Chapter 23 The Twin Lamps
I opened the wooden door and came in from the chill of fading daylight. The day had been cloudy and grey, setting a dismal tone that seemed to drag on infinitely. The feeling was familiar to me in the Dark Elf land. The cold of Vvardenfell made every day pass like a week. Every sunbeam had to struggle just to reach me and every wisp of wind had an added touch of frost that bit my scaled skin. My eyes were weary from the lack of sleep I received in Morrowind. At times I wanted simply to run. I just wanted to drop everything and sprint south, across the border to warmth and home. But I could not. The burden of loyalty weighed me down more than any chains ever could. I closed the door behind me.
I stood in the hall of the Argonian Mission in Ebonheart. It was a section of the Imperial fort that housed the Argonians that fought for abolishing slavery. They were a small group on the political face of Morrowind, but they served in more ways than through bureaucracy alone. The Argonain Mission was also a cover for the Twin Lamps, a more secretive and less political faction that fought for freedom. The Twin Lamps planned raids on businesses and residences which used slaves in their operations. They attacked through stealth and cunning, liberating my brethren and ushering them back to Black Marsh, their home. The Argonian Mission and its near alter-ego, the Twin Lamps, were the only groups that stood up against slavery. To the common Dark Elf or Imperial though, they were nothing more than criminals.
I walked through the hall, with several other Argonians laying eyes on me. Some stared in wonder, with others shook their heads in contempt. While the agents of the Argonian Mission and the Twin Lamps had a mixed reaction about me, they all knew of me. To them I was both a hero and heathen. Some saw me as a champion, defending the oppressed and wiping out slavery. Others viewed my actions as those of an outlaw, killing needlessly and serving as a cause to problems, instead of a solution. I didn’t accept either perspective as the truth; I only had my oath. I, Swift-Foot-Wanders, would not rest until either every Argonian slave in Morrowind was free, or until death took me.
A familiar face approached me. It was Fray-Star, a warrior who fought for the Twin Lamps. “Swift-Foot. You finally grace us with your presence.” She spoke with sarcasm, but it was not indignant, not aggressive; she spoke with concern. Fray-Star was a young Argonian agent of the Twin Lamps who had an unbreakable resolve towards abolishing slavery. She was a skilled warrior, but she was young and headstrong, and she lacked battle experience. When I had fought as an agent of the Twin Lamps, Fray-Star had trained under me. I was somewhat of a mentor to her. She had showed affection for me, but I had never returned the feelings. I was too occupied with my mission. After I had left, the casualness between us was replaced with something. It wasn’t bitterness, but emptiness, a void. “After what you did to Orvas Dren, I’m surprised you even risked showing up.” What she said caught my attention. I was surprised, but then relaxed myself.
“So, word travels fast, I see. But…risk? Is it that bad?” Fray-Star was then the one who looked surprised.
"Swift-Foot, do you really not know? A bounty has been posted on your head. House Hlaalu, the Imperials, the Fighter’s Guild, they’re all looking for you. These warnings have been posted everywhere,” she said. From her pocket Fray-Star pulled a poster the bore a male Argonian sketch on it. It said “murderer” in bold letters and offered a reward. “Coming here was unwise, although I knew that you would show.” Fray-Star then lowered her head, as she caught herself showing unnecessary interest in me. “I mean…I knew that you would come to see Im-Kilaya. He has much to say to you.”
“As I would imagine,” I responded. I nodded to her, and our conversation came to an end. She walked out the door that I had entered from. I turned and watched her go. Fray-Star was much like me. She was strong-willed and stubborn. She always fought with her heart, regardless of what she was fighting for. I liked that in her, but I also felt sorry for her. So much of my life had been spent fighting for a cause that seemed unattainable. Along the way my reasons had become as much because of revenge as anything noble. My once caring ambition had been twisted and turned into something dark and hateful. I hoped that Fray-Star’s fight did not take her down the same path.
“Swift-Foot-Wanders, you have shown yourself,” A voice said to me. I turned around to see Im-Kilaya, the head of the Argonain Mission. “I thought after what you did at the Dren plantation you had completely severed yourself form us.” Im-Kilaya referred to my attack on the saltrice plantation in the Ascadian Isles, almost two weeks ago. I had freed seven Argonians and five Khajiit. To do so, though, I needed to kill several Dark Elves. One of them was Orvas Dren.
“You may not agree with my actions, but I am fighting the same battle as you,” I responded. He sighed deeply, and shook his head.
