Mannimarco, King of Worms

O sacred isle Artaeum, where rosy light infuses air,
O’er towers and through flowers, gentle breezes flow,
Softly sloping green-kissed cliffs to crashing foam below,
Always springtide afternoon housed within its border,
This mystic, mist-protected home of the Psijic Order:
Those counselors of kings, cautious, wise, and fair.

Ten score years and thirty since the mighty Remans fell,
Two brilliant students studied within the Psijics’ fold.
One’s heart was light and warm, the other dark and cold.
The madder latter, Mannimarco, whirled in a deathly dance,
His soul in bones and worms, the way of the necromance.
Entrapping and enslaving souls, he cast a wicked spell.

The former, Galerion had magic bold and bright as day.
He confronted Mannimarco beneath gray Ceporah Tower,
Saying, ‘Your wicked mysticism is no way to wield your power,
Bringing horror to the spirit world, your studies must cease.’
Mannimarco scoffed, hating well the ways of life and peace,
And returned to his dark artistry; his paints, death and decay.

O sacred isle Artaeum, how slow to perceive the threat,
When the ghastly truth revealed, how weak the punishment.
The ghoulish Mannimarco from the isle of the wise was sent
To the mainland Dawn’s Beauty, more death and souls to reap.
‘You have found a wolf, and sent the beast to flocks of sheep,’
Galerion told his Masters, ‘A terror on Tamriel has set.

Speak no more of him,’ the sage Cloaks of Gray did say.
‘Twas not the first time Galerion thought his Masters callous,
Unconcerned for men and mer, aloof in their island palace.
‘Twas not the first time Galerion thought ’twas time to build
A new Order to bring true magic to all, a mighty Mages Guild.
But ’twas the time he left, at last, fair Artaeum’s azure bay.

O, but sung we have of Vanus Galerion many times before,
How cast he off the Psijics’ chains, bringing magic to the land.
Throughout the years, he saw the touch of Mannimarco’s hand,
Through Tamriel’s deserts, forests, towns, mountains, and seas.
The dark grip stretching out, growing like some dread disease
By his dark Necromancers, collecting cursed artifacts of yore.

They brought to him these tools, mad wizards and witches,
And brought blood-tainted herbs and oils to his cave of sin,
Sweet Akaviri poison, dust from saints, sheafs of human skin,
Toadstools, roots, and much more cluttered his alchemical shelf,
Like a spider in his web, he sucked all their power into himself,
Mannimarco, Worm King, world’s first of the undying liches.

Corruption on corruption, ’til the rot sunk to his very core,
Though he kept the name Mannimarco, his body and his mind
Were but a living, moving corpse as he left humanity behind.
The blood in his veins became instead a poison acid stew.
His power and his life increased as his fell collection grew .
Mightiest were these artifacts, long cursed since days of yore.

They say Galerion left the Guild, calling it ‘a morass,’
But untruth is a powerful stream, polluting the river of time.
Galerion beheld Mannimarco’s rise through powers sublime,
To his mages and Lamp Knights, ‘Before my last breath,
Face I must the tyranny of worms, and kill at last, undeath.’
He led them north to cursed lands, to a mountain pass.

O those who survived the battle say its like was never seen.
Armored with magicka, armed with ensorcelled sword and axe,
Galerion cried, echoing, ‘Worm King, surrender your artifacts,
And their power to me, and you shall live as befits the dead.’
A hollow laugh answered, ‘You die first,’ Mannimarco said.
The mage army then clashed with the unholy force obscene.

Imagine waves of fire and frost, and the mountain shivers,
Picture lightning arching forth, crackling in a dragon’s sigh.
Like leaves, the battlemages fly to rain down from the sky,
At the Necromancers’ call, corpses burst from earth to fight,
To be shattered into nothingness with a flood of holy light.
A maelstrom of energy unleashed, blood cascades in rivers.

Like a thunderburst in blue skies or a lion’s sudden roar,
Like sharp razors tearing over delicate embroidered lace,
So at a touch did Galerion shake the mountain to its base.
The deathly horde fell fatally, but heeding their dying cries
From the depths, the thing they called Worm King did rise.
Nirn itself did scream in the Mages’ and Necromancers’ war.

