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【书籍搬运】The Real Barenziah, v4 真实的巴兰兹雅,卷4

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原文地址:http://www.uesp.net/wiki/Skyrim:The_Real_Barenziah,_v4

中文翻译:(谐音的()中均可不保留)

真实的巴兰兹雅

——无名氏

第4卷

“我所爱过的全部,都已从我身边溜走。”巴兰兹雅看看前后骑士,再看看近旁车厢中的侍女,心气消沉。“但我获得了财富与权力,也有人给了我注定获得更多的保证,可为之付出的代价高昂。若泰伯·塞普丁为获得这些也付出了类似的代价,那我如今确实更能理解他对这些的爱之深了。这是自然,价值只能用我们付出的代价衡量。”出于本人意愿,她骑在一匹毛皮油亮的红棕马上,如战士般身披华丽的黑精灵制链子甲。

日转星移,她的车队迎风向东走入落日余辉,渐渐马蹄踏处升高为晨风群山的山麓。山上空气稀薄,而晚秋寒风簌簌,但晨风土生的黑玫瑰在高地的翳下狭间俯仰皆是,哪怕在最为贫瘠的河岸山脊也茁壮成长,花儿甜辣香气处处浓郁。沿途村镇中的黑精灵衣衫褴褛,他们聚在路边,或是高呼她的名字,或是直直瞪大双眼。她大多数护卫都是赤色守卫,也有几个高精灵、诺德人和布莱顿人。每多深入晨风一步,他们脸上的不安就更多一分,环绕她的保护性队形也更收紧一分。就连精灵骑士也面露警觉之色。

但巴兰兹雅却觉得自己回家了,终于回家了。欢迎她回家的扩展到整片大地。她的土地。

=======

欣玛楚斯在哀伤要塞的边境与她碰面。他带来了一整队骑士,其中一半是黑精灵。他们全都身着帝国的军服,她注意到了这点。

接下来就是宏大的入城游行和国中显贵的欢迎致辞。

“我下令翻新了女王的套间。”在这之后,他们到达宫殿时,将军告诉她说,“不过当然,不合你品味的东西可以随时下令换掉。”他接下来谈论的则是将于一周后举行的加冕仪式。他依旧是过去那个惯于发号施令的他——但她也察觉到了其他一些什么。他渴求她对这些安排的赞赏,而实际上全部安排都是为了钓取她的赞赏。这确实是新鲜事。他以前可不会追求来自她的赞许。

无论是她在帝都的经历,还是她与泰伯·塞普丁的风流韵事,他半个字也没问——不过巴兰兹雅确信所有的细节德莱丽安已经向他汇报了,甚至早就写信告诉他了。

典礼自体,就像许多其他事情一样,是新旧风格的混杂——部分来自于哀伤要塞的黑精灵古老传统,而其他则明显带有帝国风格。她被要求立下忠诚誓言,既向帝国与泰伯·塞普丁,同时也向哀伤要塞的大地与人民。她接受了来自民众、贵族与议会的效忠和拥戴。最后这群人的构成包括一队帝国使节(他们被称为“顾问”)和另外一些哀伤要塞民众的本土代表,而这些代表,依照精灵传统,几乎毫无例外都是长者元老。

不久后巴兰兹雅便发现自己的许多时间都花费在试图调停这两个派系和他们亲信的关系上了。自帝国引进了关于土地所有权以及地表农场的改革方案,绝大多数劝说安抚民众的工作本应是长老们的分内事,但这些改革中的许多都与黑精灵的传统相悖。泰伯·塞普丁,“以真神之名”,颁布了一项新传统——就连男女神灵自身也必须遵从。

新女王就此投身于工作与研究之中。长久以来她的生活就是关于爱情与男人——如果还称不上是永远的话。现在她发现,正如很久以前欣玛楚斯向她保证过的那样,世界上还存在着其他的愉悦:思考带来的愉悦,以及权力带来的愉悦。她对黑精灵的历史与神话产生了浓厚兴趣(很令人惊讶,毕竟她在帝都时很反感老师对此的教导),也愈发想要彻底完全地了解这个生养她的种族。而在发现基于历史悠久生命漫长,那些先祖都成为了骄傲的战士、高超的工匠以及聪慧的法师时,她便感到了一阵欣喜。

泰伯·塞普丁又活过了半个世纪,此间她为了各色国事拜访帝都时同他见了几面。访问期间他对她报以热烈欢迎,如有机会他们甚至能长时讨论帝国国内的各种事件。不过他看似已经忘记他们之间曾经存在过超出普通友谊与政治同盟的更亲密关系。这些年里他一点都没变,流言里说他的法师们使用法术延长了他的寿命,甚至还有说就是真神赐予了他永生。随后终有一天信使带着泰伯·塞普丁辞世的消息前来,而新任皇帝则是他的孙子柏拉鸠斯。

他们,她和欣玛楚斯,是在私人场合获知这条消息的。作为曾经的帝国将军与现任她值得信赖的首相,欣玛楚斯对此并没有多少感情流露,他几乎同样对待万事万物。

“不过这事总让人觉得不大可能。”巴兰兹雅说。

“唉,我曾经告诉过你,这就是人类的作风,他们寿命很短。不过这并不算多重要,他的权力依旧活在世间,只不过拥有权力的人换成了他的后代。”

“你曾经把他称为你的朋友。你对此无动于衷吗?完全不觉得悲伤?”

