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【书籍搬运】The Real Barenziah, v1 真实的巴兰兹雅,卷1

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原文地址:http://www.uesp.net/wiki/Skyrim:The_Real_Barenziah,_v1

中文翻译:

真实的巴兰兹雅

——无名氏

第1卷

五百年前,在宝石之城哀伤要塞,有一个盲寡妇和她的独生子相依为命。这个年轻人身材魁梧,与他父亲生前一样是个矿工。在哀伤要塞的国王手下挖矿是项普通活计,毕竟他也没什么使用魔法的天分。虽然这是份高尚的职业,赚的钱却少得可怜,他母亲也只能靠在市场贩卖自做的梳子莓蛋糕补贴家用。能填饱肚子,能凑够全身上下一整套衣服,能住在只在雨天漏雨的房檐下,她说,过这样的日子知足常乐。但是欣玛楚斯可知不了足。他寄希望于在矿井里走好运,这样就能大赚上一笔。不干活的时候他挺喜欢在酒馆里与朋友们喝一杯,再和他们赌赌牌。他也挺喜欢瞟瞟漂亮的精灵妞,再为她们叹叹气。这样的妞数量不少,但没一个能让他死心塌地。除了个头大点,他是个典型的农夫血统的黑精灵小伙。只是据说,他还有个八辈以前的诺德老祖。

在欣玛楚斯三十岁那年,一件大喜事传遍了哀伤要塞——国王和王后生了个女婴。一名女王,人们高唱,未来的女王终于诞生了!对哀伤要塞的人们而言,女继承人的出生可是确保了他们未来生活平静,衣食无虞。

到了公主的命名日,矿井暂时歇业,欣玛楚斯奔回家好好梳洗一番。“等一结束我就立刻跑回来,把看到的听到的全都告诉您。”他向母亲打保票,可她却并没在听。一来几乎全哀伤要塞的人都会去参加这万福典礼,可她是个瞎子,什么也看不见,二来,她生病了。

“儿子啊,”她说,“你走之前,去帮我叫一名牧师或者医者过来,不然在你回来之前我就要同你永别了。”

欣玛楚斯立刻奔到她床边,惊恐地发现她前额烫得吓人,呼吸也浅得可怕。他立刻撬开地板取出积攒的活命钱,可钱数加起来还不够请一个牧师来看一看。他只能倾其所有,不够的部分能先赊账就以后再慢慢还。于是他抓起披风,急急忙忙冲了出去。

大街上到处都是赶往圣林的人,连神殿也集体关门上锁了,告示上写着“庆典歇业”。

欣玛楚斯挤过人群,好容易才抓住一个棕袍牧师。“仪式之后吧,兄弟。”牧师说,“如果你钱足够,到那时我肯定会去看看你母亲。可是国王陛下他要求全体牧师都参加庆典——我也是其中一员,我可不想冒犯他。”

“可我母亲病得要死了!”欣玛楚斯哀求道,“一个下级牧师缺席,陛下他不会在意的!”

“陛下是不会,可总主教会啊。”牧师紧张兮兮地回答说。他从欣玛楚斯手中拽出自己的袍子,不一会儿就混在人群中找不见了。

欣玛楚斯又去找其他牧师,甚至还拦下了几个法师,但结果没什么区别。突然间全身披甲的守卫当街出现,沿街前行,手中长枪一下子把欣玛楚斯推出很远。这下他意识到后面要过来的乃是王室成员。

等到国王的车厢驶过他面前,欣玛楚斯冲出人群大喊:“陛下!陛下!我母亲快死了——!”

“我禁止她在如此光耀之夜死去!”国王笑着大喊,旋即便缩回宝座中去了。欣玛楚斯离他够近,能闻出他喝多了。车厢另一侧王后把婴孩紧紧抱在怀里。她斜眼瞥着欣玛楚斯,鼻孔大开,满脸轻蔑。

“守卫!”她喊道,“把这个蠢蛋轰走!”欣玛楚斯立刻被抓住了。他被狠狠臭揍一顿,丢在街旁,头昏眼花。

尽管头痛欲裂,欣玛楚斯还是跟着人群爬上山坡,在山顶观看了命名典礼。他低头看看远方山脚下的高等人聚集区,棕袍牧师和蓝袍法师全都呆在那里。

巴兰兹雅。

这名字在欣玛楚斯耳中嗡嗡作响。牧师长举起襁褓中的婴儿,将地平线两端的双月全部奉献给她:琼恩升起,裘德落下。

“请看,此乃巴兰兹雅公主,其为哀伤要塞之地而生!请慈悲众神赐予她祝福与忠告,以令其得以明智统领哀伤要塞——统领其智慧,其财富,其友邻,其家族!”

“祝福她!祝福她!”所有人都同国王与王后一起双手上举,纵声高唱。

只有欣玛楚斯一言不发,一动不动。他低垂脑袋,心里明白母亲已经死了。他暗暗发下毒誓,一定要杀掉自己的国王;而要为母亲毫无意义的死亡复仇,他定要让巴兰兹雅成为自己的新娘,这样他母亲的孙子孙女生来便可统治全哀伤要塞。

===========

典礼之后,王室成员在他消沉目光的凝视下回宫了。而后他遇见了自己第一次拉住的那名牧师。牧师没被责骂一身轻松,现在为了欣玛楚斯眼下和可能赊下的所有金子过来了。

可想而知,他们能见到的也只有老妇人的尸体罢了。

牧师叹了口气,拿走了钱袋。“我挺遗憾的,兄弟,还是节哀顺变。剩下的钱我也不要了,没什么我能做的了。现在差不多——”

“把钱还我!”欣玛楚斯目露凶光,挥起右臂咆哮出来,“你明明什么都没干!”

