The Improved Emperor's Guide to Tamriel
Argonians of the Ebonheart Pact
Argonians of the Ebonheart Pact
- Note: Flaccus Terentius' notes appear in bracketed italics. Inserts appear in separate boxes. Captions for unreleased images are denoted by †.
- Meeleeh-Een is a thin, cheerful reptile whose demeanor soured only when I referred to him as an "Argonian." Apparently, in these parts, they prefer the term "Saxhleel," but I'm going with the Imperial term anyway. He's been temporarily assigned to my protection as I head to Stormhold and a meeting with Vicecanon Heita-Meen. I might as well burn the guide chapter on this province, as Imperial geographers seem to have circumvented this entire swamp and used imagination instead. Little truth is really known about the place.
- The instant I spotted Vicecanon Heita-Meen in her administrative office, I recognized her pointed snout and the concentric patterns of the clasps of her battle armor. Her likeness was present in the painting of the Ebonheart Pact I appropriated from Kragenmoor Manor library, back in Morrowind. Although her quarter in the rather shambolic Stormhold lacks the immense fortifications and wondrous architecture of other capitals of Tamriel, this is forgivable due to the recent circumstances.
- Heita-Meen, under her magistrate title of Vicecanon, was occupied with judgments against two bitter-looking Dunmeri from the recently suppressed House Dres. To think, less than a generation ago, I could have selected an Argonian for my own whims. No more; the Dark Elves were convicted of slave-trading and sentenced to be hung in cages attached to the Ayleid arches for a year. Should they somehow survive this fate, they face exile from Black Marsh. My Argonian friend, Meeleeh-Een, referred to them as "dryskin fools and withered roots," not a term of endearment, I'm sure.
- "Stay moist," Meeleeh-Een said in farewell.
- [The Curious Mix of Architectures in Stormhold]†
- "An Imperial presence here is approved," Heita-Meen stated as she beckoned me with a flick of her spindly wrist, a gesture that belied her combat adeptness with a staff. For a few moments, I felt she spoke disdainfully with me, until I realized this wasn't simple rudeness; all of her race addressed me with a detachment that was antithetical to my formal upbringing where manners mattered.
- "Lonely-Spines, an egg-brother to assist you with your progress." She gestured to a young Argonian who was to escort me around Stormhold. He explained he was a former slave (or as he put it, "a choking vine rootbound in the soil of our homeland, now free to bloom"). His lilting tone was both annoying and strangely comforting, although he spoke no Jel -- the lizard-tongue of his progenitors -- as he was a product of an unpleasant upbringing on a Morrowind saltrice plantation. He explained he was a Lukiul Argonian and already assimilated in the ways of Tamrielic matters. He warned me of the Saxhleel, who were traditional Black Marsh inhabitants and rightly suspicious of visitors. I hoped we'd encounter more of the Lukiul as we set off toward the town barracks.
- [A Shellback, Argonian Heavy Infantry]†
- We watched a Nord sergeant -- thickly built and dripping with perspiration from the heat -- drilled a set of fluid and impressive combat maneuvers with a recently formed company of Shellbacks, the infantry troops of the Argonians. Lonely-Spines motioned to a reptilian fellow watching from the barracks wall, an Argonian captain and veteran of the Akaviri campaign, overseeing the melding of battle tactics. He had a furrowed brow and a deep scar where one of his eyes had been. As the maneuvers became more coordinated, Lonely-Spines explained the Shellbacks were being trained to stand firm next to Nord and Dunmeri heavy infantry units. Up until this point, I'd thought Argonians excelled at scouting and light skirmishing in Pact matters and hated fighting in formation. These lizard-folk are more adaptable than I expected.
- [Mysterious Replitian Symbology]†
- [Flexible, Partially Buoyant Timber Causeway]†
- Our disdain for Argonian battle equipment is most misguided. As I watched the Nord and Argonian officers square off to show their recruits a dull-bladed duel, I was impressed at the dexterity and lithe skill of the supposed primitive. But it was his crocodile armor that was easily a match for the burly Nord's best thrusting attempts.
- I was far less enamored with Argonian architecture. While other cultures have gleaming temples that celebrate the grandeur and aspirations of Man or Elf and are built to last the centuries, the atrocious mud huts I had the displeasure of staying in seemed to be actively disintegrating into the oozing swampland. These are wattle-and-daub in construction.
- [Shadowfen Mud-House, with Log Skeleton Exposed]†
- But even a Breton knows a foundation of stone is superior to this wet loam. Lonely-Spines pointed out that Argonians really like this "sun-blessed" mud. And also feathers: Not a step can be taken before another tribal totem of wood, mud, and plumage rears up at me like a malformed golem.
