“What is divinity?” Dagoth Ur asks himself and out of vanity, he records the answer.
“A divine being does not fear death, but the principle difference between him and a mortal creature is far greater. Longevity is not synonymous to godhood.
A god cannot be stationary. As a mortal struggles in a fragile boat, a god traverses the sea of time, tearing the fabric of reality around him; moonlight lies under his feet and stars decorate his eternity, celestial bodies move and shatter on his whim, rivers change their course, and all laws of nature bow to him, helpless.
Vivec grasped it, too, when he wrote his stories; they were boring, insipid stories, but he understood that a god is not an indifferent observer and he unearthed his curiosity in the ennui of endless existence.
The root of the word ‘enlightenment’ is ‘light’, but illumination is passive, the intake of light is apathetic; no matter how brightly the light shines, it does not vanquish the darkness of ignorance. My enlightenment – it’s a pity that I must use the wrong word because there is no other in the weak language of mortals – is an invasion, a liberation, a dance amid the stars and a sweet pain of the mind free from old superstitions; it is a light that pierces and a dream that conquers minds.
There is immutable truth in a dream and in a grain of divinity – a universe.”
There existed many legends surrounding Nerevar’s parentage and provenance, and a great many of them were dedicated to the origins of his standard, Moon-and-Star. Nerevar wasn’t in a hurry to clear up all the confusion; it was as though he enjoyed the overabundance of myths, rumors, and absurd fables whichever role he played in them – a prophetic figure blessed by Azura herself, a lucky Captain of ill-assorted caravanners, a mercenary who valued only coin, or a malicious usurper. He stubbornly avoided all questions about the early days of his rebellion against the Nords, but one time, in a fit of guilt-ridden penitence, he told Voryn the truth.
It was the year of the First Era three hundred and eighty-two.
Nerevar who had not yet been adopted into House Indoril gathered a band of armed villagers and, with promises of loot and freedom, persuaded them to make bold forays on the settlements north of an ancient Chimer fortress Indoranyon which was occupied by the Nords. Nerevar hoped to lay siege to Indoranyon by Hearthfire, but the task before him wasn’t an easy one. It abounded in discouragements. After a few successful raids on Mas and Vos, the disorderly undisciplined multitude he commanded was imbued with a fanatical belief that Boethiah herself blessed their leaders with invincibility, but he – and Vivec, too – knew full well that they would flee before the flutter of a banner with armed Nords in a battle array underneath it. They fought village guards and children and they were on their mettle, but neither the rusty mattocks nor the ragged armor would protect them from the enemy’s faithful frightening axe and devastating magics.
In Rain’s Hand, sudden and steady downpours washed over the land, leaving destruction in their wake – fields turned into mire, roads were erased from maps, heavy wagons sank into mud. Local farmers called these storms ‘Boethiah’s mischief’ as they were violent and treacherous in nature like the temperament of the Deceiver, yet they devastated and ravaged without malice. After a particularly severe storm, a Nordic caravan was seen to drag unhurriedly across the pastoral plains of Grazelands towards the ancient fortress called Indoranyon. The merchants happened to take a swampy road south which abutted upon the inhospitable heath of Ashlands to avoid encountering the nomadic tribes, but they didn’t travel far inland before their carts stuck in the slush. Only outlanders were foolish or daring enough to brave the elements in spring with such unconcern.
Nerevar set his sights on the caravan; he was eager and firm in his decision to attack it, and no apparent dishonor in such an act deterred him. The reality appeared to him implacable and unfair. Resdayn writhed in great agony before his eyes, torn apart by conquest, humiliated by surrender, oppressed with heavy taxes and slavery, and even if to alleviate the suffering of his people, he would have to rob defenseless merchants, he couldn’t waver. If by shedding the blood of the few he could avert the agony of the many, he condemned hesitation as a glaring misdeed. He chose to walk a thorny path, for it was easy to conceive evils imagined as more perilous and terrible than evils real, and on that path, none could boast of an irreproachable reputation.
