"Wake up. Wake up, cyridil. I think we have arrived to… somewhere."
A young man, who was sleeping on the wooden floor until this interruption, slowly opened his eyes and was almost startled to death. About half-an-inch from his head, was a green-blue head of a lizard-creature, who looked at him and turned his head in curiosity.
"In the name of Almsivi, don't ever do that again! I almost wet my pants you know…"
"I thought you imperials don't hear so well, unlike we aragornians.", the lizard said, drew his head backwards and stood up.
"So you decided to scream at my ear? If I have had a dagger in my hand, I might have killed you as an assassin.", said the man, smiling.
"Like somebody would like to kill you", replied the aragornian sarcastically, but also smiling. "We're slaves, prisoners, nothing, the lowest beings in Tamriel."
"Like I didn't know that already, please don't remind me again about that, will you?"
The imperial rose up, rubbed his shoulder and took his dirty shirt from the floor. This shirt and his – if possible – even dirtier grey trousers were everything he owned. As the man got dressed, the aragornian spoke again.
"I hear footsteps coming this way, they are coming for us I believe. In case they separate us, good luck, my friend."
"You too, my friend", said the imperial. "It has been a pleasure indeed to travel with you in this royal ship."
They both laughed. Suddenly, there were sound of a key turning in the door lock. They glanced at the door as it opened and a guard step in. He didn't look much better than the two prisoners, as his dirty long hair and worn leather-cuirass made him look like a war hero, who has been wandering in a desert several years. Or he just hadn't washed himself for a long while…
"Get up!", the guard growled. "Not you!", shouted him and pushed the aragornian backwards, as he had taken a step forward to follow. "Follow me, imperial."
The man tapped the aragornian's shoulder and followed the guard through the door to main cargo hold.
"So, where are we?", asked the man.
"Shut up, you filthy piece of scum."
"No chit chat it seems…", said the man to himself quietly.
They arrived to a small wooden staircase, which led to a wooden hatch in the roof.
"To the deck imperial, and let's try to keep this as civil as possible", said the guard and pointed at the hatch.
The man took a deep breath, opened the hatch and climbed to the ship's deck. Blinding sunlight hit the man's eyes and it took a short moment for the eyes to adapt. He was standing on the deck of a small merchant ship, docked in the harbour of a small but brisk village. Most of the harbour were enclosed with a tall wooden fence, but still is was possible to see a huge, insect-like animal standing on six long, thin legs behind the wall. It had some clothes hanging in its sides and a big carved hole in its large chitin shell, which looked much like a pair of seats.
There was another guard, this time a bit better dressed, standing on the wharf.
"Hey, you there! Would you come here for a second, please?", the guard called the man.
The man walked to the guard a bit surprised, as nobody had asked him kindly to do anything in the prison, everything was confirmed with a whip. The man stopped next to the guard and waited, as the guard dug a scroll of paper from his pocket.
"Prisoner 2231 from the Sotha prison?", asked the guard.
"I'm prisoner 2231 yes, but I have no idea what prison I was in."
"Oh, but well, I think you're the right guy anyway. Could you follow me please?"
"Sure, but could you tell me what's going on in here? If you ask me, I'd have rather stayed in the prison rather than be sold as a slave to some rich old fool in some god-forsaken place…"
"No no, you have got it all wrong", the guard interrupted, sounding apologetic. "You will be set free."
"Err… what!?" The man was stunned. All his live, he had been somebody's property, or in jail. Why would somebody… or anybody want him set free? Like the guard in the ship had said; lowest scum in Tamriel. "Are you sure you've got the right guy?"
The guard looked at his paper, then back to the man and smiled. "Yes, I believe I've got the right man. We got direct orders from the Emperor himself. But look, I'm just a guard, maybe the harbour master knows more. Please, follow me to the census and excise office."
The guard turned around and started walking along the wharf towards the nearest building in the root of the wooden fence. The man had no choice but to follow him to the building. As they walked, the guard spoke again.
