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Orsinium

Author: 
Naryu Virian

Having stumbled on Rels Llothri’s report, I’d known what he was after in Wrothgar—but for his wife and boss Myvryna, I had no such luck. Worse: as the Morag Tong’s foremost disguise artist, Myvryna could look like just about anyone, so I wasn’t going to find her based on her known appearance. The only thing I knew for sure was that she was in the Orcish capital city of Orsinium. Technically, I suppose, King Kurog’s new city should be known as “New Orsinium,” but no one called it that.

Myvryna Llothri

The aforementioned personage has been marked for execution in accordance with the lawful tradition and practice of the Morag Tong.

Maybe Kurog thought that by building on a new site, he’d break the string of bad luck that had resulted in old Orsinium’s repeated sacking and destruction—that this time, the Orcs would build a city that would last for eras. We’ll see. I just hoped it would be civilized enough that I could find a decent pair of boots.  

The first thing I noticed about Orsinium was a lot of verticality. Assassins love verticality.

Because nobody ever looks up, right? A suspicious person will look all around as she goes up the street, while you follow her along the roof lines without being noticed.

This was a town where I could do business. It was a relief, Skull, to get out of the wilderness and back into a proper urban environment.

Even Orsinium’s interior spaces tended to have high soaring vaults.

And the walls were often decorated with bas reliefs an assassin could climb at a pinch. A good thing, too: I might have to rely on the Spidering Ways to escape if I exposed myself by asking too many questions.

When you start asking questions, you immediately reveal yourself as a piece on the game board, a previously unknown party to be avoided at best and eliminated from the game at worst. You play the role of a fly stuck in the web, tugging on strands until the spider is alerted to come and get you. If you see the spider coming, you might be able to catch it by surprise before it realizes you’re a spider, too. But if it’s too wary or there are multiple spiders…

Well, that’s why I hate asking questions. But I was all out of options, so I put on my most innocent face and sweetest, child-like voice, and began mildly interrogating the Orsinium street-folk: stable hands, idlers, beggars, and merchants.

“I’m looking for my aunt—have you seen a Dark Elf lady?” Not that Myvryna was likely to still look like a Dunmer, but I had to try it. “I’ve got a message for a traveling merchant, but I don’t know what name she’s using. Any new faces in town?” That could get me a lead, but was just as likely to send my target into hiding—or provoke an ambush. Do you see why I hate having to ask questions? Might as well paint a bull’s-eye on my back.

My first night in town, I stumbled across a couple of thieves rolling a courier in a back alley. When I strolled nonchalantly up, they stood and put their hands on their weapons. “There’s five drakes in it if you show me the local refuge,” I said. “How do we know you’re not a guard?” asked the woman. For answer, I put one of my new boots into the groaning courier. I didn’t like doing it, but the thief nodded and led me to a white-chalked door. I paid her.

The Outlaws Refuge was in a great cistern under a plaza right in front of the entrance to Scarp Keep. Cheeky! But if I was going to learn anything in Orsinium, it was here. Sure enough, after a brief look around, a lean Wood Elf f’lah smoking a bugpipe in a dark corner beckoned me over. “Still alive, eh?” he said from a handsome mouth with a wry twist. “The way you’ve been poking around, I’m almost surprised. I’m Gadnuth Oreyn—and I might know where to find your target.”

“Target?” I said. “I’m just looking for my aunt.” He smirked. “In the Outlaws Refuge? No—you’re Morag Tong, or I’ll eat my pipe. And so is your … aunt. I can’t take a Tong assassin on my own, so maybe we can help each other.” He had these big, guileless eyes that, along with the smile, made him completely untrustworthy. In short, just my type. “Where do we start?” I said. “In the Temple of Ire,” he replied. “Orcish gods are involved here.”

“Gods?” I said. “I thought they just had one: the Daedric Prince Malacath.” Gadnuth blew a double bugsmoke ring. “In Orsinium, Malacath has a rival in Trinimac. Or maybe he’s just another aspect of the same Divine—I’m no theologist, thank Y’ffre. But King Kurog is at least tacitly pushing for Trinimac, and that has the old-school Malacath worshipers up in arms. Which is where your aunt comes in.”

“Her name, if it matters, is Myvryna Llothri,” I said. “And she is Morag Tong.”

“Yeah—and currently she’s passing as an Orc,” said Gadnuth.

