Chapter 6 Slaves of the Ascadian Isles
Last Seed 22
Falvel and I had arrived at Orvas Dren’s plantation by carriage, to escape the pouring rain. It was night when we stepped foot in Dren’s private manor. I anxiously waited in the lower chambers, with Falvel sitting down nearby. I held my hands behind my back as I paced around the room. The two guards eyed me with raised eyebrows, but said nothing. I just tried not to appear awkward.
“Calm yourself, Mervs.” I turned to Falvel, and nodded. He was right. I needed to be calm and collected when we met with Orvas Dren. Dren was not only a powerful noble of House Hlaalu, the house that I belonged to, but he was the brother of Duke Vedam Dren, the Duke of all of Morrowind. I even heard that Dren had connections to the Commona Tong, the underworld organization. Whether it was true or not, Orvas Dren was a man that should be kept in good company. Falvel Arenim, my patron in house Hlaalu, was meeting with him and other nobles to talk business. Falvel was grooming me to be his replacement when he rose in the ranks. If I were to take over for him, I would be in a position of voting power in houe Hlaalu. “The beginning of real power,” I thought.
“Sorry Falvel, I’ve just never met with any of such influence before. Is it true…” I then turned and looked at the two guards. They kept their eyes on us, lacking any aggression but also doing their job without exception. I moved closer to Falvel, so that they could not hear my words. I began again, in a near whisper. “Is it true that Dren has connections to the…the Commona Tong?” Falvel just smiled.
“You don’t really need to whisper here, Mervs,” Falvel began. Both guards broke their serious stares with a small laugh. “Orvas Dren is a powerful man. He has connections that touch all of Morrowind. That is all you need to know for now.” I responded with a respectful nod. Falvel was an experienced debater and a shrewd businessman. I knew that I would learn well under him.
It was not long before Dren’s personal assistant came down from the upper quarters and invited us in. We followed him upstairs and into a large room, gorgeously decorated in a fashion that only such wealth could afford. Tall candlesticks lit the room with a faint, yet warming, yellow glow. Standing at the end of a long ovular table, was Orvas Dren himself. He stood, quite tall for a Dunmer, almost the height of an Altmer. He wore fine robes of yellow, House Hlaalu’s colour. His hair was long and tied back into a ponytail.
Also standing at the table, which seated six, were four other Hlaalu nobles. I only recognized one, Dandos Driler. They all looked in our direction. I started to sweat. “Lord Dren, this is House Brother Falvel Arenim,” the assistant announced. Falvel was greeted by all of the nobles. He then introduced me. Again my nerves kicked in as I responded to all of them, as graciously as I could. Falvel sat down at the last seat of the table. I took my place, standing by his side, as Orvas Dren’s words began the meeting.
“Gentlemen, we have seen a decline in profits from Suran and Malog Amur recently. Who can explain this?” Orvas’ voice was powerful and his words were cultured. It made an excellent combination for debating, I imagined. Other nobles quickly spoke up to assure Dren that the profits were merely in marginal flux, and would soon return to a lucrative standpoint. I just stood still, listening to them all talk about chartering hidden trade routes and sales revenues and merchant tariffs. Their knowledge of business was impressive.
In due time, the conversation then turned to other matters. “And have you had any problems with the Dwemer smuggling, Dandos?” Dren asked. That made me focus on the conversation with a rekindled interest. Smuggling Dwemer artifacts was illegal. It was a surprise to hear of their involvement in such affairs, but at the same time, not something that I wouldn’t have guessed. The nobles of house Hlaalu were powerful and wise. Why not expand their reach to other resources? Dandos Driler responded to Dren’s question.
“Well, Lord Dren, their have only been some small matters of concern?” he said.
“And those would be?”
“Well, it seems that an Imperial stationed in Fort Moonmoth has been causing trouble. Arresting our operatives and attempting to track the artifacts to their source. His name is Radd Hard-Heart, an Imperial Legion officer.” Dandos then paused and raised one eyebrow with a suggestive look on his face. Dren met that expression with a similar one of his own.
“Well then, Dandos…eliminate him.” Dren’s words were subtle and basic. My eyes widened with shock. He said “eliminate him” with ease. I became nervous once more.
