It was written as an additional Guide book to The Elder Scrolls Online.
Redguards of the Daggerfall Covenant
As I haven't been chased or abducted, and the only embarrassment I'm causing is the seasick vomiting of half-digested horse meat into the Iliac Bay, I'm claiming my first real contact with the Redguards as tantamount to a success. Aboard the Sentinel-bound ship, I'm immediately struck by how martial this culture is. From the captain to the rigging boy, all wear their weapons constantly. The marines who guard this vessel are even dressed in heavy armor!
What if they fell overboard?
Compared to the temperamental Bretons, the Redguard race seems positively dignified. Standing broad-shouldered and tall, with dark skin and wiry hair, they are seemingly born with a sword in their hand. I spoke with a few of them and found them formal, obsessed with personal honor, and quite aloof. While Breton culture had felt almost familiar to an Imperial like me, seeing the glinting domes of the city-port of Sentinel on the horizon gave me no such comfort. The Redguards were people from another continent, and it seemed they’d brought as much of Yokuda as they could manage.
Time heals even the deepest wounds. The recent Daggerfall Covenant is holding, and although outer regions of Hammerfell remain distrusting, the city-states of Sentinel and Hallin's Stand are committed to fight with King Emeric of Cumberland. The social hierarchy of Sentinel (the Forebears) is well versed in diplomacy with High Rock. But standing shoulder to shoulder with the Orcs tests the Redguards' commitment and honor to the snapping point. So far, both factions have kept their word (although interracial tasks are undertaken with gritted teeth and stringent oversight). Although the Redguards are fewer in number, the Covenant seems obliged to prosper from their influence, from the tactical expansionism of the Forebear king Fahara'jad to the calculated war-planning of his generals and maritime adeptness of this sailors.Fahara'jad may have more than simple alliances in mind. His daughter is married to King Emeric. He garnered support and played upon religious fervor after a starry comet skirted the northern heavens, and Fahara'jad believed it was a sign from HoonDing, the Yokudan Make Way God. A ruler with such guile must either be befriended or utterly crushed.
When the ship's guards aren't talking about the veneration of some chap called "Frandar" and his "Way of the Sword," they're practicing thrusts, cuts, and parrying with their swords. Or they're sharing advice on the care and polish of their swords: I sense a pattern emerging. While the Redguard soldier carries a variety of other killing implements -- which I sketched between bouts of seasickness -- a marine named Wisr-al-Maeen explained that a Redguard's sword is an extension of his soul and a symbol of honor. Their consorts have more care for their blades than a Nord does for his mead.
The history of the sword-saint, or "Ansei," tradition can be traced back to the time of Lord Frandar Hunding, the first warrior prince. Previously, civil war had run rampant across Yokuda. Those married to the arts of poetry and learning were forced to join their uncouth brothers and sisters, and all were to learn the song of the blade. When the commoner Randic Torn tried to unify the Yokudan Empire, he decreed that only warriors -- known as sword-singers -- could carry such weapons.
Frandar's ilk were artisans who valued beauty in the smithing of magnificent blades tempered with magic. But even more intense devotion to the gods of war allowed them to use their minds to conjure swords of insubstantial light. Those Ansei with otherworldly piety took this further, changing light into substantial, bone-cleaving reality. Disarming such an Ansei now required severing their head. Hunding's Shehai slew entities both wondrous and monstrous. After the defeat of Lord Janie and his seven lich guardians, Hunding retreated to the Hattu Mountains. Now invincible, he spent the next 30 years crafting his learnings into the Book of Circles. As Hunding readied for death, his hermitage was finally interrupted when his people called upon him.A new and final emperor was crowned: Hira. His thirst for power could be quenched only by wrenching control from the people and slaying all the sword-singers. And the Singers prevailed. Hira's empire was routed and scattered after seven terrible battles, but the commoners with little regard for the Way cared not about the reasons for their own salvation. So the Singers set sail across a vast ocean, vowing to honor their past but adopt a new name: Redguard. Now, every household in the province has an alcove above the hearth: a place where Hunding is honored and the Book of Circles is cherished.
