This is the autobiographical journal of Arvil Bren, a somewhat reluctant hero who has been placed on an unknown quest by powers that he barely knows exist. Follow his journey as it is updated daily, Monday through Friday, and enjoy! These are the most recent entries in Arvil Bren's third journal; Politics of the Redoran. His first journal can be found in its entirety here. His second journal, Trail of the Archmage can be found here.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Twenty: New hall

Keeping things in balance is going to take some work. Yesterday I was very resolute that the business of the guild had to be taken care of. The fact that I only made it from Pelagiad to Balmora in my journey to the Urshilaku camp seemed like acceptable progress. As I sit here at this same table, prepared for sleep in the same bunk, it is harder to see myself as moving to meet my destiny. While the other trials of the Nerevarine are still looming ominously the possibility of not being the Nerevarine and dying in the Cavern of the Incarnate is now slowing my steps. I do not want to die.

It would not be too difficult to claim today as great gains made for the Archmage though. I again set out walking. Not just to clear my head; and not to knowingly slow my progress though now I see that may have been underlying my choice. I wanted to arrive at the guild in Caldera by walking in the door, not appearing on the guild guide's platform. As I followed the pleasant trail northwards past the headwaters of the Odai I formed a plan that would only work because I had chosen to walk.

When I reached Caldera I did not go directly to the guild, but went instead to Surane Leoriane's house. Surane is a Blade, a member of the organization that collects information directly for the Emperor; in short, a spy. Unknown to the Mage's Guild I am also a Blade, in fact the ranking member here in Vvardenfell as far as I know. That is what I was told by spymaster Caius Cosades when he returned to Cyrodiil, but being a secret organization it is hard to tell. In any event I must admit my own loyalties do not lead directly to the throne of the Emperor, but since his instructions for me are to fulfill the prophecies of the Nerevarine it is easy enough to maintain at least a fiction of being at his direction. Being 'senior' in the Blades certainly does not put Surane under my orders, but it does provide opportunities.

Surane is posted in Caldera to monitor and investigate the Caldera Mining Company, and she is a very proficient mage. The Caldera Mining Company is an Imperial charter granted to House Hlaalu to exploit the local ebony deposits, and is the economic engine that allows Caldera to exist in the first place. Since House Hlaalu is in many ways a thrall to the Cammona Tong and the awarding of the charter stinks of graft there is definite cause for investigation by the Empire. Since the Cammona Tong has a huge price on the head of a spear wielding nemesis that they fortunately don't know is me I have my own reasons to be interested. All of these parts were clicking together in my mind as I walked, eventually forming a very cohesive whole.

"Hello Surane, it's good to see you again," I said as she answered the door.

"Hello Arvil. You are looking a little more wizardly these days. Unless I am sorely mistaken that staff is the badge of office of an Archmage. Come in, please." It was certainly simple to fit this visit into my cover story. My previous visits as a ragged spearman were a bit less obtrusive, because they would be much harder to explain. The time of day was in my favor, and I got to enlist Surane in my plan over an exquisite lunch.

Then I went to the makeshift guild hall, where they were just clearing away the plates following a hearty but plain meal that I was glad to have missed. Madila Indaren, a Dunmer mage who I think might be a distant relation of Ranis is the ranking member of the guild in Caldera. As I walked through the door she nearly collapsed, then erupted in a flurry of orders, all of which were intended to somehow relate to 'making me comfortable', most of which were contradictory. I had intended to shift the course of this fledgling hall gently, but this start left me no choice but to use a heavy hand.

I crashed the butt of my staff against the planking of the floor, which unleashed a shower of sparks and curling flames. "Stop!" was all I could think to say. Everyone froze in their places. At least the incipient chaos was headed off. "I didn't come here to test your furnishings or hospitality, so most of what you have all just decided to do is uncalled for. This hall is not getting done what really needs to get done already, so that would be a much better direction for your efforts. Assuming that you have regular tasks that forward the mission here, get about them while I consider what will have to be done for Madila here to get promoted." I looked around, taking in each startled face in turn, ending with the piercing red eyes of Madila. "You have an office?" She didn't. To have any sort of private conversation required Ernand Thierry the alchemist to disappear into his tower laboratory and the rest of her crew to retire to a common room upstairs.

"That is the first of many problems that need to be resolved," I said as soon as this was established. "I am here as the Archmage to get you set up as a guild steward in a proper hall, and having this meeting leaves no one but you and me to answer the front door. That really doesn't work Madila." She nodded, and wisely didn't say anything. Any trail of explanations she started would curl inevitably back at her and she knew it. That was what I was looking for. Had she not seen that the responsibility ultimately landed on her she would be difficult to mold into a Steward.

Caldera had been established under Ranis' supervision, mostly I suppose because it is Hlaalu territory and Ranis runs the hall in the Hlaalu capital of Balmora. A totally unworkable plan whose only real selling point had been that it didn't involve Trebonius in much of any way. Ranis has done a commendable job under the circumstances, but operation as a distant annex is not going to accomplish anything for anyone in the long run.