牧师吓退了一步,正准备骂出一道诅咒,可还没张开嘴就被欣玛楚斯一拳揍上鼻梁。他一下子栽倒在地,头撞在火炉的尖石头上,死得干脆又利落。

欣玛楚斯抓起钱袋就逃出城去。他边跑边嘟哝,只是一个词,一遍又一遍,仿佛那是巫师魔曲。“巴兰兹雅”,他嘟哝,“巴兰兹雅,巴兰兹雅。”

===========

巴兰兹雅站在王宫的阳台上眺望场地里士兵集合,被他们的盔甲反光晃花了眼睛。士兵们按照军阶站好,一等她的王室父母现身就开始大声欢呼。国王从头到脚包着一整身的玄璃甲,身后披着大紫袍。他们骑着毛皮闪亮的黑马,用着装饰华丽的马具,快要骑过场院大门时转身向她挥手告别。

“巴兰兹雅!亲爱的巴兰兹雅,再见啦!”

小姑娘强忍住泪水,勇敢地朝他们招招手。她最心爱的宠物娃娃,一只名叫狼狼的灰色小狼崽,被她紧紧抓在胸前。她从未与父母分开过,不知道这分别到底意味着什么。但她也知道,西面正在打仗,而所有人都在不断提起“泰伯·塞普丁”这个名字,提到的同时咬牙切齿。

“巴兰兹雅!”士兵们高呼着,向她举起长枪剑弓。她的父母率先骑出大门,列位骑士跟在他们身后。最终场院变得空空荡荡。

===========

之后不久,突有一天巴兰兹雅被保姆摇醒,急匆匆套上衣服就被带出宫去。

她对那段可怕时期的记忆只剩下被双目燃烧的巨大阴影所占据的天空。她被转手多次,外国士兵出现又消失,而后又重新出现。她的保姆不见了,取而代之的是一群陌生人,其中有些比其他的更为古怪。辗转旅行通常要花上几天,可也有几次用上了好几周时间。

一天清晨她醒转过来,跳出马车,面前是一座巨大却空荡的灰石城堡,四周无尽灰绿山岭上浮着点点灰白雪渍。她双手抱紧狼狼,眨了眨眼,在灰蒙蒙的晨光中瑟瑟发抖。这黯淡的无限空间如此灰白无尽,在这里她自觉异常弱小。

她与哈娜,那个最近几天一直与她同行的棕肤黑发女仆,一起走进了城堡。一个同样灰白的大块头女人一头灰金色头发,正站在一间房的壁炉前。她用发亮到可怕的蓝眼睛盯着巴兰兹雅。

“她可真——黑,嗯?”女人评论道,“我以前可从没见过哪怕一个黑精灵。”

“夫人,我自己对他们也了解不多。”哈娜回答道,“但是我多少了解这个小家伙。她一头红发,也有火柴的脾气。请小心为上,她咬人,这还不算是最厉害的。”

“我能把她驯好。”那个女人抽了抽鼻子,“可她抱着的这个脏不溜秋的是什么东西?哼!”女人一把揪起狼狼,甩手把它扔进了壁炉。

巴兰兹雅尖叫一声,当即就想跟在狼狼后面跳进去。虽然她对拎住她的人又抓又咬,却怎么也挣脱不开,只能眼睁睁看着可怜的狼狼烧成了一小堆灰烬。

==========

以斯文伯爵及其夫人英嘉养子的身份,巴兰兹雅就像错长到天际花园里的野草般成长起来。单看外在,她健健康康,可她内心里却总有一个角落冰冷又空虚。

“我可是把她当作亲生女儿一样照料。”在临近领地的贵妇们前来拜访时,英嘉夫人总是连连叹息,“可她是个黑精灵,本性如此你还能期待什么呢?”

巴兰兹雅原本没打算偷听这些话,至少她自己觉得没有。她的听力可比她的诺德养父母强多了。其他的黑精灵劣根性包括偷窃、说谎,还有乱用魔法,像是在这里点把火在那里飞一下。当她长得更大一些,还要加上对男孩和男人的极度热衷;这类人总能让她飘飘欲仙,并且令她再惊讶不过的是,他们相当善于此道。英嘉反对这最后一条的理由巴兰兹雅着实无法理解,于是她将其视为秘密,紧锁心底。

“她很会同孩子们相处,”英嘉补充道,指的就是她那五个年岁都幼于巴兰兹雅的儿子。“她倒不会让他们受伤。”老师开始给他们上课的时候琼尼六岁,巴兰兹雅八岁,他们一起读书。若非伯爵夫妇并不赞许,她本应也能在近战方面获得训练。他们丢给巴兰兹雅一把小弓,允许她和男孩们一起射靶玩。男孩们训练的时候她能看就看,周围没有大人盯着的时候也会偷偷和他们较量几下——结果她意识到自己在战斗方面至少和他们一样出色,甚至比他们更强。