“It will be done, Lord Dren.” I lowered my head and exhaled quietly, or so I thought.
“Do you have a problem hearing such things, young Mervs?” Orvas Dren said to me. His face was emotionless. My head quickly shot up and my mouth gaped open. “What do I say?”
“Oh…no, Lord Dren. I…concur with anything you say.” I managed to get that much out. My response was less than what you would call silver-tongued. All the nobles stared at me at that point, with silence filling the room. Dren’s serious face quickly softened and turned to laughter. Falvel followed and soon the whole room was chuckling. I became worried, but soon realized that I had made no folly. I began to laugh as well.
“What an executive response,” Orvas Dren said. Falvel turned to me and smiled, assuring that all was well. After the mirth faded, the conversation turned back to darker topics. Falvel spoke up.
“Lord Dren, we have control of all the smaller business ventures, but there is one person who is out of our reach. It is…your brother, the Duke.”
Orvas’ face then turned to one completely stern and sober. He actually looked down at the table beneath him for a moment, showing signs of conflict. “Yes, I know,” Dren replied. “My good brother stands behind the Imperials. He stands against the sale of Dwemer and he even backs the abolitionists.” There was a murmur among the nobles.
“Lord Dren, It doesn’t seem as though the Duke actually supports them. Whenever I show my favour for the anti-abolitionist movement, he supports me, then only to change his mind at a later date. He seems to be on the fence with the matter,” Falvel stated. Dren scoffed in response.
“That is merely because he wishes to hold on to his seat of power by stalling. My brother will do whatever it takes to remain as the bridge between the Dunmer and the Imperials, even if it means selling off all the rest of our traditions.”
The abolitionists wanted to abolish slavery. They were mostly a group of renegade liberals and former slaves. Khajiit and Argonian scum. They sought to destroy our Dunmer heritage by criminalizing our right to own slaves.
While most Dunmer were quick to stand against the abolitionists, I was undecided on that matter. While I supported our rights to tradition as much as anyone else, and stood against the Imperials for that same reason, I didn’t know what to think about slavery. I knew Khajiit to be untrustworthy creatures, and Argonians to be stubborn and difficult. I would just as well be rid of all of them, if I had my way. Falvel saw things differently though. He had influence over whether or not slavery would remain legal, and he supported our rights to own beast-men whole-heartedly.
Orvas Dren pulled his head up, his conflicted demeanor gone, replaced only by calm resolve. “Quiet, all of you. I am fully aware of the threat that my brother poses to our operations. Both to the Commona Tong and to house Hlaalu. That is why…I have sought external assistance with this matter.” Dren raised one hand and snapped his fingers.
In immediate response to the sound, two figures appeared from the shadows, as if out of thin air. They were Dunmer men, both wearing black armor and armed with multiple blades on their persons. Each one had daggers and swords and small knives, all attached to leather straps along their sides. I wasn’t the only one to become startled at the sight. Even Falvel and Dandos looked shocked to see the two men appear. “The Lenith Brothers,” Dren said, announcing the men.
“Then you mean…the Morag Tong?” Falvel asked. Dren nodded.
“The Morag Tong will deal with my dear brother, once and for all. He is too far into the good graces of the Imperials to be pulled back out. He is betraying our people, slowly yet surely. Soon he will as well be wearing the Emperor’s crown, for our sakes. We must eliminate him, for the benefit of the Dunmer people, the current state of our House…” Dren then turned his focus to me. His eyes fixed on me with a smile. “…and the future of our House.” I swallowed hard, but did not take my eyes off of him.
Dren then received a paper from one of the Lenith assassins and signed his name across it. It was a Morag Tong writ. Dren was signing away his brother’s life, for the sake of business. In that moment, I was enamored. I stared at Dren and understood what true power was. I knew that one day I would make him proud, Falvel proud, and guide House Hlaalu in the right direction.
