Chapter 29 Closure
It was well into Hearthfire, and weeks had passed since Dagoth Ur was defeated and order was restored to the Dark Elven people. The skies over Red Mountain had lost the dark red colour and returned to their normal blue and grey. News had spread quickly about how the Nerevarine, Simon Belmont, had fulfilled the ancient prophecies and defeated Dagoth Ur. He had brought peace back to the land and avoided a possible war. Everything was returning back to normal and across the country people had reasons to smile again. For me it was bittersweet.
I stood in a jail cell, staring out at the water that surrounded Ebonheart. I leaned against the bars that blocked the window. It was night and I had nothing to do but wait. Soon I would be standing on trial for the murder of Orvas Dren. If I was found guilty, then my punishment would be death. The judge and jury would all be Dark Elves. If things went as they planned, then I would have no chance of survival. It was Im-Kilaya’s intention that things did not go as planned.
If it didn’t work, then my sentence would be death, and nothing would have been gained, except for perhaps a shake-up of the Hlaalu power system. I needed the plan to work. Not for my own sake, but for everyone else’s. Even if I was sentenced to death, it would be worth it if only I could live long enough to see slavery abolished. It was my oath and it was all that mattered. The night had grown long on me. I closed my eyes and completed another day in my cell. Mervs Uvain would be arriving tomorrow.
It wasn’t the sun that woke me up, but instead the guard’s baton banging on the bars of my prison door. “Wake up! Get up and get out here!” the Imperial shouted. I rose in disorientation, but quickly gathered my senses and proceeded through the door that they had opened for me.
In the outer chamber of the jail, several Imperials stood around me, all watching me closely. To either side of me they stood, forming a semi-circle around me. Two men grabbed my arms, holding me still. “He’s secure,” one of them shouted. From down the hall came a small group of Dark Elves. Two armored guards, wearing full bonemold armor, and a third man. He wore robes, the clothes of a noble. As my eyes fixed on him, I understood who he was.
“Keep him back. He…he’s dangerous,” the elf said. It was the man that I had spared at Dren’s plantation, weeks ago. It was Mervss Uvain, now House Brother in house Hlaalu. The elf approached me, keeping his distance, even with the guards to protect him. His expression was plagued with a similar fear that I remembered from before, but it was mixed with something else. He held himself with more nobility, and looked down on me. The tables had been turned from when we last met. I was at his mercy, and he had gained power and prestige. His face was angry. He was angry over being afraid, I thought.
“So is this him?” one Imperial asked. Uvain moved in closer to me and inspected me face. I stared him straight in the eyes, showing little expression.
“That’s him,” Uvain said calmly.
“Are your sure?” the same Imperial asked. “Argonians do all look the same.” I growled in frustration. I wanted to respond, but I knew that I couldn’t. Uvain seemed to speak up in my place, however. He turned to the guard with a stricter tone.
“Yes, I’m sure! This beast killed Falvel! He killed Orvas Dren and half the members of the Hlaalu council. His face is burned in my memory!” Uvain then calmed himself, and backed away from me. “Just bring him into trial. After my testimony, he’ll be dead within the week.” The small trio of Hlaalu then turned and quickly left. I grumbled as their footsteps echoed down the hallway.
“Well, it looks like your time is up!” one Imperial shouted to me, in a cocky jest. The others all laughed as I was thrown back into my cell. I ignored them, and instead thought of what needed to be done. “My job is done, now, Im-Kilaya. You do yours.”
Hours passed until I spoke to anyone else. The Imperial guard began clanging on my door as he had earlier, telling me that I had a visitor. I was anxiously waiting for anyone from the Twin Lamps, so I jumped up to my feet, eager for any news regarding Uvain. My cell door opened and in walked Im-Kilaya and Fray-Star. He looked like his usual self, calm and stone-faced. Fray-Star appeared worried. They wasted no time in getting to what I wanted to hear.
“I’ve spoken to Mervs Uvain,” Im-Kilaya said. I nodded, took a deep breath and prepared myself for what he had to say next. What Mervs Uvain had decided would have a huge effect on Morrowind. It would have equal effect on me.
“And?” I asked. When Fray-Star gave a begrudging smile, I felt as though I knew what the response would be.
