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Egg-Tender's Journal

Author: 
Anonymous

This year will be different. I've started chewing dragonthorn like we used to in the old times. If I keep that up along with my tinctures for the months to come. I should be ready for the bonding. It'll be me this year. I know it.

I'm so embarrassed. The dragonthorn is pungent. It's made my breath sour and the others have begun to notice. Even Mimme seems reluctant to talk to me. I complained of having bad salamander, but I'm going to have to be more discreet in chewing my herbs.

I feel like it's working. I think my scales and claws are looking shinier. That's a good sign, I think. My teeth are staining yellow though. I've started drinking brewed scaldroot to clean my mouth. It tastes like death, but I think it'll help my teeth.

Keenum accidentally took a sip of my scaldroot tea and nearly passed out. I had to work his watch at the uxith, so I couldn't get out to the dragonthorn patch until after dark. I was approached in the dark by a woman whose scales were so pale, especially under the moonlight. I almost screamed from fright, but she spoke warmly to me. She asked why I was picking dragonthorn in the dark of night and, I don't know why, but I told her the truth. I don't know why I would admit such a thing to a stranger. Maybe it's because she's a stranger. There's no one in the village I can speak to about it without a look of impotent pity. I spoke to the stranger long into the night. We agreed to meet again.

I've gotten so little sleep lately, but I can't help it. Ree-Nakal tells me she can only visit me in the night and I spend all day thinking about seeing her again. She understands my pain and it's such a relief to have someone who can listen. I don't feel the shame I do when the subject comes up at home. Ree-Nakal is one of the Veeskhleel, the Ghost People. I never expected her to be so nice. The Bright-Throats don't deal with them. Not many tribes do. They are treated like pariahs because they take eggs, but it can't be helped. They can't bear clutches themselves, so their Hist sends them to find others. It's so sad.

I talked to Ree-Nakal about the bonding. I suggested that maybe the Bright-Throats could make an arrangement with the Ghost People for bonding rights, so they wouldn't have to steal eggs anymore. She thanked me, but it was just out of politeness. I could see it in her eyes that she held little hope of our tribes becoming allies. She said our bond was a unique one and it will have to be enough. I didn't press the matter. I didn't want to become for her what my tribe has become for me. I won't pity her.

It's a sad day. It's always a sad day when we learn which eggs will return to the Hist. Why does the Hist choose some eggs over others? I understand the eggs that are clearly unwell, but we can't always predict which will go on to hatch and which will sink in to the roots. I've always accepted that there's nothing we can do for them, but Ree-Nakal tells me that's not true. They can still be hatched. She offered to help me save them, if I can get the eggs to her. My tribe wouldn't even miss them. They've already given up on those children, but I won't. I'll care for them. They'll be our children.

I was supposed to work with Keenam again tonight, but I spiked his drink with scaldroot extract. I should be able to slip away with a few eggs throughout the night. It's terrifying to think about, but those eggs need me. I won't give up because I'm scared.

I did it. My skin was dry as dead bark when the morning watch came to relieve me. I told them that a few of the eggs returned to the Hist in the night and they just nodded and accepted it. I got a lump in my throat at how little the news bothered them.

It took me hours to fall asleep. I thought that the Tree-Minder would come and accuse me, but as I woke for my next watch, everything was perfectly normal. Does the Hist know what I've done?

I've given Ree-Nakal nearly all the unfit eggs from our last clutch. There were so many when I think about it. Such a waste, but not now. She told me that the eggs I'd already brought to her are safely in nests under the watch of her tribe's folk and doing well. She doesn't think it wise for me to leave and see them just yet. Better to wait until after I've saved the last of the eggs. That shouldn't be much longer I think. I can barely keep my quill steady when I think about it.

My children are doing well, or so I'm told. I haven't been able to see my eggs yet. I'm reminded of their absence every day as I tend to the eggs in my village. I want to tend to my clutch. I'm their mother. Is this how the others feel when we are raising their eggs?

Ree-Nakal tells me the clutch is nearly hatched! I told her I want to be there for it, but she says it's not the time. The bonding ritual is coming again soon, and I would be missed. I don't care though. The tribe can do without me, but not those eggs. They need me!

I haven't seen Ree-Nakal since we fought. I'm afraid she won't come back. If she doesn't, I don't know what I'll do. I don't know where to find her. I don't know where my children are! All I wanted was to see them!

Scaly Steeds of Black Marsh

Author: 
Ukaspa

By Ukaspa, Lilmoth Stablemaste

I have noticed that many dryskins are emotionally attached to their hairy mounts, although they aren't actually related. (The exception may be our neighbors the Khajiiti, who tell us all cats are their relatives. It might even be true, but who can read a Khajiit's facial expression, all whiskers and twitching ears? No wonder nobody trusts them.) Anyway: dryskins ride their beloved furry mounts into Black Marsh and then their steeds disappear into sudden-sand, or catch sloughskin from the fleshflies, or eat a spotted toadstool, and sploosh! They're dead, and the dryskins leak water from their eyes.

Yes, a terrible situation for the sad beek-ojel, and one so easily avoided! For almost every stablemaster of the Marsh has fine, scaly lizard mounts available for purchase in various forms, all familiar to dryskins but specifically adapted to deep swamp conditions! So convenient, our lizard-steeds, so scaly and personable. Who would not want one? Or even several?

More than once I have been asked by inquisitive beek-ojel, "Ukaspa, why are your lizard-steeds shaped like mounts from other parts of Tamriel? Why are there horse-lizards, camel-lizards, and senche-lizards? Why aren't your so-very-handsome mounts shaped like, well, lizards?" These are good questions, and I, Ukaspa, will answer them, except for the parts that are a Big Mystery.

You know that we Saxhleel are different from you dryskins because we are the children of the Hist, right? But what, you wonder, does that mean, since the Hist are trees and we are clearly not saplings? Well, the Hist are much-more-than-trees, they are the wisdom with roots! They grow tall, wide, and very, very wise, but must stay where they grow, which is sometimes inconvenient. But the Hist see humans and Elves with their walking legs and clever hands, and wisely think, oh, good idea! Now, scurrying over their roots and everywhere in the Marsh are the kind of lizards we call "useful." And a happening happens where the Hist take the kind of lizards we call "useful" and make from them the kind of people you call Argonians.

You see where the current is taking us, do you not? The Hist have Argonians who are their children of the walking legs and clever hands, and they are the best people ever because they lack all the flaws of humans and Elves. But sometimes they want to travel a long way for a long time, and how do people-shaped-people do that? On mounts! And so useful lizards happen to become lizard-steeds of proven shapes, and then Argonians can ride, tall in the saddle and proud!