"Oh, by the way, I need your name here on the paper."
"My name?", the man asked.
"Yes, your name, please."
"I don't have a name… they never gave me one… my parents… I never knew them actually… I grew up in a children's home, just before I was sold to my first owner."
"Oh, that's sad to hear…", said the guard. "But l need to put something here… could you make up a name for yourself?"
"The man thought for a moment, make up a name?"
The was some engravings in the building wall. "M…E…R…L…A…C…" the man read.
"Does 'Merlac' mean anything?" the man asked.
"Umm… I don't think so… at least not in the language of imperials or dunmer. It sounds like daedra, but I can't be sure. Well, is it now your name? Fine then. Prisoner 2231, Merlac the imperial. There you go.", said the guard happily, signed the paper and put it back to his pocket.
"All right then, in you go", he said, pointing at the door labelled "Census and Excise Office". "Go in and talk to Caius Closcius, the excise responsible.
Merlac bit his lips fast, lifted his posture a bit and walked in. As he entered the room, a warm, homely feeling flooded against him. There was a big fireplace burning in the wall and opposite to it in the other side of the room was a small corridor. There was a guard posing in the corner, looking slightly tired. In the middle of the room, were three tables full of papers, and behind them stood an old man with relatively long white beard. The man lifted his look when Merlac stopped in front of him.
"Excuse me, where could I find Caius Closcius?", asked Merlac.
"Ah, so you are the man we have been talking about!", replied the old man considerably gratifyingly. "I'm the man you are looking for and I got a letter from ministry of truth with a royal signet of the Emperor himself, this has been so exciting!"
"Well… sorry, but I can't tell you much, as I just heard I'm going to be set free."
"The is not much to wonder, if the Emperor himself wants you free, then it is our job to do so, right?", said the old man smiling. He took a candle and poured melted candlewax into four papers, put the candle back to the table and pressed a "C.C." –marking to all four papers with his ring. "Now, my friend, you are free."
"Oh… well what should I do now?", asked Merlac. "I have no idea what to do, where to go or… heck, I don't even know which part of Tamriel I am in!"
"How unfortunate.", said the old man with sympathy. "I cant tell you everything that has happened during last years while you were prison, - like there would be much to tell - but what I can tell you is that you are in small fishing village called Seyda Neen, island of Vvardenfell, province of Morrowind, the northeasternmost province in Tamriel."
"Morrowind?", asked Merlac. "You mean the huge island of dark elves and imperial colonies?"
"Yes, that same island. Though the colonies are lively towns and cities nowadays. The Lord Vivec himself lives in Vivec, the biggest city in Vvardenfell."
"Err… could I see the Emperor, please? I'd like to know why he set me free.", Merlac asked.
At this point, both the old man and the guard who had been standing quietly in the corner, burst laughing in tears.
"What? What!?", Merlac asked in irritated astonishment.
"You can't meet the Emperor.", the old man said. "He is the king, not just a local town governor who you could meet if you fill in dozens of papers, wait few weeks and pride some people, IF you're lucky."
Merlac stood still for few moments, feeling a bit insulted. How could he know the ways of a place where he had never been in his life?
"But," the man continued, "there is a place where I can send you to. This letter from the Emperor also orders you to report an imperial man called Caius Cosades in town of Balmora. And no, I don't know why. I don't even know the man, or what he does for living. I also don't know how to find him from Balmora, the letter doesn't say."
"So, how am I going to find this Balmora then? You have a guide for me?", asked Merlac.
"No, I don't have a guide for you, but here, take this scroll. It's a travelling guide to Balmora. There are two common ways to go there. First way is to walk there, using that guide. Second one is to use public transportation, if you have money, of course."
"And what is that?"
"Money? Oh, sorry… how silly of me to assume that a poor kid would know what money is…"
"No, not money you old fool! I mean what is the public transportation in this place? A ship? Is Balmora on an island?", asked Merlac, starting to get tired to this old happy man.
