The True Barenziah, Part VIII
Barenziah sat in the hall at dinner, pushing her food about on her plate, feeling bored and restless. Symmachus was away, having been summoned to 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 into one another. Perhaps she should have gone with him, but there'd been the delegation from Tear on a tiresome matter that required delicate handling. A bard was singing, but Barenziah hadn't been listening. Lately all the songs seemed the same to her, whether new or old. Now 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 and worse, then realized that he was singing of some ancient war with Skyrim Nords, praising the heroism of King Moraelyn and his brave Companions. That tale was old enough, yet the song was new ... and the meaning...Barenziah wasn't sure. A bold fellow, but with a good voice and an ear for poetry and music. Rather handsome, too, in a raffish way. He didn't look exactly prosperous, nor was he all that young. Certainly he wasn't under a century of age. Why hadn't she heard him before, or at least heard of him? "Who is he?" she whispered to her dinner companion, who shrugged and said, "Calls himself Nightingale. No one seems to know anything about him." "Bid him speak with me when he has done." Nighingale came to her, thanked her for the honor and the purse she handed him. His manner wasn't bold, rather quiet and unassuming. He was quick enough with gossip about others, but she learned nothing about him, for he turned all questions away with a joking answer or a wild tale, yet one given so charmingly that it was impossible to take offense. "My true name? Milady, I am no one. No, no, my parents named me Know Wan, or was it, No Buddy? What doth it matter? How can parents give name to that which they know not? Ah, I believe that was the name, No Not. I have been Nighingale for so long I do not quite remember, oh, since last month at the very least, or was it last week? All my memory goes into song and tales, you see. I've none left for myself. I'm really quite boring. Where was I born? Why, Knoweyr. I plan to settle in Dunroman when I get there, but I'm in no hurry." "I see. And will you then marry Atleshur?" "Very perceptive of you, milady. Perhaps, although I find Inaste quite charming, too, at whiles." "Ah, you are fickle, then?" "Like the wind, milady, I blow hither and yon and hot and cold." "Stay with us awhile, then, if you will." "As you wish, milady." Barenziah found her interest in life rekindled. All that had seemed stale seemed fresh and new again. She greeted each day with zest, looking forward to conversation and song with Nightingale. 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 merely said, "What greater praise of thy charm couldst thou ask, than what thy own mirror gives thee? And if words thou wouldst have, thou hast those of the greatest bards of the land? How should I vie with them, I who was born but a week gone by?" For once they spoke privately, for Barenziah, unable to sleep, had bidden him come to her chamber that his music might soothe her. "Thou art lazy and a coward, else I hold no charm for thee." "Milady, to praise thee I must know thee and thy spirit is wrapped in clouds of enchantment." "Not so, 'tis thy words that weave enchantment, and thy eyes. Know me if thou wilt, and if thou dare'st." He came to her; they lay close, kissed and embraced. "Not even Barenziah truly knows herself," he whispered softly. "How can I? Barenziah, thou seekest and know it not, nor yet for what. What would you have, that you have not?" "Passion," she whispered, "passion. And children born of it." "And for thy children, what? What birthright will you give them?" "Freedom," she whispered, "freedom to be what they are. Where can I find these things?" "They lie beside you and beneath you if you dare stretch out your hand to take them." "But Symmachus..." "I tell you, in me lies the answer to part of your quest and below us in these very mines, lies that which will grant us the power to fulfill achieve it. That which Moraelyn and Edward between them used to free High Rock from Nord domination of their spirit. Properly used, none can stand against it, not e'en that power which the Emperor controls. Freedom, Barenziah, freedom from the chains that bind you. Think on it, Barenziah." He kissed her again, softly, and withdrew. "You're not going?" she cried out, for 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 it." "I don't need to think. What must we do? What preparation must we make?" "Why, none. You can enter the mines freely. Once below I can guide you to where this thing lies and lift it from its resting place." "The Horn of Summoning," she whispered. "Is it true? How do you know? 