His eyes burning dark fire, he opened his toothless maw,
Vomiting darkness with each exhalation of his breath,
All sucking in the fetid air felt the icy touch of death.
In the skies above the mountain, darkness overcame pale,
Then Mannimarco Worm King felt his dismal powers fail:
The artifacts of death pulled from his putrid skeletal claw.

A thousand good and evil perished then, history confirms.
Among, alas, Vanus Galerion, he who showed the way,
It seemed once that Mannimarco had truly died that day.
Scattered seemed the Necromancers, wicked, ghastly fools,
Back to the Mages Guild, victors kept the accursed tools,
Of him, living still in undeath, Mannimarco, King of Worms.

Children, listen as the shadows cross your sleeping hutch,
And the village sleeps away, streets emptied of the crowds,
And the moons do balefully glare through the nightly clouds,
And the graveyard’s people rest, we hope, in eternal sleep,
Listen and you’ll hear the whispered tap of the footsteps creep,
Then pray you’ll never feel the Worm King’s awful touch.

Herbalist’s Guide to Skyrim

Those avoiding this northern province due to claims of barbarism or concerns over climate are doing themselves a disservice; in fact Skyrim has a wealth of materials that every Alchemist would do well to avail himself of. I have traveled extensively throughout this land, and here are but a few of my findings.

Bleeding Crown

The caps of these mushrooms do indeed appear smeared with blood, though it is often hard to see in the dark, damp places in which they grow. Not uncommonly found in Skyrim, their abundance is countered by the difficulty in acquiring them. As any experienced herbalist knows, the darkest of caves often conceal far more than mere mushrooms.

Nonetheless, these potent fungi, when combined with certain powdered antlers, produce a mixture rendering one quite susceptible to poison. Their usefulness is also quite apparent when mixed with lavender, creating a substance highly resistant to magic.


Folklore abounds about this flower found in the swamps of Hjaalmarch. Some stories claim it grows where unfortunate deaths have taken place, others insist it grows first and then lures unsuspecting people and animals to their doom. I have found no direct evidence to support these stories; indeed I found the flowers difficult to locate at all. While it is most well known for its use in poisons, it would be remiss to overlook that the blooms of the deathbell are very effective in mixtures for boosting one [sic] Alchemy skill.


A surprising number of insects survive in Skyrim’s climate, many thriving in the lower, southern areas of the province. Dragonflies can be found in a great many places, and while catching them can be a daunting prospect, the reward is well worth the effort. It was beyond the scope of my research to determine whether the orange and blue dragonflies are fully different breeds or merely simple color variations, but through experimentation, I found that the orange dragonfly, when combined with the very hardy barnacles found along the coast, transfer some of their flighty nature, giving the herbalist some very nimble fingers.

Hagraven Claw

The claws of a hagraven are best obtained in shops; it is inadvisable to suggest one collects them oneself. These creatures have traded in their humanity for access to powerful magics, and the transformations they undergo infuse their entire beings with some element of that power. Ingesting the powdered claws makes one more resistant to magic, but an especially curious property of the claws is revealed when mixed with snowberries (often found in Skyrim’s higher elevations). I found myself capable of comprehending enchantments I had believed mystifying after ingesting the mixture, and have passed the knowledge on to several court wizards who were grateful for the knowledge.


There was a time when it would be considered treason to pick one of these grapes without express permission from the Emperor himself. It is my understanding that although growers in Skyrim were successful in improving the fruit’s survivability, it came at the cost of flavor. No longer is it quite the prize it once was. And yet, growing amidst the volcanic tundra of Eastmarch, it is still immensely useful for concocting potions. Mages value it highly as it can be combined with simple garlic to enhance the regeneration of magicka. While no longer against the law, picking these grapes in large amounts is best kept to oneself.