But I know you beek-ojel, you always want to know more, as if knowledge moistens the scales (it does not, by the way). Knowing that useful lizards happen to become children of the Hist and also lizard-steeds is not enough, you want to know all the details, especially if they are what dryskins call "sexy." However, that is where Ukaspa cannot help, because all of that is a Big Mystery. Oh, not from Argonians of the Hist, because how could it be a Big Mystery to us, who know All the Clues? But you have no clues, because you are not our egg-siblings. Sorry? Anyway, that's what I can tell you about lizard-steeds, so you can go now. Wallow with joy, stay moist, and don't wander around loose in the deep swamp like fools, all right?

Chestplate of Desiccation

Author: 
Wuja-Nakal and Glenadir

Interview of Wuja-Nakal, Former Slave
Transcribed by Relicmaster Glenadir

Yes, our Telvanni jailers would often use this as a punishment. For one of my kind, there are few greater displeasures than the feeling of dryness. We are used to heat of course, but the humid heat of the Black Marsh swamps. Not this.

They had more mundane means to dry out a Saxhleel. They would lock us in cages, allow the summer's sun to do their work. But during the rainy days, or as the fog rolled across the islands, they would force us to wear this. Bind our hands so we couldn't remove it. Wait for the chestplate to take effect.

The feeling was slow, but after the first time. The dread was choking, knowing what was to come. It would begin as a slight discomfort, almost just an itch. The tips of your scales would feel it first, but slowly it would sink down to your center. Your tongue would feel shriveled in your mouth. You would close your eyes, but nothing could soothe them. Your hide would slowly tighten, inch by inch.

They always made sure you didn't die, no matter how much you craved it.

Interview with Three Argonians in Shadowfen

Author: 
Anonymous

Journal of Arctus Eucebius, fellow of the New Publican Nibenean Geographic Society.

We live in a singular time. Never before (and soon, perhaps, never again) have the borders into Black Marsh been this open. It is thus my duty as a son of Tamriel and an heir to the spirit of Cyrodiil to document this land for my fellow man, and all men to come.

Day 1.
My research begins in the approved manner, with a formal interview with Vicecanon Heita-meen. After the necessary niceties, I was able to ask her the following questions.

If you don't mind, would you explain to me the political structure of Black Marsh, if there is one? Common knowledge dictates that the whole land is nothing but independent tribes and scattered fortresses, yet such cannot be true of a state hoping to be respected in Tamriel's political arena.

“You direct such questions to me because I appear to exert command over my fellow Saxhleel. But this a mere semblance for the convenience of diplomacy. Do not forget it—I never do.

“O curious child, very few of the people of Black Marsh ‘hope to be respected in Tamriel’s political arena,’ or even think of the Land Outside at all. Each Hist is a tribe, each tribe is a Hist, and it is enough to flow where the current of life takes one each day. The tribes of northern Black Marsh act in loose confederation in response to invasion and the predation of slavers, and on this basis have ‘joined’ the Ebonheart Pact in an alliance of mutual defense. The enslavement of Saxhleel, at least in our immediate territories, has been suppressed, and we feel that countering this great and historical evil justifies some cultural dilution and spiritual abrasion.

“Other confederations of various tribes have occurred in the ‘past,’ and in response to as-yet-unforeseen threats, will doubtless occur again in the ‘future.’ We have seen this in western Black Marsh, for example, in the region of Gideon, when the tribes there have come under pressure from inhabitants of Cyrodiil. I have heard as well that sometimes tribes of the south or east coasts band together to resist the incursions of raiders from Morrowind and Elsweyr. Sometimes, it is said, all Black Marsh may even cohere and raise a temporary monarch. It could be. When the need is upon us, the Saxhleel unite and are strong—but when no need compels such deformation of daily existence, why bother?”

So far only the region of Shadowfen has joined the Ebonheart Pact and opened itself up to civilization. What would you say to Murkmire or Lilmoth to persuade them to open their hearts and their borders?

“So far the Ebonheart Pact has only opened its hearts and borders to the civilization of Shadowfen. What would you say to the Telvanni, the Ghost Sea Raiders, or the Blackwooders to persuade them to regard Black Marsh as other than an unclaimed land of people and provender to be pillaged without remorse?”

You were born into slavery in Dunmeri lands, were you not? Your willingness to work alongside the people who enslaved you is admirable, if entirely beyond my comprehension. The so called god-queen Almalexia comes to mind as one who had the power to stop this barbaric practice at any point yet did not do so.

“I was born into slavery in Argonian lands oppressed by Dark Elves who followed a tradition of wickedness. Yet traditions can be changed by those who exert their will and strength to change them. To us, the religions of men and mer seem to exist mainly to enforce tradition and resist change. This is inexplicable, so we do not concern ourselves with it overmuch. The needs of daily existence are of sufficient concern already.”

My own people's history also begins with a slave uprising. Alessia's rebellion lead to a great Empire stretching over the heartlands and beyond. Do your people have similar aspirations?

“What a curious question. The aspiration of an entire people: what would such a thing be? And why? We Saxhleel do not have common ‘aspirations’—we have no need. We have the Hist.”

Day 8.
I have long left behind what little comfort and civility this land holds. I had hoped to find more pure accounts here, but was instead rewarded with sickness after sickness and a seemingly incurable foot fungus. My two guides (a one-eyed Argonian and a positively giant Dunmer who call each other brothers) laugh at my misery.

I did finally find one individual who both spoke Tamrielic and was willing to be interviewed. Heem-Jas' answers to my standard questions were brief and boring, at least until I managed to find a topic that got him talking.

Every Argonian I've talked to has told me that the Hist play a vital part in the life of an Argonian. Some books I've read even suggest that they are able to telepathically control you to form armies or act against your judgement. Is there any truth to this?

“I am glad that you asked this question, but I do not think I will be able to answer it clearly. I am, after all, just a doughty adventurer, not a sap-speaker. What would I know? I will try my best, though. There are many words that we use in Jel that do not have sisters in the dry tongue. Maybe an analogy would help.

“My egg-mother always said that the Hist are like a turtle shell. The shell protects the turtle from harm, but it also gives a turtle its shape. Without its shell, a turtle is just a lizard. That is why Lukiul Argonians act strangely and cannot read our spines.

“The thing to remember is that where the shell goes, the turtle goes. If a shell tumbles down a hill, so does the turtle. If a shell is wedged in a net, the turtle is wedged in a net too. So you see, when the Xit-Xaht’s Hist is trapped under a heavy rock called ‘crazy,’ the Xit-Xaht are trapped too. It is a sad thing to behold.”

Isn't monolithic stone the way of your ancestors? Why is mud and stick superior to something that has lasted generations?

“It is not always wise to follow an ancestor’s example. If I swam in the wake of my egg-fathers, I would be mending weir nets and fileting eels, not embarking on heroic quests. But my words wander. I will tell you what the elders told me.

“Father Sithis is the changer. Waters rise and fall. Storms come and go. Saxhleel live and die. Always in motion, you see? Nothing lasts forever. If this is true, why build stone houses? Stone is boring. A rock pulled out of the ground is just a rock. But leather? Leather springs from its egg alive and wriggling. It grows, and scars, and wrinkles. And wood? Wood starts as a tiny seed, but eventually grows leaves and bark and knobby-knees. Mud, wood, bone—they are always changing. Stone though? Stone fancies itself immortal. It is silly and vain.

