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Heroic tales from the life of Keshu the Black Fin

From Egg to Adolescence

Keshu the Black Fin, war hero and founder of the movement for an advanced Saxhleel society, started out as just another one of my many egg-brothers and egg-sisters. There wasn't anything overtly special about her when we were growing up in the village of Seekhat-Xol. Not that I could see, anyway. She played traditional games, ate traditional food, and learned to hunt and track and fight. I guess if Keshu excelled at anything, it was tracking and fighting. She took to these activities like a shap takes to water, out-performing the rest of us with an ease that was almost supernatural.

Keshu and I became friends almost from the moment we emerged from our eggs. We were inseparable. We played together, did our chores and attended our lessons together, growing up as all Saxhleel do. I suppose I began to notice something different about Keshu during this period. She had a passion for history that went beyond memorizing facts and numbers. She wanted to learn everything she could find out about the once-great Saxhleel civilization that existed before Duskfall. In this matter, she was an individual, much more independent and more free-thinking than the rest of her egg-siblings. In some ways, her fiery individualism frightened me.

I guess the Hist saw the same things that I noticed, for when she licked the Hist on our Naming Day, she was awarded with the name "Keshu," which literally means "Stands Apart." It was a strong name, a good name. The name of a crocodile in a lake of shap. Keshu accepted the name with dignity and honor. It fit her well.

To demonstrate that Keshu wasn't all dull history and fighting, let me tell you about an event from our early childhood. The egg-tender Julan-Nah was forever scolding us and driving us from the Xal-Uxith, the Sacred Nest, even though Keshu loved to play among the developing eggs. To teach the egg-tender a lesson, Keshu tracked and captured a young wamasu. She released it into the nest, assuming it would scare the egg-tender and provide us all with a good laugh. It did the trick, all right, but it also cracked three innocent and helpless eggs. Keshu was so mortified by the damage she had caused that she volunteered to assist the egg-tender for the entire cycle of the calendar.

Near the end of that cycle, the raj-deelith (literally, the elder teacher), Drameencin, arrived to instruct us in preparation for our rites of maturity. It was during this intensive period of lessons and training that Keshu's companions gathered around her. In addition to myself, Keshu attracted the attention of the powerful Vos-Huruk, the sly Tee-Wan, and the clever Xocin. Vos-Huruk was a mountain of a woman who was almost Keshu's equal in battle. Tee-Wan would develop into a thief and a spy. Xocin, on the other hand, enjoyed mixing alchemical tinctures and would go on to become a powerful mage. All would follow Keshu to war. All except me.

Throughout that season, our friendships deepened and Drameencin did everything in his power to prepare us for our maturity rites. But that is another tale entirely.

The Rites of Maturity, Part 1

I remember our rites of maturity as though we took them yesterday. Keshu the Black Fin, war hero and founder of the movement for an advanced Saxhleel society, earned her sobriquet completing these tests—and she began to build her reputation and solidify her relationship with the companions at this time as well. All of the companions excelled in the tests: Keshu, Vos-Huruk, Tee-Wan, Xocin, and even me (at least until the final test). Yes, we accomplished great things, but much of the credit has to go to our instructor and mentor, the raj-deelith, Drameencin.

The elder teacher was ancient. Supposedly, he was old when our egg-parents hatched from the communal nest. But age didn't seem to slow Drameencin. More like a fine mold or a fermented ooze, he just got better with every passing season. By the time we became his students, he was at the top of his craft and we were poised to become his masterpieces. He followed the usual methods of instructing young Saxhleel, making sure we conformed to the needs and requirements of the community and teaching us advanced techniques for hunting, tracking, and crafting. But he took us beyond the source of the river to also enhance our peculiar talents. We weren't just interchangeable eggs in a basket to Drameencin. We were individuals, and Keshu especially thrived under his tutelage.

The Saxhleel rites of maturity consist of tests of skill and bravery conducted over the course of multiple days. Some of the tests are set, used by every Saxhleel community throughout the greater marsh. Others change, depending on location, time of season, or the specific tastes of a community's raj-nassa (the elder leaders). Our rites included three difficult tests. How Keshu performed at these tests showed what kind of person she was blossoming into.

The first of these tests was "The Trial of the Lost Centipede." We were each directed to reach into a barrel and pull forth a single marsh centipede. If you've never seen a marsh centipede, they are excellent specimens of great size and nasty temperament. The average marsh centipede is as long as the span of your outstretched fingers and as thick as your wrist. The centipede selected is decorated with a distinctive mark to identify it. Then they are given to runners who race into the wilderness and release them. Our test was to track our specific marsh centipede, capture it, and return it to the raj-nassa alive and well. Now, tracking a specific centipede through an overgrown marsh is no simple task. It takes skill, patience, and even a bit of luck.

Xocin recovered his centipede first, but in doing so he disturbed a haj mota. In order to elude the creature, he was forced to wade into a deadly patch of quicksand. Keshu, who happened to be passing by at the time, distracted the haj mota and sent it scrambling in the opposite direction. Then she circled back and rescued Xocin from the sucking embrace of the pool of mud and sand.

By the time Keshu tracked down her centipede, it had gotten itself into a terrible situation. A trio of hostile nagas was hunting the plump, many-legged creature, hoping to make a meal out of it. To complete this part of the maturity rites, Keshu could not allow that to happen. Without hesitation, she slipped into the dark water and swam toward the trio, submerged and hidden from view as she made her approach. Vos-Huruk, who was returning to the village after collecting her own centipede, happened upon the scene and watched as the event played out. She reported what happened and now I am writing it down for posterity's sake.