他微微耸肩。“曾经有段时间他对你的意义可比朋友更进一步。你现在又作何感受呢,巴兰兹雅?”从很久之前起,他们在私下交谈时就不再使用正式官职互相称呼了。

“空虚。孤独。”她说,自己也耸了耸肩膀,“不过这些都是我的老朋友了。”

“嗯,我清楚。”他柔声说道,牵起她的手,“巴兰兹雅……”抬起她的脸,亲吻了她。

这举动令她大吃一惊。她不记得他以前曾经碰触过她,她从来没从这方面考虑过他——不过不可否认,这带给她一股旧有的熟悉暖意,沁透她全身上下。她几乎已经忘记这股暖意能有多舒适:并不像她从泰伯·塞普丁身上感受到的炽热,而是一种舒适且富含活力的热忱,能让她想到——想到斯特劳!斯特劳。可怜的斯特劳。她有很久没有再想起过他了。如果他现在还活着应该已是人过中年了,可能早就有了一打孩子,她羡慕地想……也会有个精力充沛且善解人意的妻子,一人能顶替两人说话。

“嫁给我,巴兰兹雅。”欣玛楚斯说,他似乎看出她此刻所想正是婚姻、孩子……妻子,“我奋力工作,辛勤耕耘,也等候了足够长的时间,不是吗?”

婚姻。拥有农夫梦想的农夫,这念头自她的脑海浮现,十分清晰,不请自来。很久以前她不是用同样的词句形容斯特劳吗?不过为何不呢?如果不是欣玛楚斯,那又还能是谁呢?

在泰伯·塞普丁的一统大战中,到签订停战条约为止,无数晨风的旧有豪门都被扫平了。诚然,黑精灵的统治重新确立了起来——但统治者并不是真正的古老贵族,绝大部分都是像欣玛楚斯这样的新贵,可其中如他这般功勋卓著名至实归的还不到一半。在那些所谓的大臣想要将哀伤要塞的残骸瓜分殆尽、像吸涸玄璃之心那样将其彻底吮干的时候,是他奋勇作战才维持了国家的统一与坚固。他曾为哀伤要塞而战,为她而战,而她与国家都在那段时间成长,逐渐变得兴盛繁茂。她对他突然有了一阵感恩的冲动——以及不容否认的喜爱。他既坚定又值得依赖,辅佐她尽心尽责,同时也爱着她。

“为什么不呢?”她笑着回答,牵起他的手,亲吻了他。

========

无论从政治方面还是从个人方面考量,这场结合都达成了良好效果。尽管泰伯·塞普丁的孙子皇帝柏拉鸠斯一世对她有所偏见,但他绝对相信自己父亲的旧日友人。

而欣玛楚斯依旧在被晨风的固执民众所怀疑,既对他的农夫出身也对他与帝国的紧密联系。但是女王毋庸置疑广受爱戴。“巴兰兹雅夫人是我们自己人。”人们窃窃私语,“像我们一样是俘虏。”

巴兰兹雅对此很是满足。工作娱乐两不相耽——如此一生夫复何求?

时光流逝,大小危机均得以解决,风暴、饥荒与各类衰退均安然度过,而政变阴谋也一一得以铲除,叛徒阴谋家全部被处以极刑。哀伤要塞波澜不惊日趋繁荣,她的人民生活安全,衣食无忧,她的矿井农场出产丰厚。一切都很好,除了王家夫妇还没有孩子。没有继承人。

精灵要怀上孩子往往需要很长时间,每一个新生儿都被给予很高期望——贵族的孩子尤甚。因此在他们察觉到事情不对之前,又有数十年过去了。

“这都是我的问题,欣玛楚斯。我的身体被弄坏掉了。”巴兰兹雅苦涩地说,“如果你想另娶……”

“我不要其他人。”欣玛楚斯温和地回答道,“我也不肯定这是你的问题。也许是我的问题呢。唉,不管是谁的问题,我们总能找到药方的。如果哪里坏掉了,一定也能修复好。”

“但要怎么做?我们现在不是谁都不能足够信任、让他听到真实故事究竟是怎样么?医者的誓言总有靠不住的时候。”

“如果我们把时间和场合修改一下就没问题。而且不管我们说什么或者是说错了什么,讲故事的杰佛瑞都不会休息。神灵的活脑筋与快舌头传起流言蜚语来总是累不着的。”

牧师、医者与法师来来去去,可他们全部的祈祷、药水和偏方连怀孕的迹象都没带来,更不要说开花结果了。逐渐他们也不再强求,一切都听天由命了。反正他们还年轻,身为精灵前面还有好几百年要走。时间还多的是。对精灵而言时间总还多的是。

巴兰兹雅坐在大厅里用晚膳,在盘子上拨弄着食物,觉得很无聊却又不想休息。欣玛楚斯并不在她身边,而是被泰伯·塞普丁的玄孙尤里尔·塞普丁叫到帝都去了。还是说那是他的玄玄孙?她发现自己数不过来了。他们的脸孔一个接着一个变得模糊,融在一起。也许她本应和他同去的,但偏偏泪城的代表团来访,带来了一件十分无聊却又非谨慎处理不可的事情。

一名吟游诗人正在大厅另一侧的凹室中唱歌,但巴兰兹雅并没有在听。最近所有的歌曲,不论新旧,在她听起来都是一个调调。可随后乐章一转却引起了她的注意。他在歌唱自由,歌唱冒险,歌唱将晨风自锁链中解放。好大的胆子!巴兰兹雅立刻坐正,扭头对他怒目而视。可更糟的是,她意识到他现在转而去歌唱古老飘渺的与天际诺德人的战争了,赞颂爱德华王与莫莱林王以及他们勇敢战友的英勇无畏。故事是老故事,这没错,但曲子是新的,而曲中含义……巴兰兹雅并不能确定。

这个诗人是个胆大的家伙,拥有强健且充满激情的嗓音,还有一双为音乐而生的慧耳。虽然打扮得花哨鄙俗,他却也确实很英俊。他看上去既不富裕也不年轻,至少有一百岁了。可她先前怎么没听过他唱歌,也丝毫没有听说过他呢?

