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Black Marsh

"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


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


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


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.

On The Ghost People


Our new Argonian guide, Olik-Jaa, is just as frustrating as the last one who led us hither and yon through this dank swamp. Everyday it's some new haunted cave, or sacred mud-flat, or hallowed grove of trees. It's a wonder we can go anywhere in this Eight-forsaken place.

The most recent forbidden region we were told about and not allowed to visit is the "Veeskhleel-Tzel." I think I've spelled that correctly. Black Marsh is chock-full of unpronounceable locations.

According to Olik-Jaa, it's a haunted bog peopled entirely by his ugly frog-faced cousins, the "Ghost People." Apparently, they eat poison toad-hearts so that they can raise the dead or some such nonsense. Oh, and they can also turn invisible and talk to tree roots. I honestly wish I was a storyteller sometimes. The things these lizards come up with really are beyond belief.

Tribes of Murkmire

Emmanubeth Hurrent

By Emmanubeth Hurrent, the Wayfarer's Society of Wayrest

Today we came across an unusual sight, a mound of empty flasks set against the base of a phossa tree. Our guide explained, "The Black-Tongues have tapped this tree." He then went on to explain that the "Kota-Vimleel," or the "Black-Tongues," is another one of the many tribes of Argonians living in the Murkmire region of Black Marsh. Unlike the belligerent Tum-Tahleel or the eerie Veeskhleel, the Black Tongues tend to be polite and soft-spoken—under the right circumstances. If caught off-guard, however, they react uniformly hostile and have been known to kill those trespassing upon their territory without hesitation or mercy. Accomplished alchemists, they often leave flasks and other alchemical tools out in the open as a warning to outsiders marking their territory.

The Black-Tongues are ardent Sithis worshippers. As such, they dedicate almost all their resources to producing as many Shadowscales as possible. What is a Shadowscale, you ask? I wish I knew. Most locals simply refuse to discuss the very notion with outsiders. Argonian commoners revere them with what appears to be a combination of awe and terror, and even mentioning the name out loud seems to be a cultural taboo. A few of the less-superstitious Argonians I've met did share a few facts with, however.

Apparently, the Shadowscales are members of a bizarre monastic order of highly trained assassins. Any Argonian born under the sign of the Shadow is given to the order and raised as one of these mysterious murderers. I was aghast. "Surely it's just the hostile tribes that follow this barbaric practice?" I asked. But no. This appears to be a completely ubiquitous practice. Even the amiable Bright-Throats and wise Miredancers participate in this tradition.

The Black-Tongues take the obligation very seriously, however. They use their encyclopedic knowledge of swamp vegetation and wildlife to craft a powerful contraceptive called "Gloom Nectar." Drinking the potion allows the tribe to synchronize their egg-laying cycle, thus guaranteeing a huge crop of new Argonians born under the Shadow sign every year.

Their alchemical prowess serves the Shadow-born well in their future professions as assassins. Black-Tongues are known to craft some of the deadliest potions in all of Tamriel. Even the Gloom Nectar will kill—if ingested by non-Argonians. And this is just more proof that almost anything found in Black Marsh will kill you under the right circumstances.

While I would love to meet one of the Kota-Vimleel in person and find out more about their alchemical skills and their ties to the mysterious Shadowscales, lingering in their territory without an invitation is not a wise practice. I'd just as soon not have Viper's Bite slipped into my morning tea.

A few months ago, I asked a Miredancer elder how many tribes resided in the swamps of Black Marsh. He sat quietly for a long time (as Argonians often do) then pointed behind me. I looked back to see hundreds of torchbugs flitting between the cypress trees, piercing the gloom with flares of green and yellow light. "As many as the lights," he said.

I could scarcely believe such a claim. Argonians are prone to hyperbole, so I dismissed the elder's proclamation as exaggeration. After spending more time among the natives, however, I'm starting to believe that the elder's count might be closer to accurate than I originally estimated. I have discovered at least twelve distinct tribal groups in Murkmire alone, and I'm convinced that scores more exist. Many of the local tribes are hostile, so direct contact with them is next to impossible. But I've seen far too much evidence of their existence to write them off as myth or legend. These journals will serve as a record of my discoveries as I explore the wilds of Murkmire. I shall begin with the tribe most outsiders meet first.

Most outsiders who spend any time in Gideon will likely interact with several of the border tribes. The most noteworthy, however, are the "Wasseek-haleel," or "Bright-Throats." By and large, the tribe is composed of cheerful artisans who have enjoyed a fruitful relationship with both outsiders and deep-swamp Argonians. The Bright-Throats are famous for their rich music and dance tradition, as well as their preternatural talent as woodcarvers. While they make countless items, including musical instruments, kitchenware, armor, and weapons, they are most respected for their "xeech'kis," or "seed dolls." These figurines vary in size—sometimes as large as a Orc's fist, sometimes as small as a single grain of rice. They almost always depict local animals, but they also carve the seed dolls to resemble eggs or tiny Argonians.

Seed dolls are highly sought after—both as protective talismans and works of native art. Cheap imitations are regularly produced by rival border tribes, but a genuine xeech-ki is easy to identify after handling the genuine article. I have purchased several in my time here. My favorite is a small turtle with amber inlays. The carver told me that the turtle is a powerful but unruly totem. I never thought of turtles as particularly unruly, but the locals would know, I suppose. I plan to purchase several more before returning to Bangkorai and eventually to my home in Wayrest.

I write these words by candlelight. My entourage was on its way to Stormhold when our guide suddenly ordered us to stop. Apparently we strayed too close to "Veeskhleel-Tzel," the home of the so-called "Ghost People." Who or what are the Ghost People? Well, it took a lot of interviewing and questioning, and I had to trade more of my possessions than I would have hoped, but I finally got an answer. The Ghost People are a local tribe of Nagas, and they appear to have a rather horrid reputation, as far as I can tell. I've never actually seen a Naga, mind you, so my knowledge is fairly limited. I can, however, relate the stories I've gathered from local Argonians who were willing to talk about these strange creatures.

Apparently, the Naga are an offshoot of the "Saxhleel" (this is what the Argonians actually call themselves!). They are regarded as distant cousins at best, or abominations at worst, depending on who you talk to. Descriptions vary considerably. Some say that that Nagas resemble serpents, while others describe them as frog-like humanoids of varying shapes and sizes. One of our guides even compared them to cuddlefish. They tend to be taller and leaner than most Argonians, from what I could ascertain. And some supposedly stand a head above the tallest High Elf, or so I have heard it claimed! This could all be more of the typical Argonian exaggeration, though.