The evening of the skirmish was eerie, quiet; in the ravines gathered shadows impregnable to the fading brightness of the cold sun, the stark branches of crooked trees didn’t stir, the sparse grass didn’t sway. Then a thunderclap resounded across the sky and the rain fell, its quiet patter but a feeble whisper in the breathless dreary vast of nature. Clouds overcast the firmament, gloom spread across the valley, but above them stretched an awry stripe of uncertain light which illumined the way. Nerevar was drenched to the skin and Vivec complained that he would catch rattles in such weather, but the rest of the ragtag company kept the iron discipline which he demanded of them. The smiths, tillers, and bread makers looked different than six months ago: there was about them an air of grim determination as they marched into battle, having abandoned the tools for ploughing the land for the implements of bloodshed.
At first, Boethiah favored them. A shallow gully concealed them from view, and the temporary camp, to which they were fast approaching, was guarded by two sentries who could be accused of indolence. They would wander off now and then to indulge their boredom or fall into a doze, and when the evening came, they kindled a fire. Vivec hid in the bushes and shot the guards before they could raise the alarm. No sooner had their bodies fallen to the ground than Nerevar raised his arm and, snapping his fingers, conjured a ball of fire in the air which shed pale yellow light upon the bleak landscape. The villagers rushed to the tents, tearing the colorful fabric with their axes, smashing expensive chinaware with their clumsy mauls, trampling on colorful carpets, breaking clay pots, yet amid the chaos, albeit they found furs, silverware, jewels and jars of scrib jelly, they hadn’t seen even one rusty sword. Nerevar pushed his way through the crowd and on the edge of the enemy camp he looked round, but in the scanty light of his magic he couldn’t discern his immediate surroundings, much less what lay beyond the boundaries of the encampment. Not a sign augured a setback in the morning, but then Nerevar felt the full bitterness of its blow.
“Set the hounds loose!” he ordered loudly, answering Vivec’s inaudible question. The orphan youth shrugged his shoulders, not agreeing with him and yet not disagreeing either, and continued to stand by him, leaning on his knotty staff.
Nerevar trained the nix hounds on his own initiative, allowing none of the villagers to come near the cages where he kept the wild beasts. He learned the craft in Ebonheart upon the insistence of the caravan owner whom he served faithfully for many years. Large, dirty brown rats would eat his grain, but therein the many talents of a guard were of no use, so they bought two nix hounds at a discount price from a disreputable Bosmer who disappeared without a trace on the day he had to teach them how to handle the animals. Nerevar grew accustomed to tending to the hounds, and it was not a difficult matter for him to acquire a kennel after he left the service of his previous master.
Nerevar whistled and pointed to a clear trail left by two carts and at least five guars. The eager animals, sinewy, robust, and swift, with protruding red avaricious eyes and long snouts, screeched joyously when they sensed freedom and darted along an uneven rut which was still visible to the naked eye. Nerevar ordered one of the villagers to bring him a guar, and he obeyed, returning with an agitated animal that allowed the future Hortator to climb on its back only after he reassuringly patted it on the head.
In spite of Vivec’s protests, Nerevar hugged the guar’s neck and rushed towards the copse where he came across another ravine, its slopes steep and wet, gaping in front of him like a bottomless pit. The ball of fire in his hand hissed pitifully, quenched by the torrent of rain and frequent sharp gusts of wind, but he nevertheless became aware that in front of him there was no road and the stream of water gushed down in a waterfall of dirt. The guar grew restless and Nerevar skirted the ditch in his relentless pursuit of the hounds, directing the animal with adroitness. The storm raged, the wind refused to abate, as if trying to earn its name which likened it to the almighty Boethiah, the rain lashed Nerevar’s face, soaking into the chinks in his armor, but he didn’t once think of abandoning the chase.
Although Nerevar had been a guard and battled in his lifetime only bands of robbers who could not boast of firm discipline, he believed that Azura would reveal to him how to defeat the Nords in an opportune moment and he was utterly convinced of it. He ignored Azura’s persistent visions, he didn’t give into temptation to act rashly, and he waited until there could be no doubts in his mind about the purport of the goddess’s promises. She would show him in time how to decimate the enemy’s army with a thousand spears as bright as suns and magics as terrible as a storm; he had to believe it sincerely so as to convince himself why Azura chose him instead of a mer well-versed in the art of war and close to the seat of power. Vivec told him something the mysterious Dwemer believed: hardly any celebrated enterprise in fighting had been achieved without endless exertion, pains, and privations. Nerevar didn’t listen to his companion; in his vivid imagination, he painted an idyllic picture and with youthful ardor charged towards his imagined destiny.