“他是谁?”她询问侍女。

侍女耸了耸肩回答说:“他自称夜莺,陛下。没人知道他究竟是怎么回事。”

“等他唱完后宣他上前,我有话要问。”

名叫夜莺的男子走上前来,对女王能成为他的听众以及赏赐给他的丰厚钱囊千恩万谢。她发现他的举止一点都不豪放,反而安静而谦逊。他说起其他人的传言来滔滔不绝,可她却没能从中了解到他分毫——所有的疑问都被他用笑话和黄段子挡了回去。可这些反击都说得如此动人巧妙,想要为此指责他完全不可能。

“在下的本名?陛下,在下名叫无人。非也,非也,在下的父母为在下起名为悟忍——还是无伴呢?这并不重要,毕竟有多少父母给孩子取了他们也不知道究竟为何意的名字呢?啊!在下应当是想起那名字了。悟无。在下成为夜莺有多久,在下自己也记不得了,大概是从,哦,至少是从上个月开始——还是上星期呢?您看,陛下,在下的全部记忆都尽是歌曲和故事,于是也就留不下什么给自己了。在下着实挺傻的。在下生于何处?当然是悟处了。在下打算走到漫游亭(停)就定居下来……不过在下也不急就是了。”

“我了解了。到那时你要娶艾塔楚(爱它处)为妻吗?”

“您真是洞若观火,陛下。也许吧,也许吧。不过在下觉得茵菲吉(因非急)也挺迷人的,有时就是如此。”

“哦,那你还挺多变的?”

“如风一样,陛下。在下可以从这儿吹到那儿,从热吹到冷,只要机运合适。机熨(机运)穿在在下身上确实合身。无趿(无他)穿在在下身上更合身。”

巴兰兹雅笑了出来。“那就在我们身边多留一会儿吧……如果你愿意的话,琴瑟(情色)大人。”

“如您所愿,碧霞(陛下)陛下。”

======

在那次简短交流之后,巴兰兹雅发现自己人生的乐趣再度被点燃了,全部的陈旧都变得崭新而有血有肉。她以热情迎接每一天,期望能与夜莺更多交谈,再听听他的曲子。与其他诗人不同,他从没向她、或是向其他女子唱殷勤颂扬的歌曲,他只唱崇高冒险与大胆事迹。

当她为此询问他时,他回答说:“您询问,陛下,可有什么能比您镜中的倒影更能颂扬您的美貌呢?若您想要字句,在下确实知道有些最美妙的字句,比在下的渺小自我更为美妙。面对如此伟大的字句,如在下般一周前才诞生的人怎能竞争得过呢?”

有一次他们单独相处了。女王因为失眠,便把他召进卧房,要他用音乐安抚她。“要么是你懒惰又怯懦,先生,要么就是我对你毫无魅力可言。”

“陛下,要颂扬您在下必须先了解您。可在下永远不可能了解您,因为您全身都被谜包裹住,周身缠绕的都是魔法之云。”

“非也,并非如此。你的词句才编织了魔法。你的词句……还有你的眼睛,你的身体。若你愿意,若你有胆量,那就来了解我吧。”

于是他走到她身旁。他们紧紧躺在一起,亲吻拥抱。“就连巴兰兹雅也并不真正了解巴兰兹雅。”他柔声轻语,“那在下如何才能呢?陛下,您找寻的乃是您不了解之物,也不知因何而寻。您拥有什么您没有的东西?”

“激情,”她回答说,“激情,以及从中所生的孩子。”

“而您的孩子,他们又将得到什么?他们的天赋权力为何物?”

“自由,”她回答,“随心所欲之自由。告诉我,在我眼耳及构成我之灵魂中最为智慧的人,所有这些我要从哪里找到?”

“其一在您身侧,其二在您身下。但您有勇气伸手,从您自己和您孩子那里把这些都取走吗?”

“欣玛楚斯……”

“在下体内有您要寻找的部分答案,令一片则深藏在您身下王国矿井的深处,此物可以赐予我们力量,使我们梦想成真。爱德华与莫莱林使用了此物,从诺德人令人憎恶的统治中解放了高岩和他们的灵魂,若此物被恰当使用,陛下,无人能够抵挡,即便是皇帝也不成。自由,您是这样说的?巴兰兹雅,它将赐予您从捆绑您锁链中解放的自由。仔细想想,陛下。”他再度温柔地亲吻了她,随后便退开了。

“难道你要离开……?”她叫喊出来。她的身体渴求他。

“只在现在。”他回答说,“肉体的愉悦同我们将要找到的比起来不过是尘埃一片。在下需要让您好好考虑一下在下刚才所说的。”

“我不需要思考。我们要做些什么?我们要准备些什么?”

“当然是——什么都不需要。矿井不能自由出入,这是自然。但如果女王在在下身边,又有谁胆敢阻拦?一旦进入地下,在下便可带领您去到此物所在的地点,并将其从沉睡之处唤醒。”

随后她长久研究所得的记忆归位了。“召唤之角。”她胆怯低语,“是真的?可能吗?你怎么知道的?书中记载它被深埋于匕落城下的无尽深洞里。”

“并非如此,在下已经研究此物很长时间了。为求安全,临死之前爱德华王将号角托付给他的昔日好友莫莱林王保管。而他则同样将它托付给此处哀伤要塞的伊芬神保管,此神生于此且管辖此处。现在您知道在下花费年月行途千里是为寻找什么了吧。”

“但是神?伊芬?”