So, what does this all have to do with the Ghost People? Well, from what I could piece together, the Veeskhleel are unique among the Nagas in that their flesh is pale to the point of almost translucence. It sounds profoundly disturbing, but I really wish to see one of these Ghost People now!

After all was said and done, here's what I learned about the Veeskhleel. The Ghost People are a reclusive and mysterious group that prefer to dwell in the bleakest and most forbidding bogs of Murkmire. They have a sour reputation as "dead stealers" and kidnappers. I asked our guide why anyone would want to steal corpses. His accent was very thick, so I only caught the gist of his explanation. Apparently, his tribe reveres the dead as vessels to the next incarnation of life. The Ghost People, on the other hand, use these stolen bodies as fertilizer for their Hists—thus robbing the afflicted tribe of the return of a future family member.

The Ghost People's fascination with corpses has also spawned widespread rumors about the Naga tribe. In particular, they are accused of being practitioners of necromancy and other dark magicks. While I haven't seen any zombies in the marsh yet, I have no trouble imagining them rising out of the shallow water, covered in mud and ready to do some dark sorcerer's bidding. Now I'm anxious to leave this part of the swamp. It has an ill look to it. We should be setting out early tomorrow morning—hopefully without meeting any zombies—or Ghost People.

I've had the privilege to speak to two different Miredancer elders now, and I've learned a great deal from both of these conversations. The "Gee-Rusleel," as they call themselves, are among the most introspective Argonians I've met in my travels. They also tend to be the most pleasant. For all their reclusiveness and wariness, I've never met a people more willing to share a meal or a game of Shells and Stones. They are skilled crafters, with a particular knack for working with Hist amber and egg shells. They are also peerless navigators, guiding their flat-bottom boats effortlessly through the swamp, master weavers, and skilled cartographers.

The most defining characteristic of the Miredancer tribe, however, is piety. This deep reverence for the Hist has earned them the right to name a "Sap-Speaker" for countless generations.

According to the elders I spoke with, the Sap-Speaker is the Hist's direct intermediary. (This is, of course, subject to debate. Many tribes boast unique methods of communion with the Hist. But as far as I have seen, the Miredancers make the most compelling case for the methods they use.) Sap-Speakers often go into seclusion for days or even weeks on end, venturing either down into the roots or high into the canopy of leaves in the uppermost branches. Here, they commune with the Hist. Indeed, the word that one of the elders used was "journey."

These journeys into the Hist tax the Sap-Speakers, but are thoroughly private affairs. After days by themselves, the Sap-Speakers emerge to hide away with old books, scrolls, and tablets. I asked after the purpose of these periods of seclusion, and this is what the elders told me. "The Sap-Speaker enters the embrace of the Hist to learn from the great tree," one elder said. "While in close contact with the roots and branches, the Sap-Speaker receives visions and other forms of communication that neither you nor I would understand."

The other elder continued. "Even the Sap-Speaker finds some of what is shown to be mystifying and confusing. I have heard that a Sap-Speaker is treated to ancient metaphors, arcane secrets, and visions that make little sense to creatures so far removed from sap and pulp." Apparently, the second period of seclusion allows the Sap-Speaker time to reflect on what he or she was shown, as well as time to consult with the ancient writings of Sap-Speakers who came before. After a suitable period of study and reflection, the Sap-Speaker emerges to reveal the Hist's will to the tribe.

I attempted to get more information about what happens while the Sap-Speaker meditates among the roots or branches, but I'm not sure the elders knew much more. They did tell me that the only nourishment the Sap-Speaker receives during these periods of seclusion is provided by the Hist itself in the form of sap, leaves, and the otherwise forbidden fruit of the tree.

There is a price to pay for the gift of Hist communion, however. Ingesting large quantities of Hist sap is a dangerous affair, even for Argonians. Sap-Speakers routinely suffer the effects of sap-poisoning, including "gold tongue" (permanent change of mouth pigmentation to a golden hue), unbidden hallucinations, "bark-scale" (thickening and darkening of surface scales), and other maladies they were reticent to talk about. The current Sap-Speaker, Thumarz, was in seclusion during my visit to the tribal village. I hope to meet him someday. If he's half as wise as the elders I interacted with, I'd no doubt learn a great deal from him.

Despite their deeply religious nature, the Miredancers also seem to have an obsession with games of all types. They are particularly fond of the games Nine-Shells and Shells and Stones, as well as sports such as the popular "teeba-hatsei" (also known as "hip and tail ball.") In addition to lovingly explaining their own games, they wanted to know everything I could tell them about the games we play back in Wayrest. I must admit, their enthusiasm was quite infectious! And I found it highly amusing to watch them try to re-create Deceiver's Bones from the vague description I provided.

The Miredancers are also inveterate gamblers, but they often forget to collect their winnings. Unlike the games of men and mer, Miredancer competitions appear to be completely devoid of malice or injured pride. Victory and defeat seem more like afterthoughts than objectives, due in no small part to their phlegmatic disposition. As in most things, their focus is strictly on the moment—the now. It pains me to leave their village, but I still have many more tribes to study. I doubt any of them will be as fascinating or as friendly as the Miredancers.

We had another close call today. Despite strenuous protests from our native guide, the expedition elected to cross the Keel-Sakka River by bridge. One of our guides (a bright-scaled Argonian named Reelus) urged us to ford the river farther downstream and avoid the bridge. (For the record, I argued in favor of this plan, as Reelus has never steered us wrong.) But there are many scholars in our group who are unaccustomed to hard work and hostile environments. We very nearly paid for their comfort with our lives.

It turns out that the bridge is "owned" by a tribe called the "Tum-Taleel," or the "Root House People" in the common tongue. They are a belligerent and warlike people—quick to anger and known throughout the swamp for their brutal and subjugating ways. They make a practice of attacking peaceful villages and killing or driving off the inhabitants. Then they settle into the now-vacant huts and exhaust all of the village's resources. Other Saxhleel often compare them to "burglar crabs"—creatures that eat snails and smaller crabs, and afterwards move into the empty shells.