As the naga hunters circled and closed in on their prey, Keshu silently rose from the dark water like a black fin on the prowl, a vicious dagger in each hand and a look of determination in her eyes. She dispatched the first two nagas with quick slashes of her blades, advancing toward the third before her initial kills had barely sunk below the surface of the marsh. By the time the last naga realized that death was fast-approaching, it was too late to defend himself. He fell without providing even a token resistance to the single-minded Keshu. She scooped up her centipede and followed Vos-Huruk back to the raj-nassa.

The Rites of Maturity, Part 2

The first of our three difficult tests completed, it was now time to begin our second rite of maturity. This was "The Trial of the Perfect Bowl." It was as much a test of our crafting skill as it was a test of humility and confidence. The goal, we would discover later, was not necessarily to make the most ornate and complicated bowl we could devise, but to demonstrate that simple and utilitarian could also reveal perfection.

The test consisted of three parts. First, we had to acquire the components necessary to craft our bowls. Then we had to locate the hidden crafting stations that had been set up in dangerous parts of the marsh for this specific purpose. Finally, we had to craft our bowls and present them to the raj-nassa for judgment—before the crafting stations succumbed to the dangerous locations they were placed in.

Each of us was provided with a specific material our bowls had to be constructed from. For example, Tee-Wan had to secure the shell of a rare three-clawed mudcrab, while I had to acquire the husk of a krona nut, and Xocin needed to find the perfect branch from a dragon's tongue tree. While each of these presented a particular challenge, we were afraid for Keshu when we heard what her primary component had to be. She needed to steal an egg from a haj mota nest! Not only were haj motas extremely protective of their nests, the brittle shells of the haj mota egg were notoriously difficult to work with. More often than not, the shells crack when not worked with the utmost care and expertise.

Keshu, now called "the Black Fin" as the tale of her success in the first rite spread throughout the village, headed out to locate a haj mota nest. Since she had met one of the massive creatures during the previous trial, she decided to return to that area to start her quest. She spent an entire day watching the marsh, observing the comings and goings of the haj mota. It soon became evident that the creature was a doe and that it had a nest somewhere nearby. Of course, there are few creatures as dangerous as a mother haj mota protecting its eggs, and Keshu would have to tread carefully to successfully complete this part of the trial, let alone survive to finish the entire rite.

Now, Keshu wanted to steal an egg from the nest, but she didn't want to harm any of the remaining eggs or injure the haj mota in the process. She believed in making as little mark as possible on the world as she passed through it. So once again she set out to distract the haj mota and lead it away from its nest. In this way, she hoped she could acquire an egg without having to face the creature's wrath. This time, she gathered a bundle of orange-grass and marsh roots—a combination that few haj motas can resist—and used the intoxicating aroma (at least to the haj mota) to draw the creature away from its nest. Then she tied the bundle to a water lizard and sent it scurrying into the deeper marsh. The haj mota followed after it, leaving Keshu's path to the nest clear.

There were three eggs in the nest. Keshu didn't select the largest egg, or the egg with the thickest shell. She took the smallest egg, because its mottled shell looked smooth and perfect to her crafter's eyes. She saw the bowl within it, waiting to emerge. What she hadn't seen, not until the last possible moment, was the male haj mota stalking out of the marsh and heading for the nest. She barely had enough time to slip away before the male reached the nest and noticed that an egg was missing. She listened to its roar, a mix of anger and loss, as she made her way to the crafting station.

Keshu's crafting station was set atop a log platform above a massive patch of deadly quicksand. She had to craft her bowl before the entire station sank into the marsh. She worked quickly yet carefully, expertly removing the very top of the egg to use as the basis for her bowl. She cleaned it, polished it, and added the reagents that would strengthen the shell and make it suitable for use as a vessel or container. She wrapped up her work and bounded off the platform just as the mud sloshed over the top and began to pull it completely into the marsh.

As the raj-nassa examined each of our offerings in turn, we were able to look upon some truly impressive feats of crafting. But it was evident that Keshu had overtaken the field this season. Her bowl, crafted from the simplest haj mota shell, was elegant in its modesty and beautiful in its purity. It needed nothing but to be true to its natural form, and Keshu masterfully let that natural form shine forth—even as she turned it from a brittle shell into a strong, unbreakable bowl.

The Rites of Maturity, Part 3

Our third and final trial on the way to complete our rites of maturity was "The Trial of the Stalking Hackwing." In some ways, this was the most dangerous of the rites we had to participate in to earn a place in adult society. Each of us was placed in a cage with a single, huge hackwing. The predatory bird was a vicious creature, strong and confident, every bit as capable a hunter as any of us—and it had the ability to fly. We had to allow the giant bird to attack us and draw blood. If we knew what we were doing, we let it strike so as to bloody us but not incapacitate us. Then the hackwing was released. Our goal: catch and kill the hackwing that marked us before it could do the same to us.

Vos-Huruk and Xocin each took a beak strike to the leg. Both wounds were superficial, drawing blood but not ripping muscle or breaking bone. Tee-Wan allowed the hackwing to pierce his left arm, cutting a long but shallow line from his elbow to his shoulder. Keshu miscalculated a leap back and allowed her bird to cut her across the temple, just above her right eye. But I failed this part of the trial completely. I let the hackwing drive its sharp beak directly into my chest. The healers said it barely missed my heart. Even so, I was injured too badly to continue, and I would have to wait for another season to complete my rites of maturity.

Keshu wanted to check on me, make sure I was going to be all right. The raj-nassa wouldn't hear of it, however, and ordered her to continue with her trial—until either the Black Fin or the hackwing was dead. So with a final glance to make sure the healer was assisting me, Keshu wiped blood out of her eyes and ran into the wilderness. As was traditional, she had no weapon or armor. Just her body and her wits. It was time for the hunter to survive the hunt.