“相信在下,吾心陛下。万事定将顺利。”浅浅笑着,他送给她最后一道飞吻,随后便消失了。

=====

第二天清晨他们便通过了走向矿井的大门,继续深入进去。借口要进行个人巡查,原本并不关心但为了夜莺,巴兰兹雅穿过一个又一个洞穴,走入地下深处。最终他们到达了一处被封上的无名走廊,进入之后才发现走廊通向这座矿井太过古老而早已被遗弃的部分。因为一些老旧通风井业已坍塌,路途时而变得艰难危险,他们不得不从废墟中清出一条通道,要么就只能绕路而行。恶鼠与巨蜘蛛到处都是,有时甚至会攻击他们,但它们并不是巴兰兹雅火矢法术或者夜莺迅捷匕首的对手。

“我们走得太深了。”最终巴兰兹雅说,“他们会去找我们的。我要如何解释?”

“您自便就好。”夜莺回答说,“您不才是女王吗?”

“欣玛楚斯陛下——”

“那个农夫遵从任何有权力之人的命令。他一直如此,也会如此一直下去。我们将拥有权力,亲爱的陛下。”他的双唇如同最甜之酒,他的碰触同时如冰似火。

“现在,”她说,“现在就要了我。我准备好了。”她的身体似在嗡鸣,每一条神经与肌肉都在绷紧。

“现在还不成,不能在这里,不是像这样。”他转了个圈,指了指年久的覆尘砖块与阴霾石墙。“请再稍等一会儿。”虽不情愿,巴兰兹雅还是点了点头。他们又开始继续前进。

“这里。”终于他开口了,停在一片空白围栏之前,“它就在这里。”他自尘土中抓起一块符石,另一只手放出一道法术。

墙消失了,其后是某处远古神殿的入口。神殿最中挺立一座神像,手中握锤,锤头停于精金砧之上。

“以吾之血,伊芬,”夜莺高喊,“吾命汝觉醒!吾乃莫莱林于玄璃之心之后嗣,王室之仅存血脉,与汝血脉之共通者。为晨风之最后祈愿,因全体精灵国度皆神灵俱损,请将汝世代看守之物交托于吾!如今吾命汝为此,粉碎!”

他方才言毕,雕像便发出阵阵低吼,很快空洞石眼便放出刺目红光。沉重石头颔首,锤子敲击金砧,随后便伴随一声雷鸣,石神自身崩塌了。巴兰兹雅双手覆耳,屈膝低下,猛烈颤抖,大声哀鸣。

而夜莺却毫不迟疑大步向前,抓起废墟中的某物时因狂喜而高喊。他将它高高举起。

“有人来了!”巴兰兹雅警告道,随后却第一次注意到他手里究竟拿着什么。“等等,那不是号角,那是——那是法杖!”

“诚然如此,陛下。您最后终于认清了。”夜莺纵声狂笑,“在下着实抱歉,甜蜜的陛下,但在下此刻必须离您而去了。或许终有一天我们会再度相逢。直到那时……啊,直到那时,欣玛楚斯。”他对着全身披甲从他们后方现身的人影说道,“她都是你的。你现在可以要回她了。”

“不要!”巴兰兹雅尖叫出来。她跳起身直扑过去,但他却消失了,直接一闪而逝——就在欣玛楚斯拔出巨剑朝他劈下之时。他的剑峰只穿过空气,随后他全身站直一动不动,仿佛已经替代了石像。

而巴兰兹雅什么也没说,什么也没听,什么也没看……毫无感觉……

========

欣玛楚斯告诉五六个陪同前来的精灵,说夜莺与女王迷路了并被巨蜘蛛袭击。夜莺失足坠入了深谷,随后谷口便崩塌了,所以没办法找回他的尸首。女王为此受到了极大刺激,还在为友人之死悲伤不已,因为夜莺是为保护她而死。尽管没人亲眼看见发生了什么,但正是欣玛楚斯的出现与命令之力使得那些大嘴巴骑士都对他所说的事情确信不疑。

女王被引领回宫,带入卧房,随后她便遣散了仆人。她在镜前干坐了很长时间,呆若木鸡,心烦意乱到无法哭泣。欣玛楚斯俯视着她。

“你知不知道你刚才都干了些什么?”最终他开口问——声音平淡,冰冷刺骨。

“你原本就应该告诉我。”巴兰兹雅悄声说,“混沌之杖!我从未想过它竟然藏在那里!他说——他说——”她发出一声哀鸣,绝望地弯下腰来,“噢,我都干了些什么?我都干了些什么啊!会发生什么?我会变成怎样?我们会变成怎样?”

“你爱过他?”

“是的。是的,是的,没错!哦,我的欣玛楚斯,众神慈悲,但我确实曾经爱过他。曾经。但现在……现在……我不知道……我不清楚……我……”

欣玛楚斯僵硬的面孔终于稍稍软化了些,而他的眼中闪现出崭新的光芒,于是他叹了口气。“嗯。确实有些事情发生了。如果我能做到的话,你就将成为一名母亲。至于其他——巴兰兹雅,我亲爱的巴兰兹雅,我想你已经将风暴释放到大地上了。风暴会在酝酿一段时间之后才成型,可一旦它成型,我们将合力使它平息。正如我们以前一直做过的一样。”

然后他走上前,撕开她的衣服,把她抱上了床。出于悲伤与渴望,她虚弱的躯体竟然对他的强健身躯起了前所未有的反应,将夜莺自她身上唤醒的全部生命力倾注其上。以此方法,被他尽数摧毁而生的全部焦躁鬼魂都如数获得平息。