Luna Moth Wing

As with the dragonflies, I was taken aback by the number of butterflies, moths, and other insects that manage to thrive in Skyrim. The Luna moth is especially beautiful; its thin, almost ephemeral wings seem too delicate to hoist anything into the air, giving them an almost magical appearance. Indeed, that sense extends to the properties they exhibit when crushed and distilled (an action I admit was difficult to perform at first, no matter my resolve to discover all that Skyrim has to offer. These creatures are simply that beautiful!) While they can be used for creating poisons that damage magicka, I feel that would be a waste of their potential. Do not be alarmed if, when the wings are broken down almost completely, they appear to almost disappear under your mortar. That very quality makes the wings quite effective in potions of invisibility!

Tundra Cotton

Not all Nords are savages wrapped in animal skins, howling at the moon. There are a wide variety of fabrics worn throughout the land, thanks in no small part to the stubborn Tundra Cotton plant. It soaks up what rain it can in the plains west of Whiterun, and blooms frequently. When it does not exhibit any of the more striking alchemical properties, it is a staple in potions for not only fortifying magicka, but for resisting spells as well. I wonder what quality is what allows it to have adapted so well to this climate.


The name and shape of this plant are known to all; long understood to be one of the more potent components in many poisons, the average Nord keeps his distance from the bright purple flowers nestled among dark leaves. It is exceedingly effective as a pure poison, but can also be combined with other compounds to stiffen joints as well. It is thus favored amongst those who wish to disable their opponents in battle, and can be found coating the blades of many of the more unsavory characters in Skyrim.

De Rerum Dirennis



Vorian Direnni

I am six-hundred-and-eleven years old. I have never had children of my own, but I have many nieces and nephews and cousins who have been raised with the tales and traditions of our ancient, illustrious, and occasionally notorious clan, the Direnni. Few families in Tamriel can boast so many famous figures, wielding so much power over the fate of so many. Our warriors and kings are stuff of legend, and it is not to dismiss their honor and their achievements to say you have heard quite enough about them.

I myself have never picked up a sword or written an important law, but I am part of a lesser known but still important Direnni tradition: the way of the wizard. My own autobiography would be of little interest to posterity — though my nephew, nieces, and cousins indulge me to tell wild tales of life in the chaotic Second Era of Tamriel — but I have a few ancestors whose stories should be told. They may have changed history as we know it as dramatically as my better known relatives, but their names are in danger of being forgotten.

Most recently, Lysandus, the King of Daggerfall, was able to conquer his ancient enemies of Sentinel in part thanks to his court sorceress, Medora Direnni. Her grandfather Jovron Direnni wasImperial Battlemage to the court of the Dunmer Empress of Tamriel, Katariah, assisting her in creating peace in a time of turmoil. His great great grandfather Pelladil Direnni had a similar role with the first Potentate, and encouraged the Guild Act without which we would not have all the professional organizations we have today. His ancestor, many times back, was the witch Raven Direnni, who with her better known cousins Aiden and Ryain, brought an end to the tyranny of the latter Alessian Empire. Before the Psijics of Artaeum, it is said, she created the art of enchantment, learning how to bind a soul into a gem and use that to ensorcel all manners of weaponry.

But it is the story of an ancestor even more ancient, more distant than Raven I wish to tell.

Asliel Direnni harkens back to the humble beginnings of our clan, in the tiny farming village of Tyrigel on the banks of the river Caomus which was then called the Diren, hence the family name. Like all on Summurset Isle in those days, he was a simple planter of the fields. But while others only grew enough to sustain their immediate kin, even distant cousins of the Dirennis worked together. They would decide as a group which fields were best for wheat, orchard, vine, livestock, or apiary, and thereby always have the best yields of any farm which worked alone, doing the best as it could with what it had.

Asliel had a particularly poor farm for most kind of agriculture, but small herbs found its stony, loamless, acidic soil very comfortable. Out of necessity more than anything else he became an expert on all manners of herbs. For the most part, of course, they were used in flavoring cooking, but as you know, hardly any plant grows on the surface of our world without a magickal potential.

Even so long ago, witches already were in existence. It would be ridiculous for me to suggest that Asliel Direnni invented alchemy. What he did, what we can all be grateful for, is that he formulated it into an art and science.

There were no witches’ covens in Tyrigel, and, of course, there would be no Mages Guild yet for thousands of years, so people would come to him for cures. He learned for himself the exact formula for combining black lichen and roobrush to create a cure for all manners of poison, and the amount of willow anther to crush and mix with chokeweed to cure diseases.