Several members of the tribe appeared in front of our caravan as soon as we crossed onto the bridge. I knew we were in danger as soon as I saw them. The Tum-Taleel are significantly larger than other Argonians I've encountered, with broad shoulders, narrow eyes, and wide, powerful jaws. They wore nothing but loin cloths and war-paint, and they wielded huge wooden clubs bedecked in feathers and splattered with dry blood.

Reelus quickly stepped to the front of the caravan and began speaking in urgent croaks and hisses. I have no idea what she was saying, but the Tum-Taleel seemed to consider her words for a moment. The leader pointed at us and growled something in a low, rumbling voice. Reelus seemed disturbed by this and turned to face us.

"He wants the horses," she said.

It was very clear that we had no choice but to acquiesce. We cut the horses free of their tethers, four in all. The Root-House People took three of the horses, and led them off the road and into the swamp. The leader of the brigands led the fourth horse to the middle of the bridge, stepped back a few paces, and then brought down his club on the animal's skull with a sickening thud. The poor beast's head was pulped. I've never seen anything so ghastly! One of my compatriots retched over the side of the cart. Reelus wasted no time gathering the strongest of our party to push the carts to the end of the bridge. Luckily, the next village is only a half-day's push away. I think everyone will heed Reelus from now on.

While I have learned a tremendous amount about individual tribes, I feel that I'm still missing some crucial insights on inter-tribal relations. There is a bizarre kind of fraternity here that contradicts almost everything I've seen. Despite the violent raids, the dead-stealing, and the poaching, the Argonians still look upon one another as egg-brothers and egg-sisters. For example, just the other day I saw a family of Miredancers playing teeba-hatsei with a handful of Tum-Taleel raiders. This was only a few hours after a violent clash claimed the life of one of the Tum-Taleel. I've never seen the like. It's as though there's an enforced forgetfulness, or a culture of exceptional forgiveness that defines all inter-tribal relationships.

At least some of this fraternal behavior must be rooted in their shared racial narrative. The tribes of Black Marsh have had to set aside their differences on countless occasions to repel invaders from Morrowind and Cyrodiil. They also seem to understand how much they rely upon one another—far better than most men or mer I've met. The Tum-Taleel recognize that they need other tribes to create homes and goods for them to steal. The Miredancers know that they need the Tum-Taleel to defend their borders and fend off the larger swamp predators. The Black-Tongues know that they need the Hee-Tepsleel to raise the crops they use in their alchemical brews. The Bright-Throats know that they need the Black-Tongues' Shadowscales to enforce "swamp law" upon crooked outsiders who disrupt honest trade. And on and on it goes.

Religion also plays a role. I asked my friend, Eutei, how they could be so forgiving. He made specific reference to their nebulous belief in reincarnation.

"We are all people of the root," he explained. "A Black-Tongue may become a Miredancer in the fullness of time—and a Miredancer a Black-Tongue. Only the Hist knows such things. To hate each other is to hate ourselves. And what profits a Saxhleel to hate himself? Better to forget and move on."

After some contemplation, I can't help but think that we could all use a little forgetfulness every now and again.



One of the first things Keshu the Black Fin, war hero and founder of the movement for an advanced Saxhleel society, decided after completing her rites of maturity and earning her place as a Saxhleel adult was to undertake a journey to learn more about the world beyond our tiny village. With sly Tee-Wan, mighty Vos-Huruk, crafty Xocin, and myself beside her, Keshu said farewell to the village and our teacher, the raj-deelith, Drameencin, and set off to see the wonders that waited beyond the familiar confines of Tadulpa.

We headed north, stopping at each village along the way to visit friends and family members as we made our way toward the legendary city of Stormhold. In the village of Zurook, we were warned to avoid the Dark Elf enclaves in Stormhold, as they were notorious for capturing lone Saxhleel and shipping them off to serve as slaves back in Morrowind. We had heard rumors about Dark Elf slavers as we were growing up, but we never quite believed the tales in our secluded part of the greater marsh.

We arrived in Stormhold with the rest of the throng of visitors—traders, mercenaries, crafters, and the most diverse group of people we had ever seen. In addition to the obviously citified Saxhleel (who we learned were called Argonians by the other races), we gaped in wonder at the giant Nords, the fair-skinned High Elves, the flamboyant Bretons, the brooding Dark Elves, and even the few Khajiit and Wood Elves wandering the squares.

They were all strange and exotic to us, and we saw first-hand how some of our egg-brothers and egg-sisters were treated by the outsiders. Some, like the powerful and dignified city-dwellers, were bowed down to and venerated. While others, obviously weaker and poorer, were ordered about, denigrated, and even beaten, depending upon the whims of their masters. We were shocked and appalled, but Keshu ordered us to remain calm. "We can't change the course of this river," she said. "At least, not this day."

During our exploration of the city, we happened upon a group of young Nords and their charismatic leader, the bard named Jorunn. We listened to Jorunn perform, fascinated by the stories he told and captivated by his clear and expressive voice. He noticed our intense interest, particularly that of Keshu, and invited us to join him and his companions for the evening meal. Keshu and Jorunn became fast friends, speaking of many things long into the night. It turns out, he and his companions weren't much older than we were and they were also traveling to see the world before the responsibilities of adulthood caught up with them. While we taught Jorunn and his friends how to eat and drink traditional Saxhleel fare, they exposed us to the Nord delicacies that were available at the inn.

I didn't listen to everything that Jorunn and Keshu discussed that night, but I heard some of it. Jorunn spoke of his family, the wonders of Skyrim, and his hope to someday be a famous bard. He explained that his sister was going to be Queen of the Nords, but I assumed that was just another one of his fanciful stories. I'm not sure what Keshu believed. For her part, Keshu told Jorunn about life in the marsh, what it meant to be a Saxhleel, and how our people had once commanded a much more advanced civilization. He appeared to be genuinely fascinated by everything she said. As the fire in the hearth burned down to embers and the tankards of Nord mead and Saxhleel bile beer were finally emptied, Tee-Wan came rushing in. "Xocin," he said, his voice cracking with fear and sorrow, "he's been taken by the slavers."

Keshu never hesitated. She rose and ordered us to action. She had no intention of allowing the Dark Elves to take our egg-brother away in chains. Before we could gather our weapons and head out, Jorunn stood. "Friends don't let friends rush off to battle by themselves," the big Nord declared. "Besides, we haven't gotten into a good brawl since last Turdas. My companions get cranky when they go too long without a good brawl."