=========

她曾经空虚,被掏空。如今她又被重新填充,因为她被植入了孩子,而孩子正在她体内成长。随着她的儿子在胎内茁壮生长,她对耐心、忠诚且全心全意的欣玛楚斯的感情也在滋长,植根于长久的友情与无法撼动之喜爱——如今终于成熟,结出真爱的果实。八年之后他们再次获得赐福,这次则是女儿。

=========

就在夜莺盗走了混沌之杖直后,欣玛楚斯紧急秘密联系了尤里尔·塞普丁。他并没有如通常那样亲自前往,而是选择留在巴兰兹雅身边,在她整个发情期都在她身上播种。因为此事,外加失窃,他不得不承受来自尤里尔·塞普丁的临时怒火与不当怀疑。为寻找窃贼派出了间谍,但夜莺如凭空而来般彻底消失——不管他究竟来自何方。

“也许有部分黑精灵血统。”巴兰兹雅说,“但我想也有部分人类血统,但他伪装了。否则我不可能这么快就发情。”

“肯定有部分黑精灵血统,而且还是古老莱亚辛的血脉,否则他不可能解放法杖。”欣玛楚斯分析道。然后他扭头瞥了她很久,“我估计他也没同你上床。作为精灵他没这个胆量,因为一旦他做了就没办法再同你分开了。”他笑了笑,可随后却又严肃起来了。“唉,他知道在那里的就是法杖而不是号角,而且他肯定是传送自己到安全地点了。不像号角,法杖不是武器,一时半会儿不会让他美梦成真。赞美众神至少他没拿到号角!似乎一切都如他计划所行——但他又是怎么知道的呢?是我亲手把法杖放在那里的,在莱亚辛家族的卑微旁系帮助下——作为回报他们如今是玄璃之心的国王了。泰伯·塞普丁取走了号角,但为了安全没有动法杖。唉!现在无论夜莺走到何处,只要他愿意,他就可以使用法杖播种冲突与分歧。不过单独这种行为倒不会给他带来权力。权力是由号角和使用号角的能力带来的。”

“我不大确信夜莺寻觅的是权力。”巴兰兹雅说。

“所有人都寻觅权力。”欣玛楚斯反驳道,“虽然方法各有不同。”

“至少我不是。”她回敬道,“我,陛下,已经找到我一直在寻找的东西了。”

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The Real Barenziah, Part 4
by Anonymous
Unauthorized biography of the famous Queen Mother of Morrowind, Volume 4

 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 VII and The Real Barenziah, Part VIII with some minor modifications.
 "Everything I have ever loved, I have lost," Barenziah thought despondently, looking at the mounted knights behind and ahead, her tirewomen near her in a carriage. "Yet I have gained a measure of wealth and power, and the promise of more to come. Dearly have I bought it. Now I do understand better Tiber Septim's love of it, if he has often paid such prices. For surely worth is measured by the price we pay." By her wish, she rode on a shiny roan mare, clad as a warrior in resplendent chain mail of Dark Elven make.
As the days slowly slipped by and her train rode the winding road eastward into the setting sun, around her gradually rose the steep-sided mountain slopes of Morrowind. The air was thin, and a chill late autumn wind blew constantly. But it was also rich with the sweet spicy smell of the late-blooming black rose, which was native to Morrowind and grew in every shadowy nook and crevice of its highlands, finding nourishment even in the stoniest banks and ridges. In small villages and towns, ragged Dark Elven folk gathered along the road to cry her name or simply gape. Most of her knightly escort were Redguards, with a few High ElvesNords, and Bretons. As they wove their way into the heart of Morrowind, they grew increasingly uncomfortable and clung together in protective clusters. Even the Elven knights seemed wary.
But Barenziah felt at home, at last. She felt the welcome extended to her by the land. Her land.

