Part 42 - Raven Rock

While Vicuņa was changing, Diablita showed Clark around Severin Manor. "I suppose I could start calling it Diablita Manor now, but everyone uses the Severin name, so I haven't. The family who owned it before weren't really called Severin either. Probably Hlaalu, or Ulen, in reality."

"It has everything I need, alchemy, enchanting, a full forge and all the crafting stations. And a spare bedroom, with its own door for privacy. It only has a single bed in it at the moment, but there's enough room to put in a larger one later."

"It's much bigger than it looked from the outside," Clark responded. "I assume that's because most of it is underground."

"Yes, pretty well all the buildings here are made that way. The ash is easy to dig, but then you reach solid rock not too far down. There's only one level below ground, but it's a big one. The part above ground is always about the same size, by tradition. I think they were actual shells back in Morrowind, but they make replicas from Bonemold here."

Vicuņa was back with them, wearing essentially the same outfit she'd had on at the Markarth brothel, except that she'd added a few small pieces to cover what she had to. "This is all Telvanni style, rather than Redoran, so they'll expect it to be a bit different from what everyone else is wearing. Hopefully that will include it being a bit less. If Diablita can get away with hers, I should be all right."

Sadri didn't mind. He asked the two ladies if they'd mind sitting near the bar, so that all the men would come to take in the view. "They drink more than the women, so I stand to gain more than I lose."

Try my Sujamma!

"And would you all like to try my Sujamma? The first one's on the house, as you won't have tasted this recipe before. I call it Sadri's Sujamma; imaginative name, isn't it?"

"Have you had Sujamma before?" Vicuņa asked Clark. "It doesn't travel well, so you can only get it in Morrowind, or here on Solstheim."

"And here, only at the Retching Netch," Sadri was quick to point out. "Nobody else is making it."

Clark hadn't. He'd not been to Morrowind, although he'd hoped to go and visit Rinalla in Mournhold. The eruption of the Red Mountain, and the Argonian invasion, had conspired to prevent it. It may have been for the best, as it he might not have been welcome here if he'd been more associated with House Hlaalu.

"So what's Sujamma made from?" he asked.

Vicuņa told him that nobody who made it would ever divulge their recipe, but it would be basically a grain-based fermentation, fortified with brandy, and generally flavoured with local herbs or berries. "it's all about the secret herbs and spices, isn't it, Sadri?"

"That it is. What do think of this one?"

"You won't get better anywhere. It's pity it doesn't travel, or you could make a fortune. Perhaps you need to talk to Captain Gjalund about running Sujamma-tasting trips from Windhelm? Bring the people to the drink, instead of the other way round."

Clark was already considering the compromise. You could take this to Windhelm, and it would still be good. He didn't know if the New Gnisis Corner Club made any, but he hadn't been offered any when he went there. Perhaps there was a mainland outlet for Sadri, and it would help lure the customers across to the island. He'd have to talk to him about it another time.

Diablita wanted Clark's advice. She had got this far on her own, but now she needed someone else's opinion. "What do you think of Hermaeus Mora? Can I trust him?"

"If you know what he wants, you can trust him to try and get it. What does he want from you?"

"He wants the Secrets of the Skaal, whatever they are. Neloth thinks it's just another way to skin a Horker, but I can't see a Daedric Prince concerning himself with that, even if it is knowledge. And I need something from him in return. The final word of the Bend Will shout, without which I can't reach Miraak."

"I think you'd better start by explaining about this Miraak. Assume I know nothing at all, because that's about right."

"Miraak is another Dragonborn, except that he lived in Skyrim a long time ago. He sold out to Hermaeus Mora for more power, and was taken to Apocrypha. He's been trying to get back to Mundus ever since, and he's started to have some success. He managed to corrupt the All-Maker Stones, and he had the people of Solstheim rebuilding his temples around them."

"His temples? He wanted the people to worship him?"