There were few much greater threats in Tyrigel in those peaceful days than disease or accidental poisonings. Yes, there were some dark forces in the wilderness, trolls, chimera, the occasional malevolent fairy folk and Will-O-The-Wisp, but even the youngest, most foolish Altmer knew how to avoid them. There were, however, a few unusual threats which Asliel had a hand in defeating.

One of the tales told of him that I believe to be true is how he was brought a young niece who had been suffering from an unknown disease. Despite his ministrations, she grew weaker and weaker every morning. Finally, he gave her a bitter tasting drink, and the next morning, ashes were found all around her bed. A vampire had been feeding on the poor girl, but Asliel’s potion had turned her very blood into poison, without harming her in the least.

If only this formula had not been lost in the mists of history!

This would have been enough to make him a minor but significant figure in the annals of early Summurset, but at that point in history, a barbarian tribe called the Locvar had found their way down the Diren River, and recognized Tyrigel as a rich target for raids. The Direnni, not being warriors yet but simple farmers, were helpless and could only flee and watch the Locvar take the best of their crops, raid after raid.

Asliel, however, had been experimenting with the vampire dust, and brought his cousins to him with a plan. The next time the Locvar were sighted on the Diren, the word went out and all the most able-bodied came to Asliel’s laboratory. When the barbarians arrived in Tyrigel, they found the farms deserted, and assumed that all had fled as usual. As they set about stealing the bounty, they suddenly found themselves under attack by invisible forces. Believing the Direnni farms to be haunted, they ran away very quickly.

They attempted a few more raids, for their greed would always eventually overpower their fear, and each time, they were set upon by attackers who they could not see. As barbaric as they were, they were not stupid, and they changed their mind about the source of their defeat. It could not be that the farms were haunted, because the crops were still being tended and harvested, and the animals seemed to show no fear. The Locvar decided to send a scout to the farm to see if he could spy their secrets.

The scout sent word back to the Locvar that the Direnni farms were populated with flesh and blood, entirely visible Altmer. He continued to watch as his barbarian cohorts moved down the river, and he saw the elderly and children flee for the hills, while the able-bodied farmers and their wives went to Asliel’s laboratory. He saw them go in; he saw no one come out.

As usual, the Locvar were repelled by invisible forces, but their scout soon told them what he saw happening in the laboratory.

The next night, two of the Locvar approached Asliel’s farm very stealthily, and managed to kidnap him without alerting the rest of the Direnni. The Locvar chieftain, knowing that the farmers could no longer count on the alchemist to make them invisible, considered an immediate attack on the farms. But he was a vengeful sort, and felt he had been humiliated by these simple farmers. A crafty plan emerged in his mind. What if the Direnni, who always saw his barbarian tribe coming, for once did not? Imagine the slaughter if no one even had a chance to flee.

The scout had told the chieftain that Asliel had used the dust of a vampire to make the farmers invisible, but he was not sure what the other ingredient had been. He described an incandescent powder that Asliel had mixed into the dust. Asliel, of course, refused to help the Locvar, but they were experts in torture as well as pillage, and he knew he would have to talk or die.

Finally after hours of torture, he agreed to tell them what the incandescent powder was. He did not know the name, but he called it “Glow Dust,” the only remains of a slain Will-O-The-Wisp. He told them they would need a lot of it if they wanted to turn the whole tribe invisible for the raid.

The Locvar grumbled that not only did they have to find and kill a vampire to attain his dust, but find and kill several Will-O-The-Wisps to get theirs. In a few days time, they came back with the ingredients the alchemist asked for. The chieftain, not being a complete idiot, made Asliel taste the potion first. He did as he was told and turned invisible, demonstrating that it did truly work. The chieftain put him to work creating more. No one apparently noticed that while he did, he was nibbling on black lichen and roobrush.

The Locvar took the potion as he doled it out, and soon, but not too soon that they didn’t suffer, they were all dead.

