Part 75 - Baubles

"Do you have items hidden away in the Blue Palace that you'd be happy to have stolen?" he asked Elisif. "Things you've been given by visiting dignitaries that are just too awful to put out on display?"

"But I can't sell them, or give them away, because they were an official gift? Yes, there's plenty of those. Tasteless baubles, and paintings of ugly relatives - theirs, not mine."

"It's an idea of Karliah's, or perhaps Nocturnal's. The Thieves Guild found that they often stole the same items multiple times. They were always useless things that people bought just to show off their wealth. So they got stolen on commission from others who wanted the same thing. The new owners couldn't complain when they went missing again, because they were stolen goods in the first place. The price the Guild asked when they didn't have a commission should have told anyone that they were stolen."

"Madesi made a few things like that for them, but he's busy on other projects. So now they're looking for new items to add to this system. Gaudy and tasteless seem to be main criteria. The items need to say 'I was bought because I was expensive, not because I have real value' for the best effect. I suspect much of what you'd like to dispose of matches that description."

"Madesi's the one that made that toy you brought me, isn't he?" Elisif pondered for a while. "I'd get a bit of storage space back, but what else is in this for Solitude?"

"Tax revenue, if the stolen art market is at least semi-legitimate. The idea is that a trader in fine art, myself for example, honestly sells the items at a large discount, with the caveat that the provenance is uncertain, and the buyer may have not any rights if the item is found later to have been stolen. If the buyer is happy with that, then the transaction provides income for me and the Guild, tax for the city, and the purchaser gets a reasonable amount of time with the item before it disappears again."

"So it's basically a rental arrangement, that looks like a purchase?" Clarisse asked.

"You've got it. We spice it up with a few seizures of stolen property, where the current holder is able to avoid jail because he has a bill of sale. They lose out on a bit of time with their purchase, but it provides everyone with the security of knowing that the doubtful goods aren't too hot to handle. There's a risk, but the gambling aspect is more likely to be a draw than to put people off."

"So where do I fit in?" Clarisse wanted to know.

"If we can spread the scope of the scheme to other provinces, the items can be more diverse, and the chance of individual ones turning up again in the same place is diminished. That will improve the perceived chance of someone holding on to their 'purchase' for a time. Which makes it a more tempting proposition for the buyer. That takes secure shipping, and you've told me that you've done it in the past."

"And of course, the ones doing all the buying, are the ones that have more gold than they need. It's fairer than taxes, and less likely to raise complaints," Elisif agreed. "So when's the break-in? Maybe the next time Elenwen has a party, and I'm out of the Palace?"

"Actually, we were wondering if you might lend a few things to Erikur, and they'd be stolen from there."

"Most of what I want gone, even he wouldn't want," Elisif replied. "But I'll certainly keep that idea for later. I have enough leverage with him for now."

"Clark, you know a bit about Daedric Princesses, don't you?" Jordis began.

"Well, Azura and Nocturnal prefer that term, but Prince is the right one for most of the others. Which one did you want to know about?"

"Meridia, and she sounded female when she spoke to me."

"She spoke to you? When?"

"When I found this in a chest in a cave. It was on the way to find those instruments with Illdi. There were just a few wild animals in there when we went in, but it looked like hunters had sheltered there in the past. We just wanted to get out of the rain, too."

"Tell me more about her speaking to you. Was there a shrine to her in the cave?"

"No, but when I picked this gem thing out of the chest, I heard her voice." Jordis showed Clark a round piece of what looked like quartz, the same material that crystal balls are made from. This was cloudy, like the ones Uzgash and Taminwe used for the flash telegraph machines they'd invented, back in Cyrodiil. It was easy to enchant, and quite versatile in the things it could do, but he'd never heard of it carrying anyone's voice before. Still, this was a Daedric Prince, and they could project through their shrines, so it seemed possible.

"What did she say? Does she want you to do something for her?"

"Yes, something about cleansing her temple at Mount Kilkreath. That's just up the road, half-way to Dragon Bridge, so it wouldn't be far for us to go."

Clark thought back to what his boss, the Champion of Cyrodiil, had told him about Meridia. She apparently really hated necromancers, and they had an equal disaffection for her. He'd cleared out a cave full of them for her, and received a useful ring with a Chameleon enchantment for his troubles. That was one of the Artifacts he'd delivered to Nocturnal for return when the old Count of Kvatch died.

"There will doubtless be necromancers there, so it's something we'd want to do for ourselves, anyway. They're a nuisance even without getting a Daedric Prince riled up."

"So does that mean we can go there? Together?"

"All right, but we'll leave first thing in the morning. Even though it's close, I doubt that clearing the place will be quick and easy."

Clark knew that a Daedric Prince's powers in Mundus were limited, but even so, this was a situation that Meridia couldn't handle by herself, so it wasn't going to be a simple job. Still, Jordis and he should be a well-balanced team. Neither was much of an archer, but this was to be a temple clearance, with everything at relatively short range. He was sure there would be some complication they hadn't forseen, but that would just have to work itself out.

When they arrived at the shrine, he was surprised to see a word wall just up the path from the temple. There was no dragon perched on this one, and he wondered if Diablita had been here before him. And if she had, why hadn't Meridia asked her for help?

Whatever had happened in the past, the present was full of surprises, too. When Jordis placed the "beacon" in the hands of the statues at the shrine, it glowed brightly and rose into the sky, taking Jordis with it.

He could hear a voice far above him, but it was too far away for him to hear what it said. Jordis told him when she floated gently back down a few moments later.

"Meridia says that there's a necromancer in her temple."

"Just one?" Clark asked. "Presumably a powerful one, if Meridia needs our help."

"I don't know if it's that, or he just knows how to block her power from reaching him. He's buried himself at the bottom of the crypts, with a lot of dead soldiers as fuel for his arcane activities, and Meridia said something about using the power of her own artifact against her."

"Did she give you any clue what that artifact was?" Clark wanted to know. If it was the same ring the Champion had won, they might be dealing with an invisible foe.

"None at all. But you see that light? Meridia says it will guide us to him, and open the doors for us. We have to help her send it through the temple, but she didn't explain how. It's supposed to be obvious, I guess."