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Sunday, September 16, 2012

I - Pointless

 A couple things:
1) I'm sorry this chapter is a day late! I was pretty sick yesterday and wasn't able to post it.
2) This chapter is where my vision of Morrowind and Mournhold especially begin to deviate slightly from the game. Nothing major, but just keep it in mind as you read. Thanks!

A young Dunmer woman reading a dirty broadsheet lowered it slowly, grim-faced. She leaned back, rubbing her eyes and letting her head rest on the back of the couch she was curled upon. She heard the door open, and she looked up.

Barenziah had entered the library, clad in a robe of deep crimson, her snowy hair piled atop her head as it usually was.
“I thought I might find you here.” Fen didn’t reply, just stared down at the broadsheet in her lap, the accusatory words glaring from the heading. “The Common Tongue again?”
“They told me they would stop printing about the family,” Fen said angrily, crumpling the broadsheet. “I thought that included me as well. I suppose I was wrong.”
“There’s no reason to go after them about it, Fen.”
“No?” Fen replied sharply. “No reason to stop them spreading lies about me to my people?”
“No reason,” Barenziah repeated calmly, sitting down on the velvet-cushioned couch adjacent to Fen’s. “Morrowind may be a kingdom, Fen, but we have to allow our people freedom to believe what they like or we’re no better than Almalexia.” Fen closed her eyes.
“I don’t want to talk about Almalexia.”
“Yes, well, I had a feeling you wouldn’t.” Fen looked up at her grandmother, her eyes flashing.
“You think this is easy for me?” she demanded, and Barenziah silenced her with a look.
“This is not easy for any of us,” the Queen told her. “Least of all you. But you are a leader to these people, and a leader must be strong, despite the strife that may rift her life.” Barenziah leaned forward and took the broadsheet from Fen’s lap, flattening it on her lap and skimming the words there.
“Was it wrong to do the address last year?” Fen asked, leaning back on her couch, staring up at the green marble ceiling of the library. “I thought it would bring them closure.”
“The mind is a fickle thing,” Barenziah responded, folding The Common Tongue in half. “The people will need time to come to terms with what happened. I do not believe that they are quite ready to accept that their goddess had gone mad.”
“How much time do they need?” They stared at one another, Barenziah’s penetrating eyes into Fen’s.
“You must be patient,” Barenziah said finally. “Almalexia is gone. You are not. The time will come when your people will recognize you.” Fen did not respond, but lay her head back down on the back of the couch, staring up at the tiled ceiling.
“Sometimes I feel like I have very few allies, Grandmother.”
“And that is the life of a leader,” Barenziah replied doggedly. “Trust in yourself that you are making the right decisions for your people, and everything will turn out the way it’s meant to.” She stood. “I’m going to meet Plitinius for tea. Do you care to join us?” Fen shook her head, not breaking her gaze at the ceiling. She was not in the mood to sit with her grandmother’s extravagant author companion who had penned the Real Barenziah series. The queen clearly sensed this, and she left the library without complaint, leaving Fen alone in the book-lined room.
Fen leaned forward, propping her elbows on her knees and her chin in her hands. The Common Tongue had a point – she could not remember the last time she had smiled.
As if that’s my fault, Fen thought sourly, pulling a throw cushion into her lap and picking at the embroidery. As if I’m to blame because I see the Clockwork City every time I shut my eyes. In the past several months, she had discovered that her memories of the incident in Sotha Sil’s domain were entirely too vivid, and they had been plaguing her constantly, both awake and asleep, since she returned to the Temple in Mournhold two years ago. It seemed as if every time Fen let her eyes drift closed, she was once again kneeling on the rusted metal floor, surrounded by the sweltering heat of the flames and staring into Julan’s empty eyes as Almalexia’s laugh danced around her…
Fen threw the pillow, angrily, away from her. It hit a shelf and fell with a soft thump to the carpet, frustrating her with out simple it all was. Julan was dead, she was alive. That was it. Fen stood, kicking the low table roughly out of her way, and went to the window on the other side of the library.
The Plaza Brindisi Dorum stretched out below, dominated in the centre by a large fountain and an empty plinth where the statue of Almalexia battling Mehrunes Dagon had once stood.
“Are you sure about this, Princess?” Effe-Tei had asked her as they had stood, hooded, in the rain, watching the workers take down the last bits of the statue.
“We don’t need any more reminders of what she did to this city,” Fen had murmured in reply, and the Argonian was silent after hat.
It was just beginning to grow dark outside the library, and the Plaza was thick with people making their way back to their homes in Godsreach after the day’s toil. Fen leaned against the sill, watching them, trying, unsuccessfully, to pick out faces in the crowd.
Barenziah was right. The people were fickle, and it was infuriating to Fen. When she had climbed down from Red Mountain, they loved her. Then she told them what had happened in the Clockwork City and they hated her. Now they spent their time speculating over her melancholy moods, wondering perhaps if she was a secret member of some sort of Nordic coven. She hated to think of the people as a single unit that was so painfully subject to persuasion, but only a few words from the priests of the Tribunal Temple had pulled them into believing that Fen had brutally slaughtered Almalexia with a more sinister motive.
Fen stretched her right hand out flat on the smooth marble sill, studying the two rings that glinted in the dusky evening light. There was Moon-and-Star, as elegant as ever, with its smooth curved moon and white-gold star, as perfect as it had looked the day it had dropped into her hands in the Cavern of the Incarnate. And just below it, a ring that was battered and scruffy in comparison, made of a scratched metal band and set with a single green stone. The stone had once been alight with a constant, faint motion, though ever since First Seed it had been dark and still. Then on the finger beside it, her Royal Signet ring, emblazoned with the seal of Morrowind’s ruling family, looking gaudy and outlandish compared to the other two. Fen slipped the Signet ring off her finger and into the pocket of her robe, frowning.
It’s all so pointless now, she thought grimly, letting her eyes drift up above the city walls to the dusty pink sky. It’s absolutely pointless.