Only moments after Dren finished signing the writ, the two brothers slipped back into the shadows, with barely a word of departure. “It will be done,” was all we heard. A few moments passes, as everyone took in what was yet to happen. The Duke of Morrowind would be assassinated. Everything would change, for everyone. Our thoughts were then interrupted, though, as an armed guard burst into the room. He approached Dren’s assistant and whispered something in his ear. The assistant then proceeded to Dren’s shoulder, where the message was passed on. I could not hear the assistant, but I picked up on Dren’s quiet response.
“Then send the guards,” he responded quietly. Once again, the assistant mouthed words out of earshot.
“All of them?” was Orvas’ reply. The noble rose from his seat. “Gentlemen, I’m afraid this meeting will have to end prematurely. Let us go.” Everyone rose from their seats and was escorted by the guard who had originally interrupted the meeting. We all paced downstairs, in a line. I stood in the lead, behind only the armed guard.
“Lord Dren, what is the matter?” one noble asked.
“Oh, don’t concern yourself. It is merely a slave from the quarry, who wishes to speak with me. I will have someone deal with him.” I was puzzled by the notion. A slave causing such a commotion?
We entered the lower room, standing next to the double doors that lead outside. The two other guards from earlier waited there for us. One of them turned the door handle and swung both doors wide open. It was dark out and beating down rain. Out in the fields stood a lone man. He was hard to distinguish in the black of night. I realized that he was not a man though, neither elf nor human, but merely a beast-man. An Argonian. Falvel scoffed at the sight of him.
And this is the creature that disposed of my guards?” Dren asked.
“Yes, Lord,” the armored man responded. We all looked closer out onto the grounds, where the unmoving Argonian stood. After a closer inspection of the grounds, I saw bodies lying al around him. I gasped at the sight. Dren did not appear worried. “Then kill him.”
“But Lord, we are the only three left. To assure your safety we should-“ The armored man was cut off by Dren.
“Please, do not question my orders. Just go out there and remind me why I pay you what I do.” The three guards did not argue. They marched out into the darkness and confronted the beast-man. The lone slave appeared to be armed with nothing but a halberd. No armor at all.
Dren held his arms crossed at ease as his three guards neared the Argonian. We all watched, with both doors open and the rain pouring down, hard. All three Dunmer approached and began circling the slave. He didn’t move, not a muscle. The noise made by the four of them was distant and muted because of the rain, but we could see them well enough.
One guard charged at his lizard-like target, swinging down with a single sword. With amazing speed, the Argonian spun around, batting the blunt wooden pole of his weapon into the guard’s arm. The halberd knocked away the sword, only to the lash back and cleanly shop off his head. We all gasped out loud at the sight of it. Even the unshakable Dren showed concern, not for his guards’ lives, but for his own. The slave then twirled back around with his long weapon, using the axe-like blade to fend off attacks. He lowered his stance and thrust forward with a barrage of skewering maneuvers. Both guards were taken aback, and one was impaled by the onslaught of strikes. It was not long before the other fell to the Argonians masterful halberd techniques.
We all were taken aback as Dren’s three guards lay dead, at the hands of the renegade slave. Panic struck all of us. Worried gasps and cries echoed throughout the room. What as worse yet, was that the Argonian began to pace towards us. He held his weapon loosely, letting it drag on the ground. Dren quickly slammed the doors shut and locked them. “Damn, where are those Lenith brothers when I need them?” he asked. The Lenith brothers were gone though. There was no one there to help us and not one of us was skilled in combat. We all backed away from the door and collected ourselves.
“Is there another means of exit from this manor?” one noble asked.
“No,” Dren begrudgingly admitted.
“What does he want?” another asked.
“I don’t know!” Dren began to show his frustration and fear. My nerves kicked in.
Soon, there was a knock on the door. No one answered, and the knock became a pounding. The creature was trying to break the door down. “Damn. Everyone, come follow me.” Dren said. He led us all over to a large weapons cabinet. Behind glass doors were weapons that appeared ornamental, but also seemed solid enough to be of use. Dren handed each of us one. We all took the swords, axes, and spears, and positioned ourselves in front of the door, still being pounded upon from the outside. The banging was growing louder and stronger, each pummeling thud making my shake. When all eight of us were prepared and ready to fight, the banging suddenly stopped. There was silence, except for the heavy rain. We waited, looking at one another, until a loud crash broke our pause.