Have you ever been stalked by a hungry hackwing? The experience can be disconcerting and more than a little frightening. Often, you only hear the beating of wings and the rush of air overheard. Sometimes you notice a shadow pass by. Rarely, you catch a brief glimpse of a wing or a talon. And, if you show the slightest weakness, the hackwing dives in and attempts to wound you. Then it simply waits and follows until you collapse from loss of blood. In the case of the rite, we were already bloodied by the hunting birds. They were going to come after us—one way or another. The trick was going to be in anticipating the attack and countering it with an attack of our own.

(I keep saying "our," but realize I was effectively out of the test. I was injured and weak and barely conscious for most of the remaining portion of the trial, only learning what happened later, after I was healed and the rites were concluded for the season.)

Keshu led her hackwing into a portion of the marsh where open sky was at a premium. She wanted to use the tree trunks and leaf canopy to her advantage, cutting off all but the most direct paths between the hackwing and her present location. She moved deeper into the trees, flattening out the approach so that when the hackwing finally attacked, it would have to come for her not from above but from a horizontal direction at more or less ground level.

As Keshu waited for her predator and her prey, she broke a sturdy branch from one of the trees at a steep angle, creating a makeshift spear with a ragged yet pointed edge. She braced the spear and her back against the tree trunk behind her and positioned the point so she could raise it quickly when the hackwing appeared. She didn't have to wait long. Thinking that its prey had finally succumbed to blood loss and stopped to die within the cluster of trees, the hackwing swooped down and flew toward Keshu along the exact path she had planned. At the very last moment, Keshu angled the spear up and let the hackwing's speed and trajectory do all the work.

The hunt was over. Keshu was victorious. She had completed her rites of maturity and was ready to take her place as an adult member of the community. And the first thing she did was rush back to make sure I was still alive.

Travels Beyond the Village, Part 1

One of the first things Keshu the Black Fin, war hero and founder of the movement for an advanced Saxhleel society, decided after completing her rites of maturity and earning her place as a Saxhleel adult was to undertake a journey to learn more about the world beyond our tiny village. With sly Tee-Wan, mighty Vos-Huruk, crafty Xocin, and myself beside her, Keshu said farewell to the village and our teacher, the raj-deelith, Drameencin, and set off to see the wonders that waited beyond the familiar confines of Seekhat-Xol.

We headed north, stopping at each village along the way to visit friends and family members as we made our way toward the legendary city of Stormhold. In the village of Zurook, we were warned to avoid the Dark Elf enclaves in Stormhold, as they were notorious for capturing lone Saxhleel and shipping them off to serve as slaves back in Morrowind. We had heard rumors about Dark Elf slavers as we were growing up, but we never quite believed the tales in our secluded part of the greater marsh.

We arrived in Stormhold with the rest of the throng of visitors—traders, mercenaries, crafters, and the most diverse group of people we had ever seen. In addition to the obviously citified Saxhleel (who we learned were called Argonians by the other races), we gaped in wonder at the giant Nords, the fair-skinned High Elves, the flamboyant Bretons, the brooding Dark Elves, and even the few Khajiit and Wood Elves that wandered the squares.

They were all strange and exotic to us, and we saw first-hand how some of our egg-brothers and egg-sisters were treated by the outsiders. Some, like the powerful and dignified city-dwellers, were bowed down to and venerated. While others, obviously weaker and poorer, were ordered about, denigrated, and even beaten, depending upon the whims of their masters. We were shocked and appalled, but Keshu ordered us to remain calm. "We can't change the course of this river," she said. "At least, not this day."

During our exploration of the city, we happened upon a group of young Nords and their charismatic leader, the bard named Jorunn. We listened to Jorunn perform, fascinated by the stories he told and captivated by his clear and expressive voice. He noticed our intense interest, particularly that of Keshu, and invited us to join him and his companions for the evening meal. Keshu and Jorunn became fast friends, speaking of many things long into the night. It turns out, he and his companions weren't much older than we were and they were also traveling to see the world before the responsibilities of adulthood caught up with them. While we taught Jorunn and his friends how to eat and drink traditional Saxhleel fare, they exposed us to the Nord delicacies that were available at the inn.

I didn't listen to everything that Jorunn and Keshu discussed that night, but I heard some of it. Jorunn spoke of his family, the wonders of Skyrim, and his hope to someday become a famous bard. He explained that his sister was going to be Queen of the Nords, but I assumed that was just another one of his fanciful stories. I'm not sure what Keshu believed. For her part, Keshu told Jorunn about life in the marsh, what it meant to be a Saxhleel, and how our people had once commanded a much more advanced civilization. He appeared to be genuinely fascinated by everything she said. As the fire in the hearth burned down to embers and the tankards of Nord mead and Saxhleel bile beer were finally emptied, Tee-Wan came rushing in. "Xocin," he said, his voice cracking with fear and sorrow, "he's been taken by the slavers."

Keshu never hesitated. She rose and ordered us to action. She had no intention of allowing the Dark Elves to take our egg-brother away in chains. Before we could gather our weapons and head out, Jorunn stood. "Friends don't let friends rush off to battle by themselves," the big Nord declared. "Besides, we haven't gotten into a good brawl since last Turdas. My companions get cranky when they go too long without a good brawl."

Travels Beyond the Village, Part 2

Our visit to Stormhold had taken a bad turn, like a sudden storm appearing on an otherwise sunny day. Xocin and Tee-Wan had decided to explore the city on their own while Keshu, Vos-Huruk, and I spent the evening with our new Nord friends. When Tee-Wan returned, he was alone. He explained that Dark Elf slavers had taken Xocin captive. Keshu, of course, planned to rescue him. And, much to our surprise, Jorunn the bard, leader of our new Nord friends, wanted to assist us. "Nothing gets the blood running like busting a few Dark Elf heads for a good cause," he proclaimed in his deep, booming voice.

