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Saturday, February 18, 2012

XIII - The Plot

Fen did not look down, but neither did she look directly at her father. She had seen enough petition days to know that no average citizen of Mournhold was brave enough to stare the king straight on, regardless of how faithful they were to Almalexia. Instead, she kept her eyes carefully trained at the hem of his robe, her breath warm inside the scarf.

“Remove your head covering,” a steward by the door said, sounding bored. Fen shook her head once. “What’s this?” the steward hissed, and Fen looked over at him. “You are in the presence of the King of all Morrowind. Show respect.”
“I cannot, Serjo,” Fen said told him, purposely making her voice as harsh and guttural as she could. The steward looked startled.
“Why not?” he demanded, remembering himself. Fen heard Helseth give a noise of impatience.
“My face was badly burned as a child, and if my wounds were to be exposed they would fester and become infected in seconds.” The steward looked slightly sickened, and Fen saw him glance at the king. Her heart skipped a beat as the steward glanced back at her and nodded. She turned to face the raised dais where the thrones of Queen Barenziah and King Helseth stood.
“So you’re the one Tienius has been telling us about,” he said, though his voice was bored. Fen’s words caught momentarily in her throat. Just the sound of her father’s voice, despite it being bored and uninterested, made her knees week and her eyes blur.
“Yes, Your Grace.”
“Then I believe you can be of assistance to us. It is never easy for one to assume the throne, especially after the unfortunate set of circumstances that led to our beloved King Llethan’s death. There are those who would seek to profit from such events, to take the opportunity to create unrest among the people. There are those, even, who would wish to see us dead.”
“Yes, Your Grace.” There was a short pause.
“Does this surprise you?” he asked finally. “Even now, there are those that would see our head on a pike. What better way to achieve one’s goals than to have others remove those that would oppose you? Surely you have some understanding of this? In fact, we have recently been told of a plot against the throne.” Fen’s heart pounded painfully in her chest. The plot they knew about because of her.
“What sort of plot, Your Grace?”
“Some of my informants have learned of a possible assassination plot against our royal person. I would like more information on this. However, I do not want to compromise the safety of my guards or of my informant. I believe, however, you would be suitable for this matter.” I would be suitable, Fen thought bitterly. As if I were an pawn in a chess game.
I wish for you to meet an informant of mine at a local cornerclub, The Winged Guar. You’ll find it in Godsreach. He’s an Orc, and shouldn’t be hard to pick out. Find him, and ask him about his ‘uncle’s farm.’ He’ll know what it means. Then report back to me with your information.” The King straightened up in his padded throne and addressed the steward. “Oh, Coltius, have a page take her to the healer. I think a revival of those burns should be a fair enough reward for your help so far.”
“No,” Fen said quickly, forgetting herself. There was utter silence from everyone in the room, the King, his countless personal guards, the stewards and courtiers that lined the walls. “I mean – their exposure would mean my death in seconds. We have seen every healer in the province. There is nothing to be done.” She bowed her head. “It is a kind gesture, Your Highness, and I appreciate the offer, but knowing that I have helped the monarchy is a sufficient enough reward.” For a long, endless moment, Helseth merely stared, as did the rest of the court. Then, finally, he sighed.
“Fine,” the King said lazily, waving one hand. “Be off with you, then.” Hardly daring to believe her good luck, Fen turned and walked quickly from the room. As soon as she reached the courtyard, she pulled the scarf down from around her face and found Julan, waiting anxiously by the doors.
