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Interview with Three Argonians in Shadowfen

Librarian Comment: 

This interview was conducted in August 2016 between Lady Nerevar (asking the questions), Lawrence Schick (as Heita-Meen), and Leamon Tuttle (as Hides-the-Ashes and Heem-Jas). Many thanks to Benefactor and Jessica Folsom for facilitating the interview.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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