- [Exotic Totems - those are the Skulls of Crocodiles, not Lizard-Folk]†
- [More renderings of Argonian Armor, all Exquisitely Detailed]†
- I might be the first outsider to sketch the heavy armor and weapons of the Argonians in such detail. Perhaps this might persuade disbelievers of the reasonable sophistication of this equipment. The melding of reptile hide, metal, shell, and bone is both tough and lighter than steel armor. The advantages are numerous, but all the proof I required was displayed as I watched lizard-folk swimming, seemingly unencumbered, in this attire. Lonely-Spines offered "an oozeworthy opportunity" to try splashing around myself, but I politely declined. I'm already coming down with an unsettled gut and a phlegmy cough.
- [Note how the Visual Motifs Recur on their Armaments]†
- After a night in Lonely-Spines' mud hut, I can safely report that Argonian hut architecture is just as disgusting as it appears in these sketches. The walls tend to sweat in high humidity (which is, naturally, all the time) and that incredible odor! It makes one wonder what these lizard-folk use for a binding material. I'm never one for idle speculation, but I'm reasonably certain I spotted dry excreta mixed into the sealing at the edges of windows.
- My remit requires a thorough exploration of every locale I deem important to future Imperial affairs. I was to venture into the deep marsh, where the Knahaten Flu still lurked. Lonely-Spines was reluctant: "Beware, for you swim in Trouble River." After a protracted negotiation, my powers of persuasion (and the bartering of coin and a genuine Tu'whacca prayer wheel) won him over. Tomorrow we venture to the Argonian hatching pools, where I am determined to inspect one of the legendary Xanmeers -- strange pyramids built by the Saxhleel in unknown times past -- and sketch the big Hist tree.
- [My traveling tent in the Boglands]†
- Our soggy sojourn shall commence by dawn: Lonely-Spines has just spent the day gathering the necessary equipment for the trek into the Deep Marshes while I attempted to waterproof my Nord boots and tended to the blighted patches of my toe fungus. Draining those pustules was a simple affair. Then, I quickly cracked open my paints to sketch some of the collected baggage of our small caravan. A depth stick was most welcome; we could now fathom which fetid pond was in a fact a small puddle and which would swallow us to our necks. Dried flower buds would serve as water purifiers, as the swamp effluent I'd been wading through wasn't fit to stand in, never mind ingest. Lonely-Spines also returned with a Lukiul tent. He explained "a dryskin like you probably doesn't want to burrow into the mud at night." What a perceptive fellow he is.
- [Primitive Wayshrine of the Ancient Argonians]†
- I waterproofed my best Nord boots for this? My initial meandering away from Stormhold (toward the delightfully named Bogmother) was on ground firmer than a Breton thoroughfare, a stone-flagged road, or causeway, between the unrelenting wetness I've been assured was ready to swallow us soon. Lonely-Spines has gifted me with a vile-smelling emollient to apply to my forearms, face, and other exposed extremities. It apparently has properties to keep the fleshflies away. While this is indeed true, now only the larger insects dare to bite me. Something winged and iridescent found me delicious already.
- [Came across this strange plant that shone with a silvery light - and hummed! My guide said it was magical, called it a "Nirnroot."]†
- [A "Xanmeer," an ancient step-pyramid. I left out the clouds of insects.]†
- [Bogmother by the Light of Masser]†
- We made good time despite the bites and humidity, and the smell of fleshfly repellent was finally beginning to fade as we approached Bogmother. The moss-draped trees and grassy knolls were alive with a thousand unseen insect musicians. Masser lit the crumbling ruins of this fallen temple village, which once seemed a more mighty and proud place. There were unexpected intricacies in these ancient towers. Strange figures. Unknown gods? Lonely-Spines had no learning to impart. My painting shall be guesswork.
- [The crocodile that nearly ate me. I fear I've failed to capture its vicious smile.]†
- My anger and anxiety have risen now that my favorite easel rests halfway down a crocodile's gullet. I had set to paint at the edge of Bogmother -- clearly well within the town's threshold -- and was finishing some preliminary sketches (now lost) when something lurched up from the stagnant water at me: As long as two men are tall, this sharp-fanged fiend immediately went for me with amazing speed. A lengthy snout and thick teeth clamped the air where my leg had been. Paints, brushes, and parchments went flying. Lonely-Spines was indisposed as the latrines, so I fended off the two snapping attacks with a hodgepodge of dexterity and panicked screaming. Than I force-fed the beast my art stand until it slithered off. How can the lizard-folk put up with such attacks, practically in a citified area? Why are there no town guards?
- I refocused my sketching efforts and wasted no time inspecting the ruins of Bogmother still further. The ruins are both immense and rambling, and I can almost hear the rasping cries of Lonely-Spines' ancestors echoing off the cenotaphs and barbicans. As Lonely-Spines puts it, "My forebears still whisper here, like the swaying marsh reeds at Last Seed." Most glorious of all this carved stone is the dominating stepped pyramid, or "Xanmeer." The entire area is "Xal," or "sacred" in the rasping tongue.