* * *

“I don’t care if we don’t have a claim there, I want them out.” King Hlaalu Helseth curled his hand into a fist and slammed it down on the fine mahogany table, making a few of the scrolls near the edge slide off onto the carpeted floor. Duke Vedam Dren, sitting to Helseth’s left, rubbed his eyes exhaustedly.
“There isn’t anything we can do,” the duke tried, for the third time, to explain. “Morrowind holds no authority over Solstheim. The Imperials are perfectly within their rights to settle there.”
“What do they want with Solstheim, though?” Helseth snarled. “It’s a wasteland. There’s nothing there.”
“Then why is it so important that the East Empire Company stays out of it?” Fen asked sharply from her seat to her father’s right.
“Who’s to say they haven’t found something?” Helseth demanded, turning to face his daughter. “What if they’re planning something, and they’re using that chunk of ice in the sea to prepare for an attack on Morrowind?”
“Enough of this,” Duke Dren said, pushing pack from the table. “I didn’t travel here from Ebonheart to listen to your rambling paranoia, Helseth.” Duke Dren stood, and the seven advisors that had accompanied him from Vvardenfell stood as well.
“Stop,” Helseth said, quickly getting to his feet as the Duke moved toward the door. “Stop – this is a serious issue, Dren! I don’t want the Imperials anywhere near that island!”
“It’s too late for that, Helseth. Let it go.” Helseth lowered his arm, his eyes narrow as the duke and his entourage filed out of the reception chamber.
“You know why there’s an Imperial Fort on Solstheim, don’t you?” Barenziah asked from the opposite end of the table. Helseth turned sharply.
“It’s a fort for criminals, Hlaalu. They send rapists and murderers to Fort Frostmoth so they don’t need to worry about having them in prisons here. That’s the only reason.”
“Then why is the East Empire Company building a damn colony there?” Helseth demanded furiously, kicking the door shut.
“The families of the soldiers?” one of Helseth’s advisors suggested halfheartedly, and the king’s face turned livid.
“Out!” he shouted, and his advisors quickly stood, gathering up their papers. “Get out!” They hurriedly exited the reception chamber, leaving it empty save for Helseth, Barenziah, and Fen. Helseth kicked a chair angrily out of the way and sat down at the head of the table, agitatedly rubbing his eyes.
“There’s nothing of value in Solstheim,” Barenziah told him, gracefully rising out of her seat and resting a wizened hand on his shoulder. “Focus on Morrowind right now. That’s all we need from you.” He pushed her arm away and yanked the door open, leaving it ajar as the click of his boots echoed down the hall. Barenziah stared after him a moment, her hand on the back of his vacated chair, then moved around and sat down in it. Fen stared at the table littered with scrolls and looked up at the high windows of the chamber, which were thrown open to try and tempt in the breeze. During this time of year, Mournhold was notoriously warm, and the tall windows in nearly every corridor did little to help it.
Fen reached forward, pulling one of the scrolls toward her. It was a map of Solstheim, dug out from the cartography archives in the library. Fen studied the map closely, running her fingers along the jagged shoreline ridged with tiny black triangles to represent trees. …that chunk of ice in the sea…
“We’ll be expected to sup with Duke Dren and his entourage before they return to Vvardenfell,” the Queen was saying serenely, gesturing to a page that stood silently in the corner of the room. The page hurried over and began to assist Barenziah in rolling up the scrolls and filing away the papers so they could be returned to Mournhold’s Hall of Records.
“That will make for an awkward meal,” Fen returned grimly, rolling up the map and handing it to the page.
“And that’s what rulers and politicians do,” her grandmother replied serenely. “Make awkward and uncomfortable situations productive. Perhaps your father will get some bounty on Solstheim after having another go at it over dinner.”
“I wouldn’t be quite that optimistic about his diplomatic skills, Grandmother.”
“Enough. He is still your king and father, and he deserves your respect.” The page, his arms full of teetering files and rolls of paper, bobbed to excuse himself and clicked off down the hall. “I have a meeting with the curator of the Museum of Artifacts and Azura knows how long that will take, that woman loves the sound of her own voice. We’ll talk especially long tomorrow. Have you finished those books I gave you yet?”
“See that you have them done by tomorrow, then. We have much to talk about.” Barenziah rested a firm hand on her granddaughter’s shoulder, then turned and quit the chamber, leaving the heavy wooden door ajar. Fen stared around at the huge, empty table before her, then up at the long curtains blowing serenely in the faint zephyr that drifted in. She rose slowly from her seat, breathing a heavy sigh, and went out the open door.
