Khoro Musarna and the Altmer Prince
It was a long road ahead from Alinor to Skaven, after passing through Sentinel everything seemed to be pretty calm. It were only him, his two guards and his local guide, the latter of which led him through the passes of the Dragontail Mountains. Keeping of the main road has done them well, no danger but nature, something his guards could easily handle, or his swordarm if it would come to that. No nobility in their right minds would choose these passes, with its brittle rock ready to fall and tumble. He was not too familiar with this place, Altmer dignities never came to these parts, the general hostility towards Altmer, and Hammerfell being known as a deathland doesn’t help either. Especially during these troubled times, civil unrest was at its peak, if it wasn’t for his guards the cutthroats of Sentinel surely would’ve gotten to him, this wasn’t a job for a Prince, the second to last son no less. He was not the most important son his father always “kindly” remembered him, but he could at least see the world and travel to places, his younger brother had it far worse, he was tasked with keeping the household running like a Dwemer automaton, making sure that the servants always were on time and that the cooks cooked the meals to perfection. While he, on the other hand, was always tasked with the lesser diplomacies, meeting many foreign diplomats, discussing trade under a nice Summerset wine and made sure that his father wouldn’t need to deal with these “lesser” individuals.
This time though, he wouldn’t stay at the palace, he was tasked to go to Hammerfell, as an emissary. His father and his advisors didn’t say more than the task ahead: “You’ll need to go to the city of Sentinel and request an audience with their King.”
Well, that plan has gone awry already, he thought begrudgingly. The King couldn’t attend at the palace, because he wasn’t even there, forcing him to reroute to the city of Skaven, a city unknown to him, and with that came extra cost for supplies and hiring a guide for traveling off the beaten path.
They rode further into the path until there stood a large wall of loose rock before them, the local guide stepped of his horse, looked at it for a few minutes, then turned to face him. “It seems that the passage has been blocked pretty recently, we’ll have to find another way through the mountains. It may be better if rest up a bit.”
It was hot, unbearingly hot. Even in the shade he continuously had to wipe the sweat of his brow with his embroided silk headband. Travelling during this time of day was nigh impossible, but the urge that he had to travel now was far greater, Altmer should be under any circumstances on time, what would his father think of him? An Altmer fazed by some hot weather? His father would think that intolerable.
He looked at his guide with a gaze that reflected his intention, he stood up from the shadow into the blazing heat.
“We have stood idle for too long.”
“If we leave now, we might get there before the sun sets under the horizon.”
The guide answered with a bow, and said:
“Very well, allow me to gather my supplies. We will travel shortly, on foot. Travelling with horses is impractical for the route I wish to take, you might abandon them here, or someone needs to stay behind and look after them.”
The guide was right, with the steep inclines, the brittle rock and dangerous chasms this was no place to ride, but abandoning the horses was not an option. These were Summerset’s finest horses, this was no place for them. He looked at one of his guards and with a stern nod the order was given.
With the one guard staying behind, the Prince, his guard and the guide began making their way through the mountains, walking under a midday sun, their feet blistering by the burning rock that lay beneath them, travelling on the sharp edges that made even the finest made shoes tear apart. On foot they travelled to the city of Skaven, from afar one could see the dimly lit city. With two beautiful moons rising above the sandy wastes, that enveloped a great part of Hammerfell. Dehydrated, weary and with dilapidated clothing they passed through the gates to find themselves on streets filled with market stalls, streets that were normally busy during the daytime, were now cold and abandoned. Finding their way deeper into the city they came across a sign illuminated by torchlight, that said “3 Dunes Inn”, a perfect place for him to stay the night. The guide had done his job and was paid handsomely for his service, and went on his merry way. He and his guard entered the Inn, rented a room(no questions asked) and stayed the night.