'Tis said it's buried 'neath Daggerfall itself." "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, who secreted it here in Mournhold, under the guardianship of the god Ephen, whose birthplace this is. Now thou know'st what it hath cost me many long years and weary miles to learn." "But the god?" "Trust me, dear heart. All will be well." Laughing, he blew her a last kiss and was gone. On the morrow they passed the guards at the great doors that led below. Barenziah made her usual tour of inspection but instead of leaving afterwards, she and Nightingale entered a long-sealed door that led to an ancient part of the workings, long abandoned. The going was treacherous, for some of the old passages had collapsed and they had to clear a passage or find a way around. Vicious rats and huge spiders scurried here and there and sometimes attacked them. "We've been gone too long," Barenziah said. "They'll be looking for us. What will I tell them?" "Whate'er you please," Nightingale laughed. "You are the queen, aren't you?" "Symmachus--" "That peasant obeys whoever holds power. Always has, always will. We shall hold the power, love." His lips were the sweetest wine, every touch of fire and lightning. "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 at the ancient dusty rubble and grim rock walls. "Just a little longer." "Here," he said at last, pausing before a blank wall. "Here it lies." His hands wove a spell and the wall dissolved to reveal the entrance to an ancient shrine. In the midst stood a statue of the god, hammer in hand, poised above an adamantium anvil. "By my blood, Ephen, I bid you wake! Moraelyn's heir of Ebonheart am I, last of the royal kin, sharer of thy blood. At Morrowind's last need, with all elvendom in peril of their souls, release to me that which thou guardst! Now do I bid thee strike!" At his words the statue stirred and quickened, and the blank stone eyes glowed red. The massive head nodded, and the hammer smote the anvil, which split asunder with a thunderous crash, and the stone god himself crumbled. Barenziah clapped her hands over her ears and crouched down, crying aloud. Nightingale strode boldly forward and clasped what lay among the ruins with a cry of ecstasy, lifting it high. "Someone's coming!" Barenziah cried. "Wait, that's not the Horn, it -- it's a staff!" "Indeed, my dear, you see truly, at last!" Nightingale laughed aloud, then -- "I'm sorry, my darling, that I must leave you now. Perhaps we'll meet again one day. Until then -- ah, until then, Symmachus," he said to the mail clad figure who'd appeared behind them, "she's yours." "No!" Barenziah sprang up and ran toward him, but he was gone -- winked out of existence -- just as Symmachus, sword drawn, reached him. His blade cleaved a single stroke through empty air, then he stood as still as if he'd taken the stone god's place. Barenziah said nothing, nothing, nothing... Symmachus told the half dozen elves who had accompanied him to say only that Nightingale and the queen had lost their way, and had been set upon by spiders. Nightingale had fallen into a deep crevice that closed upon him. His body could not be recovered. The queen had been badly shaken by the encounter and deeply mourned the loss of the friend, who had fallen in her defense. Such was his power of command that the slack-jawed soldiers, none of whom had caught more than a glimpse of the event, were half-convinced that it was true. Barenziah was escorted above and taken to her chamber where she dismissed her servants and sat stunned, too shaken even to weep. Symmachus stood watching her. "Do you have any idea what you have done?" he said finally. "You should have told me," Barenziah whispered, "The Staff of Unity and Chaos! I never dreamed it lay here. He said--" A mewling moan escaped her lips and she doubled over in agony. "What have I done? What now? What's to become of me?" "You loved him?" "Yes, yes, yes. Oh, may the gods have mercy on me, I did love him." Symmachus hard-lined face softened slightly and his eyes glittered with a new light, and he sighed softly. "Ahhh, that's something then. You will become a mother if it's within my power. As for the rest, my dear, I expect you have loosed a storm upon the land. It'll be awhile yet in the brewing. When it comes we'll weather it together." He stripped her clothing from her and carried her to the bed. Out of grief and longing, her body responded to his as never before, pouring forth all that Nightingale had woken in her. She was emptied, and then filled, for a child was planted and grew within her. As the babe grew in her womb, so did her feeling for patient faithful Symmachus, rooted in long friendship and affection, now at last ripen into the fullness of true love. Eight years later their love was blessed again with a little daughter. Directly after Nighingale's theft of the staff Symmachus had sent secret messages to Uriel Septim of the matter, but had not gone himself, choosing rather to stay with Barenziah during her fertile period and father the child upon her. For this, and for the theft, he suffered Uriel Septim's disfavor and suspicion. Spies were sent in search of the thief but Nighingale seemed to have vanished whence he'd 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, of ancient R'Aathim lineage, else he could not have freed the staff," Symmachus reasoned, "and I think he would have lain with thee. As elf he did not dare, for then he would not have been able to part with thee. He knew the Staff lay there, not the Horn, and that he must teleport to safety, for the Staff is not a weapon that would have seen him clear, unlike the horn. Praise the gods he hath not that! It seems all was as he expected, yet how did he know? I placed it there myself, with the aid of the rag-tail end of the R'Aathim clan who now sits king in Ebonheart as a reward. Tiber Septim claimed the Horn, but left the Staff for safe-keeping. Nightingale can use the Staff to sow seeds of strife and dissension, 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 that Nighingale seeks," Barenziah said. "All seek power," Symmachus retorted, "each in our own way." "I have found what I sought," Barenziah said.