“So a stone house may last a long time, but in the end it still crumbles. Your lands are littered with broken keeps and old ruins, are they not? Now they are just square caves where monsters live.

“No one and nothing can fight the river forever. Better to be brave and flow with it.”

Perhaps this Hist is attempting to return to a grander Argonian civilization?  Is that goal not admirable, however wrong the steps it uses to reach it?

“Ha. I hope you will forgive me for saying that your question is very dry. No Saxhleel would say such a thing. I should ask you a question in reply: what makes a thing grand?

“Do as I do. Think on your greatest heroes.  When you were a hatchling, did you listen to stories about heroes that sat quietly for centuries and then aged into obscurity? That would be a very boring story. I know this because I tell very exciting stories. Heroes are like a stiff wind through the reeds. They rattle the world with their greatness, and then fade away as quickly as they came. Heroes do not fear death. What is this ‘grander Argonian civilization’ if not fear of death? Fear of forgetting?

“I think that dry-skins would feel much better if they forgot things every so often. You are so focused on the ‘great’ and the ‘lasting,’ it binds you up. My egg-mother told me that memory is like digestion. The wasso fruit tastes very fine, but if you try to keep that fruit too long, it gives you a belly-ache.  Better to let it pass and find new fruit.

“The Hist know this better than anyone. Even the greatest empires are nothing but a flicker of time’s candle for them. The only constant is change, you see? Well … that and my thirst for adventure, of course.”

Day 12.
On the long road to Alten Corimont I ran into a most unusual individual - his Tamrielic was impeccable, especially by Black Marsh standards, and he claimed to be a Shadowscale in service to the Dark Brotherhood! This was an opportunity I simply could not pass up.

I've been told that Shadowscales are those Argonians who are born under the sign of the shadow, which is dominant in the month of Second Seed. Surely thousands of Argonians are born during that month, yet you are the first Shadowscale I've ever encountered!

“Well, I wouldn’t be very good at my job if I gave away all our secrets, would I? Hmm. I can give you a few scraps to chew on. Most of the secrets are meaningless superstitions anyway.

“Yes, Argonians born under the Shadow are often (but not always) shipped off to assassin-camp to learn all the finer points of stealth and murder. There are some very dedicated tribes like the Kota-Vimleel that pour all their resources into breeding assassins, but I suspect most tribes choose one or two of their strongest hatchlings to send to Sithis while keeping the rest safe at home. That was certainly the case with me.

“Admission to a Shadowscale school is just the first step. Many would-be Shadowscales are sent back to the swamp within a few weeks of arriving due to insubordination, blasphemy, or lack of fitness. Then there’s the slow attrition of the training process itself: mistakes handling poison, sparring mishaps, wild-animal attacks, etc. All of these things take a toll.

“Finally, and most importantly, the Shadowscales are masters of deception. We can be anywhere. Anyone. You’ve probably met more Shadowscales than you think.”
 

I've also heard that your order responds directly to the king of Black Marsh, but, as far as I know, no such title exists in the present.

“Ha! Yes, I’ve heard that as well. Delightful.

“Here, I’ll give you some advice. In the future, just assume that half of everything you hear about Argonians is total nonsense. Then, assume that the other half is misinterpreted or rife with error.

“There may have been a time when a monarch reigned over Black Marsh, but those days are gone. Sucked down into the mud with the xanmeers and Duskfall secrets. The current (and most popular) interpretation is that the monarch’s role as commander of the Shadowscales was always overstated. The order’s first and only sovereign is Sithis itself. The king may have been seen as Sithis’ avatar, or his mud-anointed servant, but who knows now? The Scalded Throne’s been empty for centuries … if there was ever a Scalded Throne to begin with. I’d be shocked if a king ever sat on it again.”

 

[The rest of the journal has been lost to time.]

Teeba-Hatsei

Author: 
Anonymous

Dry-skins often ask me about the teeba-hatsei. They see the ball and the court and say all kinds of funny things. Today the Tall-Elf I travel with pointed to the court and asked, "This is a garden, yes?" I didn't know how to respond, so I just blinked at him. What kind of garden grows no food? Tall-Elves can be very stupid. Still, I think I should write down the rules so people ask me fewer questions.

Teeba-hatsei means something like "hip and tail ball" in the dry tongue. All of us play it—some better than others. I was never very good. My arms are too long and my tail is too thin. The best teeba-players are short and bulky, with broad tails like alligators and hips that swing like bags of cinnamon-grass.

The game is played on a broad field of dry mud and salt-meadow hay. On either end of the field is a wall of mud and eeto cane. The size of the field and the height of the wall vary from village to village. In Xiniss, for example, the wall is twenty hands tall. Two reed hoops are suspended over the field. One is about thirty hands high. The other is about fifty. Again, this varies. For example, the Tum-Taleel tend to set their hoops lower as they are fat and stupid and cannot jump very high.

Each team consists of five players. The game begins by tossing the ball (or teeba) skyward. Each team tries to hit the ball with their hips, elbows, or tails. This can hurt a bit since the teeba is very heavy and made of depasa gum. Some players wear pads of wood and dried wasso leaves to protect themselves, but most Saxhleel make fun of them for doing so.

The teeba is volleyed back and forth between the teams, with each player trying to strike the opposing wall with the ball. If they succeed, their team earns a point. Teamwork is very important. One player may tap the teeba upward so a second player can swat it with their tail. Tail-strikes tend to be much stronger. This continues until one of the teams has scored ten points.

Teams can earn three points by hitting the ball through the lower reed hoop. This is very difficult to do though, since the hole is so small. If a player is able to get the ball through the upper hoop, the game is over and whichever team has the highest score at that time is declared the winner.

There is, of course, much more to it. But this primer should at least keep the scaleless ones from trying to pitch their tents in the middle of the court.

On Playing the Frogs

Author: 
Toralf

Helga, you'll never believe what I saw the other day. I was walking through Tadulpa and came upon a small group of Argonian musicians. Most were playing clay flutes and lizard-hide drums, but one was playing the craziest instrument I've ever seen. He called it a "vossa-satl." Apparently, there are all kinds of vossa-satls—some as small as a jaw harp and some as big as a pipe organ! My new friend's vossa-satl was about the size of a game hen. Sounded a bit like a game hen, too.

The instrument looks kind of like a polished wooden clam shell with a series of valves along the top. Each segment of the shell is actually a small, hollow compartment with a mouth like a bugle (the one I saw had five). According to the musician, each chamber is a different size and produces a different tone.

Now here's the craziest part. They put live frogs inside! My friend was kind enough to open his vossa-satl to show me the five small frogs within, one in each chamber! He gushed over them like a new mother showing off her babies. He told me their names, what they did for fun, and what they liked to eat. The only thing he didn't tell me is where he found them. Apparently, the location of their spawning pond is a tightly guarded secret.