Through one of the front windows came an object. It smashed the glass and rolled to our feet. In shocking disgust, we realized that it was the severed head of one of Dren’s guards. The eyes were still wide open. Some of the nobles screamed. I just closed my eyes, wishing I was anywhere else. After a moment of horror, Dren finally summoned the courage to step up to the two doors and pull them open. The Argonian stood only feet away, now under the light from the manor.
He stood wearing tattered clothes, fit for a slave. His green scaled skin was a pale colour. He had the curved, pointed ears of most lizard-men as well as the long tail. His sly eyes were almost hidden beneath a thin glare. His face looked devoid of any emotion, but I knew that Argonians often appeared that way.
“That’s enough of this! What is it that you want?” Dren asked, regaining his powerful commanding tone. The Argonian growled before responding.
You…dead.” Dren paused. I could hear his breath quickening.
“Come now slave, there are eight of us. Surely you don’t think that you can kill all of us. And even if you could, I am Orvas Dren. My brother is Duke Vedam Dren. To kill me would be to sign your own death warrant.” Dren spoke with confidence, and even charisma. He did not appear to be backing down from the stranger. The slave did not respond, but instead simply started pacing towards Orvas, with his halberd raised.
Dren backed away, with the spear he held, positioned for defense. Worry had overtaken him. “He’s…he’s mad! He’ll kill us all if we don’t kill him first. All of you help me!” No one moved. All the nobles were frozen in place. Falvel and I were both paralyzed. The Argonian continued into the manor, with no haste. Dren turned to all of us and reiterated his point. “You will all assist me in killing this creature, now! Or help me, I’ll make you all wish you were dead!” Dren’s voice was threatening, and no one wanted to cross Orvas Dren, even in those circumstances. Several of the nobles, including Falvel, and Dandos stepped forward and stood side by side with Dren. They prepared themselves for the Argonian’s attack.
The beast-man soon was inside the manor, standing still, with an empty look on his face. There was a moment of silence, where even the sound of the rain was blocked out by the tension. Eventually, that pause came to an end when the Argonian leapt out, with unbelievable speed, and lashed his weapon at Falvel. My mentor’s chest was gashed open, and he fell to the ground before anyone could react. The next victim was Orvas Dren himself, who suffered a plunge of the halberd, right through his abdomen. The slave pulled his weapon out, covered in blood, and began his attack anew. The nobles defended themselves, but none could stand against his speed. Soon, I was the only one still standing, encumbered by fear, and along in the corner. All the others were dead, except for Orvas. He knelt down, clutching his midsection. Elven blood covered the walls and floor.
The Argonian stood beside Dren, and spoke. “You have shown no mercy to the slaves of this country. No mercy for the Argonians and the Khajiit. They all walk in chains on your damned Dark Elf island. There is no mercy for them, and so there will be no mercy for you.” Orvas Dren turned his head and managed to look up the somber and empty Argonian, just before the halberd came down upon his neck. With a gruesome chop from the blade, Dren’s head fell to the ground and rolled across the floor. Blood gushed out his neck, which was left as a stump. In a state of terror, I looked at the head. Orvas’ eyes still were open, his teeth clenched in pain. The sight was too much for me. I collapsed against the wall. The breath in my lungs seemed faint and difficult to hold on to. Panicked panting was all that I could do. The Argonian then approached me. I just covered my eyes, hoping it would go away.
“Hear me, Dunmer,” the slave began. “Until the crimes against my people are gone, until slavery has been abolished, there will be no peace for slavers, or those in business with them.” I could barely respond. I was trembling with fear. Through my terror though, I managed to look up at him.
"You spoke of mercy. What happened to mercy?” I asked him. He growled deeply, not out of anger, but more out of contemplation, before replying.
“You have just seen the end of it.” And with that, he turned and walked away. Out into the rain from where he came. I was left alone with the corpses of dead Hlaalu nobles. I looked at all of them. Falvel, Dandos, Dren. Their bodies and body parts were everywhere. Orvas Dren was dead. I couldn’t believe it. All that power, and it meant nothing. I kept my hands covering my face and screamed.