Initially, they seemed to think that their highest priority was the division of spoils from the estates of Orvas Dren and Yngling Half-Troll. I listened, which made them uncomfortable, but in short order their conversation became so heated that they apparently forgot I was there. I let them shout themselves out, and formed solutions of my own that none of them liked.
The foundation of Orvas Dren's wealth was the drug and slave trade. It was a lucrative business before, but under the Imperial embargo the profits exploded. I tried not to think about Ahnassi, and my numerous Khajiit friends.
At Dren's plantation the naturally narcotic moon sugar is refined into the irresistably addictive skooma. For centuries Dren has used the skooma to develop 'trading partners' among the Khajiit in Elsweyr. These hopelessly addicted Khajiit are turned against their own people, capturing victims from rival tribes and selling them into slavery. By keeping Elsweyr in a constant turmoil of rival warlords Dren maintained a steady supply of captives. Rather than stopping his business, which was already illegal, the Imperial embargo justified enormously inflated prices at both ends.
Of course, the council saw two major issues that needed to be immediately addressed. First, how were they going to divide the profits from this trade among themselves, hiding it in their own various ventures. Second, how were they going to take over management of the Camonna Tong, the muscle that kept the smuggling operation working. They were not happy with my solutions.
"Moon sugar can be refined into restoratives that boost the strength and speed of a warrior that are not addictive," I suggested from my corner. They all stopped talking and looked at me like I had invited a kagouti into the room...and it was probably smarter than me.
"Well, yes, we all know that Hortator," said Dram Bero eventually.
"Those restoratives would be far more beneficial to the war effort than any number of skooma addicted warlords in Elsweyr," I said, "warlords that are armed by Hlaalu smiths." They all looked uncomfortable. Though Orvas Dren had kept an iron grip on the skooma and slave trade they had all profited from the weapons trade that followed along like a poor cousin. Not only was I snatching away the spoils they were dividing, I was cutting into their existing business.
"I have only supplied weapons to the legitimate governments of Elsweyr," Velanda Omani sniffed piously.
"Weapons they need to hold off the warlords the rest of you are supplying, no doubt. Weapons they pay for with gold drakes. Where do you think they get gold drakes?" No one wanted to answer. They all knew the gold drakes came from the sale of prisoners taken in clashes with the warlords. Velanda Omani stared at the table. "The weapons that you want to ship to Elsweyr could be well used holding back the blighted beasts that are swarming off Red Mountain into the Ashlands."
"But there's no profit in supplying the Ashlanders, or the Redorans!" Nileno Dorvayn exclaimed.
"Yes, there is," said Crassius Curio, of all people. "The profit is that those blighted creatures don't wind up in the streets of Balmora. Vivec City is a long way from Red Mountain, but I think you of all of us should consider that." I was so surprised that I nearly fell over.
"The legion soldiers at Moonmoth Fort would never allow things to get that far," said Dram Bero.
"The legions in Morrowind already cost the empire far more than the returns, and with the blight cutting off goods from Vvardenfell it's gone totally backwards," the Cyrodiil continued smoothly. "Don't fool yourself into thinking the legion is an endless resource here to protect your interests. They could be withdrawn in a week. The Empire could write off Vvardenfell without a blink."
Of the five members of the council I would never have expected Curio to be my strongest ally in fighting for the Dunmer, but clearly he was. The sobering thought of the legions being withdrawn hung heavily over the room. "It is all the Redoran smiths can do to keep up maintenance on the weapons that are being used every day in the Redoran guard," I said. "Meanwhile your smiths produce armor and weapons that your drug wars have inflated past the local market's ability to pay, so they get smuggled out to Elsweyr. If the legion is withdrawn the Redoran guard is your defense, and your own business practices are stretching them thinner by the day. Orvas Dren was cutting a personal deal with Dagoth Ur. No doubt when you were all reduced to ash slaves he would still have been in charge. Do any of you want to make a deal with Dagoth Ur?" It was not an invitation.
A pall fell over them. They were facing the grim reality of economics. The currency that facilitates trade is not itself the trade. They could trade arms and sugar for the luxury of slaves, or they could trade it for the neccesity of defense. The fact that more gold flowed back and forth in the luxury trade didn't actually make it more valuable.
"So how are we going to get the sugar processed into restoratives?" asked Nevena Oles. "The slaves make the skooma, but they're no alchemists. If we stop trading with Elsweyr we'll be buried in worthless moon sugar."
"Not worthless," I said. "It just needs to be priced so that an alchemist can produce restoratives at a price that the guards can afford. The Mage's Guild can provide all the alchemists required."
"At a fat profit for the Mage's Guild, no doubt," said Dram Bero.
"At a minimal profit, if any. The guild is already sharing the front lines with the Redorans at Maar Gan. We're thinking in terms of survival, not profit. We have been for some time."
"That's true," said my unlikely ally Curio. "They are calling for our Breton friend's head back at the Arcane University in Cyrodiil. Since he killed Trebonius the guild here has done nothing for the mainland. Too busy doing 'local charity work', as they put it."
Eventually the new direction took hold. Restoratives and armaments will be flowing into the breach at Maar Gan. With Hlaalu archers to back up the Redoran warriors the tide may begin to turn.