***
Symmachus met her at the Mournhold border with an escort of knights, about half of whom were Dark Elven. In Imperial battle dress, she noted.
There was a grand parade of entry into the city and speeches of welcome from stately dignitaries.
"I've had the queen's suite refurbished for you," the general told her later when they reached the palace, "but you may change anything not to your taste, of course." He went on about the details of the coronation, which was to be held in a week. He was his old commanding self -- but she sensed something else as well. He was eager for her approval of the arrangements, was in fact fishing for it. That was new. He had never required her commendation before.
He asked her nothing about her stay in the Imperial City, or of her affair with Tiber Septim -- although Barenziah was certain Drelliane had told him, or earlier written him, everything in detail.
The ceremony itself, like so much else, was a mixture of old and new -- parts of it from the ancient Dark Elven tradition of Mournhold, the others dictated by Imperial decree. She was sworn to the service of the Empire and Tiber Septim as well as to the land of Mournhold and its people. She accepted oaths of fealty and allegiance from the people, the nobility, and the council. This last was composed of a blend of Imperial emissaries ("advisors" they were called) and native representatives of the Mournhold people, who were mostly elders in accordance with Elven custom.
Barenziah later found that much of her time was occupied in attempting to reconcile these two factions and their cronies. The elders were expected to do most of the conciliating, in light of reforms introduced by the Empire pertaining to land ownership and surface farming. But most of these went clean against Dark Elven observances. Tiber Septim, "in the name of the One," had ordained a new tradition -- and apparently even the gods and goddesses themselves were expected to obey.
The new Queen threw herself into her work and her studies. She was through with love and men for a long, long time -- if not forever. There were other pleasures, she discovered, as Symmachus had promised her long ago: those of the mind, and those of power. She developed (surprisingly, for she had always rebelled against her tutors at the Imperial City) a deep love for Dark Elven history and mythology, a hunger to know more fully the people from whom she had sprung. She was gratified to learn that they had been proud warriors and skilled craftsmen and cunning mages since time immemorial.
Tiber Septim lived for another half-century, during which she saw him on several occasions as she was bidden to the Imperial City on one reason of state or another. He greeted her with warmth during these vis­its, and they even had long talks together about events in the Empire when opportunity would permit. He seemed to have quite forgotten that there had ever been anything between them more than easy friendship and a profound political alliance. He changed little as the years passed. Rumor had it that his mages had developed spells to extend his vitality, and that even the One had granted him immortality. Then one day a messenger came with the news that Tiber Septim was dead, and his grandson Pelagius was now Emperor in his place.
They had heard the news in private, she and Symmachus. The sometime Imperial General and now her trusted Prime Minister took it stoically, as he took most everything.
"Somehow it doesn't seem possible," Barenziah said.
"I told you. Ai. It's the way of humans. They are a short-lived people. It doesn't really matter. His power lives on, and his son now wields it."
"You called him your friend once. Do you feel nothing? No grief?"
He shrugged. "There was a time when you called him somewhat more. What do you feel, Barenziah?" They had long ago ceased to address each other in private by their formal titles.
"Emptiness. Loneliness," she said, then she too shrugged. "But that's not new."
"Ai. I know," he said softly, taking her hand. "Barenziah..." He turned her face up and kissed her.
The act filled her with astonishment. She couldn't remember his ever touching her before. She'd never thought of him in that way -- and yet, undeniably, an old familiar warmth spread through her. She'd forgot­ten how good it felt, that warmth. Not the scorching heat she'd felt with Tiber Septim, but the comforting, robust ardor she somehow associated with... with Straw! Straw. Poor Straw. She hadn't thought of him in so long. He'd be middle-aged now if he were still alive. Probably with a dozen children, she thought affectionately... and a hearty wife who hopefully could talk for two.
"Marry me, Barenziah," Symmachus was saying, he seemed to have picked up her thoughts on mar­riage, children... wives, "I've worked and toiled and waited long enough, haven't I?"
Marriage. A peasant with peasant dreams. The thought appeared in her mind, clear and unbidden. Hadn't she used those very same words to describe Straw, so very long ago? And yet, why not? If not Symmachus, who else?
Many of the great noble families of Morrowind had been wiped out in Tiber Septim's great war of unification, before the treaty. Dark Elven rule had been restored, it was true -- but not the old, not the true nobility. Most of them were upstarts like Symmachus, and not even half as good or deserving as he was. He had fought to keep Mournhold whole and hale when their so-called counselors would have picked at its bones, sucked them dry as Ebonheart had been sucked dry. He'd fought for Mournhold, fought for her, while she and the kingdom grew and thrived. She felt a sudden rush of gratitude -- and, undeniably, affection. He was steady and reliable. And he'd served her well. And loved her well.
"Why not?" she said, smiling. And took his hand. And kissed him.

***
The union was a good one, in its political as well as personal aspects. While Tiber Septim's grandson, the Emperor Pelagius I, viewed her with a jaundiced eye, his trust in his father's old friend was absolute.
Symmachus, however, was still viewed with suspicion by Morrowind's stiff-necked folk, chary at his peasant ancestry and his close ties to the Empire. But the Queen was quite unshakably popular. "The Lady Barenziah's one of our own," it was whispered, "held captive as we."
Barenziah felt content. There was work and there was pleasure -- and what more could one ask of life?
The years passed swiftly, with crises to be dealt with, and storms and famines and failures to be weath­ered, and plots to be foiled, and conspirators to be executed. Mournhold prospered steadily. Her people were secure and fed, her mines and farms productive. All was well -- save that the royal marriage had pro­duced no children. No heirs.
Elven children are slow to come, and most demanding of their welcome -- and noble children more so than others. Thus many decades had come to pass before they grew concerned.
"The fault lies with me, Symmachus. I'm damaged goods," Barenziah said bitterly. "If you want to take another..."
"I want no other," Symmachus said gently, "nor do I know for certain that the fault is yours. Perhaps it is mine. Ai. Whichever. We will seek a cure. If there is damage, surely it may be repaired."
"How so? When we dare not entrust anyone with the true story? Healer's oaths do not always hold."
"It won't matter if we change the time and circumstances a bit. Whatever we say or fail to say,Jephre the Storyteller never rests. The god's inventive mind and quick tongue are ever busy spreading gossip and rumor."
Priests and healers and mages came and went, but all their prayers, potions, and philtres produced not even a promise of bloom, let alone a single fruit. Eventually they thrust it from their minds and left it in the gods' hands. They were yet young, as Elves went, with centuries ahead of them. There was time. With Elves there was always time.
Barenziah sat at dinner in the Great Hall, pushing food about on a plate, feeling bored and restless. Symmachus was away, having been summoned to the Imperial City by Tiber Septim's great-great-grandson, Uriel Septim. Or was it his great-great-great-grandson? She'd lost count, she realized. Their faces seemed to blur one into the next. Perhaps she should have gone with him, but there'd been the delegation from Tear on a tiresome matter that nevertheless required delicate handling.
A bard was singing in an alcove off the hall, but Barenziah wasn't listening. Lately all the songs seemed the same to her, whether new or old. Then a turn of phrase caught her attention. He was singing of free­dom, of adventure, of freeing Morrowind from its chains. How dare he! Barenziah sat up straight and turned to glare at him. Worse, she realized he was singing of some ancient, and now immaterial, war with the Skyrim Nords, praising the heroism of Kings Edward and Moraelyn and their brave Companions. The tale was old enough, certainly, yet the song was new ... and its meaning ... Barenziah couldn't be sure.
A bold fellow, this bard, but with a strong, passionate voice and a good ear for music. Rather hand­some too, in a raffish sort of way. He didn't look to be well-off exactly, nor was he all that young. Certainly he couldn't be under a century of age. Why hadn't she heard him before, or at least heard of him?
"Who is he?" she inquired of a lady-in-waiting.
The woman shrugged and said, "Calls himself the Nightingale, Milady. No one seems to know any­thing about him."
"Bid him speak with me when he has done."
The man called the Nightingale came to her, thanked her for the honor of the Queen's audience and the fat purse she handed him. His manner wasn't bold at all, she decided, rather quiet and unassuming. He was quick enough with gossip about others, but she learned nothing about him -- he turned all questions away with a joking riposte or a ribald tale. Yet these were recounted so charmingly it was impossible to take offence.
"My true name? Milady, I am no one. No, no, my parents named me Know Wan -- or was it No Buddy? What matters it? It matters not. How may parents give name to that which they know not? Ah! I believe that was the name, Know Not. I have been the Nightingale for so long I do not remember, since, oh, last month at the very least -- or was it last week? All my memory goes into song and tale, you see, Milady. I've none left for myself. I'm really quite dull. Where was I born? Why, Knoweyr. I plan to settle in Dun­roamin when I get there ... but I'm in no hurry."
"I see. And will you then marry Atallshur?"
"Very perceptive of you, Milady. Perhaps, perhaps. Although I find Innhayst quite charming too, at whiles."
"Ah. You are fickle, then?"
"Like the wind, Milady. I blow hither and yon, hot and cold, as chance suits. Chance is my suit. Naught else wears well on me."
Barenziah smiled. "Stay with us awhile, then ... if you will, Milord Erhatick."
"As you wish, Milady Bryte."

