Frost in Morrowind

Edward Frost's time in Morrowind has come to an end; but his struggles are recorded here for any to read. A year in the making, and spanning one hundred and fifty chapters… Violence, suspicion, loss, betrayal, revenge, power with a price, a fight for survival, ages-old mysteries... all thrust in the way of Edward Frost, a man simply trying to rebuild his life.

Chapter 1 can be found here.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Chapter 8: Magery and collapse

During my day-long walk from Seyda Neen to Balmora I also stopped in at the Moonmoth Fort just east of Balmora; again hoping to replace my pieces of weak chiton armour with something more substantial. Again I was disappointed by the poor selection. It seemed I would need to locate a shop dedicated to selling armour to find something worthwhile. Before leaving the fort I bought some restorative potions from the Imperial Cult healer, who asked if I belonged to the Cult (it is common practice to offer discounts to members). I showed her my membership papers, the ink still actively bleeding and spreading through the parchment in places, and told her I had in fact joined in the Pelagiad fort that morning. Being more alert than the staff in the sleepy village of Pelagiad, she had also spotted my interest in the armour and weapons for sale at the fort, and asked if I was interested in serving the Cult in an "active" capacity.

"Active?" I frowned.

"A Shrine Sergeant." She explained. "They basically take on any tasks required by the Cult that may involve danger of some kind. Escorting missionaries through the wilderness, investigating threats against the Cult, scouting unsettled areas for possible places to establish new missions; there is a lot of variety in the job. We also always need more laymen to assist our healers, and almoners of course." She directed me to the Imperial Cult Mission in Ebonheart, at the far south of the island, where these jobs are apparently co-ordinated. The life of an almoner sounded extraordinarily dreary and thankless: no-one likes being approached to donate money. I didn't fancy being on the receiving end of such ire on a daily basis, but the duties of a shrine sergeant sounded interesting, and working with an experienced healer could only aid my own restoration skills. I decided that the next time I was in Ebonheart, a visit to the Imperial Cult mission was in order.

I thanked the healer and continued on. My journey for that day was nearly over: I just had to walk down a lane and cross a bridge over the Odai River, and I was there.

It was raining in Balmora when I arrived. Night was falling too, and from my vantage point on a bridge at its southern edge, the city stretched away into the gloom. Balmora is apparently the second largest city on the island, and it certainly felt that way as I hurriedly stopped into a few of the shops near the southern gate: the shops there had a much better selection than the small villages I'd seen so far. My problem at that moment was that I simply didn't have the money to buy the equipment I needed. I bought a bedroll, a proper pack to replace the old sack I had been carrying things in, and a single piece of 'bonemold' armour, which I'd noticed all the guards there wearing. Right then at least my left shoulder felt better protected. Only my left shoulder though...

I sighed - I suddenly felt very vulnerable. My little adventures over the last few days had brought me close to death numerous times. I was still too weak from my stay in a prison cell. My healing spell was the only thing that had kept me alive since I arrived, and right then I could tell that my magicka reserves were almost all gone. After the long walk that day, and the (at best) broken sleep of the previous two nights, I was exhausted. The rain and dark were closing in, and I realised how foolish I had been up to that point - how many risks I had taken. I wasn't ready for anything there on Vvardenfell - it's too wild and dangerous. I told myself I'd get my strength back before venturing off the beaten path again - or walking the dark alleyways at night. Right then I wanted to get indoors, and the shops were all closing up for the night.

Squinting through the rain and the encroaching night, I spotted a familiar sight: a sign with the symbol of the Mages Guild. Growing up, I had passed the Mages Guild in the Imperial city numerous times on my nighttime 'excursions', and they were usually up at all hours of the night. Hoping the local branch here shared similar tendencies, I went inside and found myself staring into the eyes of a severe-looking female dark elf. "Uh... hello!" I said hopefully. Unblinking, she held my gaze and leaned in very close - our noses almost touching. I couldn't look away, and her eyes began to glow brilliantly. After a moment she leant back and asked: "Do you want to join the Mages Guild, Breton?"