Hushed whispers spoke of a plot by the Forebears. Sentinel's citizens grew paranoid. The absence of a firm ruler proved almost cataclysmic for the once-prosperous settlement, until the brash young Fahara'jad completed his journey from Bergama, stepped into Sentinel, and declared himself king. The rulers of the southern provinces acted with vehement repudiation, but the Forebear viziers and northern chieftains ratified the action. Perhaps sensing an uprising from the south, Fahara'jad proved himself most cunning, allying himself with the Daggerfall Covenant to pronounce himself High King of all Hammerfell. Seething silence from the south boiled over into vexation at the sheer effrontery, but the foes of Fahara'jad found his claims too difficult to challenge.Many considered Fahara'jad to be a usurper, a false ruler waiting for comeuppance at the many hands of the god Satakal the Worldskin. But being thrice blessed (courtesy of his ties to the Forebears, his daughter's marriage to High King Emeric, and his power as part of the Daggerfall Covenant) had its privileges.
I was half expecting King Fahara'jad to be carried in on a palanquin, but I left my prejudices at the mosaic-filled palace entrance doors. I was kept waiting in the audience chamber for over two hours, but after witnessing the king's personal involvement in governing his realm, I began to warm to him. He solved a dispute about drinking water that was contaminated by cattle dung by ordering the beasts slain or moved to pasture. He confiscated the harp from a musician who was accused of strumming before dawn. Then he signaled for me to approach.
"Be welcome to Hammerfell and at our hearth, Flaccus Terentius." Fahara'jad returned my credentials. "You're a pathfinder? You need waterskins, perhaps? The Alik'r Desert is unforgiving. Tell you what, my friend: Hand any merchant this note, and take what you need."
What a kind fellow! We continued to talk as equals, the king rightly focusing on my title as Envoy-Scholar, and he invited me to witness the following day's handfasting ceremony. His youngest daughter, Princess Lakana, was betrothed to High Rock's Duke Nathanial of Alcaire Castle. I duly accepted. It appears this wily ruler seeks to further strengthen his alliances.
To the south lie the filthy sand-ridden desert towns of the Hammerfell interior. The most recent immigrants from lost Yokuda have settled here and call themselves the Crowns. They abide by archaic Yokudan observances with a zeal that would impress a priest of Arkay. They are as stubborn as a case of Black-Heart Blight. They believe the Forebears to be tainted by "Tamrielic affectations" and are suspicious of the Daggerfall Covenant.For all their acrimony, both the Forebears and the Crowns do share an antipathy for magic, especially necromancy. The idea of raising Redguard ancestors as undead fills them with panic and revulsion. Imperial conjurers are most welcome to gather as many Summon Skeleton scrolls as they can muster, should a march on Hammerfell ever be ordered.
After the handfasting ceremony, an impressive display of conjured swordplay by an elder sword-adept, the serving of dried fruit, and the arrival of luxuriant pillows to lounge upon before the Thunder Herb was introduced, I did spy a few ruffled feathers. One of Fahara'jad's guests was a crown vizier from Rihad, who -- after a goblet or two of a potent pomegranate wine -- described the Daggerfall Covenant as "a pact of servitude, with our conniving king lying prostrate at the feet of his Wayrest inferiors." The fellow was quickly removed from proceedings, but it seems not everyone is keen on the king's new alliances.
As the handfasting festivities drew to a close, I spotted a familiar face. An Imperial trader -- who I'd waved at during the ceremonies -- was approaching. He gestured to the business ledger he carried under his arm and pointed to a side door. He was probably here to deliver the waterskins. I followed him outside, where we could speak without eavesdroppers.
I stood before him, befuddled and sweltering under the midday sun. "Er, my waterskins?" I inquired.
"Listen, friend" -- I lowered my voice and pointed an accusatory finger -- "you're speaking to the Envoy-Scholar of the Empress Regent! I demand you pay me at least a modicum of respect!"
He threw me up against the palace wall and held me by the throat. One of the Argonian gardeners looked up, then quickly back down to his planting. "No, you listen to me, you prancing nymph! My captain wants to know why you haven't filed an intelligence brief on High Rock. Having too merry a time in the taverns and palaces of the mighty?" He unhanded me, sensing my confusion. He stole my journal and then thumbed through it, scowling and pawing at the vellum. I demanded he take more care.