Keshu and Jorunn led the way to the Dark Elf enclave on the edge of the city. "House Dres," Jorunn said, but it came out more as a curse than a name. "I should have known." We scouted the enclave, taking note of where guards were positioned and how they moved about the encampment. We determined where the newly acquired slaves were being held and began to formulate a plan for setting them free. Keshu led the discussion on strategy and Jorunn listened carefully, interjecting a suggestion every so often but otherwise agreeing with her plan. Just as the sun began to rise in the sky, four Saxhleel and five Nords went to war with the House Dres slaver's enclave. And the battle was glorious!

Launching a surprise attack on an overconfident and unprepared enemy is easier than you might imagine. Especially when you have a handful of overeager, half-drunk Nords at your side. Keshu and Jorunn fought like whirlwinds, carving a path to the slave pen while the rest of us dealt with arriving reinforcements. It took the Dark Elves more time than we expected to get their defenses together. The late hour and the unexpected assault seemed to have totally flummoxed the slavers' usual routine. Jorunn explained that they were used to defending their caravans in the wild, but no one had ever had the audacity to strike at the heart of a Dres enclave. "And that's why your plan is going to succeed," he said to Keshu.

With relative ease, Keshu dispatched the guards trying to protect the gate to the slave pen. Jorunn stepped into the opening she created and smashed off the pen's lock with a single swipe of his massive battleaxe. Xocin emerged from the pen, leading a band of disheveled Saxhleel out of the confined space. By this time, the Dark Elves had rallied and were advancing on our position. "We're about to have company, Black Fin," Vos-Huruk warned. "And they have mages with them," I added. Keshu began giving orders, ready to fight to the last of us if that was what was required. But Jorunn had a different idea.

"Not every battle needs to be to the death, my Argonian friend," the big Nord said with a twinkle in his eyes. "Take your people and make your escape. My companions and I will keep the puny Elves occupied while you slip away." Keshu thanked him and promised to return the favor someday. "I may just hold you to that promise," Jorunn laughed as he turned to face the oncoming slavers. "Someday."

Keshu led us and the newly released slaves into the marsh as Jorunn and his companions took up our defense. The Nords fought with gusto, and we could hear them laughing and singing battle songs as we disappeared into the swamp. After we had run for nearly as long as it took the sun to reach the top of the sky, Keshu called for us to halt. She asked me to return to the city and make sure the Nords had survived the assault on the slavers' enclave. Tee-Wan, skilled at stealth and deception, offered to accompany me. We set out immediately while Keshu talked to the now-freed slaves.

We slipped back into Stormhold as quietly and unobtrusively as we could. The enclave was sealed up tight and a large contingent of guards had arrived to bolster its defenses. Tee-Wan and I made our way back to the inn. We found Jorunn and his companions there, appearing no worse for the morning's battle. He thanked us for showing concern and coming to check on him, but he told us not to linger. "The House Dres leader is very upset about losing his slaves," Jorunn said. "We're even getting ready to leave this place—after we finish our meal and our mead. Tell Keshu I look forward to our next encounter."

And with that, Tee-Wan and I left the city of Stormhold and made our way back to Keshu and the others.

Travels Beyond the Village, Part 3

My tale of the younger days of Keshu, war hero and founder of the movement for an advanced Saxhleel society, continues. Our travels beyond the village of Seekhat-Xol, the village where we grew up, proceeded, with Keshu determining every step we took through the greater marsh. Our company had grown from the five of us to a group of more than a dozen. Most of the slaves we freed from the House Dres enclave in Stormhold had departed, seeking to make their way back to homes and families. But not all of them had something to return to. And, it seemed, Keshu was developing into as charismatic and popular a leader as Jorunn the Nord, who we met in Stormhold.

Keshu had always been fascinated by the tales of an advanced Saxhleel society that supposedly thrived in the distant past. For this part of our journey, she was determined to visit the site of one of these ancient cities. We followed clues contained in an old book she had borrowed from our teacher, the raj-deelith, Drameencin, and traveled deeper into the marsh. We moved through a portion of the swamp that was as dangerous to Saxhleel as it was to scaleless outsiders. In addition to strange predators and clouds of noxious poison that drifted casually on the breeze, we also had to contend with meat-eating plants, ambulatory mounds of flesh-dissolving mud, and swarms of hungry insects. But we were adult Saxhleel, tested and proven strong (well, except for me, who still had to complete my rites of maturity), and the great and powerful Black Fin was our leader. The swamp never stood a chance.

We wandered for a time, trying to locate a specific landmark in the bleakness of the deep marsh. According to Keshu's book, we were looking for two huge shining cypress trees, their trunks twisted by age and proximity so that they were intertwined like a thick, knotted rope. It was Tee-Wan who eventually found the tangled trees, calling out his discovery with a mix of excitement and dread. For beyond the trees, looming like a mountain from the murky water of the swamp, was the ancient stone ruins of the advanced Saxhleel civilization.

The ruins waited before us, consisting of equal parts oppressive stone and dark shadow. Most of us were wary if not outright fearful of approaching the place. How could true Saxhleel have tolerated living in such a structure? But Keshu displayed not a hint of the fear the rest of us were feeling. In fact, her face shone with wonder and excitement. Before any of us could stop her, she was racing up the stone steps toward the top of the xanmeer, anxious to discover the secrets of the lost civilization. When she saw that the rest of us were hanging back, she returned and addressed our group.