"Yes, that's the sort of person Miraak was, or still is, I suppose. It's just that he's stuck in Apocrypha now, and isn't happy about that. Anyhow, I managed to cleanse the Stones with just the first word of the shout, but Storn tells me I've only slowed Miraak down, not stopped him."

"And Storn is...?"

"Storn Crag-Strider is the shaman of the Skaal village up in the north-east of the island. His daughter, Frea, has been trying to help me, but she can't go to Apocrypha, because she's not Dragonborn."

"But you can."

"Yes, I just have to read one of Hermaeus Mora's Black Books, and it takes me there. It's a weird place, full of old books, and patrolled by hostile creatures, lurkers and seekers mostly."

"So what keeps you going there? I assume you're looking for something, besides Miraak?"

"Knowlege, mostly. Each book I've read has taught me something magical, and I keep hoping to find more words of Bend Will, but it looks like I have to get them from the Daedric Prince himself."

"And how will Bend Will help you?"

"It's the same power Miraak has been using to make the people do his bidding. I need to ride a dragon to get to the summit of Apocrypha, to confront Miraak, and that will make the dragon obey me. "

"Because you can't trap one here, like you did at Dragonsreach?"

"Exactly, and I can't summon one to Apocrypha from Mundus. I'll be dealing with an unrestrained and hostile dragon, probably goaded by Miraak. I need all the same powers he has if I'm to defeat him."

"So have you dealt directly with Hermaeus Mora before?"

"A bit. I had to deal with him, through Septimus Signus, to get the Elder Scroll I needed to read at the Time-Wound on the Throat of the World. He spoke directly to me after that, but he wasn't making any bargains then. He didn't start that until I was in his own realm, and he had the upper hand."

"Where does Neloth fit in to all this?" Vicuņa asked.

"He helped me find the Black Books. I'd found one myself, in the ruins of Miraak's main temple. It took me to Miraak, but he left before I could stop him. I needed more of them if I was going to search the rest of Mora's realm, and he knew where at least one more was, at Nchardak. Storn suggested I should ask him, and he's quite happy to assist, as the books are just as useful to him."

"And what was it you wanted to ask me?" Clark resumed.

"Whether I should ask Storn to make the trade with Hermaeus Mora. He's kept the Secrets of the Skaal his whole life, and if he gives them up, he'll have nothing to live for. He won't be able to pass them on to his daughter, Frea, because they won't be secrets any more."

"But the alternative is leaving Miraak unchecked, isn't it? it seems like that would be just as bad an outcome for everyone else. I think it's Storn's decision to make, not yours. Give him all the facts, and trust his wisdom." Clark felt he was avoiding the decision, too, but it really was in the hands of the Skaal.

"You, however, need to be fully prepared for whatever he decides," he continued. "When you eventually confront Miraak, you'll be up against another Dragonborn, with more experience than you. If he doesn't return, and you meet him in Apocrypha, it will be in a realm that's more familar to him. You need to be as strong as he is, and more so."

"I know. I've been combing the island, looking for any more Dragon Shouts that he might know, and I have all three words of Dragon Aspect. I found some others that would only help if we had allies, but I believe Mora is setting us up for one-on-one combat. I can't take my two-handed skill any further, and I can heal myself about as fast as is possible. I'm about as ready as I can be."

"What does this Dragon Aspect do?"

"It's a kind of mage armour power, on top of what I already have. and it increases my attack strength. From what I've been told, Miraak is more of a spell-caster, so it benefits me more than him. I hope it's the edge that I need."

"Did you ask Neloth or Frea what they thought?" Vicuņa asked her.

"Neloth is only interested in Neloth. If the situation doesn't affect him, he has no opinion. Frea is overly-concerned about her father, and possibly about her own inheritance of the Skaal Secrets, so she's a bit biased, too. Neither gives me answers that help, which is why I asked Clark."

"I still think you should be asking Storn, not me. But let's all go visit Neloth, and then the Skaal, and see if they change my mind."