The scout who had seen Asliel mixing the invisibility potion had apparently mistook the glow of the candlelight in the laboratory for an incandescence which the second ingredient of the invisibility potion did not possess. The second ingredient was actually dull, simple redwort, one of the most common herbs in Tamriel. When they had insisted during torture that Asliel tell them what the incandescent powder was, Asliel remembered that he had once experimentally mixed glow dust and vampire dust together once and created a powerful poison. It was simple enough to steal a little redwort from the barbarian’s camp, mix that with the vampire and glow dust mixture, and create a potion that was in fact an invisibility poison. After curing himself, he gave the poison to the barbarians.

The Locvar, being dead, never again raided the Direnni farms, and having no other enemies, they were able to grow more and more prosperous and powerful. Generations later, they left Summurset and began their historic adventures on the Tamriel mainland. Asliel Direnni, because of his excellence as an alchemist, was invited to Artaeum and became a Psijic. It is not known how many more of the common formulas we know today were invented by him there, but I have no doubt, the science and art of alchemy as we know it today would not exist without him.

But that is all in the distant past. Asliel’s innovations, like my modest ones, like the achievements of the Dirennis throughout history, are but a stepping stone to the wonders which will come in the future. I wish I could be there to witness them, but if I can only share some of the past with the children of Direnni and the children of Tamriel, then I will consider my life well spent.

A Game at Dinner

Forward From The Publisher:

The history behind this letter is almost as interesting and dark as the story it tells. The original letter to the mysterious Dhaunayne was copied and began circulating around the Ashlands of Vvardenfell a few months ago. In time, a print found its way to the mainland and Prince Hlaalu Helseth’s palace outside Almalexia. While the reader may conclude after reading this letter that the Prince would be furious about such a work, impugning his highness with great malevolence, quite the reverse was true. The Prince and his mother, Queen Barenziah, had it privately printed into bound copies and sent to libraries and booksellers throughout Morrowind.

As matter of record, the Prince and the Queen have not officially stated whether the letter is a work of pure imagination or based on an actual occurrence. The House Dres has publicly denounced the work, and indeed, no one named Dhaunayne, despite the suggestions in the letter, has ever been linked to the house. We leave the reader to interpret the letter as he or she believes.

— Nerris Gan, Publisher


Dark Liege Dhaunayne,

You asked for a detailed description of my experience last night and the reasons for my plea to House Dres for another assignment. I hope I have served you well in my capacity as informant in the court of Prince Helseth, a man who I have stated in many previous reports could teach Molag Bal how to scheme. As you know, I’ve spent nearly a year now working my way into his inner circle of advisors. He was in need of friendship when he first arrived in Morrowind and eagerly took to me and a few others. Still, he was disinclined to trust any of us, which is perhaps not surprising, given his tenuous position in Morrowind society.

For your unholiness’s recollection, the Prince is the eldest son of Barenziah, who was once the Queen of Morrowind and once the Queen of the High Rock kingdom of Wayrest. At the death of her husband, Prince Helseth’s stepfather, King Eadwyre, there was a power struggle between the Prince and Eadwyre’s daughter, the Princess Elysana. Though details of what transpired are imperfect, it is clear that Elysana won the battle and became Queen, banishing Helseth and Barenziah. Barenziah’s only other child, Morgiah, had already left court to marry and become Queen of the Summurset Isle kingdom of Firsthold.

Barenziah and Helseth crossed the continent to return to Morrowind only last year. They were well received by Barenziah’s uncle, our current king, Hlaalu Athyn Llethan, who had taken the throne after Barenziah’s abdication more than forty years ago. Barenziah made it clear that she had no designs on reclaiming the throne, but merely to retire to her family estates. Helseth, as you know, has lingered in the royal court, and many have whispered that while he lost the throne of Wayrest, he does not intend to lose the throne of Morrowind at Llethan’s death.