“Thank the gods!” he exclaimed when he saw her. “How did you –” Fen held up one end of the scarf.
“He never even suspected me,” she said, a relieved smile breaking out on her face despite herself. “But now we have to go back to the Winged Guar. There’s an informant there I need to speak to about this assassination plot.”
“What?” Julan said incredulously, jogging to keep up with Fen as she hurried from the courtyard. “I thought that was it. I thought we were leaving now. Going back to Vvardenfell.”
“But I’m not finished here,” Fen told him.
“Fen –” Julan started, and she swiftly cut him off.
“I know it’s dangerous and I know he would kill me if he knew it was me,” she told him at once. “But I’m being careful, and I need to finish this.” She paused to glance at him. “Okay?” Julan’s face was grim, but he nodded despite himself.
“I understand.”
“Thank you,” she said gratefully, although she did not voice what she was really thinking – a tiny, minute shred of her had hoped that Helseth would recognize her immediately, would call for the scarf to be pulled off so that she could be revealed to the court. She knew it would only result in her death, but the thought that she had stood directly in front of her father and not been seen as his daughter filled her with a sick sort of regret she could not shake off.
The Orc informant was easily to locate, sitting very conspicuously in the corner of the bar. He was enormous, especially for an Orc, and there were three broken chairs beside him, as if it had taken him some time to locate one that could hold his breadth.
“What do you want?” he snarled as they approached. His face was obscured by dark tattoos, piercings, and cracked and yellowed tusks portruding upward from his mouth.
“I’m to ask you about your uncle’s farm,” Fen said. The Orc rolled his eyes and gestured tiredly to two unbroken chairs nearby. Fen and Julan pulled them over to the table and sat.
“I get it. Code words. Whatever. Here’s what you should know.” He shifted his weight, took a long swig of greef, and leaned forward, banging his tankard down on the table. “Our king is a paranoid,” he said simply, and Fen nodded in understanding. “I know, I know...it’s treason to even think that sort of stuff, but it’s true. He always thinks someone is out to get him. The man’s had me checking into a different conspiracy every week for the last month. I keep telling him, ‘You’re king. You’re gonna have enemies!’ Does he listen?” The informant shook his head, exasperated. “This time, though, there might be something to it. I’ve found some disturbing information.” Fen frowned.
“What information?” she asked.
“My sources tell me that there’s a plot, but not against the king,” he said grimly. “From what I’ve been able to gather, there will be an attempt made on the Queen Mother’s life.” Fen’s eyes widened.
“Queen Barenziah?” she said incredulously, and the Orc nodded.
“I’m not sure who would want to target her – from what I know, she has no enemies in Mournhold – but that’s what my sources are telling me.”
“They’re wrong,” Fen told him immediately, standing up quickly. “No one would want to kill her.”
“Suit yourself,” the Orc said, taking another long drink.
When they returned to the Palace, Julan was, again, made to wait outside while Fen pulled Gildan’s scarf over her face once more.
“I expected you would find out as much,” Helseth said when Fen relayed the informant’s information to him, her head low. The king swirled the wine he was drinking around in its goblet. “Other sources of mine indicate the same thing, and that the attempt will be made tonight.”
“Tonight?” Fen whispered back to herself. Helseth did not hear her.
“My mother must be protected at all costs, but I do not wish to tip my hand to these assassins. Here is how we will protect Barenziah.” He waved for a servant, who appeared at his side with a tray. Helseth drained the last of the wine and set the empty goblet upon the tray, then leaned forward.