Before every performance, he squirts a few drops of frog-musk into each compartment. This drives the frogs wild and sets them chirping and croaking like mad. By pushing the valves, he's able to muffle certain chambers while leaving others open. This allows for some bizarre but harmonious notes! I could scarcely believe it! I offered to buy his instrument on the spot, but he refused. Just as well, I suppose. I doubt those frogs would survive a winter in Windhelm. I ended up buying you a flute instead. Not the most exciting instrument, but I'm sure it'll sound better than that old goat-horn bugle you love to play!

Best,

Toralf

Black Marsh

Author: 
Anonymous
"Eel-Strangler" Serving Platter Traditional platter depicting a triumphant Lord Zuthorix the Eel-Strangler, who slew his enemies with conger-eel garrottes.
"Key" to Sanguine's Demesne Carnelian cut into the shape of a key, engraved "The Key to Sanguine's Demesne, Where Fantasy is Reality."
"Stay Moist!" Brief-Axiom Wall Mosaic Flexible "Brief-Axiom" mosaic of colored stones embedded in crocodile hide, with turquoise chips spelling out "Stay Moist!"
Ancient Saxhleel Statue Likely taken from one of the Argonian ruins near Hissmir, this statue depicts a crouching Argonian holding a stylized turtle.
Argonian Affirmation Board A board of heavy, inlaid wood, set in a series of octagonal patterns. Used for various Argonian meditative exercises.
Argonian Alchemist Rack Stands-In-Thought crafts these fine, wooden racks to hold and organize jars full of alchemy components.
Argonian Cologne A small glass bottle filled with a strong-smelling liquid. It's a scent that only Argonians could find alluring.
Argonian Darkwood Tabletop The top of an Argonian-crafted table, probably made in Murkmire and shipped to Dhalmora along with a parcel of slaves.
Argonian Fruit Bowl A wooden bowl crafted by and popular with Argonians, some Dark Elves have begun to use these distinctive bowls to store fruit.
Argonian Nightmare Trap Sold exclusively by a Hlaalu trading agent in Black Marsh, this Argonian effigy wards off bad dreams and night terrors.
Argonian Reading Glass A polished and shaped piece of glass attached to a bone handle.
Argonian Scale Scraper A metal blade especially designed to groom an Argonian's scaly body by removing mites, dirt, and residual build-up.
Argonian Seed Toys These tiny figurines of animals and Argonians carved from gorapple seeds fit within a simple leather pouch.
Argonian Sipping Cup Imported from Black Marsh, this crimson-wood cup is designed to be spill-proof for the use of young children.
Argonian Spice Shaker A ceramic container with shaker holes in its lid, designed to hold spice and dispense small amounts.
Argonian Tail Band A band of colored leather worn as a decorative element on the tails of some Dhalmora Argonians. This one has bells attached.
Argonian Tail Stocking A specialty item with strategically placed pouches to hold warmed stones. Some Argonians just can't abide a cold tail.
Beetle Puffs Pastry Pan This pastry pan makes a dozen sweet beetle puffs, a Dhalmora delicacy favored by Argonians and other adventurous eaters.
Black Marsh Transportation Guide A hand-drawn map of the various underground expressways formed by the roots of the Hist trees and the common routes for traders.
Bronzed Egg Tooth A prized childhood keepsake, coated in bronze.
Chieftain's Heirloom Toad-Atlatl Enameled flinging-stick ending in a shallow cup, used in the traditional Murkwater game "The Toad Flies at Dusk."
Clam-Shell File An attractive file used to dull (or sharpen) an Argonian's claws.
Commemorative "Broken Shackles" Medal Bronze medal depicting a set of broken shackles, inscribed "Jubilee Day 572, Lukiul Uxith."
Conjectural Diorama of Silyanorn Scale model in precious woods of the Barsaebic Ayleid city of Silyanorn, the predecessor of modern-day Stormhold.
Copper Horn Caps While the "capping" fad has largely passed, there's still a market for horn adornments in Black Marsh.
Crafter's Ruler Cuts-with-the-Grain swears by this measuring stick, which is engraved with the words "measure twice, cut once."
Crawling Night Pillow Dhalmora Argonians fill their pillows with live centipedes—they love the sensation of wriggling creatures against their heads.
Crimson Ship Ticket A ticket for passage on the Crimson Ship, never used by its owner.
Deluxe Dark Elf Pantomime Joke Book Leather-bound joke book of wordless cartoons all mocking Dark Elves, their customs and personal habits; "Stormhold, 2E 578."
Dhalmora Leather Snuggle Dhalmora Argonians find the feel of these thick, leather blankets oddly comforting on cold, lonely nights.
Dhalmora Scorpion Trap A Dhalmora Argonian invention, this contraption is placed near your sleeping area to attract and capture unwanted scorpions.
Disturbing Argonian Portrait An Argonian family portrait, you find something about it to be mildly disquieting about the way the eyes follow you as you move.
Dreugh-Shell Sithis Spoon Open-bottomed "Sithis Spoon" of Bogmother dreugh-shell, used in the ritual of the Empty Feast of Nullity.
Drinks-Not Book Mark Drinks-Not-Investments, the bank in Dhalmora, distributed these stylish leather book marks to promote business.
Ebony Sithis Idol This small ebony statue depicts Sithis as a bare-skulled figure clutching an Argonian egg.
Elaborate Hist Centerpiece An imposing willow wood sculpture. Small polished jades have been inset between the roots to represent eggs.
Elegant Velvet-Lined Tail Lifter Elegant folding tail lifter made of flexible spry-wood inlaid with red cedar, with a velvet-lined lift-cuff.
Engraved Copper Plates A set of burnished copper flatware. Each piece has been stamped with the mark of the famous Argonian smith, Haj-Ja.
Erotic Argonian Etchings A set of limited-edition etchings of Argonian erotica. It is impossible to discern the gender of the participants.
Eye of Sithis See-All Some Dhalmora Argonians believe this serpent-eye gem, when placed beside their beds, will watch over them during the night.
Fin Polish A lacquered wooden jar filled with a smooth, waxy substance. Guaranteed to enhance the appearance and health of Argonian fins.
Fine Fishbone Head-Spine Snood Semi-rigid snood worn while sleeping to prevent disarrangement of an Argonian's head-spines.
Flawless Black Pearl A large and well-polished swamp pearl from the heart of Black Marsh.
Folio-Binding Kit with Head-Needle Fine snakeskin sewing kit for binding folios of parchment, with an Argonian head-spine needle.
Frog Gig with Folding Haft Xal Ithix-style barbed four-tined frog gig, with double-hinged folding haft made of Mud Tree bamboo.
Gerent's Quilted Sponge-Blanket Quilted sponge-blanket displaying the sigil of the vicecanons. It is best used for staying moist while sleeping.