I’ve kept your unholiness informed of the Prince’s movements, meetings, and plots, as well as the names and characters of his other advisors. As you may recall, I’ve often thought that I was not the only spy in Helseth’s court. I told you before that a particular Dunmer counselor of Helseth looked like a fellow I had seen in the company of Tholer Saryoni, the Archcanon of the Tribunal Temple. Another, a young Nord woman, has been verified to visit the Imperial fortress in Balmora. Of course, in their cases, they might well have been on Helseth’s own business, but I couldn’t be certain. I had begun to think myself paranoid as the Prince himself when I found myself doubting the sincere loyalty of the Prince’s chamberlain, Burgess, a Breton who had been in his employ since his days in the court of Wayrest.

That is the background on that night, last night.

Yesterday morning, I received a curt invitation to dine with the Prince. Based only on my own paranoia, I dispatched one of my servants, who is a good and loyal servant of the House Dres, to watch the palace and report back anything unusual. Just before dinner, he returned and told me what he had witnessed.

A man cloaked in rags had been given entrance into the palace, and had stayed there for some time. When he left, my servant saw his face beneath the cloak—an alchemist of infamous repute, said to be a leading suppliers of exotic poisons. A fine observer, my servant also noticed that the alchemist entered the palace smelling of wickwheat, bittergreen, and something alien and sweet. When he left, he was odorless.

He had come to the same conclusion as I did. The Prince had procured ingredients to prepare a poison. Bittergreen alone is deadly when eaten raw, but the other ingredients suggested something far deeper. As your unholiness can doubtless imagine, I went to dinner that night, prepared for any eventuality.

All of Prince Helseth’s other counselors were in attendance, and I noticed that all were slightly apprehensive. Of course, I imagined that I was in a nest of spies, and all knew of the Prince’s mysterious meeting. It is just as likely that some knew of the alchemist’s visit, while others were simply concerned by the nature of the Prince’s invitation, and still others merely unconsciously adopted the tense disposition of their fellow, better informed counselors.

The Prince, however, was in fine mettle and soon had everyone relaxed and at ease. At nine, we were all ushered into his dining hall where the feast had been laid out. And what a feast! Honeyed gorapples, fragrant stews, roasts in various blood sauces, and every variety of fish and fowl expertly and ostentatiously prepared. Crystal and gold flagons of wine, flin, shein, and matze were at our seats to be savored as appropriate with each course. As tantalizing as the aromas were, it occurred to me that in such a maze of spices and flavors, a discreet poison would be undetectable.

Throughout the meal, I maintained the illusion of eating the food and drinking the liquor, but I was surreptitious and swallowed nothing. Finally, the plates and food were cleared from the table, and a tureen of a spicy broth was placed in the center of the banquet. The servant who brought it then retired, closing the banquet hall door behind him.

“It smells divine, my Prince,” said the Marchioness Kolgar, the Nord woman. “But I cannot eat another thing.”

“Your Highness,” I added, feigning a tone of friendliness and slight intoxication. “You know that every one at this table would gladly die to put you on the throne of Morrowind, but is it really necessary that we gorge ourselves to death?”

The others at the table agreed with appreciative groans. Prince Helseth smiled. I swear by Vaernima the Gifter, my dark liege, even you have never seen a smile such as this one.

“Ironic words. You see, an alchemist visited me today, as some of you already doubtless know. He showed me how to make a marvelous poison and its antidote. A most potent potion, excellent for my purposes. No Restoration spell will aid you once you’ve ingested it. Only the antidote in the tureen will save you from certain death. And what a death, from what I’ve heard. I am eager to see if the effects are all that the alchemist promised. It should be horribly painful for the afflicted, but quite entertaining.”

No one said a word. I could feel my heart beating hard in my chest.

“Your Highness,” said Allarat, the Dunmer I suspected of alliance with the Temple. “Have you poisoned someone at this table?”

“You are very astute, Allarat,” said Prince Helseth, looking about the table, eying each of his advisors carefully. “Little wonder I value your counsel. As indeed I value all in this room. It would be perhaps easiest for me to say who I haven’t poisoned. I haven’t poisoned any who serve but one master, any whose loyalty to me is sincere. I haven’t poisoned any person who wants to see King Helseth on the throne of Morrowind. I haven’t poisoned anyone who isn’t a spy for the Empire, the Temple, the House of Telvanni, the House of Redoran, the House of Indoril, the House of Dres.”