There were no parades, no white horses marching through the streets, no banners waving through the air, that symbolize golden eagles soaring through the sky, no crowd that cheers, nor rose petals that sailed through the wind. Those things were reserved for his father. The streets are filled with commoners, merchants from High Rock, beggars and thieves, but none would praise a stranger going through their busy streets. There was nothing to show off the emblem of his heritage, his pride, what once could be recognized, his silken garb, was now covered under layers of orange dust. He had to push himself through the busy streets, to the grand building that stood in the higher end of town. Trying to be as inconspicuous, by putting his cowl over his head and staying low. After a lot of hassle he had finally reached the building that was described to him, a large palace with golden inlays, beautiful gardens which were vibrantly green, given a strong contrast to the sandy wastes that could be seen from afar. Its gigantic doors inlayed with lapis lazuli, amber and marble, the marble imported from Summerset, as he could notice by its very distinctive pattern. He removed his cowl, looked at the guards, and with a single gesture they gave the signal to open the doors. Once he entered into the palace he saw walls with inlayed mosaic of great historic battles, illuminated by candescent light from an abundance of braziers that filled the room, though the orange glow of a rising sun was more than sufficient to show all the glory the room had to offer.
A servant opened a scroll and began to announce: “Here as a guest comes Tanlian, Prince of Summerset and 15th in line for the throne!”
“Very well” said a low dark voice from the throne, gesturing the servant aside with his hand.
The figure in throne was none other than King Eymir, ruler of Hammerfell. The stories of him doing him justice, he only had seen glimpses of King Eymir in the Alinor palace garden, he was a lot younger and a lot smaller then. Who now stood before him was a different man, broad and muscled, scars covering his body from the countless of battles that he had fought, and at his side, two women cooling his body on a hot day such as this.
The prince walked into the almost empty hall, hearing his footsteps echo through the chamber. So he stood before the mighty King.
“So, do you know why you are here prince?” said Eymir.
“On a diplomatic mission, as per my father’s request.” He answered gracefully.
“Didn’t your father give you the details? It is a diplomatic mission that is true, but if you don’t know of this, then the arrangement will be quite difficult to make.”
“I like to hear what my father has said.” He said. He felt so disgusted.
His father again tried to use him as an asset, a political pawn to move on a field, only caring tactically and not emotionally for his own sons.
“I and your father agreed on our terms, a 20 year peace between our nations, no conflicts, under condition that one of my daughters would marry an Altmer prince.”
Typically his father, typically. Just an asset, one of many assets. It wasn’t only the frustration of being send away from home, it was that uneasiness, that tension he felt from the very start of his journey. The realisation slowly set in his mind, he glanced at his guard, who had a face filled with grief, of course he couldn’t tell him, losing his guard position would’ve not only costed him, but his family for generations to come.
“I see that this comes as a shock to you, no matter. You have 2 weeks at most to decide, until then you can stay at this palace, enjoy its luxuries and tidy yourself up in the guest quarters in the building to your left, your robes are filled with red dust.”
He nodded at Eymir, bowed gracefully and walked through the side door to his chambers.
He and his guard were guided to the room by one of Eymir’s men, silently they were led to the end of the hall. Where a door stood open, the man looked briefly at the room with intend, then went back the way he came, his footsteps echoing in a silent hall.
He stepped inside, though the room itself had no windows, it was beautifully and ornately decorated, but subtle, a single candle illuminated the room. It seemed that Eymir had guessed his tastes correctly. The guard stood outside, the door closed, and except for the occasional cough, it was silent.
It felt like a prison, a beautiful prison, but a prison nonetheless. A bird is not free because he is enclosed in a golden cage. So it felt to him, he sat on his bed, with his hands in his hair. His resentment for his father grow fiercer, and every minute he sulked he became sadder. Tears fell on his dusty robes, everything he has worked for felt like a lie to him now.
He heard the movement of metal coming from beyond his door, his guard must be startled, probably one of these daughters that would come and see the exotic Altmer prince.