"Ah, let the scorpions take you." With that, my Imperial "friend" threw the guide at me, turned tail, and bolted for the harbor. I'd have given chase, but I remembered the previous time I'd been led down a back alley. What was this man's mission? And more importantly, what was his problem? Intelligence briefs? I thought I was compiling a traveler's guide!
Being roughed up by a crazed cultist is grounds for annoyance, but being browbeaten by one of my own kind is tantamount to reason! I'll be sure to inform Chancellor Tharn of his transgression. But for now, I won't let one rotting larva spoil my scrib pie, especially as there's so much to see, and paint, in the bustling streets of Sentinel. The architecture is breathtaking! I was expecting cracked and crumbling huts, but the Fighters Guild is majestic and it features cleverly-designed flumes for ventilation and insulation against the baking heat and cloudless nights. Masons of some considerable skill erected these monuments to an otherworldly kingdom. I hate to write this, but our architects could stand to learn the ways to move air around our homes: My bedroom in Bravil is a tad close to the guardhouse latrines for my liking.
Eight Divines of the Forebears
Akatosh, the Dragon God of Time: The chief deity, and first of the pantheon to establish the Beginning Place. He is the embodiment of endurance, invincibility, and everlasting legitimacy. The Crowns know him by the name Tall Papa.
Tava, the Bird God: The Yokudan spirit of the air led her people to the isle of Herne after their homeland sank. She is an aspect of Kynareth and a popular deity in Hammerfell, worshiped by sailors in port city shrines.
Julianos, God of Wisdom and Logic: Seen as an aspect of Jhunal, this is the god of literature, law, history, and contradiction. He is the patron of magistrates and the few wizards who exist in Hammerfell.
Dibella, Goddess of Beauty: The goddess devoted to artists, aesthetics, and others in the the shaping of erotic instruction. She is popular among Redguard women, as well as nearly a dozen disparate cults across the lands.
Tu'whacca, Tricky God: An aspect of Arkay to some, the Yokudan god of souls found his purpose as the caretaker of the Far Shores after Tall Papa created the Walkabout. He aids Redguards seeking the afterlife.
Zeht, God of Farms: An aspect of Zenithar and sometimes worshiped by Forebears using that name, the Yokudan god of agriculture renounced his father after the world was created; this is why Akatosh has dried the lands of Hammerfell.
Morwha, Teat God: Analogous to Mara, this four-armed fertility goddess (her many limbs allow her to "grab more husbands") and the favorite of Tall Papa's wives is a fundamental deity. She has a strong following in Stros M'kai.
Eight Gods of the Crowns
Tava, Tu'whacca, Zeht, and Morwha are all worshiped by Forebears and Crowns with few differences to their origin stories. But the Crowns have little devotion to the other Divines, preferring to pray to these heretical and distasteful idols:
Satakal, the Worldskin: The God of Everything shares aspects of the Nord Alduin, devouring one world to begin the next. Satakal does this many times over, birthing spirits to survive each transition and form the Crowns' pantheon.
Ruptga, Tall Papa: The chief deity and the first to learn to survive Satakal's hunger via the "Walkabout," a way to persist beyond a single lifetime. He set the stars to reveal his way. As the spirits grew, Ruptga created a helper named Sep.
Onsi, War God and Boneshaver: The notable warrior god of the Yokudan Ra Gada, Onsi taught the fighting men and women to temper steel and grow their knives into swords that combined strength of metal and purpose.Diagna, Orichalc God of the Sideways Blade: On the cusp of being a cult-worshiped deity, Diagna was an avatar of HoonDing that achieved permanence. He brought orichalc weapons to the Yokudans when they fought the Lefthanded Elves. In ancient Tamriel, he is said to have lead a small band of followers against the Orcs of Orsinium.
Divine service at the temple was just concluding as I finished my painting of the altar and structure. Many of the women were dressed in armor, but a few were clad in flowing dresses blowing lightly in the afternoon sea breeze. I tried my best to talk to one. "My, my, what an enchanting day. Does your skill with a blade match your beauty?" I inquired. The woman stopped, and our eyes met. "May you come safely to your journey's end, my perspiring friend," she replied, and walked off.
