Author's Note: The story of the Ra Gada is new to me. I'm more familiar with Skyrim and have backtracked to Morrowind. It always struck me that though their dress and weapons were Middle Eastern, their philosophy was more Australian Aborigine. And then I watched Hello Future Me's Youtube "The Redguard Jedi: The Ansei Sword Singers" that really sparked some ideas. So. I've got two stories cooking (more or less), and I'm now wandering out again down a new road to see where it leads.

Disclaimer: Skyrim/Tamriel belongs to Bethesda

"Come! Come! Goods and wares of all kinds, all at reasonable prices!" Ri'saad glanced at the great gold cat in the sky whose tail tip was all that could be seen as it wandered to hunt in eastern lands. Most of the city folk had retreated behind the great walls of their city, leaving tired, coin-poor farm folk and miners.

And, perhaps, the occasional wanderer. Khajiit's attention, and the covert attentions of the rest of the caravan and lingering buyers, was on the giant sun-licked gold piece that was heading towards them. An adventurer and an arrogantly confident and well-to-do one if one was to judge by the armor, the fine-bred war horse, and the promisingly loaded pack horse. The armor was also attestation to the quality of the adventurer. Blatant golden Dwemer armor but an Alik'r headdress. A Redguard with emerald eyes that alertly assessed Khajiit and his company. The Redguard had a larger than usual Dwemer shield on his back and his sheathed sword was a long one and so, too, was its handle so it could be wielded one-handed or two.

"Come! Come! See what can be yours!"

Atabah was overseeing the preparation of the evening meal. The man dismounted near her and spoke to her while he pointed to the baskets of apples and carrots. Coin was exchanged. He went to his packhorse and removed a fat saddlebag and walked towards Ri'saad while Atabah fed the two horses with apples and carrots and sent one of the caravan guards to the nearby Salvius farm to buy some wheat and another to fill buckets of water at the river.

The man stopped in front of him, dropped the saddlebags, and squatted so they could look upon each other as equals. Well, equal enough. The warrior would probably be more comfortable sitting, but in that heavy armor, Khajiit would think it would be a challenge to rise with any dignity.

"Warm sands, merchant. Things to sell, things to buy." The heavy saddlebags were dropped between them. The Redguard maintained an amused smile as Ri'saad methodically emptied the bag and lined up the goods for evaluation. It was a good assortment of gemstones, small weapons, interesting spices, pelts, and enchanted jewelry.

"Enchanted them myself, caravan master, moderate health or stamina rings. The ones with jewels are double enchanted for both."

"Ah, so a warrior and a mage," said Ri'saad as he evaluated how much of his purse he could afford to bid without insulting the man.

"Yes. I know the worth of my wares … and of information."

"Rrrr," purred Ri'saad, his whiskers pricking forward in amusement and understanding.

The great cat had disappeared overhead. Jode and Jone were out and in their light, the polish on the golden armor polish turned the warrior into a gently glowing ghost. Whether of good or ill, only time would attest to.

"Would the Redguard care to dine with Khajiit, fine food and a discussion of exchange rates?" invited Ri'saad.

"The Redguard would be pleased to do so. Khajiit carries goods from all of Skyrim, yes? Perhaps Khajiit will tell me of these goods and of the Skyrim places they came from."

[oO0o § oO0o]

People stared. It wasn't every day a walking museum piece toured the main central market of Markarth. The Redguard inside the ancient Dwemer armor, however, wore a dazzling white Alik'r hood with a circlet of leather and gold rather than the armor's matching helmet.

After spending most of the morning walking about and talking to merchants and patrons of the largest inn of this city, Tariq found a depressed economy squeezed by ongoing wars on many fronts that restricted trade, a weak government overly dependent upon an equally weak Imperial power, and its power instead in the hands of a family of wealth and greed. The criminals controlled the law. He did not think Markarth was a city he would want to stay very long in.

He went to the palace, a grand Dwemer construct in crumbling disrepair. A sad symbol of a city of stone in sore need of an army of stonemasons, yet unable to afford sufficient staff to sweep away masonry dust. The Skyrim courts, he reflected, were casual about their security. A token challenge, "Have you business in the palace? If not, then clear off!" was easily passed. Yes, he had a message for someone who, if his information was correct, served in the palace.

He frowned as he heard the echoes of dogs barking. The animals should really be outside. Right along with the tall Thalmor birds strutting around on the upper level. He sneered. Ah, yes, where there was an Imperial presence, there would also spread the filthy wings of the Thalmor.

"What are you hiding, priest?"

Tariq turned, glad for a diversion.

"I'm not hiding anything. It's closed for a reason."

A warrior arguing with a priest of Tu'whacca. Or, no, the rest of the world calls their god of dead souls "Arkay." He recalled that in the larger cities of Hammerfell there was talk that Tu'whacca and Arkay were the same. Nonsense. Arkay is some sort of bastard mix of elvish and other. Another compromised god created by the Alessians who got their gods from their overthrown elven masters and something of whatever god of death the Atmoran Empire to the north, revered.

The priest of the dead was trying to explain that the halls of the dead were closed. The warrior continued to bluster and accuse him of a conspiracy. That made no sense. Of what benefit was there to deny people access to their dead? Tariq could think of only two reasons. One was that someone was committing desecration which the priests didn't want anyone aware of until it could be cleaned up, the other was that the dead were walking, which still meant someone was desecrating by using necromancy and it was too dangerous for anyone to go into the hall. In either case, why hadn't the rulers of this place ordered a cleansing?

Eventually the warrior gave up arguing with the priest and retreated to a place against a corridor wall to sulk. The priest hurried away. Tariq noted the direction so he could talk to the priest after he accomplished his first objective.

