The Real Barenziah
Five hundred years ago in Mournhold, city of gems, there lived a blind widow woman and her only child, a strapping young man. He was a miner, as was his father before him, a common laborer in the king's mines, for his magicka ability was but small. The work was honorable, but poorly paid. His mother made and sold small wildenberry cakes in the market to help eke out their living. They did well enough, his mother said. They had enough to fill their bellies, no one could wear more than one suit of clothing at a time and the roof only leaked when it rained. Symmachus would have liked more. He hoped for a lucky strike in the mines, which would garner him a large bonus. In his free hours he enjoyed hoisting a glass of ale in the tavern with his friends, and gambling with them at cards, and he drew the eyes and sighs of more than one pretty elven girl, although none held his interest for long. In short, Symmachus was a typical young dark elf man, remarkable only for his size. It was rumored that he had a bit of Nord blood in him. In Symmachus' thirtieth year there was great rejoicing in Mournhold for a girl child was born to their lord and his lady. A queen, the people sang, a queen is born to us! For among the people of Mournhold, the birth of a female heir is a sure sign of peace and prosperity to come. When the time came for royal child's Rite of Naming, the mines were closed and Symmachus rushed home to bathe and dress in his best. "I'll come straight home and tell you all about it," he promised his mother, who was not to attend. She had been ailing; besides, there would be a great crush of people as all Mournhold would be there, and being blind she would be unable to see anything anyway. "My son," she said. "Ere you go, fetch me a priest or healer, else I may pass from the mortal plane ere you return." Symmachus crossed to her bed at once and noted anxiously that her head was very hot and her breathing shallow. He pried up the loose floorboard where 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 rushed away. The streets were full of folk hurrying to the sacred grove, but the mage guild and the temples were locked and barred. "Closed for the ceremony" read the signs. Symmachus elbowed his way through the crowd and managed to overtake a brown-robed monk. "After the rite, brother," the monk said, "if you have gold I shall gladly to attend your mother. My lord has bade all clerics to attend and I shall not offend him." "My mother's desperately ill," Symmachus pled. "Surely, my lord will not miss just one lowly monk." "The father abbot will," the monk said nervously, tearing his robe loose from Symmachus' grip and vanishing into the crowd. Symmachus tried other monks and mages, too, but with no better result. Armored guards came through the street and pushed him aside with their lances and Symmachus realized that the royal procession was approaching. As the royal carriage drew abreast, Symmachus rushed out from the crowd and shouted, "My lord, 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 her babe to her breast, and stared wide-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 watched the Rite of Naming from the top of the hill. He could see the brown robed clerics and blue robed mages gathered near the royal folk far below. Barenziah. The name came dim to Symmachus ears as the High Priest lifted the naked babe and showed her to the twin moons on either side of the horizon: Jone rising, Jode setting. "Behold the Lady Barenziah, born to the rule of Mournhold! Grant her thy blessings and thy counsel ever that she rule to Mournhold's weal." "Blessings, blessings..." all the people murmured 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 his 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 would have as his own bride, that his mother's grandchildren should be born to rule Mournhold. After the ceremony he watched impassively as the royal procession returned to the palace. He saw the monk to whom he'd spoken first. The man came gladly enough now in return for the gold Symmachus had and a promise of more later. They found his mother dead, as he had feared. The monk sighed and tucked the bag away. "I'm sorry, brother. Well, you can forget the rest of the gold, as there's naught I can do here. Likely--" "Give me back my gold!" Symmachus snarled. "You've done naught to earn it!" He lifted his right arm threateningly. The priest backed away, beginning a curse, but Symmachus struck him 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 firepit. He died instantly. Symmachus took the gold back and fled the city, muttering the name "Barenziah".
* * *
The child Barenziah stood on the upper balcony of the palace, staring down into the courtyard where soldiers milled, splendid in their armor. Presently they formed into ordered ranks and cheered as her parents, the lord and lady emerged from the palace, clad 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, then turned to salute her. "Barenziah!" they cried. "Barenziah, farewell!" The little girl blinked back tears and waved bravely with one hand, her favorite stuffed toy animal, a gray wolf cub 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 names Tiber Septim and Symmachus were on everyone's lips, spoken with hate and dread. "Barenziah!" The soldiers cried, lifting their lances and swords and bows. Then her dear parents turned and rode away, soldiers trailing in their wake until the palace was near emptied. Some time after came a day when Barenziah was shaken awake by her nurse, dressed hurriedly and carried from the palace. All she remembered of that dreadful time was seeing a huge shadow with burning eyes that filled the sky. She was passed from hand to hand. Foreign soldiers appeared. Her nurse vanished and was replaced by strangers, some more strange than others. There were days, or was it weeks?, of travel. One morning she woke to step from the coach into a cold place with a large gray stone house set amid endless empty gray-green and hills patchily covered with gray-white snow. She clutched Wuffen to her breast with both hands and stood blinking and shivering in the gray dawn, feeling very small and very black in all this endless space gray-white space. A large gray-white woman was staring at her with dreadful bright blue eyes. "She's very -- black, isn't she?" the woman remarked to her companion, a brown skinned, black-haired woman named Hana who had been travelling with Barenziah for several days. "I've never seen a dark elf before." "I don't know much about them myself," Hana said. "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 cast him into the fire blazing in the hearth. Barenziah shrieked and would have flung herself into the fire after him, but was forcibly restrained, despite her attempts to bite and claw her oppressors while poor Wuffen was reduced to a little heap of charred ash.