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Saturday, October 22, 2011

IV - Temple Informant

“This is perfect, Princess,” Delitian said as she handed him the folded copy of The Common Tongue. “Just what we needed to sort out these rumours.”
“They are just rumours then?” Fen asked suspiciously. “There’s no truth to them?”
“None at all,” Delitian replied dismissively, tucking The Common Tongue into his belt. Fen could help but feel as if she had betrayed the greater population of Mournhold as he did so. “Well done. I’ll mention your loyal services and exceptional qualities to King Helseth.” Fen shot him an urgent look. “As an anonymous aid,” Delitian added quickly. “I assure, you the King knows nothing of your being here, Princess. And I think we might find you further employment. For example, we lack sources of information in Almalexia’s Temple. Could you help me find a Temple informant?” Fen smiled wanly.
“The Temple doesn’t think much of me these days,” she told him.
“Well, we need a source of information inside it. There are rumors of discontent in the Temple. Go to Almalexia’s Temple. Look for someone discontented. Listen sympathetically,” he said simply. “And find out whether the Temple is willing to accept King Helseth – or whether the Temple plans to act against him.”
“Was my father faithful to the Tribunal?”
“Of course he was, Delitian said again, and his dismissive tone irritated Fen. “Can you help us?”
“I’ll take care of it.”
“Good,” Delitian said, going to the door that led to the throne room. “When you’ve done that, find a pageboy and send for me. I don’t think it would be wise for you to stride into your father’s midst.” Fen agreed and left into the sunny Palace Courtyard, where she found Julan leaning against a pillar looking exhausted.
“Woken up, have you?” she asked, and Julan shot her a tired glare.
“I’m a celebrity in Mournhold,” he said defensively. “I can’t help it if my fans want to buy me drinks.”
“I don’t think those girls were buying you drinks because of your performance,” Fen muttered, starting across the courtyard to the entrance to the Temple. The Temple Courtyard was significantly less crowded than the Plaza Brindisi Dorum, as it often was. The Temple itself, standing on a raised platform in the centre of the district, dominated most of the space, casting a shadow over the gardens surrounding it with its long, twisting spires and elegant terraces. Fen had only visited the Temple a few times – she could never remember going regularly to worship there. She had grown up visiting the private shrine to the Tribunal with her grandmother every Sundas.
She and Julan climbed the wide stairs up to the door, where they were met by a middle-aged Dunmer woman in a robe decorated with words of prayer.
“Give to the Temple, and receive the blessings of Almalexia,” she said, hailing them. “Our wealth dies with us, my child, but our good deeds outlive us all. Would you care to make a donation to the Temple, and receive the blessings of the Lady of Mercy?” Fen handed her a few coins.
“For the Temple, then, mehra.”
“Thank you, my child,” she said, taking Fen’s coins gratefully.
“Mehra, what will Almalexia do with that money?”
“Almalexia watches over all Her children – the sick, the needy, the poor. Well...not actually in person. She used to...in person, you know. But She’s made no public appearance for years, so the Temple takes care of Her children for Her. That’s what the money goes for, child.”
“She used to appear in public?” Fen had always remembered Almalexia being some cloistered being, not quite real, hiding in seclusion but watching over the city from her chapel.
“You know about Almsivi, the Living Gods of our Temple?” Fen nodded, deciding not to mention that they were no longer divine. “Gods, but at the same time, living folks like you and me. Almalexia, the Lady of Mercy, walked the streets of Mournhold Herself, healed the sick, fed the poor – gave them clothes from Her own hand. The same with Lord Vivec. Then, ten years ago, about the time of the Ghostfence, They stopped appearing in public – needed all Almsivi’s power for the Ghostfence, They said. High priests still talk with Them, but we don’t see Them.”
“Thank you, mehra,” Fen said, and the priestess nodded and slipped away to go speak to another traveler.
“I hate the crazy Temple priests,” Julan said angrily. “Even after you expose the Tribunal’s lies, Fen, these people are still running about like the living gods are the best things that’s ever happened to Tamriel.”
“They weren’t always bad,” Fen muttered, leading the way towards the enormous front door of the Temple.
“Wait a minute,” Julan said suddenly. “I just thought of something. Almalexia was Nerevar’s wife, right? And you’re the reincarnation of Nerevar. So you’re married to Almalexia!” Julan doubled over in sudden laughter and Fen rolled her eyes as she pushed open the door. Julan’s laughing stopped abruptly as they entered the high-ceilinged reception hall on the Temple, where several people walked about on shining marble floors, going quietly about their business. Directly across the room from them, a set of colossal double doors led to Almalexia’s High Chapel, where no one could enter unless summoned by her. Fen decided it wouldn’t be a good idea to ask about discontent in the front room of the Temple, as there were several High Ordinators about, so she and Julan went down a long, twisting hallway toward the infirmary.
