandish tales.”
“Is the guild guide in?” Fen asked. Malven frowned.
“Yes, Arch Mage, just upstairs.” They left Malven hovering anxiously by the stairs and took the guild guide straight to Balmora, where Fen pulled her hood low over her face once more. The Hlaalu guards would be more merciful than Ordinators, but not by much.
Fen had not been inside the Balmora Council Manor since her first day in Vvardenfell, and all the painful details of the day came rushing back to her as they entered. She closed her eyes, remembering the aching feeling of emptiness that had gnawed at her stomach that day.
“Can I help you?” Fen opened her eyes to the tall, cruel-faced Dunmer woman that had stamped her papers on that first day. Evidently the woman did not recognize her, for she was glaring at Fen with the same cross expression she had worn all those months ago.
“I need to speak with the Hlaalu councilors,” Fen said, and the woman let out an irritated sigh and turned to cross the atrium. It wasn’t nearly as crammed with people as the Redoran Council Manor had been, but there were still a fair number of pages and councilmen about. The woman pulled a thick yellow volume from a shelf crowded with dusty books and thrust it at Fen.
“The most recent edition of the Yellow Book. Mind you put it back when you’ve finished with it.” She left Fen and Julan standing by the shelf and went back to her work.
“I feel like I’m going to slip over in here,” he whispered scathingly. “There’s practically slime all over the floor.”
“You don’t like any of the Great Houses, do you, Julan?” Fen hissed back, flipping to the back of the Yellow Book. She handed Julan an extra scrap of parchment and a quill and had him copy down the names of all the current councilors. When they finished, she slid the Yellow Book back onto the shelf and they left the Council Manor, where the streets were dark and the sky overhead was steel gray.
“I’m exhausted,” Fen said, slipping the parchment into her bag. “Let’s not start on the Hlaalu until morning.” Julan agreed, and they made their way out of the gathering darkness back to the guildhall.

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