“不过她应当非常……骄傲吧?”一名贵妇与英嘉咬耳朵。巴兰兹雅假装什么都没听见,心里却对此默默赞同。她没法不觉得自己比伯爵和他妻子都高等。他们的某种气质是造成这种轻蔑的根源。

之后她才了解到,斯文和英嘉原本只是暗沼堡最后一名贵族的远亲。于是她恍然大悟,他们装模作样自以为高贵,却天生不是做统治者的料。至少,当年他们的成长目标可不是为了统治别人。这种想法让她对他们产生了一种莫名其妙的怒意,倒不是怨恨,而是很纯粹的气愤。她看不起两只如此恶心的小虫子,也绝不会害怕他们。

==========

一月一次,皇帝的信使会给斯文与英嘉夫妇送来一小包金子,还会给巴兰兹雅送来一大袋产自晨风的干蘑菇,这可是她的最爱。但凡在需要被信使传唤当面问讯的场合,她总要被打扮得漂漂亮亮——或者至少,达到英嘉眼里一个骨瘦如柴的黑精灵姑娘能表现出的漂亮水准。同一个信使极少能来两次,但他们审视她却都好似农夫审视准备上市出售的肥猪。

在她十六岁的春天,巴兰兹雅看得出来,信使认为她已经长熟可以出售了。

几乎是条件反射,她决定自己绝不能就这样被卖掉。从几周之前开始,斯文家的马僮斯特劳,一个高大强壮笨拙温和惹人喜爱却又头脑简单的金发小伙,就一直在劝她和自己一起私奔。巴兰兹雅偷拿了信使送来的金子,从仓库中盗出自己的蘑菇,穿上琼尼的旧衣裤打扮成男孩模样……在一个晴朗春夜趁着夜色浓厚,她和斯特劳从马厩里牵出两匹最好的马,朝白漫城一路绝尘而去。这是距离他们最近的大城市,也是斯特劳一直想去的地方。不过哀伤要塞和晨风都在东面,巴兰兹雅的思乡之情几乎甚于磁铁与钉子间的亲密粘力。

转天一早,在巴兰兹雅的坚持下他们丢下了马匹。她知道城堡里的人一定会发现马匹失踪并开始追踪,而但凡追踪者都最好被彻底甩掉。

他们沿着小路,徒步走到午后,接着在一间废屋里睡了几个小时。傍晚时分他们出发,终于在黎明前走到了白漫城的大门口。巴兰兹雅早已为斯特劳准备好了通关文件:一份本地小地主派人到城里神庙办事的临时证明。她自己则借助飘浮法术翻过了城墙。她做出如此安排自有其合理之处:毕竟到现在这个时候,无论哪个守卫,但凡看见一个黑精灵姑娘和一个诺德小伙共同旅行,就一定会怀疑他们是通告中的那对私奔情侣。可反过来说,像斯特劳这样的小乡巴佬一人独行则是再正常不过。独身一人又证件齐全,斯特劳肯定不会引起注意。

她的小计划进行顺利。由于以前曾经来过白漫城几次,她选择在城门附近的神庙与斯特劳会合。与之相比斯特劳在斯文家出生,反倒最多只离开过那城堡几里地。

他们一起跑到了白漫城最穷地段的一家破烂旅店。为了抵御清晨的寒冷,巴兰兹雅手套斗篷兜帽一应俱全,全副武装下没人注意到她的黑皮肤和红眼睛,其实根本就没人搭理他们。他们分头走进旅店。斯特劳要了一个单人间、一顿丰盛饭菜还有两大杯啤酒。巴兰兹雅几分钟后再潜行溜进去。

他们一起吃饱喝足,为逃跑成功庆幸不已,之后就在小窄床上甜甜蜜蜜了一晚上。再然后他们精疲力尽,就这么睡着了,一夜无梦。

=========

他们在白漫城呆了几个星期。斯特劳白天帮人办事跑腿挣钱,巴兰兹雅则在晚上进人房子顺手牵羊。她依旧打扮成男孩模样,把头发剪短染黑,尽可能躲开别人的视线:毕竟那时白漫城里也没几个黑精灵。

一天斯特劳给两人找到了一份为东行商队作临时护卫的活计。独臂的护卫长瞟了瞟她,眼神中写满了怀疑。

“嘿,乃可是个黑精灵。”他笑了笑,“这简直就是让狼来看羊。不过咱这边确实缺人手,咱们也不到临近晨风的地方去,不怕乃把咱们都卖掉。再说,要是本地的强盗能划开咱的脖子,乃的脖子也早就保不住了。”

护卫长转过身子,开始上下打量斯特劳,突然他抽出短剑,直接朝巴兰兹雅砍去。电光石火间她就跳出剑锋范围外,手中的匕首也早已出鞘。斯特劳抽出小刀抵住他的后背,可护卫长扔掉短剑,反而笑得更欢了。

“不赖,小子们,真不赖。黑精灵,乃射箭水平怎么样?”巴兰兹雅稍稍证明了下自己的实力。“哎,不错,真不错。到了晚上乃的眼神可比谁都好使,耳朵也比别人都灵。要是放手让他干,一个信得过的黑精灵绝对不比其它战士差,这咱早就知道了。当年咱两条胳膊都还在,还没被帝国军队开掉,那时咱就跟着欣玛楚斯当大兵。”