“It would be unwise to station more guards outside her doors, as that would alert the killers to our knowledge,” he said, and Fen hazarded a glance up to see his face was smooth and blank, the unreadable expression back. “Better to catch them in the act. One of our royal guards could be involved in this attempt, so they will be kept occupied elsewhere. You will stay in the antechamber outside our mother’s chambers tomorrow evening, and deal with these assassins when they arrive. Close the door behind you and hide behind the screens, so as not to alert them to your presence. Do you understand?” Fen nodded once, and Helseth sat up. “Good. Return here by nightfall.” With that, Fen was shown out to the courtyard, where she pulled off the scarf and met Julan, to whom she relayed the plan in a whisper as they walked to Godsreach.
“But you’re in the Royal Family too,” Julan muttered. “Why aren’t there assassins crawling after you?”
“Until a few weeks ago, there were,” Fen reminded him. “And besides, most people don’t know I exist. These people like to be able to blame someone for their problems, so they blame Helseth.” She paused. “And apparently, Barenziah as well.”
“Well I’m coming with you this time,” Julan said firmly. “Don’t expect me to just sit in the bar again while you risk your life.” Fen smiled slightly.
“I think you would like my grandmother, Julan.”
When the sky outside turned a deep rose peppered with stars, Fen and Julan returned to the Palace, Fen’s face carefully concealed once more. A page met them in the reception chamber and led them through to Barenziah’s chambers, which was empty of all its usual guards and chambermaids. The outer chamber was unusually dark, all the candles snuffed out so that the only light was that which leaked in from the windows.
As the page closed the door behind them, the door to Barenziah’s main chamber opened and the queen herself stood there, looking elegant as ever in a robe of deep crimson. Barenziah smiled as Fen pulled the scarf down.
“I had a feeling it was you,” she said, coming over to them and resting a wizened hand on Fen’s shoulder.
“Does Father know?”
“No,” Barenziah replied, her face dark. “Though that man would not recognize his own mother if I stood with my back to him.” She glanced at Julan, who was staring openly. “Are you the Ashlander that has traveled with my granddaughter?” she asked him, and Fen saw him wilt under her penetrating gaze.
“I – Yes, Y – Your Majesty.”
“There’s no need to stutter,” Barenziah said dismissively. “I’m a mer just as you are, no different.” Barenziah looked back to Fen. “So you will be the ones taking care of these assassins, I’m told?” Fen nodded. “Very well. Your father knows well enough that I can protect myself, thought it would be best not to argue. I think you will be able to handle yourself well, though, Fen.”
“I believe so.”
“Good.” She kissed Fen on the forehead. “I have been up since the early hours of the dawn, and I must sleep now. Take care.” She nodded to Julan. “And take care, friend.” With that, she squeezed Fen’s shoulder once and returned to her inner rooms, shutting the door with a soft click.
“Gods,” Julan breathed out as Fen went to peer out the window. “She’s incredible.”
“I know,” Fen replied, her chest swelling with pride. “I know she is.” The courtyard had fallen into darkness now, and the room was almost completely dark. Fen and Julan went behind the thick ivory screens that sectioned off the back part of the room, where there was a round table and a few cupboards. They sat down at the table, out of sight of the main door. “They probably won’t come for a while yet,” she said, leaning back in her chair. “We may as well rest a while.”
“You sleep,” Julan offered. “I’ll wake you up in an hour and we can switch.” Fen agreed, and she laid her head down upon her arms, her eyes quickly drifting closed.