"Vos-Huruk," Keshu said, "lead the group back to Seekhat-Xol. I will follow and meet you there shortly." We were worried about Keshu remaining among the ruins by herself, but we were also eager to return to our village. "What will you do out here?" I asked. Keshu erected the spine of compassion and simply replied, "Learn whatever I can."

We had been back in the village for almost the entire cycle of the moons when Keshu emerged from the swamp and returned to Seekhat-Xol. She received a hero's welcome, for the stories of our adventures had grown with each telling, and Keshu was considered to be the greatest of us all. She never encouraged the accolades, never sought glory. She greeted us each in turn, asked about the welfare of the freed slaves who had accompanied us, and then went to seek the counsel of the teacher, Drameencin. She found our old mentor in his mud hut, seeking solace from the heat of the day. "Welcome home, student," he said, raising the spine of greeting.

"Raj-deelith," Keshu began, "let me tell you what I found in the place of the Old Ones."

The Black Fin Goes to War, Part 1

In the season following Keshu the Black Fin's return from the ruins of the Old Ones (as she referred to the so-called advanced Saxhleel who lived in the distant past), we were extremely busy, breathing life into Keshu's hopes and desires. In addition to learning some small amount about the way the Old Ones lived, Keshu's time of contemplation among the ruins saw the development of new ways of thinking for our leader and life-long friend. She came back to us with a dream.

Some will tell you that from the moment she returned from the ruins, Keshu wanted to bring about the resurrection of the advanced Saxhleel society. Now, while she was definitely interested in learning more about that ancient time, her initial dream was much simpler. She wanted to defend the Saxhleel from the threat of outsiders. When Xocin was captured by the Dark Elf slavers, I think it affected Keshu on a profound level. And when she freed Xocin and the other Saxhleel captives, I think her destiny was set in motion.

Keshu decided to create an army. She called for volunteers from across the greater marsh, and a surprising number answered that call. The village elders, tree-minders, and sap-speakers were of mixed minds about her actions, but in the end they decided to sit back and let the Hist sort it out. As with all things in Saxhleel life, if Keshu succeeded then her plans were meant to come to fruition. And if she failed? Then she would disappear into the swamp and never be heard from again. That was the way things happened in Black Marsh. But whatever Keshu's ultimate fate, in the beginning she was unstoppable.

The initial band—informally known as the Black Fin's Legion—was more than two dozen strong. Keshu and Vos-Huruk at first served as instructors and trainers for the small gathering of warriors, but soon other notable fighters had rallied to her banner, including the battle mage known as Fire-From-Nowhere and the Saxhleel freedom fighter called Elf-Slayer. They provided expertise and helped with the training to reduce the burden on our beloved leader. When Keshu determined that we were at last ready to be tested, she decided on a target and pointed her newly honed weapon at it. We were going to attack a House Dres slave caravan and set the captives free.

We planned and trained for weeks, preparing for every contingency Keshu and her most-trusted advisors could think of. We scouted the House Dres enclave. We reconnoitered the most probable paths from Stormhold toward Morrowind. We watched. We waited. And then we made our move.

The House Dres slave caravan departed from Stormhold on a rainy morning with little fanfare. A line of Saxhleel slaves consisting of more than fifty of our egg-brothers and egg-sisters were chained together and forced to march between two massive wagons, each pulled by a team of guar. House Dres guards rode atop the wagons, marched on each side of the line of slaves, and ranged around the caravan atop horses and other riding beasts. In all, there were about thirty Dark Elf warriors guarding the caravan. For this exercise, Keshu led a force of twenty-six Black Fin Legionaries to liberate the slaves.

Our warriors were nervous. For the majority of them, this would be their first real battle, and though they were well trained and committed to Keshu's cause, they still suffered from the usual fears associated with entering a life-or-death situation. Keshu and her officers remained visible, displaying confidence and determination that went a long way toward calming our troops. We set up to ambush the caravan as it made its way through a narrow passage a few hundred strides from the border of Morrowind. Keshu gave the signal as she rushed forward to meet the enemy. We followed, spilling from our hiding places like wood ants emerging from a rotten log. If we were still nervous, it didn't show as we fell upon the Dark Elves.

Keshu's strategy worked perfectly. When the battle was over, the Dark Elf guards were either dead or had surrendered, and though we had suffered a few minor wounds, none of the Black Fin Legion had fallen. The mission went off flawlessly and Keshu's reputation grew with every Saxhleel captive we set free.

The Black Fin Goes to War, Part 2

Keshu's war against the House Dres slavers continued for a number of seasons, and with every victory the Black Fin Legion notched, her army of loyal Saxhleel expanded. They came from far and wide to pledge themselves to her banner: slaves liberated from Dark Elf holdings; adventurous Saxhleel from widely separated villages; even a few citified Argonians from Stormhold and locations beyond the influence of the Hist.

I had finally completed my rites of maturity and was now considered a full-fledged adult in the eyes of the tribe. I was trying to decide what I wanted to do with the rest of my existence. As much as I loved Keshu and believed in her cause, I did not want to be a soldier or a freedom fighter. I wanted a simpler life, something in service to the Hist or the Xal-Uxith. I was destined to become a sap-speaker or an egg-tender, or so I believed at the time. So I decided to let Keshu know my desires and withdraw from the Black Fin Legion.

Keshu understood my situation and agreed to release me from my obligation. I was still with the Legion, however, when Tee-Wan returned to camp. He was Keshu's spy-master now, ranging into the field for days or weeks at a time to gather information for the Black Fin Legion to use against the forces of House Dres. The news he brought back with him this time, however, dealt with a much larger, more dangerous foe. "Outsiders from across the far ocean have invaded the land of Skyrim," Tee-Wan explained. "I bring a message for you from the Nord who helped us in Stormhold, Jorunn the bard."