“我们能反过来卖掉他们。我知道有人会为此出大钱。”那天晚上他们在破房子里睡最后一夜时,斯特劳小声说,“我们也能自己抢了他们。巴莉,你听我讲,这帮商人全都富得流油。”

巴兰兹雅笑出声来。“这么多钱我们要怎么花?更何况,这趟旅行我们和他们可是要彼此关照的。”

“我们可以买一座小农场,就你和我,巴莉——咱们安顿下来。像普通人一样。”

农夫!巴兰兹雅脑海里把他骂得狗血喷头。斯特劳就是个农夫,也只有农夫的梦想。但话到嘴边说出来的却变成了:“这里不行,斯特劳,这里离暗沼堡太近了。我们要抓住机会去更东边的地方。”

=======

商队向东最远只走到了御阳堡。皇帝泰伯·塞普丁一世为维护道路安全而建立了巡哨站,可过路费用高得吓人,于是商队自然能躲就躲,勤走小路。这样一来,商队就成了沿路强盗眼中的肥肉,人类也好兽人也罢,就连种族混杂的杂牌土匪也都希望能分一杯羹。经商高利的风险正在于此。

他们在到达御阳堡之前类似情况总共碰上了两次——第一次是突袭,好在巴兰兹雅耳朵尖提前发现了对方,这给商队留出了充足时间准备,结果他们绕到强盗背后,反而成功把对方突袭了;而第二次是夜袭,袭击者是虎人、人类和木精灵的混编。这队强盗技术娴熟,就连巴兰兹雅也没能及时发现他们,结果只好仓促应战,过程惨烈,虽然最终打跑了强盗,护卫队还是死了两个队员。斯特劳和巴兰兹雅成功割断了一个虎人刺客的喉管,可在那之前,斯特劳的大腿也还是被对方砍中了一刀。

巴兰兹雅挺喜欢这种生活。护卫队队长对她有所偏爱,她也更愿意坐在火堆旁听他讲在晨风跟随泰伯·塞普丁皇帝以及欣玛楚斯将军征战的故事。哀伤要塞攻陷后欣玛楚斯就被提升为将军,而队长对其的评价是:“他可是个好士兵,小子,欣玛楚斯是个好卒子。但要管理晨风的那堆事情,只是个好卒子可远远不够,要是乃明白咱的意思。不过呐,咱觉得啊,别的乃都知道了。”

“没这一说,我可什么都不清楚。”巴兰兹雅尽其所能保持冷静,“我大半辈子都是在天际省度过的。我妈嫁给了一个天际人,不过他们都死了。给我说说哀伤要塞的国王和王后都怎么样了吧?”

队长耸了耸肩。“咱也没听到什么口风。死了吧,咱觉得。停战协议签订前可是打了不少硬仗。现在倒是挺安静的。太安静了,简直就是暴风雨前的平静。话说回来,小子,乃是不是要回去?”

“也许吧。”巴兰兹雅回答道。但她确实想回去,回到晨风,回到哀伤要塞,就像扑向烈焰之飞蛾。这点斯特劳也能感觉出来,他对此并不高兴。加入商队之后他就一直气不顺,因为她要扮成男孩,不能和他睡在一起。巴兰兹雅本人确实也挺怀念斯特劳的怀抱,但看样子斯特劳要比她苦恼更多。

队长原本希望回程时也能继续留用他们。虽然他们拒绝了,但队长还是给了他们一人一份奖金,附赠一封推荐信。

斯特劳想在御阳堡附近定居下来,但巴兰兹雅坚持继续向东走。“我生来就是哀伤要塞的女王。”她说,虽然自己也不那么确定——说不定这只是一个迷路孩子编出的白日梦呢,“我想回家。我要回家。”至少这点她确信无疑。

=======

几周之后他们成功搭上了另一支东行的商队。初冬时节他们到达裂谷城,已经接近晨风边境了。可是日子一天天过去,天气却越来越糟。最终他们获知,不等到来年仲春,恐怕没有一支商队能够继续前行。

巴兰兹雅站在城墙顶,视线跨过裂谷城与群山之间的深壑。那白雪皑皑的群山耸立,好似守卫晨风的城墙。

“巴莉。”斯特劳轻声说,“到哀伤要塞还有好长一段路要走,差不多和我们走过的路一样长。这里和哀伤要塞中间都是些没人走的野地,随时都能碰上狼啦,强盗啦,兽人啦,还有更糟的怪物。我们只能等到春天了。”

“西格罗德塔就在那里。”巴莉反驳道,指了指围绕位于天际和晨风边界的古老宣礼塔建成的黑精灵小镇。

“可桥上的守卫绝对不会放我们过去的,巴莉。那群人全是一等一的帝国精英军人,贿赂对他们没用。如果你要去你就自己去,我也不拦你。但就算你过去了又能怎样?西格罗德塔到处都是帝国士兵。你过去是要给他们当洗衣妇吗?还是说你要去给他们当营妓?”