Our visit to Stormhold had taken a bad turn, like a sudden storm appearing on an otherwise sunny day. Xocin and Tee-Wan had decided to explore the city on their own while Keshu, Vos-Huruk, and I spent the evening with our new Nord friends. When Tee-Wan returned, he was alone. He explained that Dark Elf slavers had taken Xocin captive. Keshu, of course, planned to rescue him. And, much to our surprise, Jorunn the bard, leader of our new Nord friends, wanted to assist us. "Nothing gets the blood running like busting a few Dark Elf heads for a good cause," he proclaimed in his deep, booming voice.

Keshu and Jorunn led the way to the Dark Elf enclave on the edge of the city. "House Dres," Jorunn said, but it came out more as a curse than a name. "I should have known." We scouted the enclave, taking note of where guards were positioned and how they moved about the encampment. We determined where the newly acquired slaves were being held and began to formulate a plan for setting them free. Keshu led the discussion on strategy and Jorunn listened carefully, interjecting a suggestion every so often but otherwise agreeing with her plan. Just as the sun began to rise in the sky, four Saxhleel and five Nords went to war with the House Dres slaver's enclave. And the battle was glorious!

Launching a surprise attack on an overconfident and unprepared enemy is easier than you might imagine. Especially when you have a handful of overeager, half-drunk Nords at your side. Keshu and Jorunn fought like whirlwinds, carving a path to the slave pen while the rest of us dealt with arriving reinforcements. It took the Dark Elves more time than we expected to get their defenses together. The late hour and the unexpected assault seemed to have totally flummoxed the slavers' usual routine. Jorunn explained that they were used to defending their caravans in the wild, but no one had ever had the audacity to strike at the heart of a Dres enclave. "And that's why your plan is going to succeed," he said to Keshu.

With relative ease, Keshu dispatched the guards trying to protect the gate to the slave pen. Jorunn stepped into the opening she created and smashed off the pen's lock with a single swipe of his massive battle-axe. Xocin emerged from the pen, leading a band of disheveled Saxhleel out of the confined space. By this time, the Dark Elves had rallied and were advancing on our position. "We're about to have company, Black Fin," Vos-Huruk warned. "And they have magic users with them," I added. Keshu began giving orders, ready to fight to the last of us if that was what was required. But Jorunn had a different idea.

"Not every battle needs to be to the death, my Argonian friend," the big Nord said with a twinkle in his eyes. "Take your people and make your escape. My companion and I will keep the puny Elves occupied while you slip away." Keshu thanked him and promised to return the favor someday. "I may just hold you to that promise," Jorunn laughed as he turned to face the oncoming slavers. "Someday."

Keshu led us and the newly released slaves into the marsh as Jorunn and his companions took up our defense. The Nords fought with gusto, and we could hear them laughing and singing battle songs as we disappeared into the swamp. After we had run for nearly as long as it took the sun to reach the top of the sky, Keshu called for us to halt. She asked me to return to the city and make sure the Nords had survived the assault on the slavers' enclave. Tee-Wan, skilled at stealth and deception, offered to accompany me. We set out immediately while Keshu talked to the now-freed slaves.

We slipped back into Stormhold as quietly and unobtrusively as we could. The enclave was sealed up tight and a large contingent of guards had arrived to bolster its defenses. Tee-Wan and I made our way back to the inn. We found Jorunn and his companions there, appearing no worse for the morning's battle. He thanked us for showing concern and coming to check on him, but he told us not to linger. "The House Dres leader is very upset about losing his slaves," Jorunn said. "We're even getting ready to leave this place—after we finish our meal and our mead. Tell Keshu I look forward to our next encounter."

And with that, Tee-Wan and I left the city of Stormhold. We never even glanced back once as we made our way to Keshu and the others.

My tale of the younger days of Keshu, war hero and founder of the movement for an advanced Saxhleel society, continues. Our travels beyond the village of Tadulpa, the village where we grew up, proceeded, with Keshu determining every step we took through the greater marsh. Our company had grown from the five of us to a group of more than a dozen. Most of the slaves we freed from the House Dres enclave in Stormhold had departed, seeking to make their way back to homes and families. But not all of them had something to return to. And, it seemed, Keshu was developing into as charismatic and popular a leader as Jorunn the Nord, who we met in Stormhold.

Keshu had always been fascinated by the tales of an advanced Saxhleel society that supposedly thrived in the distant past. For this part of our journey, she was determined to visit the site of one of these ancient cities. We followed clues contained in an old book she had borrowed from our teacher, the raj-deelith, Drameencin, and traveled deeper into the marsh. We moved through a portion of the swamp that was as dangerous to Saxhleel as it was to scaleless outsiders. In addition to strange predators and clouds of noxious poison that drifted casually on the breeze, we also had to contend with meat-eating plants, ambulatory mounds of flesh-dissolving mud, and swarms of hungry insects. But we were adult Saxhleel, tested and proven strong (well, except for me, who still had to complete my rites of maturity), and the great and powerful Black Fin was our leader. The swamp never stood a chance.

We wandered for a time, trying to locate a specific landmark in the bleakness of the deep marsh. According to Keshu's book, we were looking for two huge shining cypress trees, their trunks twisted by age and proximity so that they were intertwined like a thick, knotted rope. It was Tee-Wan who eventually found the tangled trees, calling out his discovery with a mix of excitement and dread. For beyond the trees, looming like a mountain from the murky water of the swamp, was the ancient stone ruins of the advanced Saxhleel civilization.The ruins waited before us, consisting of equal parts oppressive stone and dark shadows. Most of us were wary if not outright fearful of approaching the place. How could Saxhleel have tolerated living in such a structure? But Keshu displayed not a hint of the fear the rest of us were feeling. In fact, her face shone with wonder and excitement. Before any of us could stop her, she was racing up the stone steps toward the top of the pyramid, anxious to discover the secrets of the lost civilization. When she saw that the rest of us were hanging back, she returned and addressed our group.

"Vos-Huruk," Keshu said, "lead the group back to Tadulpa. I will follow and meet you there shortly." We were worried about Keshu remaining among the ruins by herself, but we were also eager to return to our village. "What will you do out here?" I asked. Keshu erected the spine of compassion and simply replied, "Learn whatever I can."

