57: Big business
Before I arrived at the guild hall in Ald-ruhn on my way to Vivec this morning I was cut off by an Argonian agent. "This one brings word from the hunter. Things move quickly. That one is at home in Balmora." I stepped into the hall just long enough to let my stewards know my plans for the day, then went home to gather the armor of Demeter Boyle.
When I slipped invisibly into Hunter Nine-Toes house in Balmora he was pacing. Containing the energies of the lizard folk of Black Marsh within the walls of a house always seems such an effort. He wasted no breath on greetings. "The Hlaalu council meets today. Dram Bero is challenging Velanda Omani for leadership of the council."
My experiences with the Redorans and Telvanni fed a misunderstanding, and I snapped. "Oblivion take these Hlaalu! We can't afford for them to be killing each other now! Dagoth Ur will do a fine job of killing us all as it is!"
Hunter cut me off with a hiss. "There will be no killing Arvil Bren. In House Hlaalu such a challenge is resolved with nothing more than a few blustery threats...and a large exchange of coins."
I should have guessed. "Well, if there is to be a new direction I suppose a new leader is a good thing. And a meeting now is certainly better than a meeting later."
"We assumed you would want to inform them of their new direction yourself, but Dram Bero is expecting you."
Timing is everything. I waited; watching Nine-Toes wear out his carpets. His agents brought a stream of reports through the day. I didn't see any reason to delve into his sources. I also saw no reason to involve myself in the inner workings of their council. Leadership of the council passed to Dram Bero without major opposition. I waited. The seat vacated by the demise of Yngling Half-Troll passed on to Nileno Dorvayn. I waited.
Crassius Curio defended himself against a vaguely considered resolution to 'purify' the council by replacing him with another Dunmer. I listened to the report on this discussion with interest. The wily Cyrodiil had no doubt made the connection between the well known Arvil Bren and the mysterious Demeter Boyle, and did not hesitate to use hints of 'secrets' to his advantage. The time for waiting was over.
I walked into the council hall tensed for battle. After my last visit it would have been foolish to do anything less. Foolish, and an insult to the honor of the council guard. I wasn't sure that my attempt to restore that honor was successful, but I certainly didn't want to assume I had failed. Apparently I had not. A burly Dunmer in the distinctive bonemold armor of a Hlaalu guardsman stepped in front of me.
"The council is in session," he said. There was pride in his voice, almost enough to cover the hint of nervous tension.
"As they should be," I said. I turned the golden visage of my Dwemer metal helm on each of the guards, then turned back to what was apparently their self appointed leader. "Well guarded; also as they should be." I undid a clasp on my chest, and gathered the scabbard of the Foeshocker off of my back. "The new head of the council is expecting me, but it wouldn't be appropriate to appear armed with this." I offered the huge claymore, and Moon and Star pulsed obviously on my hand. "It would not be wise to attempt to draw it from the scabbard," I suggested.
The guard stared at the legendary ring, well known to cause instant death to anyone who wore it other than Nerevar. "I understand, sir. Your weapon, for your hand only. It shall be an honor to hold it for you." I was impressed. There was only the slightest hint of relief in his voice.
I sat in a comfortable chair. "If you would let the council know that I await their pleasure," I said. The guards did not relax. My acceptance of normal protocol did not completely erase their memory of my previous visit. The glossy finish of the new table stood as a stark reminder. To their relief the council page returned immediately to usher me into the chambers.
As I entered the chamber Nileno Dorvayn rose to her feet respectfully, and after a moments hesitation the rest of the council followed suit. Dram Bero was the last to rise, and looked irritated.
"Congratulations on your promotion," I said to the newest council member. "Your fellows think you are overly respectful towards guests." I raised my fist and Moon and Star pulsed brilliantly. Dram Bero's mouth dropped open momentarily; the voice of the ring was smugly satisfied.
"Not just any guest," he said. "Nerevar." Amazement etched his face as well as his voice.
"One of many names, eh Crassius?" I said. The Imperial was speechless. His 'secret', that Arvil Bren lurked beneath the Dwemer mask, had clearly been trumped. "There is business to conclude honored council of the Hlaalu. Shall we sit down?" I removed my helm. Dram Bero was perhaps even more shocked when he saw my face. Initially I pushed my own smug satisfaction at the voice of the ring, but then I began to wonder if it was really my own. The line between what I consider myself and what I think of as 'the voice' is getting less distinct.
The newly formed council of House Hlaalu has accepted the Redoran's choice and confirmed me as Hortator. They will be preparing for war with Red Mountain. I am counting on them to be as successful making decisions that forward the interests of all Dunmer as they have been at forwarding the interests of their house.