“He has accepted. The abolitionist movement will pass.” The words seemed to linger in the air after Im-Kilaya spoke them. “We did it, Swift-Foot.”
“We did it? It’s done?” The thought echoed over and over again in my mind. It was a foreign feeling of satisfaction. “It…it’s done,” I managed to softly get out. I exhaled with an immense relief. I was just about to crack a smile and accept a state of joy when I noticed something. The abolitionist movement had passed, yet Fray-Star and Im-Kilaya’a faces were blank. There was something that they knew that halted the happy ending.
“There is something else. What is it?” I asked. Fray-Star returned to a worried look, and put her head down. Im-Kilaya remained calm, but focused on me.
“As I said, Mervs Uvain has agreed to pass the abolitionist movement, given one condition.” Im-Kilaya paused in his speech, seemingly not wanting to finish his thought.
“And?” I pressed.
“He wants justice for his fallen Hlaalu members. He wants you dead, Swift-Foot; that is his condition. Slavery will end, but you must die.”
I drew back from the two of them, absorbing his words. I reeled in a moment of doubt, questioning what I felt was right. I faced an inevitable fear of death, and for a few seconds, fought against what I knew had to be done. “I have to die?” I thought, feeling sorry for myself. It was a foul tasting idea that soon transitioned into an acceptable reality. “I have to die.” I announced to myself, without question, but instead only understanding.
“I see. So be it, then,” I said aloud. Without hesitation, Fray-Star argued with me.
“You don’t have to do this, Swift-Foot. We can fight it. We don’t need Uvain’s help. We just…” Her voice trailed off with failed enthusiasm. She was a woman. She cared for me and she wanted to keep me alive. I understood that, as she did, but the both of us knew that there was no arguing with Mervs Uvain’s demand. Slavery needed to end, at any cost. My life was nothing compared to the freedom of thousands of our kind.
During my years in Morrowind, I’d risked my life in battle many times. I’d always survived, and made little difference to those which I wanted to help. With Uvain’s power, I could give my life, once and for all, and actually make a difference. As dooming as it seemed, it was really only what I had been trying to do for years, except with enough authority for completion. There was no question in the matter. We had to give Uvain what he wanted. I would have to do, for the benefit of my people.
“No. There is no question in the matter. If I must die, then so be it. Our people will live in freedom because of it.” As solid as I sounded, Fray-Star still argued.
“But how can all your years of fighting be worth it? If you’re not around to see a liberated Black Marsh? None of it will mean anything if you’re dead!” Her voice was wounded with her own awareness of the unavoidable truth. There was no question in the matter.
“Fray-Star, you know what must be done. Im-Kilaya knows. Do not argue,” I said to her. She was dissatisfied, in a way that only a woman could be, but she was too strong to pout.
Fray-Star’s head turned to Im-Kilaya. He was unwavering. He knew as well as I did that there was no choice. Fray-Star and I looked into his eyes and we both knew that his devotion to the abolitionists was absolute. He would sacrifice either one of us if it meant an overall victory. But long before that, he would sacrifice himself, if it meant victory, even on a lesser scale. If he could trade places with me, then he would, but that was not an option. There was only one option, and as the three of us spoke to each other through our gazes alone, we all accepted it.
Im-Kilaya turned towards the door. “I will inform Mervs Uvain of your decision. The trial should begin in a few days.”
It was two days since I had last seen Im-Kilaya and Fray-Star. I had been lead out from my cell into the main court of the Grand Council Hall of Ebonheart. It was around noon, and an assemblage of Dark Elves had gathered to perform their political works. Imperial soldiers were about, not many of them through. There were yellow armored Hlaalu guards as well.
I wore chains, and was placed behind a metal guardrail, standing on a wooden platform that separated me from the rest of the crowd. Elven nobles sat in seats that reached all the way back to the entrance of the large, rectangular room. At least one hundred people had arrived to see my trial. Orvas Dren was popular among the Hlaalu citizens, and as his killer I was hated by all of them. A council of judges sat behind a large, elevated table. They appeared as looming figures upon a pedestal.