Glazed Chiminea Beautiful Argonian motifs cover this small cooking oven.
Gold Counter's Promissory Drinks-with-Toes distributes these tokens of obligation to remind bank customers of their dealings with Drinks-Not-Investments.
Golden Mudcrab Plaque Gilded mudcrab mounted on dreugh-shell plaque, inscribed "Best in Class, Sunscale Strand Mudcrab Heave."
Gray Mire Angler's Creel Argonian-made croc-hide creel for stowing caught fish; includes stiffened safety-pocket for extra hook storage.
Greymist Falls Scrimshaw Tusk Delicate scrimshaw carving on imported horker tusk depicting a couple picnicking at Greymist Falls.
Haj-Mota Serving Bowl This large bowl was fashioned from the shell of a baby Haj-Mota.
Hissmir Cypress-Wood Lute Ten-stringed lute of resonant swamp-cypress wood, made by the famous Hissmir luthier Sings-Backward.
Hist Bookends A pair of masterfully carved bookends that resemble a tangle of Hist roots.
Hist Tree Crystal Orb Crystal orb containing a tiny sculpture of the Percolating Mire Hist Tree; when inverted, small white flakes shower down.
Hoarvor-Proboscis Mud Snorkel Night-snorkel to enable breathing when sleeping immersed in mud, a hoarvor proboscis engraved with paeans to Padhome.
Incomprehensible Argonian Game A game, you think, of ancient Argonian design. The rules are incomprehensible, but the carved monster pieces are nice.
Intricate Fishing Basket An expertly coiled basket made from river cane and red wasso—popular with Argonian fishwives.
Jade Cameo Sculpture This lovingly polished relief sculpture depicts an Argonian in profile.
Keeper's Everfount Inkplume Writing plume of endless ink used by Hatching Pool Keepers to keep records of eggs and their hatchlings.
Keeper's Licorice Worm Dowsing Rod Orichalc dowsing rod used for finding the underground teeming-holes of licorice worms, which Keepers feed to hatchlings.
Kothringi Abacus from Zuuk Portable Kothringi abacus employing varnished sphere-scarabs as slide-beads. The four bottom central beads are marked Z-U-U-K.
Kothringi Dream Catcher Small bits of string and beads are woven together into a small circle. There is a single black feather attached at the bottom.
Monsoon Celebrant's Helical Foont-Pipe A hollow spiral blowpipe, made of the horn of an unknown sea creature, used for foonting to welcome the annual monsoon.
Mudcrab Shell Cracker This essential Argonian tool for obtaining the succulent meat inside a steamed mudcrab can be found throughout Bal Foyen.
Murkmire Spice Grinder A wooden device for grinding spices, this one was made by Argonian crafters and imported from Black Marsh.
Naga-skin Bandit Blotter Felt-lined absorbent blotter made from the soft-scaled underbelly of a condemned Naga bandit.
Obsidian Night-Spectacles Broad pince-snout spectacles of thin but dark obsidian, worn for the Argonian practice of "Walking with Sithis."
Ooze-Blender with Spiral Spinner Fine ceramic ooze-blender jar with central rotating spiral spinner, engraved "Sundry Swills, Alten Corimont" on the bottom.
Ornamental Box of Family Egg-Shards Thornwood box with mother-of-pearl inlay containing a selection of family egg-shards going back several generations.
Pejureel's Party Platter Chef Pejureel in Dhalmora sells a surprising number of these turtle-shell platters. Perfect for any party.
Polished Wooden Spoon A stained and polished Saxhleel ladle, highly sought after by many Imperial chefs.
Porcelain Snake Sweat Jar A decorative porcelain jar, used to store and dispense a favorite beverage of Dhalmora Argonians: tasty snake sweat.
Ranic's Leather Oil A jar of oil intended for use on leather. Many Dhalmora Argonians use it to keep their scales smooth and shiny.
Raw Silk Linens Rough-spun linens gathered from an Argonian caterpillar farm.
Replica Chid-Moska Xanmeer Small replica of a xanmeer carved in soapstone, engraved "Chid-Moska" underneath, with an "X" crudely carved at the apex.
Sap-Speaker Moppet Doll A doll modeled after an Argonian Sap-Speaker, albeit with a large head and smaller body, rarely seen this far from Murkmire.
Seashell Wind Chimes When Iron-In-Blood takes a break from crafting weapons, he makes these delicate chimes from local seashells.
Shadowfen Mud Collection Collection of eight sealed glass jars, each containing a sample of mud from a different region of Shadowfen.
Shrew-Skull Jar-Top Opener Fancy jar-top opener that uses the open-mouthed skull of a giant shrew, labeled "Courtesy of Beleth's Swamp Food."
Small Copper Theilul Still Compact copper apparatus for distilling moon-sugar cane into theilul, the dark Argonian rum.
Stormhold "Stingaree" Tail Prosthesis Fancy lacquered giant-wasp thorax with flexible bands for tail attachment, worn in the "Fredas Night Stingaree."
Stormhold-Style Silver Slide-Flute Slide-flute, silver, of the type used for playing the traditional jig "Dancing on Eggs" in the Stormhold Fredas Night Stingaree.
Stout Grass Rope A coil of strong, fibrous rope. This sturdy weave is an old Argonian secret.
Swamp Eel Serving Platter A large, ornate platter, traditionally used to present and serve roasted swamp eel at Argonian feasts.
Teeba-Hatsei Ball This remarkably heavy ball is used in the popular Argonian sport of Teeba-Hatsei, or "Hip and Tail Ball."
Teeba-Hatsei Hip Pad Worn by Murkmire "hip-and-tail-ball" players, this padding of wood and dried wasso leaves is a conversation piece in Bal Foyen.
Thick Quill Pen This quill was drawn from the corpse of a mighty Hack-Wing.
Vicecanon's Cloth-of-Gold Armband Symbol of office for a Vicecanon of Stormhold and "All Surrounding Domains Appertaining Thereto," says the label.
Wamasu-Hide Tarpaulin This sturdy tarp is tightly stitched and extremely durable.
Wasp-Wing Betrothal Veil Heirloom Argonian betrothal veil woven of the wings of Shadowfen wasps, both ordinary and giant.
White Rose Warden's Knout Brooch White Rose Prison Warden's symbol of office, a platinum brooch in the shape of a truncheon ending in a short three-lashed whip.
Winter Warding Talisman A talisman sold in back alleys, it supposedly keeps Argonians warm despite the cold of the Rift, but keep a blanket handy.
Xal Thak Dental Marimba Small marimba, with mallets, made of carefully-selected resonant reptile teeth on a nonatonic scale.
   
  Ceremonial shovel used to add a final pat of muck to a mud-house, with "Forsaken Hamlet" crudely scrawled on the blade.
  Crystal water bowl intended as a "live inkwell." It holds a single black marsh-squid as a living source of ink.

Murky Time

Author: 
Teldenrinde

Studying Saxhleel Concepts by Teldenrinde of the Mages Guild

"The haj mota has an old spirit. Even in the egg, she is old and wise. You, too, must become old if you wish to hunt her."