***
After that brief exchange, Barenziah found her interest in life somehow rekindled. All that had seemed stale became fresh and new again. She greeted each day with zest, looking forward to con­versation with the Nightingale and the gift of his song. Unlike other bards, he never sang her praises, nor other women's, but only of high adventure and bold deeds.
When she asked him about this, he said, "What greater praise of your beauty could you ask, Milady, than that which your own mirror gives you? And if words you would have, you have those of the greatest, of those greater than my callow self. How should I vie with them, I who was born but a week gone by?"
For once they were speaking privately. The Queen, unable to sleep, had summoned him to her cham­ber that his music might soothe her. "You are lazy and a coward, sera, else I hold no charm for you."
"Milady, to praise you I must know you. I can never know you. You are wrapped in enigma, in clouds of enchantment."
"Nay, not so. Your words are what weave enchantment. Your words... and your eyes. And your body. Know me if you will. Know me if you dare."
He came to her then. They lay close, they kissed, they embraced. "Not even Barenziah truly knows Barenziah," he whispered softly, "so how may I? Milady, you seek and know it not, nor yet for what. What would you have, that you have not?"
"Passion," she answered back. "Passion. And children born of it."
"And for your children, what? What birthright might be theirs?"
"Freedom," she said, "the freedom to be what they would be. Tell me, you who seem wisest to these eyes and ears, and the soul that knits them. Where may I find these things?"
"One lies beside you, the other beneath you. But would you dare stretch out your hand, that you might take what could be yours, and your children's?"
"Symmachus..."
"In my person lies the answer to part of what you seek. The other lies hidden below us in these your very kingdom's mines, that which will grant us the power to fulfill and achieve our dreams. That which Edward and Moraelyn between them used to free High Rock and their spirits from the hateful domination of the Nords. If it be properly used, Milady, none may stand against it, not even the power the Emperor con­trols. Freedom, you say? Barenziah, freedom it gives from the chains that bind you. Think on it, Milady." He kissed her again, softly, and withdrew.
"You're not leaving... ?" she cried out. Her body yearned for him.
"For now," he said. "Pleasures of the flesh are nothing beside what we might have together. I would have you think on what I have just said."
"I don't need to think. What must we do? What preparations must be made?"
"Why -- none. The mines may not be entered freely, it is true. But with the Queen at my side, who will stand athwart? Once below I can guide you to where this thing lies, and lift it from its resting place."
Then the memory of her endless studies slid into place. "The Horn of Summoning," she whispered in awe. "Is it true? Could it be? How do you know? I've read that it's buried beneath the measureless caves of Daggerfall."
"Nay, long have I studied this matter. Ere his death King Edward gave the Horn for safekeeping into the hand of his old friend King Moraelyn. He in turn secreted it here in Mournhold under the guardianship of the god Ephen, whose birthplace and bailiwick this is. Now you know what it has cost me many a long year and weary mile to discover."
"But the god? What of Ephen?"
"Trust me, Milady heart. All will be well." Laughing softly, he blew her a last kiss and was gone.