“才不要。”巴兰兹雅缓缓开口,思虑重重。这主意老实讲倒也不是完全不能接受,和士兵们睡觉肯定能让她衣食无忧。在他们穿越天际省的旅途里她确实出过几次轨,穿上女人的衣服悄悄溜出斯特劳的怀抱。她只是想换换口味而已,斯特劳是甜心,可笨得要死。当她选中的男人事后扔给她几个钱,最开始她还目瞪口呆,随后却觉得挺得意。斯特劳对此自然是极为不满,一旦他抓住现行,总要冲她喊上好一阵子,接下来好几天也都阴沉着脸。他很容易吃醋,他甚至威胁说要甩了她。不过每次他都是光说不做,他也做不出来。

然而总的来说帝国守卫尽是些大块头的粗暴汉子,一路上巴兰兹雅听到了一些极其影响他们形象的脏段子。这些段子中最下流的一个是商队篝火旁一个前帝国老兵讲出来的,而且还一讲再讲好像这是多光荣的事情。他们是想吓吓她和斯特劳,后来她明白了,但她也知道这些狂野故事肯定道出了一些实情。斯特劳挺讨厌这些脏段子,特别在她也不得不跟着听的时候就更为不满。不过即便如此,要说他对这些故事完全没感觉那也纯属谎言。

巴兰兹雅意识到了这点后就开始鼓励斯特劳多去找找其他女人,可斯特劳回敬说除了她他谁都不想要。她毫不客气地回嘴说,虽然比起其他人来她更喜欢他,但她对他可完全不是这种想法。“那你干啥还要去找其他男人呢?”有次斯特劳反问。

“我也不知道。”

斯特劳惟有长叹一声。“他们说黑精灵女人全都是这付德性。”

巴兰兹雅微笑着耸了耸肩。“我不知道。哦,等等……说不定我知道。没错,我知道。”她转身送给他一个热吻,“我猜这就能解释一切了吧。”

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The Real Barenziah, Part 1
by Anonymous
Unauthorized biography of the famous Queen Mother of Morrowind, Volume 1

 Note: This is part of the revised series of books that appeared in MorrowindOblivion, and Skyrim. InDaggerfall, this content appears in The Real Barenziah, Part I and The Real Barenziah, Part II with some minor modifications.
 Five hundred years ago in Mournhold, City of Gems, there lived a blind widow and her only child, a tall, strapping young man. He was a miner, as was his father before him, a common laborer in the mines of the Lord of Mournhold, for his ability in magicka was small. The work was honorable but paid poorly. His mother made and sold comberry cakes at the city market to help eke out their living. They did well enough, she said, they had enough to fill their bellies, no one could wear more than one suit of clothing at a time, and the roof leaked only when it rained. But Symmachuswould have liked more. He hoped for a lucky strike at the mines, which would garner him a large bonus. In his free hours he enjoyed hoisting a mug of ale in the tavern with his friends, and gambling with them at cards. He also drew the eyes and sighs of more than one pretty Elven lass, although none held his interest for long. He was a typical young Dark Elf of peasant descent, remarkable only for his size. It was rumored that he had a bit of Nordic blood in him.
In Symmachus' thirtieth year, there was great rejoicing in Mournhold - a girl-child had been born to the Lord and Lady. A Queen, the people sang, a Queen is born to us! For among the people of Mournhold, the birth of an heiress is a sure sign of future peace and prosperity.
When the time came round for the royal child's Rite of Naming, the mines were closed and Symmachus dashed home to bathe and dress in his best. "I'll rush straight home and tell you all about it," he promised his mother, who would not be able to attend. She had been ailing, and besides there would be a great crush of people as all Mournhold turned out to be part of the blessed event; and being blind she would be unable to see anything anyway.
"My son," she said. "Afore you go, fetch me a priest or a healer, else I may pass from the mortal plane ere you return."
Symmachus crossed to her pallet at once and noted anxiously that her forehead was very hot and her breathing shallow. He pried loose a slat of the wooden floor under which their small hoard of savings was kept. There wasn't nearly enough to pay a priest for healing. He would have to give what they had and owe the rest. Symmachus snatched up his cloak and hurried away.
The streets were full of folk hurrying to the sacred grove, but the temples were locked and barred. "Closed for the ceremony," read all the signs.
Symmachus elbowed his way through the mob and managed to overtake a brown-robed priest. "After the rite, brother," the priest said, "if you have gold I shall gladly attend to your mother. Milord has bidden all clerics attend - and I, for one, have no wish to offend him."
"My mother's desperately ill," Symmachus pled. "Surely Milord will not miss one lowly priest."
"True, but the Archcanon will," the priest said nervously, tearing his robe loose from Symmachus' desperate grip and vanishing into the crowd.
Symmachus tried other priests, and even a few mages, but with no better result. Armored guards marched through the street and pushed him aside with their lances, and Symmachus realized that the royal procession was approaching.
As the carriage bearing the city's rulers drew abreast, Symmachus rushed out from the crowd and shouted, "Milord, Milord! My mother's dying-!"
"I forbid her to do so on this glorious night!" the Lord shouted, laughing and scattering coin into the throng. Symmachus was close enough to smell wine on the royal breath. On the other side of the carriage his Lady clutched the babe to her breast, and stared slit-eyed at Symmachus, her nostrils flared in disdain.
"Guards!" she cried. "Remove this oaf." Rough hands seized Symmachus. He was beaten and left dazed by the side of the road.
Symmachus, head aching, followed in the wake of the crowd and witnessed the Rite of Naming from the top of a hill. He could see the brown-robed clerics and blue-robed mages gathered near the highborn folk far below.
Barenziah.
The name came dimly to Symmachus' ears as the High Priest lifted the swaddled babe and proffered her to the twin moons on either side of the horizon: Jone rising, Jode setting.
"Behold the Lady Barenziah, born to the land of Mournhold! Grant her thy blessings and thy counsel, ye kind gods, that she may ever rule well over Mournhold, its ken and its weal, its kith and its ilk."
"Bless her, bless her," all the people intoned along with their Lord and Lady, hands upraised.
Only Symmachus stood silent, head bowed, knowing in his heart that his dear mother was gone. And in silence he swore a mighty oath-that he should be his Lord's bane, and in vengeance for his mother's needless death, the child Barenziah he should have for his own bride, and that his mother's grandchildren should be born to rule over Mournhold.