Down toward the harbor, where great shipping vessels were unloading their crates and cargo from Wayrest and beyond, I saw him: as bold as the whiskers on a Nord woman's face. The absconder from Daggerfall, that damnable cultist Uwafa, was here, in the streets of Sentinel! I felt my bile rise and cheeks flush as I stopped to watch and confirm his hated presence. This was no mirage. I instinctively grasped the pommel of my dagger. Uwafa was to pay for crossing my path twice.
"Kidnapper!" Merchants and townspeople turned to look at me as I frantically jabbed my finger in the direction of the fleeing black cloak and set off at a sprint I usually reserved for outrunning trolls. Uwafa had already seen me and was dashing away quite quickly, weaving between market stalls with the grace of a sabre cat. He bolted down a narrow alleyway, and I ran for him, cursing his odious name under my labored breath.
"Thief!" I yelled for good measure. Flagstones turned to effluent channels beneath my feet as I scrambled to find my quarry while keeping dry. I emerged into a small courtyard, surrounded by solid walls and high window slits. There was no sign of Uwafa anywhere. This was an unfamiliar area of Sentinel, away from the bustling temples and visitors. I felt uneasy now, standing in this secluded gap away from the life of the city.
I felt a sharp pain on the back of my head and fell forward, into darkness.
I looked around but could see nothing. I tried to shout but could not speak. I struggled in my bonds but could not free myself. I was feeling pain and tasting the blood trickling down from my head. My body felt cool against the stone slab to which I was bound. I gazed around, my eyes finally focusing. Two black roses were on either side of my body. Ritual torches were lit. Odd shapes flickered at me from behind the lights. Uwafa stepped forward.
"This was meant to take place in a cave outside Daggerfall," Uwafa said, mostly to himself. I responded with a muffled grunt. "Ah, you're awake at last? Good. The branding sears with more vigor if the victim is struggling." I retaliated with a muffled curse. "Calm down, Flaccus Terentius," Uwafa replied. "Your time for petulance has passed."
Something stirred behind Uwafa. A flapping corpse -- with linen bindings so tight they looked to be a second skin -- had climbed down from its crypt alcove and stood watching without eyes to see. Uwafa nodded to his minion before addressing me: "Didn't you hear? Necromancy is legal in the Empire..." Uwafa's voice trailed off, as if he were listening to a voice that wasn't there. In a flash, I had a vision: a great and hated necromancer named Mannimarco.
Uwafa ripped open my undertunic and produced a branding poker. It glowed with a blue light. "First, you shall wear the Mark of the Worm," he said softly, stroking my hair. "An appetizer before the blood sacrifice." He plunged the brand into my chest. My skin froze and cracked as I writhed on the altar, marked forever with the sign of the Black Worm.
My sacrifice was to be witnessed by dead eyes: Rotting corpses, clad only in fetid bandages, rose from their sarcophagi at the command of the Worm cultist.
There was to be no escape this time. Long-dead skeletal warriors wearing ancient Yokudan arms and armor joined the throng. The chanting and bone-clattering drew to a shrieking zenith...
Blood filled my eyes. I half saw the cultist's dagger rise, then fall from his grasp. I watched Uwafa's face contort in anguish. An arrow protruded from the wrist he was clutching. And then he was gone. I heard shouting and saw bandaged shapes thrash and moan, stumbling and burning. Light streamed into the crypt. Swords thumped against dusty shields and sliced through rattling bones. Redguard swords cut through my bonds. I was helped from the altar. I was struck on the arm by a skull, the teeth still chattering. It fell to the floor near its decapitated body.
A whirl of blades and fire magic tore through the undead. Mummies flew apart like training dummies. Swords were striking skeletal foes faster than my eyes could follow. The daylight blinded me as I staggered from the Redguard cemetery and into Ancestors' Landing. Herbs were administered to my wounds, and my belongings were gathered. I'd never seen a display of fighting as masterful as my rescue by the Ash'abah.
My brand still burned. I thanked my rescuers profusely and hoped they might put up with my misery, as returning to Sentinel without a personal guard was now unthinkable. They accepted my plea and offered me water, and we set off into the deep desert. But as the hours passed and the sun beat down mercilessly, I was beginning to rethink my plan of wandering with dangerous exiles from Redguard culture. Would they abandon me the instant I waned? My skin itched in the insufferable heat, my boots had become unwanted sand vessels, and I began to dawdle.