This is a common theme in Argonian culture and folklore, the idea of aging backward or aging prematurely. It can be a confusing concept for outsiders to fully grasp. This isn't surprising. For men and mer, the experience of life happens somewhere between the past and the future. For Argonians, time is much more fluid.

This makes the existence and primacy of the Jekka-Wass cultural calendar all the more confusing. Wasseek Saxhleel and many of their regional neighbors place great emphasis on the passage of months and the circular, recurring nature of the Tamrielic year. Some scholars contend that the calendar is just a holdover from the ancient days of the great Argonian stone sculptures. According to the theory, the calendar is a vestigial tail that's lasted through tradition even though it's totally inconsistent with present-day Saxhleel values. I'm not so sure.

I recently asked a Jekka-Wass elder how they can see time as fluid and murky while maintaining an elaborate and surprisingly accurate calendar. He sat quietly for what seemed like an eternity. Eventually he spoke:

"[The calendar] is like a bowl of water. The day and the night swim in the bowl."

I could tell that he wasn't very happy with this answer, but he was resigned to it. His frustration was rooted in both his limited grasp of Cyrodilic and the shortcomings of his native tongue. You see, as far as I can tell, Jel has no tenses; at least nothing that we'd recognize as a tense. The closest substitution I've heard interpreters use is "old" and "new." They talk a great deal about "changing" and "becoming"- words that imply forward motion. But again, these words are obfuscated by all manner of arcane terms and concepts that even I can't decipher.

I will do my best to understand - but I doubt the murky water will ever become absolutely clear.

The Black Fin: Foreign Adventures

Author: 
Mee-see

By Mee-See, Squire and Personal Aide to Keshu the Black Fin

I started out as a simple ka in service to the mighty Keshu the Black Fin. In the Saxhleel tongue, ka roughly translates as apprentice, but it doesn't necessarily carry the responsibilities and obligations that such a position among the Nords or Dark Elves does. Later, as Keshu began to adopt some of the customs of our allies, I was named as squire to the Black Fin. When Peek-Ereel decided to leave the legion, I also inherited the duty of recording significant events as they happened in the life of the mighty Keshu. Now, understand, this wasn't a specific duty related to my role as ka. This was an obligation passed on to me by Peek-Ereel herself without the express knowledge of Keshu, and it was an obligation I readily accepted.

So, where to begin? I think I'll start with the day the alliance began to take shape. The three nations (well, I find it difficult to actually refer to our people as a nation, but the reference makes the Nords and Dark Elves more comfortable, so there you have it) had met on the field of battle and come together to finally defeat the Akaviri invaders. After the Akaviri finished sacking Windhelm, it turned its attention to the south and east and began to march against Morrowind. As the Akaviri invasion force cut a path toward Mournhold, the Dark Elf army—led by Almalexia of the Tribunal—established a defensive line to halt their progress. Jorunn and the Nords, meantime, rallied their own forces and followed after the Akaviri, catching them from behind. The Akaviri, caught between two powerful armies, nevertheless was able to withstand the two-pronged attack. They may even have been able to eventually win the day, but that might just be speculation on my part. In any case, they never had the chance to try.

Keshu's force, a phalanx of Saxhleel shellbacks and swamp warriors, hit the Akaviri from the south, providing the last element needed to end this period of invasion. Our troops, seasoned from fighting the Dark Elf slavers in Black Marsh, were the final ingredient required to overwhelm the invaders, and we fell upon them with wild abandon. Keshu wanted to help her friend Jorunn, but she also had an ulterior motive for marching our legion out of the swamp and into the heart of Morrowind. She wanted the other nations to recognize the value and veracity of the Saxhleel—the Argonians. We were more than primitive savages. We were more than slaves. We were the equals of the others, and we were here to save them from alien invaders.

I won't say that the victory was totally due to the intervention of Keshu's legion, but we certainly played our part. We fought valiantly alongside the ferocious Nords and the cunning Dark Elves, slaughtering Akaviri soldiers with every step of our advance. When the fighting finally ended near the city of Ebonheart and victory was ours, Keshu hurried to meet with the leaders of the other two factions. I, as her loyal squire, followed in her wake.

I had never been in the presence of so many powerful and important people before! I had heard stories about Jorunn the Nord Bard, but I never imagined he was really that big! And Almalexia—who the Dark Elves worshipped as a god—was cold and beautiful, for a scaleless Elf without a tail. Jorunn stepped forward and greeted Keshu like an old friend. "We owe you a great debt, Black Fin," Jorunn said in his loud, booming voice. "What can the Nords and the Dark Elves offer you for your invaluable assistance this day?"

Keshu was silent for a few long moments, looking intently at Jorunn first, and then turning her attention to Almalexia. With her eyes locked upon the Mother of Morrowind, she finally replied, "No more Argonian slaves. Set my people free."

Almalexia and Jorunn exchanged a look of their own, and the large Nord's gaze never wavered. After a time, the Dark Elf leader made a slight nod of her head and said, "A reasonable request. And one the Dark Elves shall honor—with one provision. The Argonians must join the Dark Elves and the Nords in a mutual pact of cooperation and defense. In that way, all three of our nations will remain free."

Thus began a series of negotiations that lasted well into the next day and ended with the formation of the Ebonheart Pact. Keshu agreed to keep her forces in the north to help bolster the defense of her new allies, but not before she sent runners to Stormhold to inform our people of the news: slavery was abolished and the Argonians were now allies with the Nords and the Dark Elves. Since we had no government, at least not in the sense that our new allies did, Keshu determined to remain in Nord and Dark Elf territory to solidify the Saxhleel position and make sure the various agreements were adhered to. In the meantime, she sent Xocin back to Black Marsh to find ambassadors to serve in the capital cities of the alliance.

And that was how the Argonians joined the Ebonheart Pact.

Now, the declaration of the formation of the Ebonheart Pact and the abolition of Argonian slavery didn't result in the immediate cessation of all Dark Elf slaver activity. It would take almost a full year for every Dark Elf province and holding to comply with the order of the Tribunal, and even then there would always be slavers who refused to adhere to the new accords. This resulted in a few awkward situations for Keshu and her Black Fin Legion as it toured the land of Morrowind as the initial Argonian representatives to the alliance.

We met with a good amount of fear and hatred during those early days of the alliance. Some Dark Elves became very uncomfortable when a heavily armed force of Argonians approached their town or village. At these, we were turned away at best or attacked by settlements with sizable militias. Others, though, having heard the story of the Battle of Ebonheart, appeared grateful for our help and were happy to welcome us into their homes. While such treatment is much more common now, back then it was nearly unheard of, and we were both surprised and thankful for every friendly face we encountered.

We spent that first year of the alliance in Dark Elf territory, making our presence known and working to make sure that all of the tenets of the agreement were adhered to. We also took in many of the newly freed Argonians, giving the ones who decided not to return to Black Marsh or try to make a go of it as a free Saxhleel in Morrowind an immediate purpose and a place to belong. In this way, the Black Legion continued to grow even as it traveled throughout Morrowind.