The reception chambers where Helseth had his meetings were all grouped around a small garden, connected to one another by a covered walkway. Visitors were frequent to this part of the palace, and every now and then some diplomat from Narsis or Cyrodiil would click by on the stone tiles in their fine heeled boots, trailed by a number of attendants and guards.
“Princess,” a passing page said, bobbing his head in acknowledgment before going on his way. Fen watched him continue down the covered walkway, then turn into an indoor hall and out of sight.
It seemed as if she had longed to be in this palace again for ages, and now that she was here it felt all wrong. When she had pictured this life in her head, there were frequent trips back to Vvardenfell to see Julan, spending days at a time learning to hunt with him and Shani in the Grasslands. And he would visit the palace in Mournhold – he would complain about the indulgence and greed of the settled Dunmer, but would appreciate it all the same. They would sit on the carpets in the family’s library, dignity forgotten, going through old books and struggling to keep their voices down from laughter. And Julan would join her on her daily visits to Barenziah’s apartments, fiercely debating philosophy and metaphysics with them, and commenting to Fen on how remarkable her grandmother was, to which Fen would smile and agree.
She pushed away from the doorway and set off beneath the shade of the pergola toward the Upper Hall of the palace. The gardeners had grown ivy along the top of the walkways, and it curled around the pillars and hung down in graceful tendrils, swaying slightly as she passed them. The sun beat down on the garden to her left, the Timsa-Come-By looking bleached and strange in the light.
Fen went into the cool, tiled halls of the main palace complex, following a series of corridors and nodding in acknowledgement to the guards and maids that bowed and curtsied when she passed. She reached the stairwell, with its tall, sheerly-curtained windows and sweeping iron-railed staircase and climbed them, absentmindedly glancing out the open windows at the courtyards below the palace as she went. Two guards outside the grand doors into the Upper Hall took hold of their elegant handles and swung them open to admit her.
The Upper Hall served as the privy chambers for the Royal Family. The apartments of Barenziah, Helseth, and Fen were all here, as well as the smaller, private family library, a low-ceilinged dining room where they supped when there were no visiting diplomats to deal with, and a few smaller drawing rooms and parlours. It was only visited by the family themselves and the guards and maids. It was something of a surprise, therefore, for Fen to turn into the blue-candlelit corridor where her chambers were and nearly run headlong into the Lord Archcanon of the Tribunal Temple.
“Archcanon Drin,” Fen said, her surprise quickly turning into distaste. Since the incident in the Clockwork City, Fen and Gavas Drin had not spoken personally, but both had publically denounced the another as power-hungry liars. She glanced over his shoulder and saw that he was attended by two glaring High Ordinators. How in Azura’s name were they allowed up here?
“Princess Fenara,” Drin replied coldly, his dark eyes flitting across her face and narrowing in dislike. “What a coincidence. I was just looking for you.”
“In my family’s private quarters rather than a reception chamber, I see.”
“You’ll find, Princess, that not every arrogant s’wit in this palace is an insipid whelp that does naught but lick your father’s boots.”
“And you’ll find that men who disrespect my family and my standing among my people are not welcome in my home,” Fen snapped, gesturing behind her. Two of the Palace Guards appeared almost instantly. “Escort the Archcanon out of the Palace,” she instructed, her eyes never leaving Drin’s face. “And see that only members of the Royal Family are permitted into these chambers.”
“I came here to speak with you, Princess, and I will not leave until I have done just that.”
“What could you possibly have to say to me that hasn’t already been said, Drin?” Fen asked, holding out a hand to stop the guards.
“If you’d be so kind as to show me to a chamber where we can talk, I’d be more than happy to tell you.” They were both silent for a time, glaring at one another. Then Fen gave the Lord Archcanon a curt nod and led the way across the Upper Hall to a small drawing room.
“You will leave your Ordinators downstairs, where the rest of the public waits.” She exchanged a dark glare with both the Archcanon’s guards. “They know full well they are not welcome here, and neither are you.”