We had been back in the village for almost the entire cycle of the moons when Keshu emerged from the swamp and returned to Tadulpa. She received a hero's welcome, for the stories of our adventures had grown with each telling, and Keshu was considered to be the greatest of us all. She never encouraged the accolades, never sought glory. She greeted us each in turn, asked about the welfare of the freed slaves who had accompanied us, and then went to seek the counsel of the teacher, Drameencin. She found our old mentor in his mud hut, seeking solace from the heat of the day. "Welcome home, student," he said, raising the spine of greeting.

"Raj-deelith," Keshu began, "let me tell you what I found in the place of the Old Ones."

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

Keshu the Black Fin, war hero and founder of the movement for an advanced Saxhleel society, started out as just another one of my many egg-brothers and egg-sisters. There wasn't anything overtly special about her when we were growing up in the village of Tadulpa. Not that I could see, anyway. She played traditional games, ate traditional food, and learned to hunt and track and fight. I guess if Keshu exceled at anything, it was tracking and fighting. She took to these activities like a shap takes to water, out-performing the rest of us with an ease that was almost supernatural.

Keshu and I became friends almost from the moment we emerged from our eggs. We were inseparable. We played together, did our chores together, and attended our lessons together, growing up as all Saxhleel do. I suppose I began to notice something different about Keshu during this period. She had a passion about history that went beyond memorizing facts and numbers. She wanted to know everything she could find out about the once-great Saxhleel civilization that existed before Duskfall. In this matter, she was an individual, much more independent and more free-thinking than the rest of her egg-siblings. In some ways, her fiery individualism frightened me.

I guess the Hist saw the same things that I noticed, for when she licked the Hist on our Naming Day, she was awarded with the name "Keshu," which literally means "Stands Apart." It was a strong name, a good name. The name of a crocodile in a lake of shap. Keshu accepted the name with dignity and honor. It fit her well.

To demonstrate that Keshu wasn't all dull history and fighting, let me tell you about an event from our early childhood. The egg-tender Julan-Nah was forever scolding us and dispelling us from the Xal-Uxith, the Sacred Nest, even though Keshu loved to play among the developing eggs. To teach the egg-tender a lesson, Keshu tracked and captured a young wamasu. She released it into the nest, assuming it would scare the egg-tender and provide us all with a good laugh. It did the trick, all right, but it also cracked three innocent and helpless eggs. Keshu was so mortified by the damage she had caused that she volunteered to assist the egg-tender for the entire cycle of the calendar.

Near the end of that cycle, the raj-deelith (literally, the elder teacher), Drameencin, arrived to instruct us in preparation for our rites of maturity. It was during this intensive period of lessons and training that Keshu's companions gathered around her. In addition to myself, Keshu attracted the attention of the powerful Vos-Huruk, the sly Tee-Wan, and the clever Xocin. Vos-Huruk was a mountain of a woman who was almost Keshu's equal in battle. Tee-Wan would grow to become a thief and a spy. Xocin, on the other hand, enjoyed mixing alchemical tinctures and would go on to become a powerful mage. All would follow Keshu to war. All except me.

Throughout that season, our friendships deepened and Drameencin did everything in his power to prepare us for our maturity rites. But that is another tale entirely.

I remember our rites of maturity as though we took them yesterday. Keshu the Black Fin, war hero and founder of the movement for an advanced Saxhleel society, earned her sobriquet completing these tests—and she began to build her reputation and solidify her relationship with the companions at this time as well. All of the companions exceled in the tests: Keshu, Vos-Huruk, Tee-Wan, Xocin, and even me (at least until the final test). Yes, we accomplished great things, but much of the credit has to go to our instructor and mentor, the raj-deelith, Drameencin.

The elder teacher was ancient. Supposedly, he was old when our egg-parents hatched from the communal nest. But age didn't seem to slow Drameencin. More like a fine mold or a fermented ooze, he just got better with every passing season. By the time we became his students, he was at the top of his craft and we were poised to become his masterpieces. He followed the usual methods of instructing young Saxhleel, making sure we conformed to the needs and requirements of the community and teaching us advanced techniques for hunting and tracking and crafting. But he took us beyond the source of the river to also enhance our peculiar talents. We weren't just interchangeable eggs in a basket to Drameencin. We were individuals, and Keshu especially thrived under his tutelage.

The Saxhleel rites of maturity consist of multiple tests of skill and bravery over the course of multiple days. Some of the tests are set, used by every Saxhleel community throughout the greater marsh. Others change, depending on location, time of season, or the specific tastes of a community's raj-nassa (the elder leaders). Our rites included three difficult tests. How Keshu performed at these tests showed what kind of person she was blossoming into.

The first of these tests was "The Trial of the Lost Centipede." We were each directed to reach into a barrel and pull forth a single marsh centipede. If you've never seen a marsh centipede, they are excellent specimens of great size and nasty temperament. The average marsh centipede is as long as the span of your outstretched fingers and as thick as your wrist. The centipede selected is decorated with a distinctive mark to identify it. Then they are given to runners who race into the wilderness and release them. Our test was to track our specific marsh centipede, capture it, and return it to the raj-nassa alive and well. Now, tracking a specific centipede through an overgrown marsh is no simple task. It takes skill, patience, and even a bit of luck.

Xocin recovered his centipede first, but in doing so he disturbed a haj mota. In order to elude the hidden hunter, he was forced to wade into a deadly patch of quicksand. Keshu, who happened to be passing by at the time, distracted the haj mota and sent it scrambling in the opposite direction. Then she circled back and rescued Xocin from the sucking embrace of the pool of mud and sand.

By the time Keshu tracked down her centipede, it had gotten itself into a terrible situation. A trio of hostile nagas was hunting the plump, many-legged creature, hoping to make a meal out of it. To complete this part of the maturity rites, Keshu could not allow that to happen. Without hesitation, she slipped into the dark water and swam toward the trio, submerged and hidden from view as she made her approach. Vos-Huruk, who was returning to the village after collecting her own centipede, happened upon the scene and watched as the event played out. She reported what happened and now I am writing it down for posterity's sake.

As the naga hunters circled and closed in on their prey, Keshu silently rose from the dark water like a black fin on the prowl, a vicious dagger in each hand and a look of determination in her eyes. She dispatched the first two nagas with quick slashes of her blades, advancing toward the third before her initial kills had barely sunk below the surface of the marsh. By the time the last naga realized that death was fast-approaching, it was too late to defend himself. He fell without providing even a token resistance to the single-minded Keshu. She scooped up her centipede and followed Vos-Huruk back to the raj-nassa.