***
After the ceremony, he watched impassively as the royal procession returned to the palace. He saw the priest to whom he'd first spoken. The man came gladly enough now in return for the gold Sym­machus had, and a promise of more afterward.
They found his mother dead.
The priest sighed and tucked the pouch of gold coins away. "I'm sorry, brother. It's all right, you can forget the rest of the gold, there's aught I can do here. Likely-"
"Give me back my money!" Symmachus snarled. "You've done naught to earn it!" He lifted his right arm threateningly.
The priest backed away, about to utter a curse, but Symmachus struck him across the face before more than three words had left his mouth. He went down heavily, striking his head sharply on one of the stones that formed the fire pit. He died instantly.
Symmachus snatched up the gold and fled the city. As he ran, he muttered one word over and over, like a sorcerer's chant. "Barenziah," he said. "Barenziah. Barenziah."

***
Barenziah stood on one of the balconies of the palace, staring down into the courtyard where soldiers milled, dazzling in their armor. Presently they formed into ordered ranks and cheered as her parents, the Lord and Lady, emerged from the palace, clad from head to toe in ebony armor, long purple-dyed fur cloaks flowing behind. Splendidly caparisoned, shining black horses were brought for them, and they mounted and rode to the courtyard gates, and turned to salute her.
"Barenziah!" they cried. "Barenziah our beloved, farewell!"
The little girl blinked back tears and waved one hand bravely, her favorite stuffed animal, a gray wolf­cub she called Wuffen, clutched to her breast with the other. She had never been parted from her parents before and had no idea what it meant, save that there was war in the west and the name Tiber Septim was on everyone's lips, spoken in hate and dread.
"Barenziah!" the soldiers cried, lifting their lances and swords and bows. Then her dear parents turned and rode away, knights trailing in their wake, until the courtyard was nearly emptied.

***
Sometime after came a day when Barenziah was shaken awake by her nurse, dressed hurriedly, and borne from the palace.
All she could remember of that dreadful time was seeing a huge shadow with burning eyes filling the sky. She was passed from hand to hand. Foreign soldiers appeared, disappeared, and sometimes reappeared. Her nurse vanished and was replaced by strangers, some more strange than others. There were days, or it may have been weeks, of travel.
One morning she awoke to step out of the coach into a cold place with a large gray stone castle amid empty, endless gray-green hills covered patchily with gray-white snow. She clutched Wuffen to her breast in both hands and stood blinking and shivering in the gray dawn, feeling very small and very dark in all this endless space, this endless gray-white space.
She and Hana, a brown-skinned, black-haired maid who had been traveling with her for several days, went inside the keep. A large gray-white woman with icy gray-golden hair was standing by a hearth in one of the rooms. She stared at Barenziah with dreadful, bright blue eyes.
"She's very -- black, isn't she?" the woman remarked to Hana. "I've never seen a Dark Elf before."
"I don't know much about them myself, Milady," Hana said. "But this one's got red hair and a temper to match, I can tell you that. Take care. She bites. And worse."
"I'll soon train her out of that," the other woman sniffed. "And what's that filthy thing she's got? Ugh!" The woman snatched Wuffen away and threw him into the blazing hearth.
Barenziah shrieked and would have flung herself after him, but was held back despite her attempts to bite and claw at her captors. Poor Wuffen was reduced to a tiny heap of charred ash.