Jorunn's message explained that an enemy called the Akaviri had laid siege to the city of Windhelm and was now marching toward Mournhold. Jorunn's sister had fallen and he had temporarily taken command of the Nord forces. "I go to aid the Dark Elves to try to stop this vile invasion," Jorunn had written. "I would not mind in the slightest if you decided to return that favor you owe me and join us in Morrowind. Your Argonian shell-backs could certainly help turn the tide of this conflict."

I could tell by the look in Keshu's eyes that she had already decided to go to Jorunn's aid. "Vos-Huruk, Fire-From-Nothing," Keshu called to her chief lieutenants, "rally the troops. Today, the Black Fin Legion goes to war."

I wished Keshu and the others cool breezes and clear water, but I wasn't going to join them on this adventure. I was going home, back to Seekhat-Xol. I assumed they would be back after the moons had moved through a few of their cycles, but I was wrong. I would not see Keshu again for more than ten cycles of the calendar, and by that time she would be much changed.

But word would reach us even in isolated Seekhat-Xol. We heard that the Akaviri were defeated, thanks to the combined efforts of the Nords and Dark Elves—and the timely intervention of a phalanx of Argonian warriors. On that day, the Ebonheart Pact was born. Keshu and her legion stayed in allied lands after the Akaviri threat was dealt with, helping to establish the parameters of the newly formed alliance and securing the freedom of Saxhleel for as long as the Pact survived. She spent time touring Skyrim and Morrowind, helped crush rebellions, and defended the borders from competing alliances before eventually taking up arms in the Three Banners War.

Do I regret not joining Keshu on that mighty adventure? Sometimes. But I would not trade my time in Seekhat-Xol as an egg-tender for anything—not even to fight at Keshu's side once more.

Foreign Adventures, Part 1

I started out as a simple ka in service to the mighty Keshu the Black Fin. In the Saxhleel tongue, ka roughly translates as apprentice, but it doesn't necessarily carry the responsibilities and obligations that such a position among the Nords or Dark Elves does. Later, as Keshu began to adopt some of the customs of our allies, I was named as squire to the Black Fin. When Peek-Ereel decided to leave the legion, I also inherited the duty of recording significant events as they happened in the life of the mighty Keshu. Now, understand, this wasn't a specific duty related to my role as ka. This was an obligation passed on to me by Peek-Ereel herself without the express knowledge of Keshu, and it was an obligation I readily accepted.

So, where to begin? I think I'll start with the day the alliance began to take shape. The three nations (well, I find it difficult to actually refer to our people as a nation, but the reference makes the Nords and Dark Elves more comfortable, so there you have it) had met on the field of battle and come together to finally defeat the Akaviri invaders. After the Akaviri finished sacking Windhelm, it turned its attention to the south and east and began to march against Morrowind. As the Akaviri invasion force cut a path toward Mournhold, the Dark Elf army—led by Almalexia of the Tribunal—established a defensive line to halt their progress. Jorunn and the Nords, meanwhile, rallied their own forces and followed after the Akaviri, catching them from behind. The Akaviri, caught between two powerful armies, nevertheless was able to withstand the two-pronged attack. They may even have been able to eventually win the day, but that might just be speculation on my part. In any case, they never had the chance to try.

Keshu's force, a phalanx of Saxhleel shellbacks and swamp warriors, hit the Akaviri from the south, providing the last element needed to end this period of invasion. Our troops, seasoned from fighting the Dark Elf slavers in Black Marsh, were the final ingredient required to overwhelm the invaders, and we fell upon them with wild abandon. Keshu wanted to help her friend Jorunn, but she also had an ulterior motive for marching our legion out of the swamp and into the heart of Morrowind. She wanted the other nations to recognize the value and veracity of the Saxhleel—the Argonians. We were more than primitive savages. We were more than slaves. We were the equals of the others, and we were here to save them from alien invaders.

I won't say that the victory was totally due to the intervention of Keshu's legion, but we certainly played our part. We fought valiantly alongside the ferocious Nords and the cunning Dark Elves, slaughtering Akaviri soldiers with every step of our advance. When the fighting finally ended near the city of Ebonheart and victory was ours, Keshu hurried to meet with the leaders of the other two factions. I, as her loyal squire, followed in her wake.

I had never been in the presence of so many powerful and important people before! I had heard stories about Jorunn the Nord Bard, but I never imagined he was really that big! And Almalexia—who the Dark Elves worshipped as a god—was cold and beautiful, for a scaleless Elf without a tail. Jorunn stepped forward and greeted Keshu like an old friend. "We owe you a great debt, Black Fin," Jorunn said in his loud, booming voice. "What can the Nords and the Dark Elves offer you for your invaluable assistance this day?"

Keshu was silent for a few long moments, looking intently at Jorunn first, and then turning her attention to Almalexia. With her eyes locked upon the Mother of Morrowind, she finally replied, "No more Argonian slaves. Set my people free."

Almalexia and Jorunn exchanged a look of their own, and the large Nord's gaze never wavered. After a time, the Dark Elf leader made a slight nod of her head and said, "A reasonable request. And one the Dark Elves shall honor—with one provision. The Argonians must join the Dark Elves and the Nords in a mutual pact of cooperation and defense. In that way, all three of our nations will remain free."

Thus began a series of negotiations that lasted well into the next day and ended with the formation of the Ebonheart Pact. Keshu agreed to keep her forces in the north to help bolster the defense of her new allies, but not before she sent runners to Stormhold to inform our people of the news: slavery was abolished and the Argonians were now allied with the Nords and the Dark Elves. Since we had no government, at least not in the sense that our new allies did, Keshu determined to remain in Nord and Dark Elf territory to solidify the Saxhleel position and make sure the various agreements were adhered to. In the meantime, she sent Xocin back to Black Marsh to find ambassadors to serve in the capital cities of the alliance.