Eventually, we arrived at Mournhold as guests of the Tribunal. We spent nearly a month camped outside the city and regularly meeting with Almalexia and other important Dark Elf and Nord officials. Keshu participated in discussions to bolster the defense of the Pact by forming an "army of the alliance," which would include forces donated by each of the member nations. As we were looking for a purpose, Keshu volunteered the Black Fin Legion to serve as the backbone of the new allied army. In time, Keshu would become not only a war hero, but one of the foremost generals leading Pact forces.

Before that initial year had ended, Keshu and the Black Legion would prove their worth to the Pact by once again saving the day. This time, it was to deal with raiders crossing the mountains from the west. Rumors abounded that the raiders were either funded by the Daggerfall Covenant or were Covenant soldiers in disguise, but we were never able to prove that. But when reports of a large band of raiders attacking Dark Elf settlements in western Morrowind reached Mournhold, Keshu offered to take the Pact army on a hunting expedition.

Keshu's force consisted of mostly Black Fin legionnaires, bolstered by a contingent of Nord soldiers and a squadron of Dark Elf mages and healers. We moved quickly, following the path of destruction left by the raiders until we finally caught them at Indrano Pass. Keshu divided our forces, sending half of our contingent around to cut off the raiders' escape path into the mountains, while the rest of our troops formed an arrowhead and advanced on the raiders' position. Instead of holding fast, the raiders decided to turn and run. That's when our troops swarmed out of the rocky foothills and we caught the raiders between us. After all the trouble they caused, we expected them to put up more of a fight.

It was well into the second year after the formation of the Ebonheart Pact, and Keshu and the Black Fin Legion (minus the troops we left behind as part of the Pact army in Morrowind) were now touring the Nordic lands of Skyrim. Our first stop after crossing into Nord territory was the town of Riften, where we were treated to a typical Nord celebration that included lots of food, lots of mead, and a number of good-natured brawls that seem to be a common pastime in the colder climes. While there, we helped fortify some of the town's defenses, which Keshu insisted we do wherever we went to show our willingness to provide whatever assistance we could during our visits.

After more than a week in Riften, we began our trek north through Eastmarch toward the city of Windhelm and Keshu's reunion with Jorunn—who was now Jorunn the Skald-King, if you can believe that! Apparently, the big Nord was a prince or some such, and was now the leader of the entire Nord nation! And Windhelm, what a city! It was as large and as impressive in its own way as Mournhold, but where the Dark Elf metropolis was a reflection of its people, Windhelm was clearly and undeniably a reflection of the Nords. Repairs were still underway to deal with the damage inflicted by the Akaviri siege, but that did nothing to detract from the sheer grandeur of the Nord city.

Jorunn met us at the gates, grabbed Keshu up in an enormous hug, and then invited us all to enjoy the hospitality of his home and city. The celebration lasted for a week and a day! The Nords certainly love to throw a good party, and they seem to look for any excuse to have one. During the celebration, we were treated to the best mead and ale the Nords produced, exquisite delicacies such as rabbit meatballs, and some of the most ribald drinking songs I had ever heard—all sung extremely loudly and with a lot of clinking of mugs and goblets.

When the mead casks were finally empty and the rabbit meatballs had run out, the celebration came to an abrupt end. Then the work began. We stayed in Windhelm for the better part of a month, helping repair the outer walls of the city and providing whatever other aid the Nords were comfortable allowing us to deal with. And whenever they could both spare the time, Keshu and the Skald-King huddled in a corner and spoke at length about a variety of topics. No one was allowed to join them during these discussions, but I always got the sense that they were sharing their thoughts on leadership, the alliance, and the future of our nations.

The Black Fin Legion, as we had come to know it, came to an end in Skyrim, as well. Our soldiers were divided into small teams and sent to serve with Pact troops of mixed nationality, fighting alongside Nords and Dark Elves in the same cohorts. I stayed with Keshu, of course, and I was there when the Skald-King offered her a unique honor. "I want you to command the Pact forces in Skyrim, Black Fin," Jorunn proclaimed. "Will you accept this charge?" To no one's surprise, Keshu agreed. And through her efforts over the next seven years, the tactics and strategies of the Pact's military might were developed and set in place.

Which is why the Pact was prepared when the War of the Three Banners began.

In the midst of General Keshu's continued build-up and improvement of the Ebonheart Pact allied forces, the Black Fin received a summons from Jorunn the Skald-King. We had been training with combined troops near Riften when the runner arrived with the sealed letter. The meeting would take place at Fort Amol, in Eastmarch, in two-day's time. Keshu began to make preparations to depart at once.

Keshu the Black Fin decided to travel light and fast, taking only a small contingent with her to meet with the Skald-King. I accompanied the General, of course, along with Tee-Wan, Xocin, and the Nord warrior, Kora Greatstorm. Vos-Huruk remained behind to command the troops and continue the training exercises. As our small group approached Fort Amol, we were met a good distance outside the settlement and led in through a hidden trail that bypassed the main roads into and out of the town. We were hurriedly escorted to the jarl's manor and taken to a secret meeting room within the large estate. There, standing behind a large table, was Jorunn the Skald-King.

I sensed immediately that something was very different from our previous meetings with Jorunn. For one thing, he didn't rush to scoop up Keshu in a tremendous hug, and he wasn't his usual loud and boisterous self. To be fair, the weight of the crown had taken a toll on the bard-turned-ruler, but he appeared more grave and serious than I had ever seen him. "The Tribunal has sent a dire warning, Black Fin," Jorunn began. "Almalexia has had a vision. Or maybe it was Vivec? Who can say? In any case, they warn that a threat to the Ebonheart Pact is developing and we need to be ready. So, everything you've been doing? Now you must triple your efforts and prepare us for war."

The new war effort was placed in the hands of three generals, one from each member nation of the Pact. Keshu represented the Argonians, Kora Greatstorm represented the Nords, and Yeveth Noramil represented the Dark Elves. These were the generals that would, together, bolster and prepare the Pact's offensive and defensive capabilities for the coming years. And, thanks to the preparations that the Black Fin had already begun, the foundation was in place for the arms buildup to reach the next level in a relatively short amount of time. Before we departed that secret room in the jarl's manor, Jorunn had one last nugget of wisdom to pass on to Keshu. "Peace is a fragile, precious thing, Black Fin," the Skald-King said in a weary voice. "Cherish the time you have with it, for it never lasts long."

Over the next two years, the expanding Pact army faced a number of small tests, including skirmishes with Imperial legions and Daggerfall troops, and it acquitted itself admirably. In many ways, these small encounters led to the War of the Three Banners. When the three separate alliances finally declared war against each other, Keshu led the Pact army into the field. The land of Cyrodiil became the battlefield, and the sound of war echoed throughout the land.

