- The Real Barenziah
 
- The Real Barenziah, Part 10 - Anonymous

As Symmachus had predicted, the theft of the Staff of Chaos had few short term consequences. The current emperor, Uriel Septim, sent some rather stiff messages expressing shock and displeasure at the staff's disappearance and urging that Symmachus make every effort to locate its whereabouts and communicate this to the newly appointed Imperial BattleMage, Jagar Tharn, in whose hands the matter had been placed.

"Tharn!" Symmachus snarled in disgust and frustration, as he paced about the small chamber where Barenziah, now some months pregnant, was sitting serenely, knitting a baby blanket. "Jagar Tharn, indeed. I wouldn't give him directions for crossing the street."

"What have you against this person, husband?"

"I just don't trust that mongrel elf. Part wood elf, part dark elf and part only the gods know what. All the worst qualities of all his combined races. No one knows much about him. Claims he was born in Valenwood, of a wood elf mother. Seems to have been everywhere since--"

Barenziah, sunk in the contentment of pregnancy had only been humoring Symmachus thus far, but this piqued her interest. "Nightingale? Could he have been this Jagar Tharn, disguised?"

"Nay. Human blood seems to be the one missing component in Tharn's ancestry." To Symmachus, Barenziah knew, that was a flaw. Symmachus despised wood elves as lazy thieves and high elves as effete intellectuals, but he admired humans, especially Bretons, for their combination of pragmatism, intelligence and energy.

"Nightingale's of Ebonheart, of the House of Mora, I'll be bound -- that house has had human blood since her time. Ebonheart was jealous that the Staff was laid here when Tiber Septim took the Horn from us."

Barenziah sighed a little. The rivalry between Ebonheart and Mournhold reached back almost to the dawn of history. Once the two had been one, all the mines within held by Clan R'Aathim, whose royal house held the High Kingship of Morrowind. Ebonheart had split into two separate city states, Ebonheart and Mournhold, when Queen Lian's twin sons, Moraelyn's grandsons, had been left as the heirs. At the same time the office of High King had been vacated in favor of a temporary War Leader to be named by a council in times of provincial emergency. Still, Ebonheart remained jealous of her prerogatives as the eldest city state of Morrowind, still first among equals, and claimed that guardianship of the Horn should rightfully be entrusted to the elder. Mournhold responded that Moraelyn himself had placed the Horn in the keeping of the god Ephen, and Mournhold was unarguably the god's birthplace.

"Why not tell Jagar Tharn of your suspicions then? Let him recover the thing. As long as it's safe, what does it matter where it lies?"

Symmachus stared at her without comprehension. "It matters," he said softly, "but not that much," he added. "Certainly not enough for you to concern yourself further over it. You just tend to your -- knitting."

In a few more months Barenziah produced a fine son, whom they named Helseth. Nothing more was heard of the Staff or "Nightingale." If Ebonheart held it, certainly they did not boast of it. The years passed swiftly and happily. Helseth grew tall and strong. He was much like his father, whom he worshipped. When Helseth was eight years old Barenziah bore a second child, a daughter, to Symmachus' great delight. Helseth was his pride, yet little Morgiah held his heart.

Shortly after Morgiah's birth word came that a plot against the Emperor had been unmasked and that the chief co-conspirators Jagar Tharn and Ria Silmane were dead. Symmachus rejoiced at this news. "I told you so," he crowed. Yet thereafter relations with the Empire slowly deteriorated, for no apparent reason. Taxes were raised and quotas increased with each passing year. Symmachus felt that the Emperor suspected him of having had a hand in the plot and sought to prove his loyalty by making every effort to comply with the increasing demands. He lengthened working hours and raised taxes and even made up some of the difference from both crown funds and their own private holdings. Yet still the demands increased and commoners and nobles alike grew restless.

"I want you to take the children and journey yourself to Imperial City," Symmachus at last said in desperation. "You must make the Emperor listen, else all Mournhold will be in revolt come spring. You have a way with men, you always did." He forced a smile.

Barenziah forced a smile of her own. "Even you."

"Yes, even me," he said dully.

"Both children?" Barenziah looked over toward the corner windows where Helseth was strumming a lute and singing a duet with his little sister. Helseth was fifteen, Morgiah just eight.

"Perhaps they'll soften his heart. Besides, it's time that Helseth was presented at the Imperial Court."

"Perhaps, but that's not your true reason. You do not think you can keep them safe here. If that's the case, then you're not safe here either. Come with us," Barenziah urged.

He took her hands in his. "Barenziah. Love. Heart of my heart, if I leave now, there'll be nothing for us to return to. I'll be all right. I can take care of myself, and I can do it better if I need not fear for you and our children."

Barenziah laid her head against his chest. "Just remember that we need you. We can do without the rest if we have each other. Empty hands and empty bellies are easier to bear than an empty heart. My foolishness has brought us to this pass."

"If so, 'tis not that so a place to be." His eyes rested fondly on their carefree children. "And none of us shall go without. I cost you everything once, Barenziah, I and Tiber Septim. Without my aid the Septim dynasty would never have begun. I helped its rise. I can bring about its fall. You may tell Uriel Septim that, and that my patience is bounded."

Barenziah gasped. Symmachus was not given to empty threats. She'd no more imagined that he would ever turn against the Empire than that the old house wolf lying by the hearth would turn on her.

"How?" she demanded, but he shook his head. "Better that you know not," he said. "Just tell him that, if he prove recalcitrant, and do not fear. He's Septim enough that he will not kill the messengers."

The late winter journey to Imperial City was an easy one. One of the things the Septim Empire had accomplished was the building and maintenance of good highways throughout Tamriel.

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