45: Fly on the wall
The day started when I was awakened by the tremendous commotion in the hall outside my room. I opened the door to find guards, who had obviously been on watch keeping an eye on my door, in animated conversation with another breathless guard who had obviously raced to be first to tell them the news. Probably raced to be first to tell anyone the news. I'm sure the scene outside my door was being played all over Tel Vos.
"Dead; her and a bunch of her retainers. The main tower was a bloodbath." That was the first thing I heard.
"Unbelievable!" another guard answered. "A magelord! A member of the council! Killed in her own tower? Can't be. Who would do such a thing?" The questioner turned eyes to me, standing in the doorway in a sleeping robe. "The Archmage of the guild seems to be trying to get on the good side of the council, and the great houses have been at peace. More at peace than usual anyway."
The breathless bearer of the bad news had regained their wind, and wanted to regain the attention. "One of the Tel Mora guards saw a Dark Brotherhood assassin fly from the high tower balcony."
The rest pounced avidly on this new detail. "Dark Brotherhood!"
"They have no honor! Must be House Hlaalu behind it!"
I risked intruding a question. "What happened?" Our source gleefully restarted his report as the crowd fell to listening a second time, no doubt hoping to seize on some fresh tidbit.
"Mistress Dratha, in Tel Mora, has been killed! Paralyzed and hacked to pieces, along with many of her favorites."
"Paralyzed?" came a voice from the crowd. Apparently that had not been included in the first accounting.
"Yes, paralyzed. The guards who found her could tell by the way she fell. The Dark Brotherhood do use jinkblades, you know, with paralysis spells enchanted into them," the source confided, as if he had some secret knowledge of the assassin's guild.
I listened for a bit, but could see there were no real details coming. The guard who had raced up the tower had very little information, and was holding forth on the same points in order to stay at the focus of attention. I retreated quickly to my room and got dressed for the day.
In Aryon's chamber a somewhat more disheveled guard was giving a similar report, though hers was more of a first hand account. She had been dispatched from nearby Tel Mora with the news, and had no doubt touched off the wildfire of rumors as soon as her feet touched the dock. The only significant detail that she had to add to the story was that the speculation about paralysis did not come from some obscure analysis of the position of the fallen bodies, but from an enchanted shortsword left buried to the hilt in the chest of one of Dratha's retainers.
Her description of a flexible but unbreakably hardened, thin and springy blade was unmistakable, but unrecognized by many of those present. "Adamantium," I suggested quietly.
"Quite possible," said Turedus Talanian, the Cyrodiilian captain of Aryon's guard. "It's rare, but not really that hard to find on the mainland. Hardly ever see any on Vvardenfell though. Any other weapons left behind?" he asked.
"A dart. Ebony," came the answer.
"Practically a trademark of the Dark Brotherhood," said the captain. "I'd say there's little doubt Master Aryon. Someone hired the Dark Brotherhood to kill at least one council member. I put out an immediate order to tighten security, and I'm going to tighten it even further. The brothers of darkness are not to be trifled with."
"Tighten security as you wish," said Aryon, "but tighten it at the docks as well, and ready my ship. We must sail for Sadrith Mora."
I might have showed surprise if anyone had been paying attention to me. There are offices for all of the council members in the capital, but for them to actually be found there is unheard of. It was the first sign of the hectic day ahead. I accepted Aryon's offer and rode with him to Sadrith Mora, which was buzzing with activity by the time we arrived. The discussions were all carried out by the mouths, and I'm sure that the council members did very little actual meeting, but by being close by the mouths could get their responses much more quickly than usual.
By the time the madwoman Therana had arrived from her more distant stronghold the mouths had concluded discussion, and shortly after she swept into the council building Baladas was approved to fill the vacant seat. Rumors ran rampant that he had hired outlander assassins to create that vacancy, but among the Telvanni such suspicions were mostly well regarded.
Certainly no one seemed inclined to condemn him for it if it was indeed true. In fact the alacrity with which the remaining council members approved him was taken as an indication that it was true, and that none of them wanted to be seen as impeding his progress. Personally, I suspect that explains why Dratha's mouth made a hasty exit rather than pressing a possible claim to her seat.
Late in the evening, as I was having a final conference with Skink at the guild hall, checking preparations to respond to any turmoil the situation might cause, a visitor arrived. "Begging your pardon, Archmage," Turedus Talanian said as he entered. " I know the hour is late, but I was hoping to catch you before you left the city."
"And you have," I replied. "What can I do for you?"
"Well, being from the Imperial province the council has tasked me with investigating the Dark Brotherhood's involvement in Telvanni affairs. And much to my surprise they resolved to ask your guild for help as well."
"Is that so?" I asked, surprised myself. "And you said 'Telvanni affairs'?"
"A slip of the tongue. There is an...assumption...that Baladas hired them, which is unspoken and which I don't really believe anyone wants to see proven. Baladas will be a much better council member than the man hater was."
Clearly Aryon's man would not be putting much effort into finding the truth, and obviously I wouldn't either, but we would both use our contacts on the mainland to produce as many plausible but incorrect explanations as possible. No one will ever prove that Baladas hired the Dark Brotherhood, since he didn't, and Aryon had seen to it that the two main arms of investigation were safe from accidentally stumbling onto the truth, since we both knew it.
"This is a gift from Aryon," Turedus said, handing me a tightly wrapped bundle, "for your help in this matter as well as your support of his museum. It is good to see peaceful relationships blossom between our house and your guild."
I waited until I got home to open the package. It was my own armor, which Turedas had carried aboard the ship in case someone with a stray suspicion had searched my belongings. I hung the black chainmail carefully, back in the secret portion of my closet where it can hopefully remain.