King Kurog founded an Orcish history museum called the House of Orsimer Glories,” Gadnuth continued. “He’s authorizing royal agents to collect old Orcish relics that will burnish his court’s prestige and stoke pride in Orcish ancestry—which could also promote Trinimac worship. One of the relics is called the Helm of Kharag gro-Khar. I volunteered to find it on Kurog’s behalf, but he preferred to give the job to a strapping Orc adventurer named Algutha gra-Varda. Your aunt.” He cocked an eyebrow and smiled.

“She’s not really my aunt, you know,” I said. “You know, sweet darkness, I’d figured that out,” Gadnuth replied. “What I can’t figure out is why she wants to find that relic. I know why I want it: we Wood Elves know it under a different name, the Helm of Oreyn Bearclaw, and if I can bring it back to Valenwood, my clan will make me Treethane. It’s a Bosmeri relic, not Orcish at all—that Kharag gro-Khar skeever was a thief who stole both Bearclaw’s reputation and his helmet.”

“A tangled web,” I said. “Orcish politics are more complicated than I thought. But I don’t think Myvryna’s goal is to elevate one clan or faction above another. Tell me, dear Treethane: does this helm have any … special properties?”

“So they say,” Gadnuth whispered, smiling and leaning closer. “It grants the wearer divine dexterity and enhanced endurance.” I smiled back. “Does it, now? Why, I can think of several activities where such … enhancements … might be very welcome.”

He stroked my jaw lightly. “Is that what the Morag Tong wants it for, sweet darkness?” I nipped his finger, tasted blood. “The Tong doesn’t want the thing—Myvryna’s a rogue who’s after it for her own reasons,” I said.

“Then you won’t mind if I keep it?” he asked. “Why do you ask?” I said, fluttering my lashes. “Are we joining … forces … to hunt for it together?”

He visibly gulped. “Don’t you think we should?” he said.

“I like you, Gadnuth,” I said. “Suddenly I can think of nothing but … finding that helm. Let’s go someplace comfortable where you can tell me all about it.” He took my hand. “Come with me, sweet darkness—I know just the place. The King’s Cornerclub—it’s right nearby.” And so it was. We found a dark corner where we could get close. “The thing is, this Kharag was a Malacath worshiper,” he whispered. “So the helm is sort of a relic of the Malacath Cult.”

I bit his ear. “And what’s the significance of that?”

“The significance…” He caught his breath. He seemed distracted, poor thing. “It will be in the hands of one of the clans that’s loyal to Malacath, probably as a treasured memento of their priesthood. The clans all have envoys in Orsinium right now, preparing for Kurog’s ‘Great Moot.’ I’ve been shadowing your aunt—Myvryna—that is, Algutha—and she’s been talking to all of the Malacath adherents one by one. But I last saw her talking with Umutha, the Curator of the House of Orsimer Glories. Kiss me.”

And I kissed him—long and repeatedly. This led to an extended period of getting increasingly friendly. We’d been drinking a lot of something the barkeep had called Gods-Blind-Me, and the next few hours are a bit of a blur. We must have found a room somehow because we woke up the next morning under furs in a rented chamber.

I flicked Gadnuth’s nose. “Morning, Treethane,” I said. “From what I recall, I don’t think you have much need for that helm’s special powers.” He grinned. “I want it for the prestige, really. Let’s go talk to Umutha and find out what she told your aunt. We should bring a gift to get her talking. Maybe an Orcish hero statuette?”

“Too common,” I said. In the end we bought her an antique Orcish tapestry. The curator was delighted. She put down the book she was studying—“The Mystery of Honor’s Rest,“ I think—and told us what we wanted to hear. “Every Orcish scholar knows Kharag gro-Khar was a hero of the Shatul Clan. I told Algutha the same thing.”

After that it was easy. The Shatul occupied a mountainous region just northeast of the city, guarding a Malacath holy site charmingly named Bloody Knoll. (Orcs, right?) Inside its stone gates, we found a trail of gore that lent credence to its name, leading to a temple called the Sanctum of Prowess, a blood-spattered dead priest at its door.

Inside, we found Myvryna/Algutha, bloody blade laid on the altar, laughing as she triumphantly placed a goofy-looking skull hat on her head. “The Tong has caught up with me—too late!” she cried. “Now I am invincible!” Gadnuth gasped: “The Helm!” Myvryna picked up her sword and jumped, incredibly reaching us in two bounds—close enough to trigger my Talisman of Whirlwind Cloak. The gale flung her against the altar, stunned, and my blades severed her spine with “Felling the Sapling.” Gadnuth picked up the helm. “Can I take this?”

“Yes—and take this, too.” I planted one, long and hard, on his lips.