The crux of the problem in Caldera is that it operates at a loss across the board. Folms Mirel is a skilled enchanter, but in the 'business first' environment of a Hlaalu town he isn't in a position to provide services competitively. The local traders, pawn shops, and street corner hucksters all peddle enchantments and are overwhelming him. The alchemist Ernand Thierry gets much the same results. The guild guide does not do any thriving business. About the only place people in Caldera need to go is Balmora, and it is not a prohibitive walk. Ranis managed to assign Eraamion, an accomplished nightblade, as the spellsmith, but never quite handed his control over to Medila, and Ranis is too far removed to direct him.

"The Altmer, Eraamion," I began delicately, "to be a guild steward and have a successful hall you need to learn to use his talents."

"There is not much call for a spellsmith here Archmage."

"His other talents." A nightblade is the magically inclined version of an agent or an assassin. They use their spellcraft to conceal their entries and speed their escapes. Judiciously assigned they can tip the scales of commerce in favor of the guild, or against it. I knew that House Hlaalu had one of their best assigned in the governor's manse. "To begin with at least his eyes and ears. You have a very capable mage two doors away..."

"Surane Leoriane. She seems to do more business than we do."

"Seems to? She does. That's the sort of thing you need to know, and do something about. And you aren't in any position to do anything about it because you really have no idea what it is she is doing. She had a visitor for lunch, do you know who?"


"You should have. Sometimes important business gets done over lunch. In this case it would at least have given you a couple hours to get ready for me walking through your door. Madila I count on this hall to keep me apprised of the comings and goings of important people. That's one of the great benefits of having the guild guides sell their services to the public, but you still have to keep up with other transport. A master wizard shouldn't be able to walk into town and have lunch without you knowing it." Medila went back to nodding.

"Listen. I'm not here to crush you, and this isn't a reprimand. In fact Ranis is going to pop up on the guild guide platform shortly and we are going to formally turn this hall over to you as a guild steward. But by the time that happens I need you to be on top of what it is going to take for you to grow into that. We can call you one, but it's up to you to make yourself one."

"I will not disappoint you," she said. My turn to nod, deliberately.

"So here's the first big step. Surane Leoriane is ready to join the guild. A visit from the Archmage can be persuasive. In this case it may even have been required. Do you know why?" I hoped that she would not sidestep the reality that question represented.

She did not disappoint me. "Surane Leoriane is more skilled at magecraft than I am, or anyone else in this hall."

"Yes, she is. Truthfully in some schools she is probably more skilled than I am, but that doesn't keep me from being Archmage, and it doesn't keep you from being her guild steward. We need the best, and they have to be recruited. Now, you might be thinking that with her skills if she sets her sights on your position she may well take it from you. If you are thinking that you may even be right. If you let that thought get in the way of recruiting and training our members then you will get replaced, fast. Even if we don't have someone more talented a guild steward cannot let that thought get in their way for an instant." She nodded again. I was beginning to recognize her nods, and was pleased that this one showed grudging acceptance, not just mindless agreement. It's never easy to put yourself aside, I was glad it wasn't easy for her to say that it would be.

"What you need to do is give her assignments that will give her a chance to establish her loyalties. At the same time you might be able to improve everyone else's skills, even your own. I have learned a few things from her myself; no embarrassment in that." Surane is an established trainer in the Blades. "So, between her and Eraamion you need to get a handle on what is going on in this town. I am particularly interested in the relationships between House Hlaalu, the Caldera Mining Company, and the Cammona Tong."

"I'll get on top of it Archmage, you have my word."

I smiled my satisfaction. No need for her to know that she would be assigning Surane to do what she was already doing for the Blades. It would provide an extra layer of cover for Surane, get me direct access to the information she was sending back to the Emperor, and improve the standing of the guild in Caldera, all at the same time. Perhaps with Eraamion involved Surane's investigation would go even faster.

Ranis arrived as planned, and we announced the change to the guild members. Medila will have her hands full, certainly, but I think it will work out. Ranis and I were agreeably optimistic as we arrived back in Balmora on the guild guide platform. "I assume you set up enough of a cut from Surane's profits to balance their books," Ranis said as we walked into her office. "I don't know if Medila will be able to push her far enough herself. She will be good, but she isn't that good yet. Surane is formidable."

"I know. She will push Medila just by being in the guild. And yes, she will be generous in her contributions financially." That had been easy to manage. As soon as Ranis and I concluded our conversation I slipped invisibly through the streets of Balmora to the house of a Blades courier and dispatched two thousand gold septims to Surane to cover the expenses of her additional cover.

I ate a cheerful dinner here. In Balmora at least there is beginning to be a distinction between the work of the Archmage and the life of Arvil Bren. It was not until I sat down to write that I really had to face being not one step closer to the Urshilaku than I was yesterday.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great writing. But in the story i want the more calm avril bren back. the one that takes the simple joy in life.

1:26 AM  

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