“My guards will enter with me.”
“Then you are free to return to the Temple without an audience.” Drin frowned, his eyes little more than red slits. He gave the Ordinators a sharp look, and they bowed and dutifully trooped out of the Upper Hall. Fen entered the drawing room, with a wide open window that overlooked the public courtyard. A small round table with two thick oaken chairs on either side stood before the window, and Fen gestured for the priest to sit, then for the guards to close the door, leaving them alone. Noise bubbled up from the window on the warm breeze, indistinguishable voices of pages and courtiers and, farther off, the distant babble of merchants and shoppers from the Great Bazaar. Fen sat down across from Gavas Drin on the cushioned wooden chair, and did not speak, but fixed him with an expectant gaze.
“There has been a…certain level of animosity between your supporters and those of the Temple as of late,” he said finally.
“As it’s been for three years, and as it will continue to be.”
“And do either of us really want it to continue to be that way?” Drin paused, placing his long fingers together, one at a time. “The Dunmer have been worshipping the Tribunal for hundreds of years, and you suddenly yank out the carpet from beneath them and tell them that two of their three gods are dead. Then you wonder why no one seems to support you.”
“I’m not an idiot, Drin,” Fen replied coldly. “I don’t pretend to be confused about my lack of support in Mournhold.”
“But what have you done to remedy it? You’ve waited about in this palace and hoped that they will soon come around. You need to act if you want them to follow you.”
“Why are you telling me this?” Fen snapped. “All you’ve done since the Clockwork City is tell everyone who will listen that I’m a heretic and a liar and that Almalexia continues to live peacefully in her temple.”
“I tell you because you and I need the same thing, Princess. I believe Lord Vivec told you once why he suppresses the Apographa?” Fen did not reply, and Drin went on. “The slightest doubt in the power of the Tribunal is like a festering wound. It will gradually spread, and soon no one will trust our word. We must have full support or no support at all. And if we have the support of the Nerevarine, we have the support of all Morrowind.”
“So what do you want me to do?” Fen asked coldly.
“I want you to publically admit your lies and embrace the Temple. Tell the people that you slew Lady Almalexia in the Clockwork City as a heretic, but you have realized your wrongdoings and repent, and join in Holy celebration of the Tribunal once more, and you urge your valiant supporters to do the same.” Fen gave the Archcanon a dark look.
“That I will never do.”
“It will stop the dissent and the threats of riot and anarchy. It will put you in a good light once more. It will make your people happy and pious. They will love you again.” Fen shook her head.
“It’s against everything I stand for as their Nerevarine and Princess. My people include the Ashlanders, have you thought about that? And the Telvanni wizards that take no stock in modern Dunmer gods. And the Daedra worshippers that are forced to hide in secret and attack any who enter their shrines for fear of persecution. My people include every man and mer in Morrowind, and I must think for every one of them, not just your Temple.” She stood. “If that’s all, Lord Archcanon, I think you’d best be going. I don’t want to encourage visitors to the court to come straight up to my family’s private hall so long as they have coin and guards behind them.”
“You are making a grave mistake, Princess Fenara.”
“Thank you for your concern,” she replied simply, crossing to the door and pulling it open. “You may escort the Lord Archcanon back down to the courtyard,” she told the guards stationed outside. Gavas Drin rose slowly from the table, fixing her with a withering glare.
“You’ll not rid the Tribunal Temple from this land, Nerevar, no matter how hard you try.” Her temper flared, and Fen lashed out, her hand curling around Gavas Drin’s bony wrist and squeezing, hard. He gasped, and she resisted the urge to burn him with a spell.
“I am not Nerevar,” she hissed, pulling him close. “Something you’d do well to remember.” She released him, pushing the priest’s arm away from her and turning her back on him. “Now get out of my sight, and never breach these chambers again.”
The priest gave her a withering glare, rubbing his arm as he retreated down the hall, and Fen tuned back to the window, staring out at the dreamy peacefulness of the courtyard, thinking of how wrong it all felt. She realized her hands were clenched, and she forced herself to relax them, resting her head against the cool stone wall and letting her eyes fall closed.

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