***
Barenziah grew like a weed transplanted to a Skyrim garden, a ward of Count Sven and his wife the Lady Inga. Outwardly, that is, she thrived -- but always there was a cold and empty place within.
"I've raised her as my own daughter," Lady Inga was wont to sigh as she sat gossiping when neighbor­ing ladies came to visit. "But she's a Dark Elf. What can you expect?"
Barenziah was not meant to overhear these words. At least she thought she was not. Her hearing was keener than that of her Nordic hosts. Other, less desirable Dark Elven traits evidently included pilfering, lying, and a little misplaced magic, just a small fire spell here and a little levitation spell there. And, as she grew older, a keen interest in boys and men, who could provide very pleasant sensations -- and to her aston­ishment, gifts as well. Inga disapproved of this last for reasons incomprehensible to Barenziah, so she was careful to keep it as secret as possible.
"She's wonderful with the children," Inga added, referring to her five sons, all younger than Barenziah. "I don't think she'd ever let them come to harm." A tutor had been hired when Jonni was six and Barenziah eight, and they took their lessons together. She would have liked to train in arms as well, but the very idea scandalized Count Sven and Lady Inga. So Barenziah was given a small bow and allowed to play at target shooting with the boys. She watched them at arms practice when she could, sparred with them when no grownup folk were about, and knew she was good as or better than they.
"She's very... proud, though, isn't she?" one of the ladies would whisper to Inga; and Barenziah, pre­tending not to hear, would nod silently in agreement. She could not help but feel superior to the Count and his Lady. There was something about them that provoked contempt.
Afterward she came to learn that Sven and Inga were distant cousins of Darkmoor Keep's last titled residents, and she finally understood. They were poseurs, impostors, not rulers at all. At least, they were not raised to rule. This thought made her strangely furious at them, a good clean hatred quite detached from resentment. She came to see them as disgusting and repellent insects who could be despised but never feared.

***
Once a month a courier came from the Emperor, bringing a small bag of gold for Sven and Inga and a large bag of dried mushrooms from Morrowind for Barenziah, her favorite treat. On these occa­sions, she was always made to look presentable - or at least as presentable as a skinny Dark Elf could be made to look in Inga's eyes-before being summoned into the courier's presence for a brief interview. The same courier seldom came twice, but all of them looked her over in much the same way a farmer would look over a hog he is readying for market.
In the spring of her sixteenth year, Barenziah thought the courier looked as if she were at last ready for market.
Upon reflection, she decided she did not wish to be marketed. The stable-boy, Straw, a big, muscular blond lad, clumsy, gentle, affectionate, and rather simple, had been urging her to run off for some weeks now. Barenziah stole the bag of gold the courier had left, took the mushrooms from the storeroom, dis­guised herself as a boy in one of Jonni's old tunics and a pair of his cast-off breeches... and on one fine spring night she and Straw took the two best horses from the stable and rode hard through the night toward Whiterun, the nearest city of any importance and the place where Straw wanted to be. But Mournhold and Morrowind also lay eastward and they drew Barenziah as a lodestone draws iron.
In the morning they abandoned the horses at Barenziah's insistence. She knew they would be missed and tracked down, and she hoped to throw off any pursuers.
They continued on foot until late afternoon, keeping to side roads, and slept for several hours in an abandoned hut. They went on at dusk and came to Whiterun's city gates just before dawn. Barenziah had prepared a pass of sorts for Straw, a makeshift document stating an errand to a temple in the city for a local village lord. She herself glided over the wall with the help of a levitation spell. She had reasoned-correctly, as it turned out-that by now the gate guards would have been alerted to keep an eye out for a young Dark Elven girl and a Nordic boy traveling together. On the other hand, unaccompanied country yokels like Straw were a common enough sight. Alone and with papers, it was unlikely that he would draw attention.
Her simple plan went smoothly. She met Straw at the temple, which was not far from the gate; she had been to Whiterun on a few previous occasions. Straw, however, had never been more than a few miles from Sven's estate, which was his birthplace.
Together they made their way to a rundown inn in the poorer quarters of Whiterun. Gloved, cloaked, and hooded against the morning chill, Barenziah's dark skin and red eyes were not apparent and no one paid any heed to them. They entered the inn separately. Straw paid the innkeeper for a single cubicle, an immense meal, and two jugs of ale. Barenziah sneaked in a few minutes later.
They ate and drank together gleefully, rejoicing in their escape, and made love vigorously on the narrow cot. Afterward they fell into an exhausted, dreamless sleep.

***
They stayed for a week at Whiterun. Straw earned a bit of money running errands and Barenziah burgled a few houses at night. She continued to dress as a boy. She cut her hair short and dyed her flame-red tresses jet black to further the disguise, and kept out of sight as much as possible. There were few Dark Elves in Whiterun.
One day Straw got them work as temporary guards for a merchant caravan traveling east. The one-armed sergeant looked her over dubiously.
"Heh," he chuckled, "Dark Elf, ain'tcha? Like settin' a wolf t'guard the sheep, that is. Still, I need arms, and we ain't goin' near 'nough Morrowind so's ye can betray us to yer folk. Our homegrown bandits would as fain cut yer throat as mine."
The sergeant turned to give Straw an appraising look. Then he spun back abruptly toward Barenziah, whipping out his shortsword. But she had her dagger out in the twinkling of an eye and was in a defensive stance. Straw drew his own knife and circled round to the man's rear. The sergeant dropped his blade and chuckled again.
"Not bad, kids, not bad. How are ye with yon bow, Dark Elf?" Barenziah demonstrated her prowess briefly. "Aye, not bad, not bad 'tall. And ye'll be keen of eye by night, boy, and of hearin' 'tall times. A trusty Dark Elf makes as good a fightin' man as any could ask for. I know. I served under Symmachus his­self afore I lost this arm and got invalided outter the Emp'ror's army."
"We could betray them. I know folk who'd pay well," Straw said later as they bedded down for their last night at the ramshackle lodge. "Or rob them ourselves. They're very rich, those merchants are, Berry."
Barenziah laughed. "Whatever would we do with so much money? And besides, we need their protec­tion for traveling quite as much as they need ours."
"We could buy a little farm, you and me, Berry -- and settle down, all nice like."
Peasant! Barenziah thought scornfully. Straw was a peasant and harbored nothing but peasant dreams. But all she said was, "Not here, Straw, we're too close to Darkmoor still. We'll have other chances farther east."