“…and just leave it exposed for two or three days, and it should heal nicely,” someone was saying from down the hall. “There. That’s it. Come see me again if the swelling starts back up.” Someone uttered a gruff thanks, then a Dunmer man with a half-healed wound exited a room and passed them, going the opposite way down the hall. Fen and Julan entered the room he had come from, where a tall, strong-faced Dunmer woman in a simple blue robe was putting away bottles in a cabinet. A High Ordinator lurked near the beds at the back of the infirmary.
“Good morning,” she said, smiling at Fen and Julan as they entered. “How can I help you?” Before Fen could speak, the woman’s eyes darkened. “Oh….the Nerevarine. In Mournhold. How interesting.” She turned sharply back to her work and the High Ordinator tensed slightly.
“Sera, I was wondering if you know my friend, Mehra Milo?” The woman stopped sorting potions, her back still towards Fen.
“Serjo, would you excuse us for a moment?” she asked without turning, and the High Ordinator gave Fen a dirty look and left the room. The healer turned as soon as he was gone and shut the door. “I didn’t realize you knew Mehra,” she said, locking it with a key from her pocket. “I am a faithful believer....but Almalexia makes me uneasy. For the last fifty years, the Tribunal stopped walking among us, stopped listening and speaking with us. This worried me, and made me sad. Were our gods abandoning us? Were they growing weak? But since Almalexia has lately come among us again, I feel more worry, not less. Her face glows brightly with hope and power, but her words seem dark and bitter.” Fen wasn’t sure how to reply at first, the woman’s outpouring of sudden bottled thoughts was so strong.
“Does she think Helseth to be a fool, then?” The healer’s eyes darkened.
“Helseth has murdered King Llethan and stolen his crown. It does not matter that King Llethan was a fool. He was our fool. So long as the puppet king was a joke, we all could laugh and ignore him. Helseth is not a fool, and no one is laughing. If Helseth seeks in earnest to be king, then Almalexia and the Temple are sworn in earnest to destroy him.” Fen looked uneasily at her, conflicted between her father’s desire to have her dead and her unconditional love for him.
“Thank you, then. For your help.” The woman nodded silently and unlocked the door, letting Fen and Julan out.
“I thought Mournhold was supposed to be the City of Love,” Julan mused as they left the Temple and exited into the bright, warm air. “Seems like nobody loves anyone else here.”
“Things are a bit disputed, yes,” Fen said distractedly, starting towards the Palace. “Julan, I feel awful helping Helseth. He tried to kill me. Twice.”
“Would helping the Tribunal feel better? They actually did kill you, remember.”
“I suppose,” Fen muttered, but it was still with some hesitation that she relayed the information to Delitian at the Palace.
“Galsa Andrano speaks her mind, and, from what you say, sounds sincere. You handled her well. The Temple seems to recognize that King Helseth will not be content to be a puppet like King Llethan, and plans to act against us. Very good work, Fen. Now you can help us with another matter. King Helseth is concerned about possible disloyalty among the Guards.”
“How long are you going to ask me to spy on the people of Mournhold for my father when he doesn’t even want me to be alive?” Delitian eyed her strongly.
“You wanted to help the King, and I am giving  you an outlet to do it without making yourself known to him.”
“Fine,” Fen replied, not in the mood to argue. “What do you want me to do?”
“I’ve replaced many of the former king’s guards with more reliable men, so very few will know of your identity. But I had to keep some experienced guards, and I can’t be certain of their loyalties. I will pretend you wish to join the Royal Guards. That’s your excuse for talking to the guards, sounding them out, and looking for evidence of disloyalty. If you find any hint of treason or evidence of disloyalty, report it to me. Take no action. Report to me, and I will judge what action is appropriate.”
“Is there anyone in particular to be looking for?” Fen asked. Delitian snorted.
“It’s your judgment I’m testing, not mine,” he said shortly. “Talk to them yourself. Form your own conclusions. And if people ask you about your background and qualifications, play the close-mouthed professional. Tell them to mind their own business. But I’ll let slip my concerns about you hiding close dealings with House Hlaalu in the past. Only a fool would share confidences with a stranger. But perhaps we are dealing with a fool.” Fen only nodded, her jaw clenched shut, and she and Julan exited the reception chamber.
“Who are we talking to first, then?” Julan asked, clapping his hands together.
“Who are you talking to first, you mean.” Julan cast a nervous glance at her.
“No one would believe that I want to join the Royal Guard, Julan. I practically smell like a spellcaster. And besides, you proved that you’re a top-notch actor already.”
“But I look like an Ashlander!” he protested. “I’ve gotten more strange looks here than I ever did in Vvardenfell!”
“Turn around,” Fen said, pulling a bit of twine out of her bag. Julan reluctantly complied, and she tied his hair back into a tiny knot at the back of his head.
“I feel like a woman,” he said as Fen tucked his hair up out of his face.
“But you don’t look like an Ashlander,” she replied simply. “And your name is Athaso Rindal, and I’m your sister Fedura. We’re from Balmora, and you’re looking to join the Royal Guard.”

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