Through the cluster of people, Im-Kilaya approached me. He appeared sorrowful, yet still collected. “Swift-Foot, I am sorry that things ended this way. You are a brave and heroic man. I can only assure you that I will do everything in my power to see that all the Argonian slaves make their way back home, to Black Marsh.” Im-Kilaya spoke without any waver in his voice. He had already accepted that my fate would be death. I didn’t blame him. He was being realistic, and there was really no chance for me to survive the Dark Elf justice. I knew that I would be sentenced to die.
“Im-Kilaya, you’ve always looked out for me, even if I didn’t know it. Thank you, for being my friend, through everything.” My words were heartfelt, but there were no tears. We both just stood in a moment of acceptance. I did look into the crowd, though, in hopes to see someone else.
“Fray-Star…she didn’t come?” I asked. Im-Kilaya lowered his head.
“She…was not in a good state. I don’t think she wanted you to see her cry.” I hung my head as well, thinking of all the confusing possibilities of what Fray-Star might be thinking.
"She was crying?” I asked, empathetically.
“Of course. Swift-Foot, you know how she feels about you. Or do you? What you might see as a simple, youthful attraction, is more. She loves you, Swift-Foot. You are a hero to her.”
I shrugged off an urge to delve any deeper into the matter. The truth was that I desired Fray-Star. She was younger than me, and I had at first thought of her as a pupil of mine. In the last year, though, I had been aware of how she felt and realized that I felt the same way. She was strong, not just for a woman, but simply strong. In mind, heart and body, she was always strong. She shared my passion for the freedom of slaves and she shard in my darker resentment of the Dark Elves. She reminded me of my old love, the mother of my children. Every time I saw her face, I thought of possibilities of what could happen between us. Yet, our cause was more important. And now that slavery had been abolished, there was not enough time for us to start a new life. I was about to die, and she had her whole life ahead of her.
I shook of my distraction and responded as briefly as I could. “There can be nothing between us. Given time, perhaps, but there is no time, so it is doesn’t matter,” I said.
"No…I suppose now it doesn’t.” Im-Kilaya dryly remarked. “ I’ll leave you now Swift-Foot. Thank-you for your sacrifice.” He turned and walked back his seat in the rear of the room, amidst Dark Eves that eyed him curiously.
With a loud rapping of a spherical stone onto a hardwood panel, order was called for in the court. Everyone took their seats and guards assumed their positions along the walls. An Imperial defense attorney, appointed to me as a default, took his seat nearby. A small group of prosecutors, both Imperial and Dark Elven, sat parallel to him at their own table. The two tables faced the council of five judges. Very soon, everyone was quiet and the trial began.
I looked at the judges, waiting for the trial to begin. The room was silent, yet something begged me to turn away. There was something that diverted my attention and caused me to turn my head to the first row of seats. I did so, and locked on to a face. Mervs Uvain.
He stared at me with an intense focus. I didn’t know if it was out of hate, cockiness, or just fascination. There was definitely anger on his face, though. There was something else too, but I couldn’t place it. Even as I turned back to the judges, his glare was still locked on me. I could feel it.
“The court is called to attention. Prosecution, make your case.” The male judge that was seated in the middle of the other four sat down and waited for the Dark Elf prosecutor to stand.
The man was slender and finely dressed. He had the bright red hair of many Dark Elves, styled in a tall, row that trailed down his back. He eyed me, with a look of absolute contempt. I assumed it was false, being played up for the benefit of the judges. He was a lawyer, after all, equipped with fins to swim in the sea of political nonsense. He paced onto the open floor and made his speech.
“Your honours, this is a beast that stands on trial today. I say that not out of racial prejudice, but in an understanding of his actions. Swift-Foot-Wanders, and Argonian vigilante and criminal, has committed a crime that is purely malicious. In one detestable act, he has killed too many man too count.
On the night of Last Seed the 22nd, he entered the grounds of Orvas Dren’s personal estate and murdered eleven guards. He then proceeded to a private manor and ruthlessly killed six members of the Hlaalu house council. One of them being Orvas Dren himself.” Gasps came from the crowd at the drop of Dren’s name.
“This is no mystery, your honours, there is no question to his guilt. Our witness, Mervs Uvain, a member of House Hlaalu in respectable standing saw everything, including this Argonian’s face.” Everyone’s attention turned to Mervs Uvain, as well as my own. Even when I looked back, he still stared at me with an unbreakable focus.