“The prince is in his chambers, he cannot be disturbed.” He heard his guard say, with a heavy Summerset accent.
“Do not worry, I am just here to clean his chambers.” Said another voice, a female voice, but one of heavier tone. There was a hint of a Hammerfell accent, how the words were fluent one after another, but it was also guttural at the same time.
He could hear the guard step aside, and stand still. The guard didn’t even have the courtesy to open the door. The light of the illuminated hallway came through slits of the opening door. He hastily wiped the tears of his face, to look more imposing than he actually felt. The door opened further, he could see his guard standing there watching him, though his eyes quickly averted back to the figure that came in.
She was an Orc, or at least how he heard and envisioned Orsimer to look like. According to his tutor they were deadly, barbaric, wide and sometimes as tall as an Altmer, muscled to the teeth and have a protruding underjaw. She looked like one, but not like how he was taught they’d look like. She looked compassionate, civilized, and kind of pretty, for an Orsimer.
“So you are the newcomer I have heard about.” She looked at him and grinned, somewhat baring her teeth in the process.
“Yes, I have just arrived.” He said, with his cheeks still moist and his eyes watery. Again trying to wipe it off haphazardly.
“I can see you have, your robes are all dirty and covered in dust, muck and mud, they need to be washed, and quite thoroughly.” She started to investigate the fine trimmed lining of the silk.
“So, where are you from?” She asked.
“I, I-I am from the Summerset Isles, I am a… “Prince”, from Alinor.” He said, still nervous and shaken.
“You are the Prince? I’m so, so sorry, I shouldn’t have disturbed you, you probably have more important business to attend to, I’ll take my leave.”
“You don’t have to.” He said, maybe too hastily.
He saw her taken aback a bit, as her cheeks went rosy-green, and because of this, his were starting to blush as well, the two staring awkwardly at each other for a few seconds. His guard turning, to look how long this was going to last.
“I will come by later. Change your robes, and I will then take them to the laundry maid.”
“Actually, that has been enough time, don’t waste the prince’s time any further, house-clerk. I will hand you the robes.” Said his guard aggressively.
With her head bowed down, the Orc woman turned around and left the room.
The guard taking a final disgusted glare after she turned the corner of the hall.
“Do not forget why you are here, prince.” Said his guard, while closing the door from the outside. Leaving him alone in the candlelit room.
Who was she? An Orc, in the halls of the Hammerfell king? supposedly serving as a servant or… maybe a steward? Her clothes weren’t ragged or worn, she wore satin robes, with a beautiful rose red colour, with a fine trimming. Beautiful, but not perfectionistic like his, where everything was stitched to be flawless. While dwelling on his thoughts he opened the wardrobe, there, suspended by a clothes hanger, was a lilac-grey robe. He interchanged his dusty robe with them, it suited him quite well. Holding his old robe in his hands, looking at it, did give him a sense of peacefulness, a feeling that he was temporarily out of those political plays, something he had to endure for most of his life, even now he was in the middle of it. Once he opened that door though, at that point it would all start again. This little room was the only bit of sanctity he had. A sad truth, but a truth nonetheless. The Orc though, she captivated his mind. Who was she?
For a while the prince had just been ogling at the ceiling. It was night, as far as he could tell anyway. The normal warm and humid days were replaced by the cold desert nights. The cold seeping through the somewhat loosely laid brickwork, like it was intended to do.
It felt like there was nothing to do, his mind looking for anything to distract him with, but he had already counted the tiles of the ceiling, and the floor, multiple times. The grains on the wood and even the facets on the wineglass. It was all he did in this room, well, this and thinking of things, light-hearted things. How the freshly baked bread smelled when it came out of the oven, how the wind howled between the sprigs of grass, and the echo of the sea from the many cavities, that dotted the landscape of the Summerset Isles. How he loved swimming besides the white beaches.