The remarkably tiny throne room recessed into a glorified niche at the top of a tiresome flight of stairs. An interesting placement. In other Dwemer ruins, such an area would have housed a massive machine that would have drawn power from the larger machines underground and then distributed power to the rest of the upper structure. It was a good representation of the government — withdrawn, confined, restricted, detached, and blind to all approach except a direct one, provided one could get past the watchdogs.

And there she was, the desert eagle he'd been seeking.

He approached. The outer guards stopped him. In the throne niche, two seated Nords were loudly discussing recent trouble with enemies called "Forsworn" while the standing inner guard turned her face to frown at him. He smiled confidently at her.

"You may approach the Mournful Throne," she announced. This wasn't expected. The two Nords broke off their discussion to look at their guard in astonishment.

He stepped within the niche and rendered a perfunctory bow.

"Who are you, and what is your reason for approaching us?" asked the elderly adviser seated a few steps below and at the Jarl's left.

"I am Tariq ibn Zayad, recently come from Hammerfell. I am looking for work that I hope will challenge my sword and fill my purse, lord,"

"A sellsword?" sneered the Jarl, "I don't like your kind. No honor. No loyalty. Unreliable."

"Allow me to speak for him, my Jarl." The inner guard paused, waiting for her lord's permission. After a moment, he gave a sharp nod. "Tariq ibn Zayad is a warrior of renown throughout Hammerfell for his skills and his honor. I've had the privilege of fighting under his command.

"It's been a while since I followed you into a den Khulari vampires, Tariq," she said, addressing him with a grin.

"So it has, Faleen. I was surprised you left Shadymarch."

"Things didn't work out as I'd hoped," she answered, shrugging. "I was rewarded, but the post I'd wanted was given to another."

"Their great loss and Markarth's gain," he said, facing again the Jarl. "Let me assure you, great lords, that while my blade is for hire, once bought I will not betray unless faith was broken with me first." Jarl Igmund frowned and glanced at Faleen, but her expression was faintly amused and her pose relaxed. He nodded to himself.

"Very well. Come back later and I will see if I have a challenge worthy of your skill."

Tariq bowed again. As he turned away, he caught Faleen's eye. She nodded ever so slightly that she would meet him later.

Now to go through the tall, crumbling corridor he'd seen the priest of the dead go. The corridor led to a large chamber through which a small river flowed. Directly before him he saw a work area with an alchemy stand and an enchanting table. Excellent! He had brass rings he wanted to enchant with stamina and strength for Nimat, his new packhorse. He would then weave the rings into its mane and return the Dwemer metal rings that were there back to Cairo, his warhorse, whose rings were enchanted for swift recovery of health and stamina.

However, as he approached the two gray-robed figures were working at the tables and he was near enough to hear them talking, he recognized Summerset accents. More elves. The older one was fretting about work schedules and promising the younger one inclusion in a future expedition while being deaf to the distinct lack of enthusiasm in the younger one's voice. He stopped, wary that they might be more Dominion agents. They didn't wear the robes, but he would talk with Faleen first to make sure.

Before he could retreat the older one abruptly turned to reach for something on a bench behind him and saw Tariq. "You there!" The old elf was upon him. A candlelight spell flared so that the elf could examine Tariq's armor more closely.

"Original Rourken armor! Note the slight color variation, a touch of red from the ores and clay found in Vvardenfell, the twisted metal patterning in the collar denoting a noble's armor. Yes! And here, nephew, you see this decorative work along the joints here? That further proves this was forged before the First Century when Clan Rourken was still in Morrowind. If I'm not mistaken, that pattern was for the royal line only. A matching helmet would further prove this a relic of the breakaway clan."

"The ruins I found it in were certainly old enough, cerum," said Tariq frostily. He stepped away from the elves, the abrupt movement jarring the elder elf out of his scholar's ecstasy.

The elf scowled. Tariq took a deep breath and recalled the reason he'd approached them. "Forgive my manners," he said, "I've had a long journey and the guards of this city are not the most hospitable to strangers."

"I'm doing some very important research here. What do you want?" the elf demanded.

"I saw the enchanting table and I hope to get your permission to use it to enchant some rings. Not right now," he hastened to add as the elf's mouth opened again, "but, perhaps, you will allow a few minutes an hour or two from now?"

"We'll see."

Tariq gave a shallow bow of thanks and removed himself from the immediate area.

He found the priest sweeping stone dust away from the doors Tariq presumed was the entrance to the crypts. "Greetings, reverend one. I couldn't help but overhear your words with the warrior in the hall as I entered. I am Tariq ibn Zayad, a mercenary. Is there some work you might have for me?"

The Imperial looked at him blankly. "Who?" He shook himself slightly. "If it's about the Hall of the Dead, no, you can't go in there."


"I can't talk about it," the priest insisted. "Rest assured, the Jarl hears everyone's concerns. You will be able to visit the dead again soon." He appeared to be repeating words by rote. He must have had too many similar arguments recently.

"I could help if you tell me," Tariq assured, using the most persuasive tone and smile he had. He drew his sword up just enough to let the priest see the silver gleam of his blade.

"Well …" the priest looked again at the gleaming Dwemer armor, the silver blade, the Redguard's confident smile. "All right. I was going to suggest the Jarl hire someone to sort this mess out, anyway." He put aside his broom and ran his hands through his hair in clear agitation. "We've discovered that some of the dead have been … eaten. Flesh has been chewed off, bones were snapped to get at the marrow inside. We haven't caught anyone or anything yet. It's like it knows when I'm there. If you can get to the bottom of this, the Priesthood of Arkay will reward you. Take my key and be careful."

Tariq grinned. "Certainly, reverend one." He drew his blade. The priest stepped aside and Tariq unlocked the doors and pushed them open just enough to slip through.

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