And that was how the Argonians joined the Ebonheart Pact.

Foreign Adventures, Part 2

Now, the declaration of the formation of the Ebonheart Pact and the abolition of Argonian slavery didn't result in the immediate cessation of all Dark Elf slaver activity. It would take almost a full year for most of the Dark Elf provinces and holdings to comply with the order of the Tribunal, and even then there were Dark Elf Houses that refused to accept the new accords. This resulted in a few awkward situations for Keshu and her Black Fin Legion as it toured the land of Morrowind as the initial Argonian representatives to the alliance.

We met with a good amount of fear and hatred during those early days of the alliance. Some Dark Elves became very uncomfortable when a heavily armed force of Argonians approached their town or village. At these, we were turned away at best or attacked by settlements with sizable militias. Others, though, having heard the story of the Battle of Ebonheart, appeared grateful for our help and were happy to welcome us into their homes. While such treatment is much more common now, back then it was nearly unheard of, and we were both surprised and thankful for every friendly face we encountered.

We spent that first year of the alliance in Dark Elf territory, making our presence known and working to make sure that all of the tenets of the agreement were adhered to. We also took in many of the newly freed Argonians, giving the ones who decided not to return to Black Marsh or try to make a go of it as free Saxhleel in Morrowind an immediate purpose and a place to belong. In this way, the Black Legion continued to grow even as it traveled throughout Morrowind.

Eventually, we arrived at Mournhold as guests of the Tribunal. We spent nearly a month camped outside the city and regularly met with Almalexia and other important Dark Elf and Nord officials. Keshu participated in discussions to bolster the defense of the Pact by forming an "army of the alliance," which would include forces donated by each of the member nations. As we were looking for a purpose, Keshu volunteered the Black Fin Legion to serve as the backbone of the new allied army. In time, Keshu would become not only a war hero, but one of the foremost generals leading Pact forces.

Before that initial year had ended, Keshu and the Black Legion would prove their worth to the Pact by once again saving the day. This time, it was to deal with raiders crossing the mountains from the west. Rumors abounded that the raiders were either funded by the Daggerfall Covenant or were Covenant soldiers in disguise, but we were never able to prove that. When reports of a large band of raiders attacking Dark Elf settlements in western Morrowind reached Mournhold, Keshu offered to take the Pact army on a hunting expedition.

Keshu's force consisted of mostly Black Fin legionnaires, bolstered by a contingent of Nord soldiers and a squadron of Dark Elf mages and healers. We moved quickly, following the path of destruction left by the raiders until we finally caught them at Indrano Pass. Keshu divided our forces, sending half of our contingent around to cut off the raiders' escape path into the mountains, while the rest of our troops formed an arrowhead and advanced on the raiders' position. Instead of holding fast, the raiders decided to turn and run. That's when our troops swarmed out of the rocky foothills and we caught the raiders between us. After all the trouble they caused, we expected them to put up more of a fight.

Foreign Adventures, Part 3

It was well into the second year after the formation of the Ebonheart Pact, and Keshu and the Black Fin Legion (minus the troops we left behind as part of the Pact army in Morrowind) were now touring the Nords' lands of Skyrim. Our first stop after crossing into Nord territory was the town of Riften, where we were treated to a typical Nord celebration that included lots of food, lots of mead, and a number of good-natured brawls that seem to be a common pastime in the colder climes. While there, we helped fortify some of the town's defenses, which Keshu insisted we do wherever we went to show our willingness to provide whatever assistance we could during our visits.

After more than a week in Riften, we began our trek north through Eastmarch toward the city of Windhelm for Keshu's reunion with Jorunn—who was now Jorunn the Skald-King, if you can believe that! Apparently, the big Nord was a prince or some such, and was now the leader of the entire Nord nation! And Windhelm, what a city! It was as large and as impressive in its own way as Mournhold, but where the Dark Elf metropolis was a reflection of its people, Windhelm was clearly and undeniably a reflection of the Nords. Repairs were still underway to deal with the damage inflicted by the Akaviri siege, but that did nothing to detract from the sheer grandeur of the Nord city.

Jorunn met us at the gates, grabbed Keshu up in an enormous hug, and then invited us all to enjoy the hospitality of his home and city. The celebration lasted for a week and a day! The Nords certainly love to throw a good party, and they seem to look for any excuse to have one. During the celebration, we were treated to the best mead and ale the Nords produced, exquisite delicacies such as rabbit meatballs, and some of the most ribald drinking songs I had ever heard—all sung extremely loudly and with a lot of clinking of mugs and goblets.

When the mead casks were finally empty and the rabbit meatballs had run out, the celebration came to an abrupt end. Then the work began. We stayed in Windhelm for the better part of a month, helping repair the outer walls of the city and providing whatever other aid the Nords were comfortable allowing us to assist with. And whenever they could both spare the time, Keshu and the Skald-King huddled in a corner and spoke at length about a variety of topics. No one was allowed to join them during these discussions, but I always got the sense that they were sharing their thoughts on leadership, the alliance, and the future of our nations.

The Black Fin Legion, as we had come to know it, came to an end in Skyrim, as well. Our soldiers were divided into small teams and sent to serve with Pact troops of mixed nationality, fighting alongside Nords and Dark Elves in the same cohorts. I stayed with Keshu, of course, and I was there when the Skald-King offered her a unique honor. "I want you to command the Pact forces in Skyrim, Black Fin," Jorunn proclaimed. "Will you accept this charge?" To no one's surprise, Keshu agreed. And through her efforts over the next seven years, the tactics and strategies of the Pact's military might were developed and set in place.

