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Saturday, December 3, 2011

VII - A Delicate Matter

Llethan Manor looked no different as it had the last time Fen had visited. It stood tall and lonely in the upperclass district of Godsreach, as if in defiance of the cheery, brightly-lit buildings that surrounded it. Its roseglass windows were dark and silent, and only a single lantern burned outside the door. The High Ordinators patrolling the cobbled streets shot them suspicious glances as they mounted the platform that led to the manor’s doorstep.
“I’ve already spoken with Ravani once, I can’t go in again,” Fen said, ducking behind a planter the size of two large men with Julan. She drew the Amulet of Shadows from her bag. “You’ll have to do it, pretend you’re there to pay your respects while I have a look around.”
“What do I saw to her?” Julan whispered as Fen slid the amulet around her neck and flickered out of visibility.
“Just make something up,” she muttered back. “You’ll be able to do that. You were a natural in the play.”
The Bosmer guard in bonemold let them through, and Ravani surveyed Julan cruelly, her black eyes scanning his face.
“What do you want?” she snapped darkly as the door swung shut behind Fen.
“I…just wanted to say how sorry I am for your loss,” Julan said quickly. Fen crept around the desk, quickly scanning the shelves for evidence.
“I don’t even know you. Why would you be sorry?”
“Um…my father was…friends with King Llethan.” Fen moved to the next shelf, having found nothing.
“Really? Because Athyn didn’t keep many friends. Mostly advisors.”
“They were friends at…school.”
“Athyn was privately educated.”
“Exactly! My father was – um – his tutor’s son. They were the same age.” Fen glanced around the room again. There was nothing on any of the shelves, and Julan wasn’t going to last much longer. She crossed silently behind Ravani’s chair and pushed open a door that led into a large storage room.
“What’s that?” Ravani said sharply, looking towards the door.
“Just – a draft, I’m sure,” Julan said quickly, oblivious to the fact that there were no windows in the room. Fen went to the back of the storage room, where there was a stained desk that had a few papers atop it. She picked up the topmost paper as Julan continued to occupy Ravani. The parchment was grubby and the ink looked cheap on the page. She held it close to her nose in the dark storage room and read quickly:

I cannot agree. I am a merchant, and have no skill at arms. You are a noble, and in your prime were proven on practice and tournament grounds -- though, in truth, you have never fought a duel, and have few gifts as a liar. No one can doubt Hloggar the Bloody's aptitude and enthusiasm for mayhem, but he is not a subtle man, more suited for a brawl or battlefield than an assassin's role.
And we cannot trust the Dark Brotherhood. Helseth owns them. They promise discretion, but their promises are worthless.
I am afraid we must approach the Morag Tong. I agree with you. They will probably refuse. But at least they can be trusted to be discreet.
If, in the end, we are forced to choose among ourselves, I fear it must be you. And we will have to wrack our brains for some plausible pretext that will get you into Helseth's presence.
I am disappointed, though not surprised, at lack of public outcry over Athyn's murder. The popular sentiment seems to be to avoid personal risk and accept Helseth. It's short-sighted, but understandable. I have noted, however, that the writer of THE COMMON TONGUE is sympathetic to our cause, clever and eloquent. He may be able to sway opinion. We should try to identify this fellow and try to bring him into our counsels.
your faithful servant,
Bedal Alen