Your unholiness, he looked directly at me at his last words. I know that in certainty. My face is practiced at keeping my thoughts from showing, but I immediately thought of every secret meeting I’ve had, every coded message I sent to you and the House, my dark liege. What could he know? What could he, even without knowing, suspect?

I felt my heart beating even faster. Was it fear, or poison? I couldn’t speak, certain as I was that my voice would betray my calm facade.

“Those loyal to me who wish harm on my enemies may be wondering how can I be certain that the poison has been ingested. Is it possible that the guilty party, or dare I say, parties were suspicious and merely pretended to eat and drink tonight? Of course. But even the craftiest of pretenders would have to raise a glass to his or her lips and put empty forks or spoons in their mouths to play the charade. The food, you see, was not poisoned. The cups and cutlery were. If you did not partake out of fear, you’re poisoned just the same, and sadly, missed an excellent roast.”

Sweat beaded on my face and I turned from the Prince so he would not see. My fellow advisors, all of them, were frozen in their seats. From the Marchioness Kolgar, white with fear, to Kema Inebbe, visibly shaking; from the furrowed, angry brow of Allarat to the statue-like stare of Burgess.

I couldn’t help thinking then, could the Prince’s entire counsellorship be comprised of nothing but spies? Was there any person at the table loyal? And then I thought, what if I were not a spy myself, would I trust Helseth to know that? No one knows better than his advisors both the depth of the Prince’s paranoia and the utter implacability of his ambition. If I were not a spy for the House Dres, even then would I be safe? Could a loyalist be poisoned because of a not-so-innocent misjudgment?

The others must have been thinking the same, loyalists and spies alike.

While my mind whirled, I could hear the Prince’s voice, addressing all assembled: “The poison acts quickly. If the antidote is not taken within one minute from now, there will be death at the table.”

I couldn’t decide whether I had been poisoned or not. My stomach ached, but I reminded myself it might have been the result of sitting at a sumptuous banquet and not partaking. My heart shook in my chest and a bitter taste like Trama Root stung my lips. Again, was it fear or poison?

“These are the last words you will hear if you are disloyal to me,” said Prince Helseth, still smiling that damned smile as he watched his advisors squirming in their seats. “Take the antidote and live.”

Could I believe him? I thought of what I knew of the Prince and his character. Would he kill a self-confessed spy at his court, or would he rather send the vanquished back to his masters? The Prince was ruthless, but either possibility was within his manner. Surely the theatricality of this whole dinner was meant to be a presentation to instill fear. What would my ancestors say if I joined them after sitting at a table, eventually dying of poison? What would they say if I took the antidote, confessing my allegiance to you and the House Dres, and was summarily executed? And, I confess, I thought of what you might to do me even after I was dead.

I had grown so light-headed and filled with my own thoughts, that I didn’t see Burgess jump from his seat. I was only suddenly aware that he had the tureen in his hands and was gulping down the liquid within. There were guards all around, though I never noticed them entering.

“Burgess,” said Prince Helseth, still smiling. “You have spent some time at Ghostgate. House Redoran?”

“You didn’t know?” Burgess laughed sourly. “No House. I report to your stepsister, the Queen of Wayrest. I’ve always been in her employ. By Akatosh, you poisoned me because you thought I was working for some damnable Dark Elves?”

“You’re half right,” said the Prince. “I didn’t guess who you were working for, or even that you were a spy. But you’re also wrong about me poisoning you. You poisoned yourself when you drank from the tureen.”

Your unholiness, you don’t need to hear how Burgess died. I know that you have seen much over the many, many years of your existence, but you truly don’t want to know. I wish I could erase the memory of his agonies from my own mind.

The council was dismissed shortly thereafter. I do not know if Prince Helseth knows or suspects that I too am a spy. I do not know how many others that night, last night, were as close as I was from drinking from the tureen before Burgess did. I only know that if the Prince does not suspect me now, he will. I cannot win at the games he mastered long ago at the court of Wayrest, and I beg your unholiness, my dark liege Dhaunayne to use your influence in the House Dres and dismiss your loyal servant from this charge.


Publisher’s Note: Of course, the anonymous writer’s signature has not been on any reprint of the letter since the original.