The future Hortator overtook the hounds by the water. They huddled together on the earthy shore, yelping and looking altogether quite dispirited. Nerevar was excited by the chase and he obstinately could not admit himself beaten and the prey lost. Tightening the bridle, he jumped off the mount and freed it from the harness with which he tied the hounds together. “Find the trail!” he ordered them. “Find it!” But the hounds growled at something invisible and fawned upon him, refusing to leave his side.
Nerevar saw what frightened the dogs when abruptly, cutting through the thick mass of dark clouds, the silver Secunda appeared on the firmament and although her victory was momentary, in the cascade of light the contours of a grandiose fortress could be seen. Peals of thunder made the heavens ring and the veil of rain concealed Indoranyon from view, but not before Nerevar counted at least a dozen Nords in the courtyard. And underneath his feet a long winding wheel track stretched to the foot of the hill upon which the fortress was built. The future Hortator understood in those few moments that he would have to storm Indoranyon there and then, while he still had the advantage of surprise, or a sad fate would befall his daring beginnings. He would have to be utterly mad to attack it with a few poorly armed mer at his command, but the Nords couldn’t have foreseen this hare-brained madness and to so feeble a chance Nerevar was willing to entrust his life and the lives of his followers.
“Let’s go home, Nerevar.” Vivec didn’t take long to voice out his opinion. “You’re right, they don’t think we will attack now, but the Nords know we’re here and they know we’re at a disadvantage. If the caravan merchants found out because someone from the village betrayed us, the Jarl will know by tomorrow evening, and it doesn’t bode well for us.” Vivec, in Nerevar’s absence, gathered the most able villagers who showed exceptional fortitude of spirit to follow their imprudent commander come hell or high water, and they reached Indoranyon soon after him. They never found the ravine and the coppice, hurrying along a pebbled path to the seashore where they spotted Nerevar’s nix hounds. “Look at them,” Vivec added, pointing to a few terrified villagers. “They’re as good as dead if we attack now. Please, let’s go home. Azura won’t help us… How many times do I have to tell you that the goddess won’t interfere into our affairs? Not before, and certainly not now. The visions you saw mean something else.”
Nerevar glanced in the direction of the fortress and an unutterable loathing, an inexplicable dread seized him which, even if he wished, he could not explain to Vivec. “They will die either way!” he spat out. “The Nords will come with steel and fire and they will raze the villages to the ground and the fault will be with us that we didn’t inspire them to die fighting. There is an honorable death in battle and a dog’s death cowering under the enemy’s axe.”
“I don’t think any of them want to die in a battle. Maybe there’s glory in it for you, but they dream to return to their hearths and fields.”
“The more we think about our actions, the more certain we are to lose!” Nerevar waved his arm and saddled his guar. “Today we storm Indoranyon!” he screamed hoarsely, and his eyes glistened with fury. “We have before us one path – to the gates of the fortress and beyond. If we fail today, we will not rise again, so I beseech you – do not fail! Do no falter! Azura is with us!”
The villagers heard their chieftain and the passion with which he spoke passed on to them rekindled in their chests a flame of righteous wrath, reminding them of their children who were taken from them, of their wives who died in childbirth, of their hunger and their burnt homes. While some of them seemed to be in a daze, staring thoughtlessly at Nerevar, others picked up their hammers and pitchforks and, deriving their strength from common grief, closed their ranks. Nerevar drew his sword and swung it in the direction of the fort. “Victory or death,” a loud murmur spread through the crowd. The future Hortator took his place at the head of the wretched column and the murk of rain cruelly concealed him from Vivec’s sharp eyes.