All he could think about was home. Home, oh how he missed it. He had travelled long and wide, to places never visited by his people, but home would be always waiting for him, no matter what. This time he felt different about it, the beginning of an end. Being forced to marry one of Eymir’s daughters, someone whom he might not love. Then inherent a throne, or rather a son of his inheriting the throne.
Though Eymir stood strong as both a warrior and a king, one could see Eymir’s power weakening. Not only his physical strength, growing older and frailer, his hair greying while sitting in that lonesome throne, but also his political strength; around every two hours of the day you could hear a commander shouting for Eymir’s presence, attending the many wartables to secure his holdings, from threats foreign and within.
Obtaining a heir and making peace with outside forces was a way to cement his legacy and at the same time create a clean slate for the heir of the throne.
“But why me?” He contemplated.
He could just as well marry one of his daughters to a Breton lord, a bloodline between the two would make a steadfast alliance and in the process create a political fallout in High Rock(as it happens many a times there). Nothing is more entertaining than their boasting knights battling for supremacy for their so called “honour”, eventually leaving one of his bigger, and nearest, enemies weakened.
A lot of things could’ve happened, but he was the one here.
He couldn’t get himself to sleep, all the tension and restlessness still coursed through him, there was nothing to do or see, and being confined into this small space didn’t help either. It made him antsy, his desire, the craving to escape this room became larger by the minute.
He slowly crept to the side of the wall, besides the door. On the other side he expected his guard waiting. There was no sound, except for the faint echoing of rattling chainmail. One of the palace guards must be making his patrol around, probably. After spending just a night in this place he could already form a pattern in his head, every few moments or so they would come by, marching one by one, and then silence. They walked by, and as they made their way out of the guest wing, he could act. He opened the door, the sound of the squeaky hinges being audible on a quiet night such as this.
When he passed through he felt a soft, cold breeze. It was the midst of night, and the moons were at their highest, reflecting on the countless polished surfaces, giving everything a beautiful light-blue hue.
Under the cloak of the dim moonlight, he sneaked through the quest wing, and did so quite aptly. Having done so as a kid before, back at the palace in Alinor. There he sneaked through the vast empty halls. Well, they weren’t completely empty, there were lots of antiquities displayed in the hallways, and at least a dozen family portraits, but the palace was so grand that there was a large distance between them all. The “thrill” that he would get from roaming the palace at night back then, was quite tame compared to here. His heart was racing, Auri-El knows what they would do with him if he was caught, but he knew they wouldn’t, they wouldn’t be able to. And even if they did, they could lock him up in this prison of a palace, but if they scratched him, even just a little bit, this whole political mess would come at a standstill, finally done and over.
He peeked left and right, nobody here.
He cautiously opened the door in front of him, that led out of this wing and into another part of the palace, which one he didn’t knew.
The ground was covered with fine grass, which was probably well-tended by a gardener. Once he looked further he could see the familiarity of the scene. He saw beautiful exotic plants of all colours and kinds, but the most familiar of all were those ponds. In the moonlight the crystal surface of the ponds reflected in the water, illuminating the water with a beautiful, subtle aquamarine colour.
It was so quiet, so… silent, oddly no guards were present. The garden was at the back of the palace, so maybe they didn’t bother, maybe this part of the palace was secure enough?
After a little while there were still no guards present. Finally he took a deep breath and casually walked to one of these little ponds, sitting down besides the edge of one. Waving his hands through the water, the normally perfect water surface now distorted and rippling. There he pondered for a while, captivated by his reflection in the water.
Out on the walls appeared a faint lantern light, it almost seemed to dance around, with it came the sound of bare feet stepping off the palace’s rough stone exterior. The person came closer and closer. Surely one of the guards would have spotted him, he sighed. He kept dreamily gazing at the water. He felt a hand on his shoulder, there was a strength to it, but he wasn’t being pulled or dragged off. He looked at the reflection of the water, dimly lit by the lantern light he saw the contours of her face, the Orc.