I called out for water as the sand started to ripple and sway. This was no desert malaise. I emitted a shriek as the ground began to seethe heavily, and a white fin pierced the dune. Suddenly, I stared into a huge black throat. I remember stumbling to the side, just as an Ash'abah spear was thrust into the maw. The giant armor-plated snake, which I was informed later was a "duneripper," let out a bellow and was swarmed upon from all sides. Swords cut up and under the ripper's armor plates, and it let out a deflated whine as it expired. We set up a makeshift camp, and I painted the corpse, which was already stinking. I made sure to stay well protected and deep within the Ash'abah throng from this point on.
Compiled by Brother Fabricius
Just as Argonian hunters scouting the waters of Black Marsh speak of a monstrous sea-drake¤-- a giant fish with a reptilian snout and tough, scaly hide -- there are similar tales from the migrant trappers of the Alik'r Desert. The duneripper shares many aspects of that aquatic monster but has adapted to live within the roasting sands of the western Alik'r. Ambush hunters like the duneripper are well suited to this arid, unforgiving landscape. This beast is immensely proportioned -- it can reach the length of three horses -- and its armored tail is covered in chitinous scales. Unlike the sea-drake, the duneripper has learned the primal art of patience. With a digestion system that requires only a modicum of food to sustain the large beast, the duneripper burrows beneath the sand, sometimes lying motionless for days, waiting to strike its victim.
The first sign of a duneripper is the dorsal crest piercing the sand just before an attack, as the nearby sand churns like a whirlpool. The quarry is unaware until the very last moment that a sharp-toothed, salivating mouth is closing on it. Should a bite not incapacitate its prey, the duneripper will try to clamp down on it, roll onto it, constrict it, or burrow back into the sand to suffocate it.
The duneripper will also sweep its tail around to upend its prey, and it exhibits shorts bursts of impressive speed. Beware the shifting sands, for they may be a prelude to a swift and bloody death.[Fabricius is a blowhard, but this is largely true.]
Farther into the indescribable heat we go. I kept the the middle of the procession, and with good reason. From over a dune, I spotted an immense scuttling creature race down to the desert floor. An old man of the Ash'abah who was wandering away from the group parried valiantly but was seized by the fiend's giant claws before a horrible skewering took place. The Ash'abah huntsmen immediately tracked the colossal scorpion and surrounded it with shields aloft, and one brave soul leaped for the tail, incapacitating the beast before they set upon it with a flurry of blades. I sketched the fight for posterity. The old man may have died of his wounds, but we ate a palatable stew of scorpion meat that night.
It usually attacks with its claws, catching its meal before the tail lashes out, usually killing the poor victim quickly but unpleasantly: If the barbed stinger doesn't slay the victim outright, the deadly venom pumped into the open wound immobilizes it. The corpse or paralyzed victim is then slowly eaten and digested externally. To prevent this most heinous of deaths, it is recommended that you attack from behind, concentrating on incapacitating the tail, as the hardened carapace is extremely difficult to breach. Native shamans of the Ash'abah prize giant scorpion stingers, but they prefer to harvest these themselves, rather than pay for ones slain by others.["Prehensile tail"? "Digested externally"? Fabricius is an idiot.]
The Lamia is an amalgam of snake and woman, although it is assumed they are hermaphroditic and lay eggs like a reptile (which are then abandoned and the immature Lamiae are left to fend for themselves). The less enlightened see this creature as a cursed people, but there is no evidence for this. Lamiae stand as tall as a full-grown Breton male when fully reared up, and they use their long tails to steady themselves while on land. Their sharp poison fangs, ophidian heads, and scaled tails have led to an aversion of this chimera cross Tamriel.
They have a lust for gold, jewels, and trinkets, and are known to loot and wear such treasure from the corpses of those they've slain. They understand language but have a rasping hiss rather than anything intelligible. However, they have developed an eerie, almost mesmerizing song that can entrance and entrap the credulous. They lack the intelligence to craft or make art, they never venture far from their lair, and they live independently unless they need to congregate for safety or are under the command of a more powerful Lamia or other entity. Their mastery of electrical magic is innate, not learned. But their appetite is voracious; they devour the flesh, meat, and bone of any living creature.
[Oh, Fabricius. If they lay eggs, why do they have breasts? Fool.]
