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No one in Kvatch, the Gold Coast, or the shattered remnants of the Empire demonstrates more devotion and piety than Artorius Ponticus, the Primate of Akatosh—and he'll be the first to point this out to you if you aren't savvy enough to see the holy truth for yourself. But how did so humble an individual achieve such an august position in the religious hierarchy? For that tale, we need to go back to where Artorius first turned to Akatosh for guidance and strength—on the streets of the Imperial City in 2E 542.
The fourth son of the wealthy Ancrus family, Artorius grew up without a clear place in the world. His eldest brother was being groomed to take control of the family's major holdings throughout the core of the Empire, while the brother that was next in line was being trained to care for the family's distant holdings in Hammerfell. The third son, Angelus, was already a young officer in the Imperial Legion with a promising military career ahead of him. By tradition, that left a life in service to the Divines as the natural path for Artorius to follow. Unfortunately, young Artorius was about as spiritual and devout as the proverbial lusty Argonian maid of song and legend. He wanted nothing to do with prayer and sacrifice.
Instead, young Artorius found himself drawn to two dangerous preoccupations: first, he was fascinated with events happening in the Breton kingdoms, specifically the ongoing battles between Emeric of Wayrest and Durcorach of the Reach. He scoured Imperial City for anyone who could tell him more about what was happening there, and usually found them in the most unsavory sections of the city. Second, he started to run with employees of the notorious crime boss, Vodunius Monrius, much to the chagrin of his father and older brothers. And it wasn't long before he was carrying messages and taking on other errands for Vodunius and his lieutenants.
Never one to miss an opportunity to teach a lesson, Primate Artorius speaks candidly about this dark time in his past. "I was full of fury and vinegar back then," he said with a laugh when I interviewed him while researching this book. "I was angry and without direction, looking for something, but I didn't know what it was. That's a recipe for either finding your passion or losing your way. Lucky for me, Akatosh had a plan."
That plan, the Primate believes, began on a day much like most during that period of young Artorius's life. He started his rounds for the crime boss, collecting gold from the various merchants and artisans working in and around the Market District. The daily tithe was something of a sacred ritual for both those who were forced to pay the price and those who gathered the gold that filled Vodunius's coffers. Artorius was just one of a dozen young men and women who did odd jobs for the crime boss and his lieutenants, but he relished his role and the excitement that accompanied it. At least, he did until the inevitable occurred.
When Artorius entered the shop of the Khajiiti baker, Sticky Paws, he found more waiting for him than the gold he expected to collect for Vodunius's daily tithe. Four officers of the city's Guard were on hand, ready to arrest the young noble and end his recently started life of crime. "Your father is greatly disappointed in you, Artorius," the Guard Captain said. "You've broken the laws of the Empire, if that gold in your pouch is any indication. You haven't left us with many options."
At that moment, when he should have been frightened and anxious, Artorius could only manage to conjure up a single emotion—he hated his father with an intensity that burned as hot as Sticky Paws' ovens. The officer of the Guard explained that they could bring the full weight of the law down upon Artorius and toss him in a dungeon cell for a year and a day, or they could come up with a way for him to make amends for the crimes he had committed, but Artorius could barely hear over the pounding of his own blood.
"As a favor to your father," the officer decided, "we'll go with the latter. A year with the priests of the Divines should help set you back on the straight and narrow." And just like that, Artorius found himself back in the grasp of a destiny he had tried so hard to avoid. He was sent to perform penance with the priests at the Temple of the Divines.
The Temple of the Divines was the last place Artorius Ancrus ever expected to wind up. But as the year 2E 542 was drawing to a close, that's exactly where the young Imperial found himself. He was serving penance for crimes committed while working for the crime boss Vodunius in Imperial City. Thanks to his father's wealth and influence, Artorius avoided a dungeon cell. As for serving in the temple, he was sure that was his dear father's idea.
As the fourth son, Artorius had been promised to serve the Divines, and despite the young man's best efforts to avoid that fate, it seemed he was destined for a religious life. "I'll serve my year and a day," Artorius told the priest who was his jailer and would become his mentor, Ilavius Alfeno, "but after that I'm out of here." The old priest just bowed and began to introduce his charge to religious life.