“Your honours, I will simply ask the accused himself,” the prosecutor said. He walked up to me, out of arm’s reach, but nearby. His disgusted look continued as he asked me the question that I knew I had no defense to.
“Swift-Foot-Wanders, as you’re called, did you, or did you not, commit these horrid acts. Are you responsible for the deaths of these men?” He stood firm, poised for my downfall.
I lowered my head and breathed with an uneasy feeling inside me. I knew that I had to admit to the crimes. There was no option. It was part of my oath. I, Swift-Foot-Wanders, would not rest until every slave in Morrowind was free, or until death took me. I knew that my life was unimportant in the matter. I still hesitated though. As much as I wanted to accept my fate with nobility and grace, I struggled. It was the undeniable nature of all living things. It was what connects us all and proves that regardless of race, all have one integral thing in common: the fight to stay alive. Our instinctive desire to protect ourselves from what would do us harm. It hit me, and I simply said nothing.
The prosecutor repeated himself, with an increased volume and more threatening tone. “I’ll ask it again. Did you, or did you not kill those men?”
And like that, it was over. Either out of acceptance, or frustration towards the prosecutor, I raised my head, met his eyes, and opened my mouth to speak. It was the final act that would seal my fate, my admittance to guilt.
“I-“ was all I could get out before a voice interrupted me. It was coming from the crowd, and it was Mervs Uvain.
“Excuse me. Everyone…everyone listen!” he said with an unbelievably well timed disturbance. The crowd gasped some more and turned their heads to him.
“I…I believe that I am mistaken,” Mervs said. A series of confused whispers came from the crowd. Mervs’ face became very focused, and he looked at me once again, long and hard. I questioned what his intention was and returned his glare with a confused look in my own eyes. He stood up and returned to addressing the judges. “I’m…I’m afraid that…this is not the man who killed Orvas Dren.”
Like a spark to combustible fumes, the crowd’s whispers ignited into a shocked uproar. Elves, and especially Hlaalu, broke out with angry questions.
“He’s not the one?” one woman shouted.
“You said he did it! He killed Orvas Dren!” a man bellowed.
Their reaction was no surprise to me, although Uvain’s actions were. He had saved me. At the last possible minute, he had given up the only thing that could be used against me: his testimony. As the judges quieted that crowd and Uvain breathed deep, collecting himself, I simply stared in awe. I looked upon the Dark Elf sitting behind the witness stand in shock. As I glanced at Im-Kilaya, even he, as cool mannered as he was, looked surprised. His mouth hung open and his eyes widened.
After the crowd had been silenced and order had been restored to the court, one of the judges demanded an explanation from Uvain. He cleared his throat and responded.
“Well, sera…I’m quite embarrassed…he just isn’t the one I thought he was.” Mervs looked at me again, and focused on my facial features. “No…no, now that I take a better look at him, I see that he isn’t the one.”
I looked quizzically at Uvain’s face and I realized something. He was acting. He knew that I was the killer, but he was blatantly covering for me, for some reason. He knew that the others didn’t want to hear what he was saying, but he kept pushing it anyway, because they had no choice. His testimony was the only reason they were all their. Everyone in the crowd who wanted vengeance for the dead Hlaalu house nobles was reliant on him for their satisfaction. Uvain then adopted a sheepish, embarrassed look, and just kept on going.
“I know that this is an inconvenience. I’m sorry. But, these Argonians do all rather look alike. I think it was my desire to avenge the great Lord Dren that made me rush into identifying him. I’m sorry everyone, but this just isn’t the person who did it.”
The judges had no choice but to call off the trial, given that their only witness was denouncing his testimony. Court was adjourned, and people all rose to their feet. The judges exited into a separate chamber. The Imperial guards released me and unchained my shackles. The crowd all began to file out of the room, some sneering at me, and other just looking in surprise. I heard elves vehemently cursing the fact that they had not gotten vengeance over Dren’s death. I also saw others simply shrug their shoulder, even changing their conversation to something lighter by the time the walked out the door. For all the support for Orvas Dren and all the racially fuelled angst towards me, it didn’t add up to much after the politics had taken affect.