Beware the song of the Lamia. It may be the last lullaby you ever hear. [Awful. That last line has got to go.]
Not wishing to use the rudimentary latrines in the makeshift Ash'abah camp, which would require me to squat over a recently dug hole in the ground, I ventured into a nearby cave to relieve myself and apply some powder to my desert chafing. I found a suitable spot, finished my business, and felt the cool air on my cheeks. Buttoning up, I spotted the glow of torchlight deeper into the cave. Strange shadows darted about. Then I hear a wistful song. A lament in a language unknown to my ears. It was enchanting I edged forward, drawn like an ancestor moth to a Canticle tree.
I was forcefully halted by an Ash'abah named Barahar. She knew of the dangers of the Lamia and manhandled me away from that beautiful wail. Inserting dreugh wax into our ears, we returned to the cave, moving to an opening above the grotto below. Here, we watched, and I sketched, a Lamia on the prowl. I also drew speculative art of Lamiae that may lurk in jungles and swamps. I returned to the camp. Barahar emerged from the cave a while later, carrying the Lamia's skin over her shoulder and a vial of milked venom.
In the silent dusk, we halted at the mausoleum on the outskirts of Bergama. The Ash'abah sat cross-legged, chanting in a circle while a warrior was washed with oils. "This is a purification ritual," Barahar whispered to me, "before our sword-adept banishes the angry ancestor-spirit." I began to understand: This was the Ash'abah's societal function -- dispatching the undead, as the majority of Redguards found it blasphemous to slay their own departed kin.
"Blade's edge!" The warrior took a long spear and walked into the mausoleum. A vast shape of cloaked air coalesced into a hooded form of skull and claw that tapered into nothing. Suddenly it let out an earsplitting howl, and frost magic danced toward the Redguards. The warrior adeptly evaded and spoke incomprehensible incantations. His spear glowed and he thrust it through the wraith's face.
An abrupt windstorm followed this departing phantom, but there would soon be a great deal more work for the Ash'abah.
Flat salt pans devoid of nourishment. Drifting wastes of sand. Sharp-clawed creatures and skeletal carcasses. Terrible horrors lurking above and below the sand. Sudden dust storms that choke and confuse. Water poisoned by the leaching salt. Knee-deep sand to slog through or impassable cliffs from which to plummet. Gorges that take days to circumvent. The deep desert of Alik'r is a nightmare land. It is this researcher's opinion that very few Redguards could survive for more than a few days out here. Surely people could live only in the coastal regions of Hammerfell, as the occupation of its interior has occurred through bluff, bluster, and the lack of any other race wanting this cursed and shriveled shell, a carbuncle on Tamriel's backside.[Titianus Iulus should be watching more than the community of Ska'vyn; his opinion is wildly inaccurate.]
How the Imperial scouts failed to find the thriving Redguard settlements within the desert interior boggles the mind. We've passed a surprising number of Redguards living in rudimentary villages. Naturally, the Ash'abah haven't been made welcome, but I did spent time sketching scenes from the primitive ways of life here, such as the inverted tentlike rain-catchers and the buried aqueducts for water collection. I sampled some cultivated succulents and passed a few goat herders. This place is teeming with life if you know where to look.
At last I've had my fill of terrifying desert creatures, and I've been assured that the only jeopardy I'll face in the settlement of Bergama is the plundering of my coin purse. Apparently, the bartering of the market traders borders on extortion. In an almost comical display of social animosity, the Ash'abah have camped outside the town's walls behind a dune. This is so the residents of Bergama can pretend they aren't there. Ludicrous! Fortunately, I'm not seen as a pariah, so I've agreed to roam the town and purchase some supplies.
Speak to the Imperial stonemason who has rebuilt naves, walls, and crenelations after a raid on a Cyrodilic building, and he'll lament the difficulty in repairing such heavy and ornate stone. While much Imperial construction requires demolition and rebuilding after conflict, many of the Yokudan accent pieces, such as the flying staircases or ornamental domes, are designed to crumble after an attack or an earthquake; this allows them to be easily replaced in sections afterward. However, these structures are solid; they stand tall and firm despite the sweltering heat. But it doesn’t take an architect to realize these structures reflect the original home of the Redguards.[Designed to crumble, eh? I don't believe a word of it.]