I blinked. It felt as if she had extracted some information directly from my mind. On the other hand, the red eyes of the dark elves can appear to glow strangely in certain light. It may be that she was simply trying to work out from my face if I was Breton or Imperial. People of my race generally have a greater affinity with magic than Imperials, but Breton and Imperial individuals are often confused by the other races. I suppose we do share more of a likeness than, say, an orc does with a high elf.

The dunmer female at the door turned out to Ranis Athrys, the steward of the Balmora Mages Guild branch. I introduced myself and told her that I would very much like to join the guild. The Mages Guild in the Imperial city I mentioned before had been home to a few kindly mages (and a few not-so-kindly ones) who dedicated some of their spare time to teaching me a few spells. I knew that without those spells I would not have been alive that day. The sheer utility of magic had always impressed me greatly, and I only knew a select few minor spells. Anyway, despite having taken some measure of pity on the orphan child I was, the mages at the Imperial city guild had never spoken about me joining their ranks, and so when Ranis asked I jumped at the opportunity.

"Good. I'll introduce you to the regulars in the morning." Looking down at my gaunt body, my dirty clothes and armour, haphazardly patched and mended, she went on: "Feel free to stay here if you need to: there are bunks downstairs. A lot of members tend to stay on so late studying that they find it easier to sleep here on many nights than to go home." I was so grateful for her simple kindness I couldn't put it into words. Instead I knelt at her feet, took her thin hand and kissed it, before pressing it briefly against my forehead. It was the greatest gesture of respect I could muster, and one that causes me some embarrassment to recall now.

"Yes, yes. Come on." Ranis withdrew her hand and started down some stairs, into the dim underground rooms of the guild. Upon following her I found that most lights in the place had been doused for the night, with only a couple of mages still awake to give me a nod in passing. The steward led me to some bunks in a screened-off section of the main hall, and waited for me to take a seat on a free bed before whispering: "I will talk to you in the morning."

With that she was gone, and I collapsed immediately into the first decent sleep I had had since arriving on Vvardenfell.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Chapter 7: A Debt

Pelagiad is a small village that lies just inside the Ascadian Isles region, less than an hour's walk north-east from Seyda Neen. That is what I had learnt at Arille's tradehouse when inquiring about the area surrounding Seyda Neen, at least. Some of the residents of the seaside village spoke about Pelagiad with dreamy expressions, explaining that the climate and job opportunities were much more favourable there. They were certainly right about the climate, I noted as I descended from the short mountain pass between the villages, entering an area of sparkling lakes and rolling hills. The oppressive humidity of the swamps along the coast had lifted during my morning walk to Pelagiad. It was still warm enough to make me sweat as I trudged along in the sun, but the occasional cool breeze made the trip quite pleasant.

People in Seyda Neen had recommended that new arrivals to Vvardenfell island take a silt strider - the intriguing local transport in the area - when travelling between towns, as it was much safer. They told me that any creature that might pose a danger along the roads - wild animal or bandit - knew that to attack a silt strider was to receive a bone-breaking kick from a leg the size of a tree-trunk. While that sounded reassuring (in a way), I had decided to walk as I felt that after my extended stay in a cramped prison cell, I needed the exercise. Besides, with that black-armoured assassin presumably still looking for me, I thought that my sitting in a silt strider travelling along an established route would provide such a man with far too good an opportunity to mount an ambush.

Soon after leaving the mountain pass behind I could see Pelagiad perched along the spine of a moderate hill, its slope leading down to one of the lakes dotted throughout the region. At the hill's summit was an Imperial fort, just like any of the countless others across the empire: they spring up wherever the Imperial race touches. Mindful of the poor condition of my protective items of clothing, I made for the fort, hoping to replace the weak and brittle pieces of chiton armour I was wearing with something sturdier. The Imperial Legion usually has surplus military equipment for sale at their forts.

As it turned out I was disappointed with the selection of armour at the fort, but at least I was able to buy a pair of chain greaves, complete with a sturdy steel groin protector. As a subject it may be an eternal source for taproom jokes, but the fights of the day before had taught me not to laugh it off completely. Also, the resident Legion smith was happy to "fix anything damaged from a good fight, instead of scraping rust from chainmail that has seen too many days of guard duty in the rain". While I waited for the smith to repair the many broken links in my chainmail cuirass, I took a walk around the fort's main hall and came across an Imperial Cult healer. The Imperial Legion and the Imperial Cult are basically inseparable, no matter where one goes: 'the might and spirit of the Empire', as it is often put - not one without the other.