Fortunately it was her, it seemed he lived another day. He breathed a sigh of relief.
“What are you doing out here, so late?” You should be asleep in your chambers. She whispered.
“I could not lay my head to rest” He answered, giving off a little smirk in the process.
“How so? What is wrong? Are the accommodations not good enough? We have another room in the palace if you want to sleep there.” She said in a concerned way.
“No… No, it is not necessarily that.”
She put the lantern on the ground, dimmed the flame and sat down close beside him.
“Then can I ask you, what is the problem?” She said, looking him in the eyes. Her hand subconsciously moving closer to the prince.
“I-If I may ask of course.” She added, quickly retracting her hand.
He sighed. Putting his hands on his forehead.
“I… honestly… I don’t know myself. That is the problem.”
“Today, the trip to here, it has been so confusing to me. It is not the palace that is the problem. It is not me that is the problem… It is this whole situation, this whole mess, and I feel powerless. Everything seems beyond my control.”
She looked at him understandingly, but she was still confused.
It grew silent for a moment.
“They said to me that you are going to marry one of Eymir’s daughters, his princesses.”
“Yes” He answered. “I will be married off to one of these princesses, and I don’t even know a single one them.” He said joylessly and slightly agitated.
“Shouldn’t you be happy though? You are getting married.”
She started to smile.
“Soon you will be married to one of Tamriel’s most beautiful princesses. Rose petals guiding you through the gardens on the wedding day.”
In her mind she could already see it, the sun lowering behind the horizon, the music, the dancing nobles, and the dresses. Oh, those pretty dresses! How she would like to wear one of them!
“Once you’re married you could afford a place such as this. You can do what you want, you can travel to places far and wide. The most bountiful forests and the highest, snowy mountaintops.”
“Yes, I would love to see those places.” He smiled back at her. They closed further in on each other.
“But… I wouldn’t be happy.” He moved a bit backwards, away from her.
“What is a view if you cannot share it?”
“What is wealth if spending it is meaningless?”
“What is travelling worth, when you are alone on the road?”
“I think I would feel that way, if I married one of those princesses, locked in a loveless marriage.”
She held tufts of grass firmly in her palms. Her eyes starting to get wet.
“Why do you say these things.”
“Shouldn’t you be happy?”
“When you have spent your whole life in these very walls. You learned all the etiquette, all the courtesies in the book, you have served every guest…”
Tears started to roll down her cheeks.
“When you have never been allowed to go outside. Looking at the city down below, every night. Wondering how life there is. I have heard so many stories about the world, you have travelled the world, haven’t you?”
“Did you know there is even a city full of Orcs?
“Full of people like me?”
“I can’t even imagine. I have never seen anyone else like me. Well there was this one time… But I can’t remember it.”
“I… I don’t even know where I come from!”
She let herself fall onto the grass, her hands covering her face while she was sobbing.
She began to sit down again, curled up, and started to wipe the tears of her face.
“You should feel fortunate, most of us don’t have a chance like that, not even a chance of experiencing that.”
He looked naively in her chestnut brown eyes. She was right, she was absolutely right and he knew she was.
What kind of excuse was there?
What kind of excuse was there for a ‘noble prince’ to complain about his entitled life?
Though he did feel a bit like her, he had spent decades at the palace back home, he could also not leave back then. His only glimpse in the world were all the foreigners that came into his father’s halls. Bringing with them lots of weird goods, scents and spices. He had no idea how life was outside those walls was, just like her. Until that day, the day that he was asked to travel with his parents to unknown lands. He proudly followed their carriage, through the snowy woods.
It felt so freeing, that first breath of mountain air, the snow falling off the pine trees.
If only. If only she could experience that.
He began to understand. He understood her desire to go outside and see the world, its many places. Run around the daisy field, no worries, just…
This is when it hit him. It felt like all those decades of posturing, all those decades of make believe, they fell away. All those cropped up emotions, they came pouring in.