If Nerevar looked back, he would see that Vivec didn’t stir; he bowed his head on his chest and clutched the staff in his hands which glowed dimly as powerful magic began to emanate from him, enveloping the villagers in a dreamy fog of illusion. Nerevar didn’t look back, but he felt its chilly touch and the viscid sleep-inducing weight in his body. The enemies who bore the brunt of the attack would see wreathes of torn mist assume incredible shapes – a mer with an axe, or a guar rider in full armor – and each of these ghostlike figures would flutter, coming together and apart so as to appear more unbelievable and they would peer into the distance with amazement. They wouldn’t sense danger until Nerevar killed the guards by the gate and by then it would be difficult for the Nords to stop his charge.
Vivec was right in his predictions; torches flared up on the walls of the fortress, now singly, now in great numbers, merging and dissipating, but the Nords didn’t guess the nature of the strange haze, allowing Nerevar to reach the gate safely. The future Hortator raised his hand, pouring magic into his palm, and with great force struck at the wooden leaves, shattering the rusty hinges. The sentries were struck down by the villagers, each with a few heavy blows to the head from which even helmets couldn’t protect their owners. Former herders, smiths, merchants and tillers handled their weapons with as much skill as Nerevar could impart to them in such a short time and with some dexterity, but what they lacked in mastery, they made up for with vehement zeal. Pitchforks penetrated the visors, mauls smashed through armor, and, as though drunk on the first blood they spilled, the villagers stepped over the dead bodies and, breaking formation, moved onward without accord. Nerevar saw a weak-looking mer stoop over a body on the ground, and then he disappeared in the river of dark bodies, trampled down to the death.
From the base of the wall stretched a wide flight of stairs about thirty-five strides in length and although elsewhere the walls were unassailable, such was the treacherous, arduous nature of the ascent that Vivec rightfully accused Nerevar of indiscretion. If the Nords positioned archers on the nearby walls and atop the stairway, it wouldn’t be possible for Nerevar’s raggedy company to mount it without heavy casualties and it happened so that they did exactly that. Their leader that night was not by any means a fool. Arrows rained down upon the unfortunate assailants, piercing through the clumsy wooden shields, and from them the villagers and Nerevar knew no defense. If Nerevar had been a better commander, he would order the shield-bearers to enclose the rest of his mer and advance in a formation which derived its name from a mudcrab, but he possessed neither the military prowess nor the quickness of wit for which he would attain a wide renown many years later. He, as it often happens with young commanders, lost his head at the sight of people he had come to know well dying all around him. Then an arrow wounded the guar under him and no sooner had he dismounted than the animal, whining lamentably, teetered and fell off the accursed stairs.
Vivec walked reservedly behind the last row of villagers and seeing that they were in grave danger, he resorted to magic earlier than he wished. A shimmering barrier rose in front of Nerevar who still led the attack, offering him and his band of villagers some protection – a body would fall now and then, but the stinging arrows didn’t reap so bountiful a harvest of death and the stones weren’t slippery with blood wherever Nerevar stepped.
It was then that the Nords ceased shooting arrows at them, affording them a short respite from the hail of death, and made way for a man of ordinary height of whom Nerevar saw little at first: a helmet crowned with elegant horns and a large axe lifted above his head. The future Hortator reached the end of the stairway and, outstretching his hand, stabbed one of the Nords in the stomach with a Daedric short sword when he noticed that the man in light armor decorated with furs stood mockingly on the edge of the abyss and that the other Nords had made themselves scarce. He had heard of the wielders of thu’um, but he deemed their powers inferior to the elven craft and he could not imagine that the might of dragons would humble the raw magic of sun and stars until the moment the unassuming man opened his mouth – and Nerevar saw him vividly, his strong jaw and his small teeth – shouting incoherent words which bridled the rage of the storm. Nerevar was thrown against the wall with immense force, but some of the villagers who didn’t have his luck were blown away into the precipice and their screams drowned in the bellows of the hurricane. The rest of his pitiful force made desperate attempts to fight back, but it was clear to him that if he couldn’t defeat the Nord commander, it would be a futile resistance and they, too, would die a coward’s death, in spite of the remarkable grit they demonstrated earlier.