In truth I had been hoping to find a Cult representative since I spotted the fort from the road outside Pelagiad. I bought some restorative potions from her, and asked if the Vvardenfell branch of the Cult was accepting new members. Given the Imperial Cult's zealous evangelistic practices, its members are seldom actually propositioned: obviously it is usually the other way around. The Cult healer did look surprised, but very happy to be asked, and she drew up some membership papers for me immediately. You may be one who heaps scorn on the Imperial Cult, and calls them 'god-botherers' - or worse - and wonder why I would voluntarily join and serve them. If I'm going to be honest I have to say that I could take or leave their beliefs; I have never seen anything to make me believe that the gods exist, but on the other hand I have never seen anything to make me believe that they don't. All that is beside the point for me: I owe my life to them.

Some people say they owe their life to the Cult because religion gave them the will to stop drinking, or whoring, or gambling. I don't want to detract from the significance the Cult holds for them, but it's quite different for me. I owe my life to them because they raised me from a baby to a young man when no-one else would have me. That's a very long time of oweing your life to someone.

Like many infants, I was left as a newborn on the steps of an orphanage in the Imperial city. I've never met my parents, though I guess they're both Bretons like me. The orphanage was operated by priests of the Imperial Cult, and I was one of many orphans, so my childhood was generally one of loosely controlled chaos. They did give us clothes to wear, food to eat, and a place to sleep, though; they even taught us to read and write.

Sometimes when we had nothing much else to do, I and the other orphans would sit and listen to the priests debating politics or philosophy. They didn't do this for our benefit; we merely watched because we found it amusing when the debate became heated and the priests started shouting and calling each other colourful names. I did learn things from their debates, though: I feel gifted that from an early age I saw that 'lawful versus unlawful' and 'right versus wrong' are not the same thing. I think a lot of people never come to understand that 'good' and 'bad' don't necessarily mean the same thing to different people. Who gets to say what is 'right' and 'just' for any intelligent being but themselves? Moreover, who rightfully should impose their beliefs in this regard on others? I have always said "not many", but I've also always understood that the world does not - and would not - work that way. Having a respect for the reasons why laws exist has never stopped me from feeling remarkably little guilt at stealing things for myself and my friends, though.

For the other orphans were my friends, and they needed the extra food and clothing just as much as I. It may sound trite to steal from the rich to give to the poor, but that is what I did; it was a calculated survival technique more than anything. The nobles of the city obviously owned more for me to steal, and could afford to replace what I took: meaning that at some point in the future I could go back and steal more. For my efforts we usually had enough food and clothes to stay healthy.

Don't think that I mean to say that the priests neglected us, or didn't feed us properly out of some sense of malice: they did the best they could on the meagre donations of the public. They normally didn't fare much better than us, in fact. Now and then, when no-one could see, I would put money from my nightly exploits in the donation box out the front of the orphanage. If the priests that took care of us ever suspected I was a thief, they never once mentioned it.

They were good to us, but the time of course came that they had to put me out. It was during my late teens, at a time when I had become particularly skilled (or particularly lucky) at the stealthy arts. They put me out when I stopped growing; and the priests and priestesses said I had grown quite enough - citing my good health in comparison with the other orphans. They said I could obviously take care of myself adequately, and that there were others that needed their help more than I. I suppose in a way it was my own fault: I couldn't help but keep more of the spoils for myself as time went on - it's in the nature of self-preservation. That's what I told myself, at least. It was certainly in my nature - there's no doubt about that.

Once on my own without the support of the orphanage, things became more difficult. Of course I only knew how to take care of myself through stealing; and once theft became something I had to rely on completely to stay alive, it was only a matter of time before something went wrong...