This was, quite clearly, the kind of evidence Delitian wanted. Guiltily, Fen tucked the letter into her pocket and slipped back into the library, where Julan was still stammering before Ravani.
“My father always spoke – very highly of King Llethan. He wished he could have come here himself, you know, but he’s – er – very sick.”
“Is he now?” Ravani said skeptically as Fen crept forward and tugged on Julan’s sleeve.
“Yes – but I must be going. Um – sorry again.” With that, Julan quickly left the manor, the invisible Fen in tow.
“Good,” she said, pulling off the amulet and becoming visible. “I have the letter. I’ll take this over to Delitian and meet you back at the inn, all right?” Julan agreed and, trying not to feel like she was betraying her great aunt, delivered the letter to Delitian at the palace.
“This is very interesting, Fen,” the captain said, skimming over it with a self-satisfied smile that made Fen sick. “Forven Berano, Hloggar the Bloody, and Bedal Alen are obviously conspiring to assassinate King Helseth. This is treason, punishable by death. I will immediately draw up writs for their execution. You would do the king a great service if you would execute these traitors.”
“E – Execute?” Fen choked out. Delitian raised one eyebrow.
“Yes, Princess. Surely you didn’t think that King Helseth would allow these men to walk free? Ah – Dalem, go and get me three Royal Writs of Execution,” he said to a pageboy passing through.
“The punishment for treason isn’t death, though,” Fen protested. “I’ve studied it. It’s…banishment,” she finished quietly.
“Princess, you must understand something. Mournhold is very clearly divided right now. There are those that support Helseth, and those that don’t. Those that don’t can’t be allowed to live, because they pose threats to the monarchy like these three men do.”
“According to my father, I posed a threat to the monarchy,” Fen returned dryly.
“Perhaps you do,” Delitian replied shortly. “But that is not for me to decide. Will you kill these traitors or not?” Fen swallowed.
“F – Fine. I’ll take care of it.” Delitian smiled as the pageboy returned, carrying the writs on a limeware platter.
“Good,” he said, writing the traitors’ names at the tops of the writs and handing them to her. “Off with you, then.” Fen took the writs, sickened, and left the Palace, heading back through the darkening streets to the Winged Guar. Julan was in the bar, talking to two pretty Dunmer girls that were giggling madly. He must have seen her drawn face, for he quickly left one of the girls midsentence and crossed the room to her.
“What’s happened?” he asked as the girls looked affronted and moved off to a different part of the smoky, noisy bar.
“Come in here,” Fen muttered, her voice momentarily caught in her throat. She unlocked her room and they entered. Fen lit the candles with a shaking hand while Julan shut the door, looking quizzically at her. “Delitian wants me to execute the people that were in the letter.”
“What?!” Julan said indignantly. “But that can’t be –”
“The penalty for treason is banishment,” she interjected quickly. “But he wouldn’t hear of it.”
“Fen,” Julan said urgently, grabbing her hands. “You can’t go on letting him manipulate you. Helseth tried to kill you, twice.”
“I know, don’t you think I know that?” Fen snapped, jerking her hands away and crossing the room anxiously. They were still shaking – she clasped them tightly. “But he’s backing me into a corner, Julan. I don’t have a choice.”
“Of course you do,” Julan replied angrily. “Let’s just leave, Fen. Go back to Vvardenfell. Everyone loves you there, we can just go on doing what we were before without your father’s shadow hanging over your head!”
“I can’t,” she said quickly. “I can’t, Julan.” She turned, sharply, to face him. “I love Vvardenfell, I really do, but I can’t deny any longer that Mournhold is my home. I belong in this city, even if it doesn’t want me. I need to be accepted here before I can be accepted anywhere else, and the fastest way to do that is to just do what Delitian asks of me.”
“He’s going to have you running in circles doing Helseth’s dirty work until the only people left in Mournhold are the ones that support the monarchy!” Julan snarled. “Fen, you’re digging your own grave! If you keep going like this, Helseth’s going to have you up against a wall with a knife to your throat and he’ll kill you for good! This isn’t the way to being accepted, this is the way to being murdered!”
“Stop it!” Fen shouted, squeezing her eyes shut. “Just stop it!” She opened her eyes slowly, Julan was glaring at her, silent. “I’m going,” she said suddenly, snatching her cloak from the bedpost. “I’ll be back in a bit.” She flung open the door and hurried outside, into the early nighttime streets of Godsreach, moving towards no particular goal, just wanting to be away from Julan and his fierce accusations.
Before long, the air was filled with the bubble of laughter and muffled talking, and, looking up, Fen realized she stood before The Owl’s Wineskin, an upper-class inn where many of the Palace courtiers dined in the evenings. She had been several times, on the rare occasions her father attended parties there, though entering it was out of the question – the risk of her being recognized was simply too great.
Fen was turning to leave when she heard a familiar voice call her name.
“Fenara! Fenara, is that you?” She turned back toward the inn, which was painfully alive with light and noise, and saw Plitinius Mero waddling towards her, his cheeks red and blotchy from drink, even in the near-darkness.
“Hello, Plitinius,” Fen said, smiling slightly despite herself.
“My dear girl,” he said, grasping her hands and swaying slightly on the spot. “Whatever are you doing out on the streets in the dark? Surely it’s dangerous?”
“Hardly,” Fen replied, and she slipped her hands out of Plitinius’s and clenched them tightly. “Plitinius…” she said slowly. She took a deep breath. “Do you know where I could find three men called Forven Berano, Hloggar the Bloody, and Bedal Alen?”
“Certainly!” Plitinius said brightly. Behind him, the doors to The Owl’s Wineskin opened and light poured out as three Dunmer gentlemen in fur-lined ruffs exited, heading toward the Palace. Fen shrank back further into the shadows. “Forven Berano’s a real religious one, I’d check up by the Temple. Let’s see, Hloggar the Bloody lives down in the West Sewers, and Bedal Alen is quite the bookworm. Last I remember he was courting the bookstore owner in the Great Bazaar. Check there.”