- [Elevation of one of the Pyramids - solidly built, it's no wonder they're still standing]†
- [A former Fleshfly - I got the little bastard!]
- We were now deep in the mucky wilderness of Shadowfen. As I applied ointment to lessen my chafing, I remembered reading about the legendary Argonian hatching pools. I inquired further.
- "We are quite close. One is only as far as the territory of a crocodile. But Lonely-Spines thinks you may return with despoilers. There is no moisture in this choice." The help, it seemed, was acting up again.
- "Look, I've already traded a Tu'whacca prayer wheel -- a genuine one, mind you -- for services beyond your remit. You've had my coin and companionship. I've even endured your nature allegories. We journey to the Hist tree at once."
- "I am dry with vexation about your choice," came the reply through a curled-up snout.
- "Then wet your feet as we wade to our destination," I replied, tossing him a few more coins. We were soon splashing our way to the most sacred glade of Black Marsh.
- "Xuth. Intruder." An Argonian Keeper guarding the perimeter of the pools raised his voice and his spines at me. He made invocations to the mire, and it began to churn beneath his feet. Out of the marsh came a cloud of what looked to be strange spores that circled around the Keeper's head. I hastened a necessary retreat. Thankfully the Keeper turned his attention to Lonely-Spines and said, "Eventually we all feed the roots of the Tree. Is it your turn?"
- Moments later, my Argonian escort had fallen to his knees, writhing in a storm of spores.
- Again, you must pardon my recollection at this point. I was confused, worried for my own skin, and blundering in the dark. As Lonely-Spines was dragged away, I panicked and made for our previous camp. Failing to find the way, I staggered, bewildered in the dark.
- Next I saw a bluish, flickering light. I yelled for help and stumbled toward it. As I viewed the origin of the illumination, I leapt for drier land. This was no lantern, but an intermittent electrical discharge from the spine of a huge and gnarled lizard the size of a fallen tree. Luckily, Arkay failed to summon me. The dragon-thing was thrashing and gnashing at three of the largest wasps I'd ever seen.
- [Arkay, Stendarr, and Akatosh! Giant wasps! The size of ponies!]†
- Panic. Lost in the endless marshes. I felt the branding mark throb.
- The wasps halted their pursuit as I reached a strange and forlorn glade. I instinctively shivered as the moisture seeped into my bones. Bereft of warmth, I gazed at three dancing lights, strange wisps that flickered and darted about my quivering body. Then a figure. A wonderful, graceful female form, coalescing from these indistinct vapors. I reached out to her. She beckoned me to her. I obliged in my befuddlement, seeking an embrace. Her kind eyes...
- [The Alluring Wispmother - fortunately, I was Immune to her Seductions]†
- I clutched my chest brand as freezing pain seared through it. I watched the woman grimace, contort, and fall away into a twisted vision of snarling hate. Was I to die here? No. A high cackle vibrated between my ears. I half turned around to look for the source but knew the culprit already. Mannimarco was tormenting me even here. I shook my head but could not dull the dark puppeteer's laughter within my skull. I splashed deeper into the mire and despaired.
- [The Argonians call these "The Ample Serpents." I call them Giant Snakes]†
- [The Shrine of the Shadowscales - you can clearly see what they modeled it upon]†
- There was silence, then a rush of blood to my temples. I took a few unsteady but purposeful paces toward an embankment. I had found a strange shrine... to a serpent god? I had just begun to sketch when the biggest snake in Black Marsh darted toward me. I instinctively fled and, by Stendarr's mercy, scrambled to a pathway.
- I was catching my breath when two thin, cowled figures approached from out of the low mists. A scaly hand was held to my face.
- "Imperial slaver scout, you seek to tarnish our foliage with your mildew." This rasp was menacing. Red and black garb, and blades glinting off their torches in the early twilight. I half hoped the snake might arrive to aid me.
- "A simple mistake. I am Envoy-Scholar to the--"
- The hooded Argonian beckoned me to within a whisper's distance: "We know."
- "Then I demand you unhand me and--" An ebony blade appeared at my throat, and a second pointed decidedly lover. The Shadowscale responded with a hiss: "I have heard that if an Imperial loses an appendage, it does not grow back. Shall I test this?"
- [The Forbidden Enclave of the Shadowscales!]†
- I was traipsed back to Stormhold to answer for my supposed crimes. I should be thankful I wasn't murdered before the Shadowscales sought to substantiate my story. But Vicecanon Heita-Meen vouched for my good nature, and I was reluctantly given up, although there were no proper apologies and admonishments. Akatosh smite me if I've the inclination to visit further sodden sights in this dark and odorous sewage pit. I abandon Black Marsh with elation, for tomorrow I set out for Blackwood and across Cyrodiil.