These thoughts and memories occupied my mind during the walk to Balmora. It turned out to be a long trek, mostly through wind-blasted wastelands, taking the rest of the day.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Chapter 6: Life in the sun

My dreams, perhaps unsurprisingly, were all of dark, shadowy figures and grievous wounds. I felt awful when I woke. The scorching sun was beating down on my face, I was covered with insect bites, and it seemed as if my whole body ached. Magicka had seeped back into my body as I lay there unconscious through the early hours of the morning. Closing my eyes against the sun, I concentrated on my beloved healing spell and felt the aches, bruises and lacerations of the night before all fade away. Sitting up I saw the door to the smuggler's caves swing shut, and heard what sounded like padded feet run away on the other side.

I thought of the black-armoured man that had attacked me in the caves. I had slept in the only exit from the caves (as far as I knew), and since I found myself still breathing, I assumed that my assailant was still inside. Not wanting to take any chances, I drew my saber and threw the door open wide, flooding the first chamber of the caves with morning light. Nothing. I didn't think my relatively clumsy attempts at stealth would help against this foe, so I took up the first available torch, made sure it was burning brightly, and continued slowly into the caves, checking every corner as I went.

I drew near to the slave pen where I had last seen the khajiit and argonian people I had freed the previous day without encountering any living thing. I called out to them, asking if they were alright. After a moment a khajiit voice floated back.

"We are still here, Edward Frost." I rounded the corner and approached the slave pen. In the light of my torch I could see Baadargo - the muscular male khajiit who had first asked me to free him and the other slaves - standing in the doorway to the pen. Behind him the rest of the khajiiti and argonians were curled up on the cave floor, apparently asleep. "Although we think it was you who brought the black-dressed man among us, we still owe you a debt for freeing us." He nudged one of the discarded slave bracers with his foot. "We watched over you last night as you slept in the doorway. We saw that no harm would come to you, as..."

I stopped him. "You are all unhurt, aren't you?" He nodded, stepping between the sleeping bodies of the other ex-slaves to kneel down in the centre of the pen. Leaning forward and twisting an arm up behind his back, I realised that it had been he that I had seen held down the night before: he was re-enacting what had happened. "The man took us by surprise. He grabbed us, put a blade to our neck. He was asking us: 'where is this Breton man - he has black hair - he was here before - where is he?!'" The muscular khajiit shook his upper body at each exclamation, as if being interrogated. "He wanted us to stay quiet, but our friends," he indicated the sleeping bodies, "were scared and made noise. You heard us and came running, so the man let us go; so maybe it was good after all." Baadargo stood up, bowing to me as he did so. "Apologies, Edward Frost. We did not help you in your fight." He indicated my tattered, blood-stained clothes and armour. "We know how difficult it was. We would have helped, but we were thrown down and hit our head. We were asleep." He grinned sheepishly, revealing a row of pointed teeth. "The others were too weak still."

I found it a little difficult to work out when Baadargo meant 'I' and when he really meant 'we' or 'us'. Every khajiit I had ever met referred to him or herself in the plural sense. It could be confusing.

At that moment I saw Baadargo's pupils contract slightly, coming closer to diamond points; a faint reflected light had passed across his face. The sound of the door to the caves closing echoed softly through the cavern. Baadargo, apparently still sorry he had been unconscious for most of the last disturbance, leapt forward, heading for the exit. I raced after him, holding my torch up high and keeping a wary eye out in case of some kind of ruse. The agile khajiit reached the door well before me, and I found him outside in the sunlight twisting his head around in all directions, sniffing the air. After a moment we gave up the search, seeing no sign of my mysterious attacker. Baadargo assured me that it had indeed been the 'black-dressed man' who had just left the caves and passed this way. He told me he couldn't tell which way he went. The khajiit was shifting his weight anxiously from one foot to the other; and I could tell he wanted to get back to the other ex-slaves, still asleep in the slave pen. I bowed to him.

"Thankyou, Baadargo. Thankyou for watching over me." The great cat bowed in return and dashed back into the smuggler's caves.

After bathing in the sea to wash away the blood that seemed to permeate every one of my belongings, I decided that it was time for me to leave Seyda Neen. My first couple of days there had seen me terrorised by skeletons (and other necromancers' leftovers), almost killed numerous times, and hunted by a deadly and mysterious assassin. Yes. It was definitely time to move on and try my luck elsewhere. I made a quick stop at the tradehouse to buy some new clothes, then set off in the morning sun: bound for the nearby village of Pelagiad.