It was just another slip in the ideology of justice. I was guilty. I had killed those men, but an unknown intention had twisted the truth with lies, and the system had no choice but to accept it. And the people did. I was the villain, and I had escaped my punishment. The courthouse was soon almost barren, the anger all gone and the threat of Dunmer justice swept away. I stood with a few guards at my side, telling me that they’d keep their eyes on me. Im-Kilaya stood near the back of the courtroom, and Mervs Uvain was leaving the witness stand.
Still in a state of awe, I approached Uvain. As amazing as it felt to be free, I still had to know. “Uvain, you…you didn’t testify,” I said, unable to fully express what I was thinking.
He looked at me with an awkward glare. “Yes,” was all he said in response. He wasted no time in making his leave of me. Two armored Hlaalu guards escorted him off towards the exit.
“But…why did you save me?” I asked, still in disbelief. The elf paused, and turned his head back to me. He looked agitated by my presence, and perhaps angry, but he allowed my question With a wave of his hand and a quick word, the two guards left us and waited for him at the door.
He approached me and simply stared. Before responding, he gave me a long, fixed look. His face bore anger, but not as it had earlier on. It had softened. I could no longer feel the same about him after he had done what he done.
“Why? Because ultimately, it was the right thing to do. My mentor, Falvel, the one you killed, was in control of slave holdings in Vvardenfell. I knew as much as anyone else that the Argonians and Khajiit were treated terribly. Unlike the others, though, I actually recognized their suffering. I don’t much care for you Argonians, or Khajiit. But I also don’t much care about the age-old laws of Dunmer culture. I have a sense of business…and I have a sense of humanity. Suffering on such wide scale is…it’s just unnecessary.
House Hlaalu abused so many of you people for monetary gain. And our leader, Orvas Dren, he was willing to kill his own brother for it. You, though, were about to accept your own death, for what you believed in. For an honest ideal, freedom. That is true strength, true resolve. I realized that that was what we Dunmer need to survive in the future, not our antiquated traditions. The Dunmer insistence on keeping slaves is arrogant, and frankly, it’s just not smart business. I don’t wish you dead or in chains, I just…I just want all of you out. Take your people and get out of my country.” Mervs Uvain spoke with passion. He really did care for the future of his people, but he also cared about my freedom. I stood, humbled for a moment, as he began to walk away.
"Thank-you,” I blurted out. It was all I could think to say, really. It was short and awkward, but that was how I found a Dark Elf that I finally respected.
The last of the court attendants and guards were filing out of the room, giving me awkward looks as they passed by. Im-Kilaya approached me from behind. He was as collected as usual. “That went well,” he said. I could barely respond; I was still processing the fact that I was free.
“It’s over. It’s…really over,” I mumbled. “I can’t believe…” My murmured words started to tremble with emotion, until the joyful realization took me over and I broke out in laughter.
I could barely accept that it was true, but I had my freedom. It was something that I had never thought that I would have again. I had been so sure that I was damned to remain in Morrowind, always fighting and always failing to make a difference, that just smiling and laughing felt foreign to me. My cheeks became sore as I filled the courtroom with joyous laughter. Im-Kilaya broke out from his reserved stillness and joined me.
The two of us shared in our passion for the abolitionist movement. He had stood against slavery as long as I had. That moment in the courthouse was a shared reward for the years of anguish that we had put in. At that moment, two Argonian men stood lesser to no one, Imperial or Dunmer. We had prevailed in our task and had completed what had once seemed impossible. Eventually, the feeling of joy subsided, and I just breathed, freely. The courtroom was empty of all others, and the two of us stood in silence.
“So, Swift Foot, what will you do now?” Im-Kilaya asked. A warming thought came to my mind. Black Marsh.
“Home. I’ll finally get to see Black Marsh again. We both will. We can leave this frigid island and return to the warmth of Black Marsh.”
“Eventually, yes. I’ll stay here for a while, yet, though. Things still need to be taken care of.” A look of curiosity struck my face and I met Im-Kilaya’s eyes.
"Things? What things?” I asked. He responded with a slight sigh.