Artorius's life at the temple became a daily mix of opposing states of activity, from frenzied labor to stillness bordering on inertia. Given an endless array of chores that included cleaning, food preparation, and helping to care for the shrines of the Divines filled each day, punctuated by periods of study, meditation, and prayer, Artorius was soon too busy to maintain his anger at his father. And once his anger subsided, he began to actually hear the words of the priests and learn the tenets of the Divines.
For someone who wanted nothing to do with religion, Artorius quickly became fascinated with the tales and tenets of the Divines. From Arkay to Dibella, Stendarr to Julianos, he visited every shrine in turn and questioned the priests endlessly about their holy sphere and rituals. Of all the Divines, however, the one that seemed to attain a special place in Artorius's imagination was Akatosh, the Dragon God of Time. Perhaps it was Akatosh's place at the head of the pantheon that first attracted Artorius. Or maybe the qualities associated with him, or the tales related to his role as the god-defender of the Empire. Whatever the impetus, the young noble appeared to have found his faith.
When Jonas Coventine, Primate of Akatosh, arrived for his annual visit from Kvatch, he took an immediate liking to the young Artorius. After leading the temple in worship, the Primate invited Artorius to a private meeting. Neither Jonas nor Artorius ever revealed the details of the meeting, but shortly after that audience, Artorius pledged himself to the Divines. When his probation was over, he took the vows of the priesthood and devoted himself to serving Akatosh.
After Akatosh "called him out of obscurity," as Primate Artorius has explained numerous times over the years, the young man became a priest of the Divines. He continued to serve in the temple, learning more and more as he split his time among the eight shrines that made up the holy place. His work and dedication, along with his increasing reputation for performing good works, once again brought him to the attention of Primate Jonas of Kvatch.
Artorius longed to be assigned to the Cathedral of Akatosh in Kvatch. He had heard tales of the "grand palace of the Dragon God" and believed there was no other place in all of Tamriel where he could best serve and worship Akatosh. He set out to get the posting, using every avenue at his disposal to make himself enticing to the high priests and the Primate of the Cathedral. In the end, it was the event that came to be called "the Miracle of the First Shrine" that did the trick.
As the story has it, when Casiras the Hunter brought his young son to the temple, the shaft of an arrow jutting from his chest, Priest Artorius immediately went to his aid. Artorius led the grieving father to Akatosh's shrine, and even though the child had clearly been killed by the terrible wound, he began to pray. According to reports, Artorius prayed for three straight days, never pausing to eat, or drink, or even sleep. At the end of the third day, the priest began to speak rapidly in a tongue that no one in the temple could understand. Then, it is said, a burst of brilliant light emanated from the shrine. It struck Artorius and flowed through his body, down his arms, and into his hands before passing on to the dead boy. When the glow subsided, the arrow was gone, the wound was healed, and the child was alive. Everyone said that Akatosh had answered Artorius's prayers.
Word of this reputed miracle spread like wildfire throughout the Empire, quickly reaching the ear of Primate Jonas. He decided that if Akatosh was indeed performing miracles through one of his priests, then that priest needed to be at the Cathedral in Kvatch. Soon, Artorius was at the Cathedral, never far from the Primate's side, taking in his words the way a Nord consumes mead. In time, Artorius rose through the hierarchy of the Cathedral, eventually becoming Grand Sermonizer of Akatosh, second only to the Primate of Kvatch himself.
It was during this latter period that the relationship between the Primate and his Grand Sermonizer began to become strained. Artorius wanted the clergy to become more involved in the growing political unrest spreading throughout the Empire, as well as with the increasing threat of the Knahaten Flu. Jonas, for his part, wanted the Cathedral to remain aloof from secular concerns. The two argued constantly about the subject, finally getting to the point where the Primate was prepared to put an end to the disagreement through any means at his disposal—including sending the Grand Sermonizer to a distant posting.
Before the Primate could carry out his threat, however, he suddenly died under what some believe to be suspicious circumstances. Whispered rumors throughout the streets of Kvatch intimated that the Primate had been murdered—perhaps even by assassins connected to the Dark Brotherhood or some other clandestine organization. After all, the Primate had been preaching about the evils of Daedric cults and similar organizations, and specifically called out the Brotherhood as a pox upon the Gold Coast. Whatever the truth, Jonas's death opened the door for Artorius to advance even higher within the hierarchy.
Artorius Ancrus was elected to the post of Primate of Kvatch. He changed his name to Artorius Ponticus and has been a stabilizing force in the region for most of the last decade.