"Ah.. of course, sorry.", said the man shamefully. "Silt strider."
"You can travel to Balmora with a silt strider. It's the huge bug in the middle of the town, you can't miss it unless you are both blind and stupid."
"Oh that…", said Merlac. "Well, how much does it cost to travel with that thing?"
"It depend how much the driver likes you, my friend.", said the old man happily. "If he doesn't like you, he might not take you to Balmora at all. But don't worry, people of Morrowind are polite and friendly. Though some of the might eschew outlanders, traders, smiths and people who run silt strider services are still attracted by septims."
"Septim is the local monetary unit."
"How can I get some septims, as I'm new here and I need some food to live, you know?"
"Well, it depends.", said the old man. "If you don't like to travel, you could build yourself a house and start working as a smith or a trader. Though some people think that there are already more than enough traders on this island."
"Any other ways?"
"One way is to join the imperial legions, and become a soldier. Their salary is quite low and the daily routines are exhausting, but they give you full upkeep in food and place to stay at nights. Though you can't leave the fort between holidays, unless assigned a job which requires travelling somewhere. Oh, and you need to pay for your cuirass and sword, which you will have to buy from the fort's armoury. Uniformity, you know.", the old man winked his eye.
"As I don't have any money, nor any combat training, that might not be the best place."
"I though so as well. Well there is one more legal option left, but it's rather time-consuming and often even dangerous…"
"And what is that?", Merlac asked impatiently.
"Go freelance. You may do whatever you wish, whenever you wish and using methods you prefer, as long as you don't break the law, of course. Most of the freelancers usually loot caves and caverns for antique weapons, armour and items, left there by previous adventurers, who probably died in the same place several years before doing the same thing. Then you go and sell the stuff you find. Sounds easy, but I would really like to see how a young man like you with no combat experience would try to defeat even a lonely bandit who tries to rob you in the middle of nowhere, while travelling somewhere."
"You said that was the last legal way to earn money, what about the illegal ones?"
"I hope you are kidding, my friend. The last thing you want at the moment, is to get yourself into some imperial fort's jail.", the old man said cautionarily. "Of course there are things like thievery, smuggling and robbing shrines, like in all cities of Tamriel. But I warn you again, those acts are strongly illegal and there are guards patrolling the streets in all towns. Some of them, like the one standing in corner behind you while he should be DOING SOMETHING", said the man suggestively to the guard standing in the corner.
"Err… excuse me, sir?", said the guard.
"Ah never mind, you blind fool. And you, Merlac, put those septims back to the table where you took them."
"What septims?", asked Merlac, trying to sound not guilty.
The old man took a deep sight, walked around the tables and took seven green septims from Merlac's trouser pockets.
"So, I'm going back to jail now, right?", asked Merlac sounding scary.
"No, I let you go for now because you don't know our ways yet. But be warned; the people of Morrowind might be friendly, but they don't like thieves. Put that into your mind."
The old man took a deep breath and smiled again.
"All right then, off you go, to Seyda Neen.", said the old man, pointing at the corridor.
"Sure… and thanks for the guide," said Merlac and waved the Guide to Balmora –scroll in his hand, smiling. "Oh, and one more thing", said Merlac and walked back to the table. "You said thievery is illegal, but you'll let me go this time, I think I'd better return these to you as well."
After Merlac had said this, he put his hands into his pockets, and started piling up things to the table. The census minister and the guard were only able to stare in astonishment, as Merlac took ten more coins from his left trouser pocket. And an old amulet, followed by pair of forks and knives, made from silver, small ring and three keys. Finally, Merlac kneeled and took a small silver ring from his shoe, with markings "C.C." on it. He put the ring to the table as well, smiled, and walked across the room to the corridor, leaving the two men staring at the small pile of stuff what they did not notice him stealing. The guard took the three keys from the table, put them back hanging to his belt, walked back to his corner and continued posing and staring at the opposite wall, feeling a bit embarrassed. The old man shook his head and smiled.