***
On the morrow they passed the guards at the great portals that led into the mines, and further below. Under pretence of her customary tour of inspection, Barenziah, unattended but for the Nightingale, ventured into cavern after subterranean cavern. Eventually they reached what looked like a for­gotten sealed doorway, and upon entering found that it led to an ancient part of the workings, long aban­doned. The going was treacherous for some of the old shafts had collapsed, and they had to clear a passage through the rubble or find a way around the more impassable piles. Vicious rats and huge spiders scurried here and there, sometimes even attacking them. But they proved no match for Barenziah's firebolt spells or the Nightingale's quick dagger.
"We've been gone too long," Barenziah said at length. "They'll be looking for us. What will I tell them?"
"Whatever you please," the Nightingale laughed. "You are the Queen, aren't you?"
"The Lord Symmachus--"
"That peasant obeys whoever holds power. Always has, always will. We shall hold the power, Milady love." His lips were sweetest wine, his touch both fire and ice.
"Now," she said, "take me now. I'm ready." Her body seemed to hum, every nerve and muscle taut.
"Not yet. Not here, not like this." He waved around, indicating the aged dusty debris and grim walls of rock. "Just a little while longer." Reluctantly, Barenziah nodded her assent. They resumed walking.
"Here," he said at last, pausing before a blank barrier. "Here it lies." He scratched a rune in the dust, his other hand weaving a spell as he did so.
The wall dissolved. It revealed an entrance to some ancient shrine. In the midst stood a statue of a god, hammer in hand, poised above an admantium [sic] anvil.
"By my blood, Ephen," the Nightingale cried, "I bid thee waken! Moraelyn's heir of Ebonheart am I, last of the royal line, sharer of thy blood. At Morrowind's last need, with all of Elvendom in dread peril of their selves and souls, release to me that guerdon which thou guardst! Now I do bid thee, strike!"
At his final words the statue glowed and quickened, the blank stone eyes shone a bright red. The mas­sive head nodded, the hammer smote the anvil, and it split asunder with a thunderous crash, the stone god itself crumbling. Barenziah clapped her hands over her ears and crouched down, shaking terribly and moaning out loud.
The Nightingale strode forward boldly and clasped the thing that lay among the ruins with a roar of ecstasy. He lifted it high.
"Someone's coming!" Barenziah cried in alarm, then noticed for the first time what it was he was hold­ing aloft. "Wait, that's not the Horn, it -- it's a staff!"
"Indeed, Milady. You see truly, at last!" The Nightingale laughed aloud. "I am sorry, Milady sweet, but I must leave you now. Perhaps we shall meet again one day. Until then... Ah, until then, Symmachus," he said to the mail-clad figure who had appeared behind them, "she is all yours. You may claim her back."
"No!" Barenziah screamed. She sprang up and ran toward him, but he was gone. Winked out of exis­tence -- just as Symmachus, claymore drawn, reached him. His blade cleaved a single stroke through empty air. Then he stood still, as if taking the stone god's place.
Barenziah said nothing, heard nothing, saw nothing... felt nothing...

***
Symmachus told the half dozen or so Elves who had accompanied him that the Nightingale and Queen Barenziah had lost their way, and had been set upon by giant spiders. That the Nightingale had lost his footing and fallen into a deep crevice, which closed over him. That his body could not be recovered. That the Queen had been badly shaken by the encounter and deeply mourned the loss of her friend, who had fallen in her defense. Such was Symmachus' presence and power of command that the slack-jawed knights, none of whom had caught more than a glimpse of what happened, were convinced that it was all exactly as he said.
The Queen was escorted back to the palace and taken to her chamber, whereupon she dismissed her servants-in-waiting. She sat still before her mirror for a long time, stunned, too distraught even to weep. Symmachus stood watching over her.
"Do you have any idea at all what you have just done?" he said finally -- flatly, coldly.
"You should have told me," Barenziah whispered. "The Staff of Chaos! I never dreamed it lay here. He said-- he said--" A mewling escaped her lips and she doubled over in despair. "Oh, what have I done? What have I done? What happens now? What's to become of me? Of us?"
"Did you love him?"
"Yes. Yes, yes, yes! Oh my Symmachus, the gods have mercy on me, but I did love him. Did. But now... now... I don't know... I'm not sure... I..."
Symmachus' hard-lined face softened slightly, and his eyes glittered with new light, and he sighed. "Ai. That's something then. You will become a mother yet if it's within my power. As for the rest -- Barenziah, my dearest Barenziah, I expect you have loosed a storm upon the land. It'll be a while yet in the brewing. But when it comes, we'll weather it together. As we always have."
He came over to her then, and stripped her of her clothing, and carried her to the bed. Out of grief and longing, her enfeebled body responded to his brawny one as it never had before, pouring forth all that the Nightingale had wakened to life in her. And in so doing calming the restless ghosts of all he had destroyed.

***
She was empty, and emptied. And then she was filled, for a child was planted and grew within her. As her son flourished in the womb, so did her feeling toward patient, faithful, devoted Symmachus, which had been rooted in long friendship and unbroken affection -- and which now, at last, ripened into the fullness of true love. Eight years later they were again blessed, this time with a daughter.

***
Directly after the Nightingale's theft of the Staff of Chaos, Symmachus had sent urgent secret communiques to Uriel Septim. He had not gone himself, as he would normally have, choosing instead to stay with Barenziah during her fertile period to father a son upon her. For this, and for the theft, he suf­fered Uriel Septim's temporary disfavor and unjust suspicion. Spies were sent in search of the thief, but the Nightingale seemed to have vanished whence he had come -- wherever that was.
"Dark Elf in part, perhaps," said Barenziah, "but part human too, I think, in disguise. Else would I not have come so quickly to fertility."
"Part Dark Elf, for sure, and of ancient Ra'athim lineage at that, else he would not have been able to free the Staff," Symmachus reasoned. He turned to peer at her fixedly. "I don't think he would have lain with you. As an Elf he did not dare, for then he would not have been able to part from you." He smiled. Then he turned serious once more. "Ai! He knew the Staff lay there, not the Horn, and that he must tele­port to safety. The Staff is not a weapon that would have seen him clear, unlike the Horn. Praise the gods at least that he does not have that! It seems all was as he expected -- but how did he know? I placed the Staff there myself, with the aid of the rag-tail end of the Ra'athim Clan who now sits king in Castle Ebonheart as a reward. Tiber Septim claimed the Horn, but left the Staff for safekeeping. Ai! Now the Nightingale can use the Staff to sow seeds of strife and dissension wherever he goes, if he wishes. Yet that alone will not gain him power. That lies with the Horn and the ability to use it."
"I'm not so sure it's power the Nightingale seeks," Barenziah said.
"All seek power," Symmachus said, "each in our own way."
"Not I," she answered. "I, Milord, have found that for which I sought."

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