The first of our three difficult tests completed, it was now time to begin our second rite of maturity. This was "The Trial of the Perfect Bowl." It was as much a test of our crafting skill as it was a test of humility and confidence. The goal, we would discover later, was not necessarily to make the most ornate and complicated bowl we could devise, but to demonstrate that simple and utilitarian could also reveal perfection.

The test consisted of three parts. First, we had to acquire the components necessary to craft our bowls. Then we had to locate the hidden crafting stations that had been set up in dangerous parts of the marsh for just this specific purpose. Finally, we had to craft our bowls and present them to the raj-nassa for judgment—before the crafting stations succumbed to the dangerous locations they were placed in.

Each of us was provided with a specific material our bowls had to be constructed from. For example, Tee-Wan had to secure the shell of a rare three-clawed mudcrab, while I had to acquire the husk of a krona nut and Xocin needed to find the perfect branch from a dragon's tongue tree. While each of these presented a particular challenge, we were afraid for Keshu when we heard what her primary component had to be. She needed to steal an egg from a haj mota nest! Not only were haj motas extremely protective of their nests, the brittle shells of the haj mota egg were notoriously difficult to work with. More often than not, the shells crack when not worked with the utmost care and expertise.

Keshu, now called "the Black Fin" as the tale of her success in the first rite spread throughout the village, headed out to locate a haj mota nest. Since she had met one of the massive creatures during the previous trial, she decided to return to that area to start her quest. She spent an entire day watching the marsh, observing the comings and goings of the haj mota. It soon became evident that the creature was a doe and that it had a full nest somewhere nearby. Of course, there are few creatures as dangerous as a mother haj mota protecting its eggs, and Keshu would have to tread carefully to successfully complete this part of the trial, let alone survive to finish the entire rite.

Now, Keshu wanted to steal an egg from the nest, but she didn't want to harm any of the remaining eggs or injure the haj mota in the process. She believed in making as little mark as possible on the world as she passed through it. So once again she set out to distract the haj mota and lead it away from its nest. In this way, she hoped she could acquire an egg without having to face the creature's wrath. This time, she gathered a bundle of orange-grass and marsh roots—a combination that few haj motas can resist—and used the intoxicating aroma (at least to the haj mota) to draw the creature away from its nest. Then she tied the bundle to a water lizard and sent it scurrying into the deeper marsh. The haj mota followed after it, leaving Keshu's path to the nest clear.

There were three eggs in the nest. Keshu didn't select the largest egg, or the egg with the thickest shell. She took the smallest egg, because its mottled shell looked smooth and perfect to her crafter's eyes. She saw the bowl within it, waiting to emerge. What she hadn't seen, not until the last possible moment, was the male haj mota stalking out of the marsh and heading for the nest. She barely had enough time to slip away before the male reached the nest and noticed that an egg was missing. She listened to its roar, a mix of anger and loss, as she made her way to her crafting station.

Keshu's crafting station was set atop a log platform above a massive patch of deadly quicksand. She had to craft her bowl before the entire station sank into the marsh. She worked quickly yet carefully, expertly removing the very top of the egg to use as the basis for her bowl. She cleaned it, polished it, and added the reagents that would strengthen the shell and make it suitable for use as a vessel or container. She wrapped up her work and bounded off the platform just as the mud sloshed over the top and began to pull it completely into the marsh.

As the raj-nassa examined each of our offerings in turn, we were able to look upon some truly impressive feats of crafting. But it was evident that Keshu had overtaken the field this season. Her bowl, crafted from the simplest haj mota shell, was elegant in its modesty and beautiful in its purity. It needed nothing but to be true to its natural form, and Keshu masterfully let that natural form shine forth—even as she turned it from a brittle shell into a strong, unbreakable bowl.


Our third and final trial on the way to complete our rites of maturity was "The Trial of the Stalking Hackwing." In some ways, this was the most dangerous of the rites we had to participate in to earn a place in adult society. Each of us was placed in a cage with a single, huge hackwing. The predatory bird was a vicious creature, strong and confident, every bit as capable a hunter as any of us—and it had the ability to fly. We had to allow the giant bird to attack us and draw blood. If we knew what we were doing, we let it strike so as to bloody us but not incapacitate us. Then the hackwing was released. Our goal: catch and kill the hackwing that marked us before it could do the same to us.

Vos-Huruk and Xocin each took a beak strike to the leg. Both wounds were superficial, drawing blood but not ripping muscle or breaking bone. Tee-Wan allowed the hackwing to pierce his left arm, cutting a long but shallow line from his elbow to his shoulder. Keshu miscalculated a leap back and allowed her bird to cut her across the temple, just above her right eye. But I failed this part of the trial completely. I let the hackwing drive its sharp beak directly into my chest. The healers said it barely missed my heart. Even so, I was injured too badly to continue, and I would have to wait for another season to complete my rites of maturity.

Keshu wanted to check on me, make sure I was going to be all right. The raj-nassa wouldn't hear of it, however, and ordered her to continue with her trial—until either the Black Fin or the hackwing was dead. So with a final glance to make sure the healer was assisting me, Keshu wiped blood out of her eyes and ran into the wilderness. As was traditional, she had no weapon or armor. Just her body and her wits. It was time for the hunter to survive the hunt.

Have you ever been stalked by a hungry hackwing? The experience can be disconcerting and more than a little frightening. Often, you only hear the beating of wings and the rush of air overheard. Sometimes you notice a shadow pass by. Rarely, you catch a brief glimpse of a wing or a talon. And, if you show the slightest weakness, the hackwing dives in and attempts to wound you. Then it simply waits and follows until you collapse from loss of blood. In the case of the rite, we were already bloodied by the hunting birds. They were going to come after us—one way or another. The trick was going to be in anticipating the attack and countering it with an attack of our own.

(I keep saying "our," but realize I was effectively out of the test. I was injured and weak and barely conscious for most of the remaining portion of the trial, only learning what happened later, after I was healed and the rites were finished for the season.)

Keshu led her hackwing into a portion of the marsh where open sky was at a premium. She wanted to use the tree trunks and canopy to her advantage, cutting off all but the most direct paths between the hackwing and her present location. She moved deeper into the trees, flattening out the approach so that when the hackwing finally attacked, it would have to come for her not from above but from a horizontal direction at more or less ground level.