“Come, we will speak in private,” he said, gesturing me to follow him. We receded into the deeper halls of the building. “Your attack on the Dren plantation has had greater repercussions than you know, my friend. You are making it harder and harder for us to do our job.”
“I am doing your job,” I quickly responded. “But, I understand that it conflicts with your methods. I…apologize.”
“Hmm, don’t apologize, not if you plan to repeat such acts.” He had a point. I apologized for my work, although I had no intention to stop. Im-Kilaya paced back and forth, gathering his thoughts. He looked occupied, and slightly less collected than his usual self. “You have spoken to Fray-Star?” he asked me.
“Yes. She told me about…the bounty.”
“The bounty. Ten-thousand septims to whoever brings in your head. A high price, but no real surprise for the one who killed the Duke’s brother. I’m afraid that the bounty has not been my greatest concern though.” Im-Kilaya then looked me in the eye and became very somber. ”You shouldn’t have left any survivors,” he then said abruptly.
I was shocked to hear him say such words. Im-Kilaya, unlike me, was a true pacifist. That was what kept him heading the battle of beurocracy, instead of the battle that I was accustomed to. I was about to ask him how he meant what he had said, but he cut me off. He knew exactly what I was thinking.
“How can I say that? You force me to, that’s why. The Dunmer that you left alive reported that an Argonian ranting of abolishing slavery assassinated Orvas Dren, ruthlessly. Of course House Hlaalu would report it to the Imperials and send them after us. Every time you meet their force with your own, Swift-Foot, the backlash created only strengthens their cause. You must realize this by now.”
He was giving me the speech that I had heard many times before. It was almost routine for us. He would argue that patience is necessary, and I would ague action. I said what he knew that I would say. “And what else would I do? Sit behind these walls, like you do, waiting for politics to turn in our favour? How many years have you been here, asking for the Imperials to throw you a bone? How has anything changed?”
“Things have changed, just not enough to satisfy your ambitious desires. Patience and benevolence are what we need to persevere through these times. Your methods are to kill all opposition, everywhere. If we all followed you, then we would have nothing but corpses, of Dunmer and of our own kind. Can you really be content with the lifestyle you have chosen?”
“I need something to occupy my time while I’m on this damn island. I might as well rid the world of such scum until I…until I can leave.” Im-Kilaya shook his head when he heard me say that. He knew that when I said “leave”, I didn’t just mean leaving Morrowind.
“Swift-Foot, you have already accepted such a dismal fate for yourself. You see only absolute victory, or absolute defeat. You think that your only resort is to fight to the death. You always have.” Im-Kilaya’s words brought an abrupt silence. I stared into his eyes with an icy glare. He swallowed, realizing that he had said more than he should have.
What Im-Kilaya had made a reference to was our past together in Black Marsh, our homeland. Dark Elf raiders would come in from the north across the border and attack our villages. They saw us as animals, and wasted no time in capturing any Argonian they could for slavery.
Im-Kilaya and I lived in the same village. We had known each other, and he was a friend of my family. It was then that a Dark Elf squad had invaded our land and attacked us. I tried to protect everyone, through combat. It was then that Im-Kilaya surrendered, dividing our numbers in half, some willing to fight, and some willing to give in. My family, my love and my children were those that stood with me, willing to fight. It was then that I was defeated, and my love and my children were either killed or taken prisoner, as I was. I never saw any of them again.
And it was then, in Ebonheart, glaring at Im-Kilaya for his comment, that I had had enough. I turned my back to him and began to walk away. “I have nothing to gain from being here,” I muttered.
“Wait! Listen to me. I have a plan, but I need your help.” I didn’t stop. His plans in the past had never been enough, so I had no reason to believe this one would be any different. “This can end slavery, Swift-Foot. This can end it forever! But I need your help!”
I slowed and turned. He looked almost desperate, which was a change from his usual demeanor. “Why should I even bother helping you? You can’t offer me anything,” I responded.
“I can’t offer you anything? What about Fray-Star?” he asked. I paused and thought. “Fray-Star is as determined to keep fighting as you are. She admires you, looks up to you. Don’t let her go down the same path that you have. Otherwise this will never end, and even those of us free will still be in chains.” He was right. I didn’t want Fray-Star to go through everything that I had gone through.
“She is stubborn,” I said, stepping back towards Im-Kilaya.
“Yes. And she cares for you. And you for her, I think. If we fight together, and use all of our resources, I believe that we can end it. We can abolish slavery and free our people.” I hesitated, skeptical to agree with him. He looked me square in the eyes. “Swift-Foot, you can’t just keep fighting and killing. You need to help us, and we can end this. What other choice do you have?”
