Barenziah grew like a weed transplanted to a [[Lore:Skyrim|Skyrim]] garden, a ward of Count Sven and his wife Lady Inga. Outwardly she thrived but there was a cold and empty place within.▼
▲Barenziah grew like a weed transplanted to a [[Lore:Skyrim|Skyrim]] garden, a ward of Count Sven and his wife Lady Inga. Outwardly she thrived but there was a cold and empty place within.
"I've raised her as my own daughter," Lady Inga was wont to sigh when she sat gossiping with neighboring ladies come to visit, "But she's a [[Lore:Dunmer|dark elf]]. What can you expect?"
Once a month a courier came from the emperor, bringing a small bag of gold for Inga and Sven and a large bag of dried mushrooms from [[Lore:Morrowind|Morrowind]] for Barenziah's consumption. She was always made presentable, as presentable as a skinny dark elf girl could be made to look in Inga's eyes, and summoned into the courier's presence for a brief interview. The same courier seldom came twice, but all looked her over rather as a farmer looks over a pig he's readying for market. In the spring of her sixteenth year Barenziah thought the courier looked as if she were at last ready for market.
Upon reflection Barenziah decided that she did not wish to be marketed. The stable-boy, Straw, a big blond boy, clumsy, gentle, affectionate and rather simple, had been urging her to run off with him for some weeks. Barenziah stole the bag of gold the courier had left, took the mushrooms from the storeroom, dressed herself as a boy in some of twelve year old Timmy's casual clothing, and one fine spring night they took the two best horses and rode hard through the night toward Whiterun, the nearest city of any size, which was where Straw wanted to go.
But Morrowind also lay east and it drew Barenziah as a lodestone does iron. In the morning they abandoned the horses at Barenziah's insistence. She knew they would be missed and tracked, and she hoped to throw pursuers off the trail. They continued afoot until late afternoon, keeping to side roads, then slept for several hours in an abandoned hut. They went on at dusk and came to the Whiterun city gates just before dawn.
Barenziah had prepared a pass for Straw, stating an errand to a temple in the city for a local village lord. She herself sneaked over the wall with the help of her levitation spell. She had reasoned that by now the gate guards would have been alerted to look for a young dark elf and a Nord boy traveling together, but country boys like Straw were common enough. Alone and with papers, he would be unlikely to draw their attention.
Her simple plan went smoothly. She met Straw at the temple, which was not far from the gate. She had been to Whiterun on a few previous occasions. Straw, however, had never been more than a few miles from Sven's estate, his birthplace. Together they made their way to a run-down inn in the poor quarter of Whiterun. Gloved, cloaked and hooded against the chill of the morning, her dark skin and red eyes were not apparent and no one paid any attention to them. They entered the inn separately. Sven paid the host for a single room, a large meal and a jug of ale, and Barenziah sneaked in a few minutes later. They ate and drank together gleefully, celebrating their escape, made love vigorously on the narrow bed, then fell into an exhausted sleep.
Peasant! Barenziah thought scornfully. Straw was a peasant and had peasant dreams. But all she said was, "Not here, Straw, we're too close to Darkmoor still. We'll have more chances farther east."
The caravan went only as far east as Sunguard. [[Lore:Tiber Septim|Tiber Septim]] had done much in the way of building relatively safe patrolled highways, but his tolls were steep, and this particular caravan kept to the side roads as much as possible to avoid them. This exposed them to the hazards of robber barons, both human and
orcish, and roving bands of brigands of various races, but such were the perils of trade and profit.
They had two such encounters before reaching Sunguard, an ambush which Barenziah's keen ears detected in plenty of time for them to circle about and surprise the lurkers, and a night attack by a mixed band of
Khajiiti, humans and wood elves. The latter were a skilled band and even Barenziah did not hear them sneaking up in time to give much warning.
The fighting was fierce. The attackers were driven off, but two of the caravan's guards were killed, and Straw got a nasty cut on his thigh before he and Barenziah killed his
[[Lore:Khajiit |Khajiit]] assailant.
Barenziah rather enjoyed the life. The garrulous sergeant had taken a liking to her, and she spent most of her evenings sitting around a campfire listening to his tales of campaigning in Morrowind with Tiber Septim and Symmachus. Symmachus had been made a general after [[Lore:Mournhold|Mournhold]] fell, the sergeant said. "He's a fine soldier, Symmachus is, but there was more than soldiery involved in Morrowind, if you take my drift. Well, you know about that, I expect."
"I don't remember," Barenziah said, "I've mostly lived in Skyrim. My mother married a Skyrim man. They're both dead, though. What happened to the lord and lady of Mournhold?"
The sergeant shrugged, "I never heard. Dead, I expect. All Morrowind's under military rule now. It's pretty quiet. Maybe too quiet. Like a calm before a storm. You going back there?"
Barenziah stood atop the city walls and stared across the deep gorge that separated Riften from the snow-clad mountain wall of Morrowind beyond. "Berry," Straw said gently, "Mournhold's a long way off yet, nearly as far as we've come already, and the lands between are wild, full of wolves and bandits and orcs and still worse creatures. We'll have to wait for spring."
"There's Silgrod Tower," Berry said, referring to the Dark Elf town that had grown up around the ancient tower that guarded the border between
[[Lore:Skyrim |Skyrim]] and Morrowind.
"The bridge guards won't let me across, Berry. They're crack [[Lore:Imperial|Imperial]] troops. They can't be bribed. If you go, you go alone. I won't try to stop you. But what will you do? Silgrod Tower is full of Imperial troops. Will you become a washerwoman for them? A camp follower?"
"No," Barenziah said thoughtfully. Actually the idea was not entirely unappealing. She was sure that she could earn a modest living by sleeping with the soldiers for money. She'd had a few adventures of that sort as they crossed Skyrim, when she'd dressed as a woman and slipped away from Straw. She'd only been looking for a bit of variety. Straw was sweet but dull. She'd been startled, but pleased when the men she picked up offered her money afterwards.