As Keshu waited for her predator and her prey, she broke a sturdy branch from one of the trees at a steep angle, creating a makeshift spear with a ragged yet pointed edge. She braced the spear and her back against the tree trunk behind her and positioned the point so she could raise it quickly when the hackwing appeared. She didn't have to wait long. Thinking that its prey had finally succumbed to blood loss and stopped to die within the cluster of trees, the hackwing swooped down and flew toward Keshu along the exact path she had planned. At the very last moment, Keshu angled the spear up and let the hackwing's speed and trajectory do all the work.

The hunt was over. Keshu was victorious. She had completed her rites of maturity and was ready to take her place as an adult member of the community. And the first thing she did was rush back to make sure I was still alive.

An Orc Weaponsmith In Murkmire


I'm just an old Orc weaponsmith, and weapons are my life. When I was just a nub-tusked whelp, I would sneak into the great forges of Orsinium to watch the masters at work. In time I became an apprentice, dragging slag from one end of the forge to the other. Then a journeyman, coated head to toe in soot and sweat. Eventually, I took my place as one of the great forge masters. In all my years of folding iron and hammering steel, I never once considered the possibility that we could use something other than metal to craft our weapons. Sure, we used mammoth leather and the like for binding and lacing. Sometimes the silk-born dandies would demand an inlaid gem or two. But metal was the heart of my craft. Imagine my surprise when I encountered the weaponsmiths here in Gideon.

I decided to make the trip when I heard that some Argonian chieftain had opened his borders to outsiders. I figured, why not? I had one last adventure in me, and I had never been to Black Marsh before. What's the worst that could happen to an old goat like me? Something will kill me? Well, that's going to happen eventually, so why try to hide?

I'd heard tales of these lizard-folk wielding wooden clubs and such in battle. I imagined hissing savages with turtle-shell helmets and crude leather greaves. I don't mind admitting that I was dead wrong. These Argonians use methods and materials that I never could have imagined, and the results are extraordinary. I've been taking notes, but I doubt they'll do me any good. Half the materials are only found in Black Marsh, and after decades of pounding metal, I doubt these old mitts would be worth a damn on the finer details. Still, a crafter who refuses to study isn't worth spit in a snow-storm. So here I am. I thought I was coming to teach, but I've got a lot to learn.

Another day in Gideon. The local weaponsmith, a wily old Argonian named Shukesh, is a girl after my own heart. She's stoic, dedicated, and a little ornery. I told her she must be half-orc. She gave me one of those forced Argonian smiles that could either mean genuine amusement or total lack of approval. It's damn near impossible for me to tell the difference. When I first met her, she was working on a "tsojei" sword, and I use the word "sword" loosely. I honestly couldn't tell you what kind of weapon it actually is. It's like a club and a sword had a pup, then kicked half its teeth out and shaved down the others into fangs. I should probably be a little more specific, eh?

The Argonian smith starts with a length of wood—anywhere from the length of her arm to the length of her tail. She spends a week or so shaving down the wood until she achieves a paddle shape. (I saw a few works-in-progress and mistook them for boat oars.) A lot of Argonians might be content to just stain the wood and move on to the next step, but old Shukesh is a master. I can tell you, what she lacks in personality, she makes up for in patience. She uses bones and fine-cut obsidian chisels to carve ornate patterns into the face of the paddle. Most of these patterns form abstract animal shapes, alligators and such. But a few of the patterns were kind of disturbing. One pattern in particular set my skin to crawl. It appeared to be a dark-stained skull with a series of ridges and spines. She said it was for a "special customer." Whoever wants that pattern, I don't want to meet them!

Once the wood is cured, stained, and polished, Shukesh sets it aside and begins to work on the next step in the task: stone-carving. According to Shukesh, all kinds of stones are suitable for use in the process, but she prefers to work with obsidian. Raw stones are chipped down into sharpened, knife-blade shapes, from crude squares to evenly shaved fangs. Once these "teeth" are hewn, she sets them into the paddle using wood or bone pegs and boiled depassa gum.

Depassa gum is a strange gunk, let me tell you. It smells like an echatare's armpit, but adheres like a paste to wood and stone. Once it hardens, it's damn near impossible to break, but it stays light and flexible like an ironwood sapling. I told Shukesh that it reminded me of a mammoth gesso that I sometimes use when fixing leather. She just gave me one of her characteristic croaks and said, "Easier to hunt a tree than a mammoth, yes?" It's hard to argue with that logic.

Once the teeth are set in place, the smith wraps the handle in strips of leather or bark, creating a grip that won't slip no matter how slick it gets with rain or blood. Now the weapon is complete, without the use of any metal. All told, it took her the better part of three weeks to finish the piece.

The most remarkable thing about the tsojei isn't even the weapon (which is marvelous in its own right.) It's all the skills that go with it. Shukesh isn't just a smith. She's a woodcarver, an alchemist, a stonecutter, and a weaver. Any one of those trades can take a lifetime to master and she demonstrates proficiency in all four. Almost makes me ashamed. Maybe I should take up woodcarving in my spare time. Ha! Like that'll happen. Can't teach an old tusker new tricks, after all.

An Argonian "forge" is a strange place, let me tell you. I guess it's more of a workshop than a forge. None of the familiar sounds or smells of my forge back home greeted me when I entered the place. No ringing anvils, no coal-smoke, no hissing quench troughs. They're just eerily quiet and packed with chisels, axes, wooden buckets full of weird liquids, piles of rocks, dead birds, live slugs …. On and on it goes. For the first week or so, I felt very uneasy in Shukesh's workshop. She's not exactly a big talker. The only sounds she made for the first few days were sudden and irritated hisses when something didn't go exactly as she had planned. She also sang a few old Jel folksongs, although I use the term "sang" in the loosest manner possible. The first time I heard it, I thought she was murdering one of the multitude of lizards crawling all over everything. The place is infested with them!

 Eventually Shukesh started talking to me. At first, her comments were mostly about my disgusting lack of scales or my round, beady eyes. Once she started making fun of me, I knew we had become fast friends.