* * *

She felt strange and disoriented as she woke suddenly. Barenziah’s outer chamber was pitch black and utterly silent. Beside her, Julan’s head lay on the table, his back rising and falling in slumber.
Fen slowly lifted her head, blinking as her eyes adjusted to the light. Something had woken her. She quietly alighted from the chair and felt a shiver rush up her spine. Something moved in the room beyond. Fen knelt low and went to the screens, peering through a crack at the dark outer room. Three humanoid shapes, blacker than the room around them, moved silently, catlike, along the walls. Curved, silver blades glinted in their fists. Fen’s heart thudded in her chest. Though she had dealt with them before, the Dark Brotherhood assassins still gave her an uneasy feeling.
“She’s supposed to be in here somewhere,” one of them whispered. “Behind the screens…”
Fen squeezed her eyes shut. Still trying to kill me, Father? She turned and touched Julan’s arm once. He started awake, giving out a sharp intake of breath as he did so. Fen clamped her hand over his mouth and held stock still. She felt the assassins halt as well. Julan glanced at her, and she removed her hand slowly and nodded at the room beyond the screens. Silently, Julan stood from his chair and they went to the edge of the screens, waiting.
“I heard something,” one of the assassins murmured, and there was a sharp sound, like someone sharply smacking someone else.
“Quiet,” a second assassin hissed. “You heard nothing.” They made it only a few steps closer to the screens before they were almost parallel, and Fen and Julan took this as their cue.
Fen attacked first, letting off a powerful detonation that made the room light up and the assassins stumble in surprise. She drew her staff as Julan pulled his blade, and they attacked together. Julan quickly took down the first assassin with a well-placed slice, and Fen knocked one to the ground with a crack of her staff. The third, however, was quicker, and he darted around and made to seize Fen from behind.
Before he could grab her, Fen cast a glamour at him, a spell that looked like a long sinewy shadow that curled around his legs and forced him to stumble. He turned back to them, and a glint of silver hissed through the air towards Julan. He dodged it, moving forward and grabbing the assassin’s arm, throwing him down away from Fen. She aimed a potent shock spell straight at him, and he was reduced to a foul-smelling scorch mark upon the ground.
The second assassin that Fen had knocked aside had regained his footing now, and he lunged toward her, his dagger poised for her throat. Fen deflected his blow with a swift shield spell, reaching past his arm to spread her fingers on his chest, casting a disintegrate armour spell. The spell took hold at once, and his black Dark Brotherhood cuirass smouldered and melted away in a hiss of smoke. He looked down at his exposed chest in surprise, but had no time to act before Julan’s sword point split through his middle. Julan yanked the sword out, stained with dark blood, and the last assassin fell to the tile floor.
Fen heard the door behind them open and she turned to see Barenziah in a dressing gown with her clouds of white hair loose around her shoulders, standing in the doorway, staring down at the bodies, her expression troubled.
“Are you both all right?” she asked, looking back up at them, but Fen barely had time to reply before the front door into the chamber burst open. Fen managed to pull Gildan’s scarf over her head just as a whole host of guards in Palace armour ran in immediately swarming around the room. One of them managed to pull Fen and Julan aside and have them follow a page to the Throne Room to meet with Helseth again.
The Throne Room was dark, its candles all extinguished, all the intricate stonework coloured the same deep, nighttime blue. Helseth sat, covered by a dressing gown, his hair disheveled and surrounded by several attendants, upon his throne, watching as they approached.
“You were able to hold off the assassins,” he said, his voice echoing on the high walls. There was a faint note of disappointment in his voice. The acoustics of the room felt off with only a few people occupying it. “Interesting. Perhaps the threat was not as great as it seemed. We commend you.” Helseth inclined his head ever so slightly, and Fen repeated the gesture. “We are impressed with your efforts so far.
“Now, ah – what did you call yourself again?”
“Fedura Rindal, Your Highness,” Fen told him, remembering the name she had used when she and Julan had posed as potential guards.
“Fedura, then. I require all those close to me to be powerful, able to defend me from any adversary. Perhaps you have met my personal bodyguard, Karrod?” Helseth gestured to his left, and the broad-shouldered, silent Redguard man Fen had seen most of her life nodded once and bowed his head. “Karrod is a perfect example: the finest fighter I have met in all my travels, and loyal to me to the death. I met him many years ago, a deaf and dumb child wandering the streets of Wayrest. The boy actually had the audacity to try and rob my stepsister, Elysana.” A faint smirk played upon the king’s lips. “I marveled at his courage, and took him into my employ. When a dog has been beaten, Fedura, it will lick the hand of one who feeds it even the most meager of scraps. Now he is my most loyal of servants, and one of my most deadly. I wish for you to fight my champion.”
“Fight Karrod?” Fen repeated, careful to keep her voice low.
“That is correct. I have come to know you a bit, Fedura. I believe you can be of some use to me. But the plans I have will require someone of great strength or wit. Perhaps both. The time has come for you to prove this to me. You will return here at dawn, and you will duel Karrod. If you are able to defeat him, we will discuss my plans for you.” Helseth’s eyes darkened and he glanced to Fen’s right, as if noticing Julan for the first time. “And who is this with you?”
“My brother, Athaso, Your Highness. He helped defeat the assassins that attacked Queen Barenziah.”
“I don’t care who he is. You realize he will not be allowed to aid you in the duel, yes?”
“I understand, Your Highness.”
“Good. Then be back here at dawn.” With that, Helseth waved them out of the dark, eerily quiet Throne Room.
To Fen’s relief, Julan did not mention the fact that the assassins had been after Fen rather than the queen, though one glance at his face and it was clear he knew.

* * *

Hello! A few months ago, I updated my system so I would be able to run Skyrim, and just recently I downloaded the Morrowind Overhaul - Graphics and Sound pack, since I now have a computer that can run it. I am currently wrapping up the Bloodmoon main quest with Fen, and I just had to share the retexture of Trueflame that is included in the pack and how badass it looks: (click for full size)

(yes Fen is exactly where it looks like she is)

If you have a system that can run it, I wold definitely suggest checking it out! The game looks, if possible, even more beautiful than before. See you in two weeks!


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