The many outer fortifications to this settlement are a sight to behold. The wall that defends Bergama is both ornate and substantial, with numerous foreign flourishes I've never witnessed before. While a Nord stable might be little more than a sturdy wooden barn, the Redguard stables are positively opulent but practical. The pavilion tent roofs can be retracted during a sandstorm and draped again to protect animals from the sun. All without compromising ventilation. Ingenious!
Before the bartering begins, my first priority is to locate an inn. The Ash'abah may abhor liquids more potent than tea, but I have no such qualms. In fact, I demand a sturdy cockle-warming after the frights of the last few days. I soon spotted an appropriate venue and chose an upper balcony. As I gazed through the slits in the tent roof at the night sky and the familiar glow of Masser and Secunda, I was brought an ewer of pomegranate wine. Sweet Mara, this is a sensational treat! In fact, I shall order another.
After my wine, I placed a talisman to improve bartering around my neck and strode confidently into Bergama Market, still bustling after dark. Amid the bleats of goats, the shouts of robed outcriers, and the smell of meats and incense, I stopped first at a small blacksmith’s stall to purchase additional weapons. Try as I might, I couldn’t secure a bargain. I fared little better at the herbalist; the dried herbs, other roots, and reagent powder I gathered were twice the price compared to Wayrest! Even a deal on waterskins eluded me.
I didn't mind; not all my stipend was spent. So I wandered farther and enjoyed a furious barter session for a set of genuine Lamia-skin Tu'whacca prayer wheels (these aren't some Argonian imitations, I was told). I also had to have a set of magic duneripper spine dowsing sticks. The trader made me a "water-tight guarantee!" Oh, how we laughed at his joke. Then I noticed a lady selling large skins of pomegranate wine. Still jovial from my last supping, I became eager for this, the most delicious of beverages. I may, perhaps, have overpaid.
Oh, what an impetuous fool I am. I corked the wine the moment I realized I'd actually been wearing an amulet that aided in seawalking. This had improved my posture but weakened my bartering considerably. That, and my tipsiness, meant I'd been nefariously plucked of all my coin by the time I stumbled into some genuine cultured treasures. All I could do was sit and sketch, passing up the intricately knotted goat-hair rugs, inlaid and gilded urns and lanterns, and the exquisite furniture. I regretted frittering away all the Ash'abah's funds too. Then one of the dowsing sticks punctured my wineskin, staining a costly bolt of silk. I quietly made my exit before the silk merchant noticed the damage.
The Redguards revere their departed ancestors so fervidly that it rivals the devotion many other races have for their gods. While a Breton may place a casket in ornately arched consecrated ground, or a Nord may place a wind-dried body on a shelf in a burial vault, the Redguards design and erect vast funerary structures for their dead that are as awe-inspiring as they are extensive. The thread of honor that binds the Redguards from before birth to beyond death is strong. These soaring and massive mausoleums are the purest representations of the undiluted Yokudan architecture, built to propel spirits to a meeting with their putative gods.
Perhaps the finest example of this type of burial site is Tu'whacca's Throne, set atop a vast plateau in the Alik'r Desert of Hammerfell. This huge temple is dedicated to the Tricky God, the Shepherd of Souls, and the Caretaker of the Far Shores. After ascending from the desert grazing fields, up the stone stairs carved into the plateau's side, one is first struck by the incredible views from atop this flat expanse of rock and sand. After passing the Throne Keepers, who are ever vigilant and maintain Tu'whacca's Throne, the eyes meet the true majesty of this sacred place.This necropolis is both a sprawling burial ground and a sacred ruin. Aside from Tu'whacca's presence watching from dark corners of this sanctuary, the temple also serves as a monument to the untold number of Yokudans who perished when the continent sank beneath the waves. Pilgrims travel across the stinging sands to pay their respects to these victims and to the historical Redguard kings who are also interred in this labyrinthine necropolis.
I explained away my drunken bartering to the Ash'abah, telling them the recent turmoil in Tamriel caused prices to soar, and we set off at dawn to make for Tu'whacca's Throne. Barahar informed me the tribe was duty-bound to visit there to perform the annual Rite of Royal Rest, which seals the Redguard kings and queens into their tombs and keeps them happy in the afterlife so they aren’t tempted to return and rule from beyond death. At least, that was the theory.