“Thank you, Plitinius,” she choked out. “I – I have to go.”
“Any time, my dear girl, any time!” Plitinius called gleefully after her as she hurried through the streets toward the Temple Courtyard. It was nearing nine o’ clock, but she couldn’t return to the Winged Guar until the bloody task on her hands was finished.
The Temple Courtyard was mostly dark, save for a few spots of light around streetlamps planted picturesquely in the gardens that surrounded the Temple’s massive berth. There were a few Dunmer coming down the stairs of the Temple together – the evening prayer must have just ended.
“Pardon, serjo,” Fen said, stopping a tall Dunmer man in elegantly embroidered clothes. “Could you direct me to Forven Berano?” The man gazed at her suspiciously as the people around them filtered away.
“I am Forven Berano,” he said, edging away from her. “But I don’t see how that matters to you.” There was an unpleasant lump in Fen’s throat as she spoke.
“There – There is substantial evidence that you are part of a conspiracy to – to assassinate King Helseth. I have here –” Fen fumbled with her bag, despite her shaking fingers, “– a Royal writ for your execution.” Forven’s face drained of colour.
“This – must be some kind of mistake,” he said haltingly, starting to move away from her faster now. “I have never – I would never –” Fen started to raise her hands, to finish him peacefully with a word, but they were shaking uncontrollably. She was acting no better than the Dark Brotherhood, murdering someone for wanting her own, bloodthirsty father to be dead. Fen dropped her hands.
“I’m not going to kill you,” she said, and Forven froze.
“You’re – You’re not?”
“No.” Fen took a deep breath. “But if I do not, someone else will. I suggest you get out of Mournhold as soon as you can. Now.”
“Oh, gods, thank you!” he exclaimed, dropping to his knees and clutching her hands. “Blessings of the Nine, and Almsivi, and anything else you like! Thank gods I have a Mark set. I’ll be gone instantly,” he said quickly, scrambling to his feet, “and I assure you, I will never betray your mercy! Thank you!” With that, he cast Recall and was gone in a shower of white sparks, leaving Fen standing by the stairs dark of the Temple, her only company a tiny Bosmer man in ragged dress a little ways away under a street lamp, glaring at her suspiciously.
With a new confidence that mingled with dread at the treason she herself had just committed, Fen made her way down to the West Sewers under the Great Bazaar, where she found Hloggar the Bloody, a heavyset Nord man that was busy scalping a goblin on the sewer floor.
“Yeah, I’m Hloggar,” he said gruffly when she asked. “What are you going to do about it?”
“There is a substantial amount of evidence of treason against you,” Fen said, crossing her arms and trying not to look at the goblin corpse Hloggar was kneeling over.
“I’m here to warn you to get out of the city before someone comes to dispatch you for it.” Hloggar stood suddenly, gripping the goblin scalp by its scant, greasy hair in one meaty fist.
“I don’t get it,” he said, his forehead bunching up confusedly. “Don’t you want to fight?”
“Oh! Wait! I see,” he said suddenly. “You are a good guy! Sure. I understand. So now I got to get lost. Fast, right?”
“Right. Very fast.”
“Okay. Time to use that old Recall amulet. So long, then. And thanks.” Still clutching his scalp, he Recalled, leaving Fen, once again, alone, though this time she had a scalped goblin for company.
It was late when Fen left the sewers and started toward the bookstore. Most shops in the Great Bazaar did not close until farther into the night due to the large amount of people that flocked there during all hours. Inside the bookstore, it was silent and tranquil, and Fen relished in the delightful smell of binding glue and old pages that filled her nose, reminding her of the library at the Palace where she used to spend much of her days. The wooden counter was unoccupied, so she moved along the shelves, browsing the volumes displayed there until she heard a noise.
“Oh! Muthsera, I apologize.” Fen turned and saw a pretty young Dunmer woman, perhaps about Fen’s age, had appeared from a back room, her arms full of books. “How may I help you?”
“I am looking for Bedal Alen,” Fen said, and the woman suddenly looked terrified.
“He’s not here,” she said hastily. “I’m – I’m sorry, but he just went out. I don’t know when he’ll be back.”
“Are you Sanaso?” Fen asked. She nodded stiffly, her eyes still wide and terrified. “I am not here to harm Bedal,” she assured Sanaso. “But I do need to speak to him urgently. His life is in danger.” The girl nodded, her face set.
“He’s upstairs,” Sanaso said, quickly coming out from behind the counter and leading Fen toward the staircase in the corner. They climbed it, and Fen found herself in a small reading room, where a red-haired Dunmer man sat flipping idly through a dusty-looking book.
“Who’s this, Sanaso?” he asked, a bit worriedly, looking up as they entered.
“Serjo, my name is Fen. The king’s Royal Guard have evidence that you are part of a conspiracy to kill Helseth.” Bedal stood suddenly, knocking over his chair.
“It’s not true,” he said immediately, and Sanaso crossed the room to him, quickly. “Please, have mercy on us.”
“I’m not here to kill you. But you need to get out of Mournhold immediately, or someone else will be along that will.”
“Get the bags,” Bedal said quickly to Sanaso, and she hurried into a closet behind them. “You have shown yourself an honorable Dunmer,” he said, grasping Fen’s hands. “I thank you. We will absent ourselves from Mournhold immediately. And I would die before I’d betray your generosity to me.” Just then, Sanaso returned, clutching several heavy-looking cloth sacks. She handed two to Bedal and he gripped her hand tightly. “And now, if you’ll excuse us, I believe an Almsivi Intervention will swiftly deliver us out of peril.” Sanaso shot Fen a grateful smile, and they both vanished in a whirl of sparks. Feeling significantly better about allowing the conspirators to escape didn’t help the plain truth – releasing them automatically labeled her a traitor, if she wasn’t still one. She would have to do her best to convince Delitian that they had already escaped, though it sounded like a daunting task in her head.

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