The Nord shouted again and the foundations of Indoranyon trembled, but as impressive as it was, fewer villagers fell victim to it. Nerevar pushed off the floor, but his legs gave way and he fell prone on the cold stones, coughing and writhing in excruciating pain. He rose on a repeated attempt and with an unsteady gait, wiping a trickle of blood from his lips, approached the enemy commander. The Daedric sword in his hand shone softly, its dark ebony blade singing in the foretaste of the enemy’s flesh.
The Nord turned to him – a ghastly figure in light armor spattered with blood from a farmer he cut down – and raised his ponderous axe. The first blow split Nerevar’s flimsy shield, the second he dodged if barely, rushing into a gap which appeared when the Nord swung at him wildly only to be struck half-way by an ironclad fist. Nerevar tottered, but by some miracle straightened himself up and adopted a defensive posture. His desperate lunge wasn’t an utter waste of effort; the Daedric sword cut the enemy Nord on the forehead and it decided the outcome of the fight. Blood profusely poured from the wound over his right eye, blinding him temporarily, and Nerevar availed himself of his opponent’s weakness, frustrating him with quick thrusts and feints. Time after time, he would strike from the high stance and move away to the right and dance around.
The Nord was hesitant to use his thu’um until they were far away from the fray so as not to injure his companions, and once Nerevar took note of his movements, he began to lead his enemy in the direction of the melee, preparing destructive magic in his left palm. When the Nord commander was in a particularly advantageous for him position, Nerevar allowed himself to be flattened and hurled a bundle of raw magical energy into his face. The smell of charred flesh filled the air. The Nord put up his right hand as if to protect himself and began to scream, but Nerevar plunged a sharp piece of the broken shield into his throat before his words could topple trees and destroy walls.
His hands and clothes were stained with blood and dirt, and Nerevar became strikingly aware of it after the immediate danger to his life had passed; not that he didn’t notice such deplorable state of his attire before, but the thought didn’t linger in his mind and now he was overcome with confusion and rage and it mattered to him a great deal whose blood covered him, eating away at his soul. He glanced round and saw men and mer running, but he, a simple mercenary, couldn’t understand who won or who lost. It seemed to him that the villagers had fled, leaving him and Vivec to perish, and his victory over the Nord commander was hollow. Fear gained mastery over him as his mind struggled to accept the hideousness of his situation, true and fancied. He veered to the conclusion that he had done something unforgivable, yet he clung to hope that he was justified in his decision; he hoped and he was disgusted by it, but for once he couldn’t grasp why it was so.
When he recovered his temper, he discovered only the bodies of the dead and the wounded, and among the devastation Vivec stood with a sorrowful expression on his face, leaning on his staff.
“Is it the victory you wanted, Nerevar?” he asked, and his lips trembled.
“I don’t understand… They abandoned me! Are you a traitor, too? Will you run away? Traitor… ” Nerevar replied with amazement although he realized that his tone and expression were inappropriate to the occasion. He began to gather the discarded weapons into a pile. “I had these dreams… Azura appeared to me in a blinding halo of light, with a moon in one hand and the sun in another. With her blessings, I should have been victorious. How could I be so wrong? What did it mean? Is everyone -”
“Is everyone dead? I didn’t count the bodies. Some probably escaped and took their wounded with them. Why did you have to-”
“Can’t you help them?”
“My magicka is depleted.”
“What am I going to do? I can’t return to the village. I can’t… I can’t look at their faces again. Are you going to leave me, too, Vivec?”
“Where would I go?” Vivec shrugged his bony shoulders and picked up a bow discarded by a dead Nord who clutched a dagger to his chest. His malice showed even after his death in a way he bared his teeth at the entire world, defiant till the end. “It’s not the end, you know. We’ll go to Mournhold to beg the queen for mercy and perhaps she’ll forgive us. I cannot imagine she is too happy about the Nords lording in her lands. Maybe she’ll adopt us into House Indoril. It’s no small feat to capture a fortress… An impressive feat, I should say.”
“You say so, Vivec, because you want to console me.”
Instead of an answer, Vivec slipped his cold, wet palm into Nerevar’s hand and pointed to the east where in the early sun a long road meandered between hills and ravines.
Nerevar never saw the village again.