I nodded in agreement. I would help him, whatever his plan was. For Fray-Star, if no one else. Im-Kilaya sat me down and went over the details of his idea with me. Through the operations of the Twin Lamps agents, he had come upon a Morag Tong writ that showed that Orvas Dren was planning an assassination. The victim was his own brother, Vedam Dren, the Duke of Morrowind. If the documents were brought into the hands of the Imperials, then the corruption of House Hlaalu would be exposed. The Imperials would punish anyone involved, and that would cease Commona Tong operations as well as Hlaalu business. While that would be beneficial to us, Im-Kilaya had no plans of exposing the assassination writ. He had a grander scheme.
When I attacked the Dren plantation, I had left one survivor. He was a noble of House Hlaalu, Mervs Uvain. He was the only witness and therefore the one who would come to Ebonheart to identify me. My attack on Dren’s manor had left House Hlaalu without several high ranking members, and since then, the power structure had been shaken up. Mervs Uvain had risen in the ranks, and was currently in a position of power over slave holdings. He had become the one who could vote either for or against slavery being abolished. If Im-Kilaya’a plan worked as he hoped, then we could use the leverage of the assassination writ to blackmail Uvain into criminalizing slavery, and freeing the slaves of Morrowind. I was the bait, drawing Uvain to Ebonheart to testify against me. Once he showed up to identify against me in court, then Im-Kilaya would make his deal. I didn’t like it at all. It was dangerous and it stank of politics. It was a long-shot, too. But Im-Kilaya was right. 'What other choice do I have?'
It was night when I lingered around the outskirts of Ebonheart, on the dusty path that lead north to Vivec. I nervously waited for the first step of Im-Kilaya’s plan to begin. I wore no armor or weapons. I didn’t have my halberd with me, or any pouches or bags. I wanted to look harmless when the Imperials arrived. It wasn’t long until they did.
Soon, I saw Fray-Star approach from Ebonheart’s core. She was accompanied by five armed guards. “There he is!” she shouted.
I feigned surprise, darting my head back and forth, but not running. I didn’t want to give them an excuse to unsheathe their swords. This was the first stage of Im-Kilaya’s plan, getting me into Imperial custody. Fray-Star had gone to Fort Hawkmoth and reported that the man responsible for Orvas Dren’s death was nearby.
The guards charged at me, shouting for me to get on the ground and stay still. I did just as they asked. My only argument came as futile pleas for my innocence. “What is this?! I’ve done nothing wrong!” I shouted to them, pretending to be ignorant of their accusations. One guard punched me across the face.
“You, Argonian, are under arrest for murder. You’ll have your rights read to you while you’re lying in a prison cell!” I denied their claims, but only to receive another straight punch to the face. Fray-Star winced as I was struck.
“I’m sorry Swift-Foot,” she shouted out to me, as the guards dragged me into Ebonheart. We seemed to have the Imperials convinced that my surprise was legitimate. The guards pulled me through the gates of Fort Hawkmoth and threw me into cell. The wood and steel door slammed shut behind me. I was alone and I was trapped. The only thing for me to do was to wait. Im-Kilaya’a plan was all that I could rely on. It was a depressing notion.
It was a small cell, with every surface covered in hard stone. There was a laid out blanket that looked to pass for a bed, and a small, barred window that faced the water to the west. Other than that, my cell was bare. I sat up, but didn’t bother to rise to my feet. I just leaned against the wall and stewed in my thoughts.
I thought of my goal. Im-Kilaya was wise, but the more I thought of his plan, the more I doubted it. It was a political scheme, and the Imperial and Dark Elven political system was not a familiar battleground for me. Still, though, Im-Kilaya was perceptive enough to speak the truth about me. I had accepted a dismal fate for myself. As much as I wanted to prevail in my fight against slavery, I was bound by negativity. I had been fighting for so long, and any changes I had made seemed insignificant.
I then thought that maybe my attitude was what kept my in my position. Perhaps if I had faith in success, then it would materialize. I soon scrapped that thought, though. I had been fighting for too long for something like that change. I was too set in my ways to change my outlook. I accepted my point of view, along with the hope and the hate. At the least, the very least, I felt that my position in that jail cell was symbolic of my outlook on life. If Im-Kilaya’s plan failed, then I would surely be sentenced to death. Either all the slaves would be free and my oath would be fulfilled, or I would die. It was a perfect parallel. 'Liberty or death,' I thought.