One of the first secrets Shukesh shared with me was the art of "slug shaping." Apparently Black Marsh is chock full of slugs. Back home we don't see a lot of the slimy little creatures, but when we do, we tend to squash them and then wipe them off our boots in disgust. Here in Gideon, however, everything has a purpose. Most slugs aren't good for anything but eating. (Or so I've heard. I won't eat anything that doesn't stand on four legs.) But apparently some slugs have surprising applications. One of these special slugs, called a "jassa red," has an unusual defense mechanism. When threatened, it secretes acidic mucous from various orifices. I'm not sure what good that does when something tries to eat it, but the acidic mucous is useful for Argonian weaponsmiths.

When Shukesh wants to incorporate a natural motif into her work, she places the slugs onto the wood or stone and repeatedly flashes a piece of flint directly behind them. Adjusting the position of the flint pushes the slugs in different directions. As the slugs move across the wood or stone, they leave behind a thin layer of the acidic mucous, creating long, smooth channels in the surface of the wood or stone. Moreover, the mucous interacts with different materials in different ways. Depending on the material, the mucous changes the pigmentation it touches, ranging from a muted umber to a phosphorescent yellow.

Shukesh let me try my hand at it (on a piece of worthless broken lumber). Not surprisingly, I was all thumbs. I created a tangled mess of grooves—all dyed a sickly, mottled green. When I threw the flint down in disgust, I think Shukesh laughed at me. She insisted it was just a cough, and then told me my slug shaping was utter "rajpu." I didn't try to argue, as I wasn't sure what rajpu was exactly, although I could hazard a good guess. Anyway, I'll take a hammer and tongs over a slimy ball of burning snot any day.

From Argonian to Saxhleel

Vicecanon Heita-Meen

Misunderstanding and oppression have poisoned Black Marsh for centuries. My egg-siblings have endured subjugation by the Empire and slavery at the hands of the Dunmer. Armored boots tread on our traditions and culture. We are fortunate to have the Marsh. Without its perils to deter hapless dryskins, our ways might have already crumbled to dust. Despite our troubles, the Hist guides us still. And for the first time in memory, we have the chance to break the cycle.

I spent my young life as a slave. An angry one. It cannot have been easy to become recognized for cruelty among the tyrants of House Dres, but Councilman Glathis Dres managed it. After I was beaten to unconsciousness for seating the guests at a banquet out of order, I could take no more. When I was able to work the saltrice fields again, I waited for an opening, overwhelmed the drunken guards, and escaped with my fellow slaves.

We fled into the Thornmarsh. When we crossed paths with a troop of Argonians, we realized too late they were traitors, Archein tribe scum in the employ of House Dres. Hungry and exhausted, we were easy to capture. The sun abandoned my sky. Looking back, though, I see the subtle work of the Hist’s will. In the Archein village, a vision came to me. Their Hist tree spoke, showing me blood and horror—the Akaviri invasion, Nords and Dunmer falling like dead leaves.

This was an opportunity. A turning point. But how could I take advantage? We were taken back to Thorn, now nearly empty as the Dunmer answered Almalexia’s call to battle. For my transgression, I was to be whipped by Glathis himself. In the courtyard, Glathis struck his first lash. I grabbed his whip and strangled him with it. I’ll never forget the look he gave me as the light drained from his eyes.

Wasting no time, I challenged the centurion of the Archein guards for her position by right-of-combat. She could not refuse and maintain any respect from her cohort. The duel was brief. I assumed command and advanced on Stormhold to do the same there. I am thankful that I did not need to shed any further Saxhleel blood. Walks-in-Ash, who met us as we approached, was able to convince Stormhold’s Shellbacks to join our command.

I revealed my plan. We would march to Morrowind, into Stonefalls, and engage in battle—with the Akaviri. We would defend the Dunmer and turn the tide. To say some disagreed with my strategy would be quite an understatement. I told of my vision from the Hist, and let any who wished to return to the Marsh do so. Still strong in numbers, we marched.

When we arrived in the chaos of battle, there was fear on the faces of the Dunmer, who saw armed slaves charging towards them. The fear turned to shock as we joined their ranks, our Shellbacks providing enough muscle to overpower the invaders and force them to flee.

And now, we are recognized. We have allies, not overlords, for the first time in memory. We are free under the law, and we are taking back our villages and strengthening our traditions. There is still bitter blood flowing between many Saxhleel and our new allies, and not every tribe has joined us—only those of Thornmarsh, Shadowfen, and Murkmire. This is not a surprise. I hope that they will, in time, and realize that this opportunity we have been given to cultivate the understanding will allow us to preserve our way of life.

Arms and Armor of the Argonian Champion, Sees-All-Colors

Longinus Attius

Guildmaster See-All-Colors is a fine zealot, fiercely dedicated to the preservation of her swamp and opposition of the Planemeld. Her destruction of dark anchors and vengeance against the invading Daedra is most commendable.

Until the cataclysm forced our races to bond, Argonians who journeyed far from home seemed happy to wear whatever protection they could trade from other races, perhaps as a sign of their subservient history. But venture into the unpleasant and dripping heat of Black Marsh or observe a more recent encounter with the lizard folk that scuttle along our southeastern border, and you will see their distinctive garb of war. This is a wonderfully primordial collection of roughly sewn elements, brightly colored from the mud and sap of their realm, tattered but tough armaments adorned with a variety of vicious prongs and sharp, fanged serrations, all captured in segments of concentric patterns that imitate the carvings that adorn their strange, stepped pyramids.
The Argonian shellbacks, a formidable fighting contingent now beginning to find their footing in this great war, favor heavier protection. Such armor features splashes of vivid color, apparently the squeezed and ground insides of beetles native to the habitats of the lizard folk.

An appreciation for the slaughter of indigenous animals is evident here: giant rodent skins are battered into tough leather, with coral adornments and turtle splints to complete the basic look of a warrior. More ferocious creatures have their skins torn off for weightier armor; the Argonian favors the crocodile, wamasu, or giant snake. Cowrie shells, mudcrabs, and perhaps most alarmingly, evidence of the bones of men tie the assemblage together. An Argonian fighter seems to have stepped out from the great, carved temples of the bog, and the weapons they wave share a similar construction. A wonderful, primitive motif marks many an Argonian's weapon: strange reptilian faces carved into the hilts and pommels and painted with the same degree of garishness. Shields are oval stitched skins and turtle shells. When not seeking protection from their helms, headdresses of leather, jadegrass, and feathers are a common sight, especially adorning priests or hose dabbling in swamp magic.

Argonian arms have a thick, unsubtle, primitive ponderosity, wearing well in the humidity and filth of the marsh but surprisingly balanced in practice.