Which is why the Pact was prepared when the War of the Three Banners began.

Foreign Adventures, Part 4

In the midst of General Keshu's continued build-up and improvement of the Ebonheart Pact's allied forces, the Black Fin received a summons from Jorunn the Skald-King. We had been training with combined troops near Riften when the runner arrived with the sealed letter. The meeting would take place at Fort Amol, in Eastmarch, in two-day's time. Keshu began to make preparations to depart at once.

Keshu the Black Fin decided to travel light and fast, taking only a small contingent with her to meet with the Skald-King. I accompanied the General, of course, along with Tee-Wan, Xocin, and the Nord warrior, Kora Greatstorm. Vos-Huruk remained behind to command the troops and continue the training exercises. As our small group approached Fort Amol, we were met a good distance outside the settlement and led in through a hidden trail that bypassed the main roads into and out of the town. We were hurriedly escorted to the jarl's manor and taken to a secret meeting room within the large estate. There, standing behind a large table, was Jorunn the Skald-King.

I sensed immediately that something was very different from our previous meetings with Jorunn. For one thing, he didn't rush to scoop up Keshu in a tremendous hug, and he wasn't his usual loud and boisterous self. To be fair, the weight of the crown had taken a toll on the bard-turned-ruler, but he appeared more grave and serious than I had ever seen him. "The Tribunal has sent a dire warning, Black Fin," Jorunn began. "Almalexia has had a vision. Or maybe it was Vivec? Who can say? In any case, they warn that a threat to the Ebonheart Pact is developing and we need to be ready. So, everything you've been doing? Now you must triple your efforts and prepare us for war."

The new war effort was placed in the hands of three generals, one from each member nation of the Pact. Keshu represented the Argonians, Kora Greatstorm represented the Nords, and Yeveth Noramil represented the Dark Elves. These were the generals that would, together, bolster and prepare the Pact's offensive and defensive capabilities for the coming years. And, thanks to the preparations that the Black Fin had already begun, the foundation was in place for the arms buildup to reach the next level in a relatively short amount of time. Before we departed that secret room in the jarl's manor, Jorunn had one last nugget of wisdom to pass on to Keshu. "Peace is a fragile, precious thing, Black Fin," the Skald-King said in a weary voice. "Cherish the time you have with it, for it never lasts long."

Over the next two years, the expanding Pact army faced a number of small tests, including skirmishes with Imperial legions and Daggerfall troops, and it acquitted itself admirably. In many ways, these small encounters led to the War of the Three Banners. When the three separate alliances finally declared war against each other, Keshu led the Pact army into the field. The land of Cyrodiil became the battlefield, and the sound of war echoed throughout the land.

For the better part of a year, General Keshu and the Pact army gained ground, lost ground, and gained it back again. We couldn't claim victory, as the war continued, but we won many significant battles—much to the chagrin of the Covenant and the Dominion. Then, at the height of her power and popularity, the Black Fin made a decision that surprised us all. "We've done all we can for the Pact," Keshu explained. "It's time for us to go home."

And that was how the Black Fin's foreign adventures came to an abrupt end.

The Black Fin Comes Home

General Keshu, known as the Black Fin, turned command of the Pact forces in Cyrodiil over to a Dark Elf general named Felisi Varo. Then, with a small group of companions that included myself, Vos-Huruk, Tee-Wan, Xocin, the Dark Elf twins Llensi and Meralyn, and the Nords Jod and Ulfbel, we departed the war-torn countryside and returned to Mournhold for a final meeting with Jorunn the Skald-King.

"The more time I spend in this strange country, the more I miss the mountains and the snow," Jorunn said as we entered his audience chamber in the Dark Elf city. "Now tell me, Black Fin," he said, turning to face Keshu, "are you sure you want to do this?"

Keshu raised the spine of affirmation and said, "I've done all I set out to do for you and the Pact, Jorunn. It's time for me to return to Black Marsh and do the same for my people."

Jorunn nodded solemnly. "Then I can ask no more of you, my trusted friend," he said with a tear in his eye. "May Kyne guide you back home, Black Fin. And if you ever need my aid, you have but to ask."

At those words, Keshu's eyes sparkled like the stars in the sky. "Well, there is a small matter," she said, and then she went on to explain how she was hoping to open Black Marsh to outsiders, especially crafters and artisans, to help expand the knowledge and experiences of her people. "I shall put out the word," Jorunn agreed. "And where should these crafters and artisans go? To Stormhold?"

"No," Keshu replied. "Send them to Gideon."

Keshu, however, led us to Gideon, the Imperial stronghold in central Black Marsh, where she was determined to establish a more inviting and vibrant "modern" Argonian society. Her plan, as she explained them to us during the journey, was to start out by bringing the things we learned and discovered during our time in Morrowind and Skyrim to Gideon, and then begin a series of quests to re-discover the secrets of the ancient Argonian civilization. "I do not want to change our culture," Keshu assured us. "I want to enhance it and bring back the glory we had and lost in ages past."

We may not have all agreed with everything Keshu outlined on our journey home, but we believed in the Black Fin. We would follow her to Oblivion and back if she asked it of us. So it wasn't that far a leap to realize that we were going to help her achieve her dream for our people.

As we approach the borders of Black Marsh, this ongoing narrative of how a simple Saxhleel from Seekhat-Xol became an Argonian to be reckoned with comes to an end. I may write again in the future, but I imagine that my free time will evaporate like a small puddle on a hot day as soon as we get settled in Gideon. But if you ever make it to our fair city, stop by and say hello. We welcome all visitors—Argonians and dryskins alike!