For the better part of a year, General Keshu and the Pact army gained ground, lost ground, and gained it back again. We couldn't claim victory, as the war continued, but we won many significant battles—much to the chagrin of the Covenant and the Dominion. Then, at the height of her power and popularity, the Black Fin made a decision that surprised us all. "We've done all we can for the Pact," Keshu explained. "It's time for us to go home."

And that was how the Black Fin's foreign adventures came to an abrupt end.

The Black Fin Goes to War

Author: 
Peek-Ereel

By Peek-Ereel, Friend and Confidant to Keshu the Black Fin

In the season following Keshu the Black Fin's return from the ruins of the Old Ones (as she referred to the so-called advanced Saxhleel who lived in the distant past), we were extremely busy, breathing life into Keshu's hopes and desires. In addition to learning some small amount about the way the Old Ones lived, Keshu's time of contemplation among the ruins saw the development of new ways of thinking for our leader and life-long friend. She came back to us with a dream.

Some will tell you that from the moment she returned from the ruins, Keshu wanted to bring about the resurrection of the advanced Saxhleel society. Now, while she was definitely interested in learning more about that ancient time, her initial dream was much simpler. She wanted to defend the Saxhleel from the threat of outsiders. When Xocin was captured by the Dark Elf slavers, I think it affected Keshu on a profound level. And when she freed Xocin and the other Saxhleel captives, I think her destiny was set in motion.

Keshu decided to create an army. She called for volunteers from across the greater marsh, and a surprising number answered that call. The village elders, tree-minders, and sap-speakers were of mixed minds about her actions, but in the end they decided to sit back and let the Hist sort it out. As with all things in Saxhleel life, if Keshu succeeded then her plans were meant to come to fruition. And if she failed? Then she would disappear into the swamp and never be heard from again. That was the way things happened in Black Marsh. But whatever Keshu's ultimate fate was to be, in the beginning she was unstoppable.

The initial band—informally known as the Black Fin's Legion—was more than two dozen strong. Keshu and Vos-Huruk at first served as instructors and trainers for the small gathering of warriors, but soon other notable fighters had rallied to her banner, including the battle mage known as Fire-From-Nowhere and the Saxhleel freedom fighter called Elf-Slayer. They provided expertise and helped with the training to reduce the burden on our beloved leader. When Keshu determined that we were at last ready to be tested, she decided on a target and pointed her newly honed weapon at it. We were going to attack a House Dres slave caravan and set the captives free.

We planned and trained for weeks, preparing for every contingency Keshu and her most-trusted advisors could think of. We scouted the House Dres enclave. We reconnoitered the most probable paths from Stormhold toward Morrowind. We watched. We waited. And then we made our move.

The House Dres slave caravan departed from Stormhold on a rainy morning with little fanfare. A line of Saxhleel slaves consisting of more than fifty of our egg-brothers and egg-sisters were chained together and forced to march between two massive wagons, each pulled by a team of guar. House Dres guards rode atop the wagons, marched on each side of the line of slaves, and ranged around the caravan atop horses and other riding beasts. In all, there were about thirty Dark Elf warriors guarding the caravan. For this exercise, Keshu led a force of twenty-six Black Fin Legionnaires to liberate the slaves.

Our warriors were nervous. For the majority of them, this would be their first real battle, and though they were well trained and committed to Keshu's cause, they still suffered from the usual fears associated with entering a life-or-death situation. Keshu and her officers remained visible, displaying confidence and determination that went a long way toward calming our troops. We set up to ambush the caravan as it made its way through a narrow passage a few hundred strides from the border of Morrowind. Keshu gave the signal as she rushed forward to meet the enemy. We followed, spilling from our hiding places like wood ants emerging from a rotten log. If we were still nervous, it didn't show as we fell upon the Dark Elves like waves crashing into the shore.

Keshu's strategy worked perfectly. When the battle was over, the Dark Elf guards were either dead or had surrendered, and though we had suffered a few minor wounds, none of the Black Fin Legion had fallen. The mission went off flawlessly and Keshu's reputation grew with every Saxhleel captive we set free.

Keshu's war against the House Dres slavers continued for a number of seasons, and with every victory the Black Fin Legion notched, her army of loyal Saxhleel expanded. They came from far and wide to pledge themselves to her banner: slaves liberated from Dark Elf holdings; adventurous Saxhleel from widely separated villages; even a few citified Argonians from Stormhold and locations beyond the influence of the Hist.

I had finally completed my rites of maturity and was now considered a full-fledged adult in the eyes of the tribe. I was trying to decide what I wanted to do with the rest of my existence. As much as I loved Keshu and believed in her cause, I did not want to be a soldier or a freedom fighter. I wanted a simpler life, something in service to the Hist or the Xal-Uxith. I was destined to become a sap-speaker or an egg-tender, or so I believed at the time. So I decided to let Keshu know my desires and withdraw from the Black Fin Legion.

Keshu understood my situation and agreed to release me from my obligation. I was still with the Legion, however, when Tee-Wan returned to camp. He was Keshu's spy-master now, ranging into the field for days or weeks at a time to gather information for the Black Fin Legion to use against the forces of House Dres. The news he brought back with him this time, however, dealt with a much larger, more dangerous foe. "Outsiders from across the far ocean have invaded the land of Skyrim," Tee-Wan explained. "I bring a message for you from the Nord who helped us in Stormhold, Jorunn the bard."

Jorunn's message explained that an enemy called the Akaviri had laid siege to the city of Windhelm and was now marching toward Mournhold. Jorunn's sister had fallen and he had temporarily taken command of the Nord forces. "I go to aid the Dark Elves and try to stop this vile invasion," Jorunn had written. "I would not mind in the slightest if you decided to return that favor you owe me and join us in Morrowind. Your Argonian shell-backs would certainly help turn the tide of this conflict."

I could tell by the look in Keshu's eyes that she had already decided to go to Jorunn's aid. "Vos-Huruk, Fire-From-Nothing," Keshu called to her chief lieutenants, "rally the troops. Today, the Black Fin Legion goes to war."

I wished Keshu and the others cool breezes and clear water, but I wasn't going to join them on this adventure. I was going home, back to Tadulpa. I assumed they would be back after the moons had moved through a few of their cycles, but I was wrong. I would not see Keshu again for more than ten cycles of the calendar, and by that time she would be much changed.

But word would reach us even in isolated Tadulpa. We heard that the Akaviri were defeated, thanks to the combined efforts of the Nords and Dark Elves—and the timely intervention of a phalanx of Argonian warriors. On that day, the Ebonheart Pact was born. Keshu and her legion stayed in allied lands after the Akaviri threat was dealt with, helping to establish the parameters of the newly formed alliance and securing the freedom of Saxhleel for as long as the Pact survived. She spent time touring Skyrim and Morrowind, helped crush rebellions, and defended the borders from competing alliances before eventually taking up arms in the Three Banners War.

Do I regret not joining Keshu on that mighty adventure? Sometimes. But I would not trade my time in Tadulpa as an egg-tender for anything—not even to fight at Keshu's side once more.