“Things. Slavery has been abolished, but I am sure there will be matters that require…beaurocratic influence. I may not be able to fight as you do, but I think being here will help make a smooth transition to a new Morrowind. I will stay until I see that things are solidified under a liberal, Imperial doctrine.” I opened my mouth to speak, but he cut me off before I could say a word. He always new what I was thinking.
“No, Swift-Foot. You go on. You need to see Black Marsh more than I do. Besides, Fray-Star will need a guide back. I think you should see her back safely. She would appreciate your company.” Im-Kilaya smiled. I did as well.
“I think for once I’ll take your advice,” I replied.
People were rejoicing on the crowded Imperial ship as it set sail from Ebonheart and made its way south. The vessel was packed with slaves that had been freed over the last few weeks. I just smiled as I watched them all, each one overjoyed to be returning to their homes, as was I. The warm sun felt revitalizing on my skin, and I even enjoyed the cool breeze. It pushed the sails on our ship and only propelled us faster. I was eager to leave the country of Morrowind and especially the province of Vvardenfell. I knew it would only be a short few days until I stepped foot back in my homeland, Black Marsh.
We hadn’t sailed far, but I felt as if the climate was warming up even then. I had been in Morrowind for so long, that in had dulled my senses just being there. Just as the cold had forced my skin to become tight and numb, so had my actions desensitized me. All the people I had fought and killed, albeit in the name of what was right; their deaths had tainted me. Over time, I had turned from a freedom fighter to a murderer. All the violence that the Dark Elves had thrown at me, I had reciprocated back with hate and rage. It wasn’t until I knew that my people were safe that I could finally remember who I had been before. Long before I had ever met a Dark Elf or been concerned with slavery.
I didn’t even want to think about Dark Elves, though, or Morrowind. I just leaned back against the main mast of our ship and smiled. Argonians walked about the ship, conversing and laughing. They were all going home. Several Khajiit were on board as well. Most of them had plans to return to Elsweyr.
“So what are your plans now?” Fray-Star walked up from the lower deck, smiling. The emancipation of our people meant much to her as well. We both shared in the happiness.
“I haven’t given it much thought, really. I will return to my town, I believe. I need to meet all the people that I left behind. I need to see how they are and what they’re doing. Black Marsh might be facing other problems. I need to see what I can do.” Fray-Star just laughed.
“Swift-Foot. You’ll never rest will you? You’ve just helped save a nation of our people, and you’re already looking for another fight? You need to relax, and take time for yourself.”
“Hmm, yes. You’re right. There will be time to relax when we get back. I’m just so eager to get back to my old life. I just need…closure.” Fray-Star sat down beside me. She leaned back against the mast and nudged my shoulder with her own. Her volume lowered and despite the crowd, it felt like we were the only ones there.
“That sounds good for you. You need closure on your old life…if you want to start a new one.” Her eyes met mine.
“A new life. I think we deserve it,” I said, softly. She leaned forward and kissed me. I arched my head and returned the embrace. The two of us stayed in each other’s warmth, completely separate from the rest our shipmates. Our kiss came to an end, with the two of us wearing soft smiles. I put my arm around her as we both looked out to sea. “A new life…at home.”
In the waning years of the third era of Tamriel, an empty man walks the face of Morrowind, no longer with the burden of suffering, and no longer with a connection to the feelings of mortal men and women.
The floors of a small, Dunmer temple are being swept when the empty man approaches. As he enters, priests and servants run to him, in notice of his torn and blood stained clothes. They speak to him, but his mind blocks out their words. He stares into nothingness, and hears the voice of a man.
You have traveled from Ald Daedroth and walked across this elven island. Because of my mercy, you are no longer shackled with the encumbrance of moral right and wrong. You simply are, in mind and body. I am Sheogorath, Prince of Madness, the Mad God. You are my hound. Always look over your shoulder, for I am ever watching. Always fear me, for my motives are unknowable. But fear nothing else, because you have been chosen.
The Nordic man inhales, in pain from the words he hears. A priest reaches out and touches his shoulder. The Nord reacts. His left hand rises up and summons a flaring wave of flame. The priests are instantly immolated, and the temple’s walls are scorched and ruined. The empty man exhales, still in pain. He turns and leaves without direction, for he is empty, to all but sorrow.