***
The caravan went only as far east as Sunguard. The Emperor Tiber Septim I had done much in the way of building relatively safe and regularly patrolled highways. But the tolls were steep, and this par­ticular caravan kept to the side roads as much as possible to avoid them. This exposed them to the hazards of wayside robbers, both human and Orcish, and roving brigand bands of various races. But such were the perils of trade and profit.
They had two such encounters before reaching Sunguard -- an ambush which Barenziah's keen ears warned them of in plenty of time for them to circle about and surprise the lurkers, and a night attack by a mixed band of Khajiit, humans, and Wood Elves. The latter were a skilled band and even Barenziah did not hear them sneaking up in time to give much warning. This time the fighting was fierce. The attackers were driven off, but two of the caravan's other guards were slain and Straw got a nasty cut on his thigh before he and Barenziah managed to gash his Khajiit assailant's throat.
Barenziah rather enjoyed the life. The garrulous sergeant had taken a liking to her, and she spent most of her evenings sitting around the campfire listening to his tales of campaigning in Morrowind with Tiber Septim and General Symmachus. This Symmachus had been made general after Mournhold fell, the sergeant said. "He's a fine soldier, boy, Symmachus is. But there was more'n soldiery involved'n that Morrowind business, if y'take my meanin'. But, well, y'know all 'bout that, I 'spect."
"No. No, I don't remember," Barenziah said, trying to sound nonchalant. "I've lived most of my life in Skyrim. My mother married a Skyrim man. They're both dead, though. Tell me, what happened to the Lord and Lady of Mournhold?"
The sergeant shrugged. "I ain't never heard. Dead, I 'spect. 'Twas alot of fightin' afore theArmistice got signed. It's pretty quiet now. Maybe too quiet. Like a calm afore a storm. Say, boy, you goin' back there?"
"Maybe," Barenziah said. The truth was that she was drawn irresistibly to Morrowind, and Mournhold, like a moth to a burning house. Straw sensed it and was unhappy about it. He was unhappy anyway since they could not bed together, as she was supposed to be a boy. Barenziah rather missed it too, but not as much as Straw did, seemingly.
The sergeant wanted them to sign on for the return trip, but gave them a bonus nonetheless when they turned the offer down, and parchments of recommendation.
Straw wanted to settle down permanently near Sunguard, but Barenziah insisted on continuing their travels east. "I'm the Queen of Mournhold by rights," she said, unsure whether it was true -- or was it just a daydream she had made up as a lost, bewildered child? "I want to go home. I need to go home." That at least was true.

***
After a few weeks they managed to get places in another caravan heading east. By early winter they were at Rifton, and nearing the Morrowind border. But the weather had grown severe as the days passed and they were told no merchant caravans would be setting forth till mid-spring.
Barenziah stood on top of the city walls and stared across the deep gorge that separated Riften from the snow-clad mountain wall guarding Morrowind beyond.
"Berry," Straw said gently. "Mournhold's a long way off yet, nearly as far as we've come already. And the lands between are wild, full of wolves and bandits and Orcs and still worse creatures. We'll have to wait for spring."
"There's Silgrod Tower," Berry said, referring to the Dark Elven township that had grown up around an ancient minaret guarding the border between Skyrim and Morrowind.
"The bridge guards won't let me across, Berry. They're crack Imperial troops. They can't be bribed. If you go, you go alone. I won't try and stop you. But what will you do? Silgrod Tower is full of Imperial sol­diers. Will you become a washing-woman for them? Or a camp follower?"
"No," Barenziah said slowly, thoughtfully. Actually the idea was not entirely unappealing. She was sure she could earn a modest living by sleeping with the soldiers. She'd had a few adventures of that sort as they crossed Skyrim, when she'd dressed as a woman and slipped away from Straw. She'd only been looking for a bit of variety. Straw was sweet but dull. She'd been startled, but extremely pleased, when the men she picked up offered her money afterward. Straw had been unhappy about it, though, and would shout for a while then sulk for days afterward if he caught her at it. He was quite jealous. He'd even threat­ened to leave her. Not that he ever did. Or could.
But the Imperial Guards were a tough and brutal lot by all accounts, and Barenziah had heard some very ugly stories during their treks. The ugliest of them by far had come from the lips of ex-army veterans around the caravan campfire, and were proudly recounted. They'd been trying to shock her and Straw, she realized-but she also comprehended that there was some truth behind the wild tales. Straw hated that kind of dirty talk, and hated it more that she had to hear it. But there was a part of him that was fascinated never­theless.
Barenziah sensed this and had encouraged Straw to seek out other women. But he said he didn't want anyone else but her. She told him candidly she didn't feel that way about him, but she did like him better than anyone else. "Then why do you go with other men?" Straw had asked on one occasion.
"I don't know."
Straw sighed. "They say Dark Elven women are like that."
Barenziah smiled and shrugged. "I don't know. Or, no ... maybe I do. Yes, I do know." She turned and kissed him affectionately. "I guess that's all the explanation there is."

 

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