Tu'whacca's Throne is more than a simple sepulcher; it is a terrifyingly vast monument to the dead. No wonder the ritual is important-there are enough buried dead to summon a city’s population of undead! As the Throne Keepers retired from the ruins for the 36 hours the rite took, I was stopped at the entrance, a sack was placed over my head, and I was left to meditate in a goat pen. Apparently such rituals are not for the eyes of an outsider. Despite the smell of dung, I was content to wait. I’d been having flashes of memories from the last time I was in a mausoleum, and my chest brand itched in unison.
A couple of hours into my introspection, after pondering on the superstitions of these provincials, I broke open the pomegranate wine. This, it turned out, was a mistake.
I must admit the wine made me emboldened enough to remove my blindfold. Blinking at the necropolis entrance, I noticed the area was empty, so I stepped through and began sketching the columns and crenelations. After filling my page with fine art, I took a stroll and found myself gazing up at a mausoleum. It was guarded by the statues of two kings with their arms raised in warning. But the doorway was slightly open. Inquisitiveness won the day, and I crept over the threshold. I was immediately met by a void of blackness.
I tiptoed forward, my nostrils twitching in the stagnant air. Then I stopped, feeling a sudden chill through my bones. A great, cold hand fell onto my shoulder and began to squeeze. I let out a silent shout of terror, rummaged through my satchel, grabbed my genuine Tu'whacca prayer wheel, and walloped this unseen assailant. Fleeing in abject terror, I made for the slit of daylight, past the two kings, and back to the goat pen. A swift look over my shoulder magnified my fears. Something had followed me out. Something wreathed in darkness. An indistinct figure that refused to be seen properly.
I had made an error in judgment.
The Ash'abah raced from the temple, their trackers following the rage of dark chaos that had stalked off at some speed and seemed intent on heading toward the nearby settlement of Leki's Blade. Chief Marimah turned to me. "You are a walking disaster, aren't you? Have you been sent here to test us?" I started an apology but trailed off as a blade was pointed my way. "You have roused the spirit of Ra Boshek, the evil usurper-king. Killing you would only add to my anger. Follow me." Sheogorath was smiling on us today.
The only comfort in this maelstrom of fury and confusion was that the liberated mummy was using an ancient trader's trail, and the Ash'abah knew a shorter path to the township. After a lung-bursting march over dunes, with the blowing wind the only sound over faint muttering (I heard my name associated with some very improper guttural language), we spotted the sword statue for which the settlement was named. The Ash'abah were already herding the local Redguards into a defensible hilltop tower.
Marimah was being prepared by his priests for combat with the revenant. Barahar pushed past the huddled villagers and fired barbed words at me: “This ritual requires the sacrifice of four white sheep.” She held out her hand for payment. I offered her one of my genuine prayer wheels and she spat on the ground at my feet. I gave her a gold ring and waited for the skirmish to commence. My guilt was immeasurable.
Marimah triumphed over the revenant. Priests rushed to assess his wounds. He waved them off and stepped over the steaming husks of linen, still twitching and strewn across the sand. I honestly though I was joining Ra Boshek in a cursed afterlife, but Marimah beckoned me over to Leki's Shrine and rinsed his sweating face. Wiping his brow, he calmly remarked, "You have had unsanctified contact with Ra Boshek. You are unfit to consort further with us." Moments later, the Ash'abah gathered the remains of the revenant and disappeared from Leki's Blade.
I halfheartedly drew some ceremonial plaques and the shrine's altar before sheepishly hiring a guide to take me to the coast and from there a ferry to Evermore. "A pariah from the pariah tribe! An exile from the exiles!" I half smiled at Jad, the coachman, and requested no further conversation from his mouth.
Later, my brand turned hot as I shrieked myself awake from a nightmare. I saw a vision of worms, writhing from the eye sockets in a corpse's head. They chewed through the mouth as the corpse shook violently and burst apart, and Mannimarco himself stepped into view. He thrust his arm through my brand, into my chest, and squeezed. I writhed in agony.
After a short bout of weeping, I found myself at the port and pulled myself together. I invested in one last skin of pomegranate wine, boarded the ferry gangplank, and vowed never to return here.