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The Great Sage was a tall, untidy man, bearded but bald. His library resembled him: all the books had been moved over the years to the bottom shelves where they gathered in dusty conglomerations. He used several of the books in his current lecture, explaining to his students, Taksim and Vonguldak, how the Mages Guild had first been founded by Vanus Galerion. They had many questions about Galerion's beginnings in the Psijic Order, and how the study of magic there differed from the Mages Guild.
“It was, and is, a very structured way of life,” explained the Great Sage. “Quite elitist, actually. That was the aspect of it Galerion most objected to. He wanted the study of magic to be free. Well, not free exactly, but at least available to all who could afford it. In doing that, he changed the course of life in Tamriel.”
“He codified the praxes and rituals used by all modern potionmakers, itemmakers, and spellmakers, didn't he, Great Sage?” asked Vonguldak.
“That was only part of it. Magic as we know it today comes from Vanus Galerion. He restructured the schools to be understandable by the masses. He invented the tools of alchemy and enchanting so everyone could concoct whatever they wanted, whatever their skills and purse would allow them to, without fears of magical backfire. Well, eventually he created that.”
“What do you mean, Great Sage?” asked Taksim.
“The first tools were more automated than the ones we have today. Any layman could use them without the least understanding of enchantment and alchemy. On the Isle of Artaeum, the students had to learn the skills laboriously and over many years, but Galerion decided that was another example of the Psijics' elitism. The tools he invented were like robotic master enchanters and alchemists, capable of creating anything the customer required, provided he could pay.”
“So someone could, for example, create a sword that would cleave the world in twain?” asked Vonguldak.
“I suppose, in theory, but it would probably take all the gold in the world,” chuckled the Great Sage. “No, I can't say we were ever in very great danger, but that it isn't to say that there weren't a few unfortunate incidents where a unschooled yokel invented something beyond his ken. Eventually, of course, Galerion tore apart his old tools, and created what we use today. It's a little elitist, requiring that people know what they're doing before they do it, but remarkably practical.”
“What did people invent?” asked Taksim. “Are there any stories?”
“You're trying to distract me so I don't test you,” said the Great Sage. “But I suppose I can tell you one story, just to illustrate a point. This particular tale takes place in city of Alinor on the west coast of Summurset Isle, and concerns a scribe named Thaurbad.
This was in the Second Era, not long after Vanus Galerion had first founded the Mages Guild and chapter houses had sprung up all over Summurset, though not yet spread to the mainland of Tamriel.
For five years, this scribe, Thaurbad, had conducted all his correspondence to the outside world by way of his messenger boy, Gorgos. For the first year of his adoption of the hermit life, his few remaining friends and family -- friends and family of his dead wife, truth be told -- had tried visiting, but even the most indefatigable kin gives up eventually when given no encouragement. No one had a good reason to keep in touch with Thaurbad Hulzik, and in time, very few even tried. His sister-in-law sent him the occasional letter with news of people he could barely remember, but even that communication was rare. Most of messages to and from his house dealt with his business, writing the weekly proclamation from the Temple of Auri-El. These were bulletins nailed on the temple door, community news, sermons, that sort of thing.
The first message Gorgos brought him that day was from his healer, reminding him of his appointment on Turdas. Thaurbad took a while to write his response, glum and affirmative. He had the Crimson Plague, which he was being treated for at considerable expense -- you have to remember these were the days before the School of Restoration had become quite so specialized. It was a dreadful disease and had taken away his voicebox. That was why he only communicated by script.
The next message was from Alfiers, the secretary at the church, as curt and noxious as ever: “THAURBAD, ATTACHED IS SUNDAS'S SERMON, NEXT WEEK'S EVENTS CALENDAR, AND THE OBITUARIES. TRY TO LIVEN THEM UP A LITTLE. I WASN'T HAPPY WITH YOUR LAST ATTEMPT.”
Thaurbad had taken the job putting together the Bulletin before Alfiers joined the temple, so his only mental image of her was purely theoretical and had evolved over time. At first he thought of Alfiers as an ugly fat sloadess covered with warts; more recently, she had mutated into a rail-thin, spinster orcess. Of course, it was possible his clairvoyance was accurate and she had just lost weight.
Whatever Alfiers looked like, her attitude towards Thaurbad was clear, unwavering disdain. She hated his sense of humor, always found the most minor of misspellings, and considered his structure and calligraphy the worst kind of amateur work. Luckily, working for a temple was the next most secure job to working for the good King of Alinor. It didn't bring in very much money, but his expenses were minimal. The truth was, he didn't need to do it anymore. He had quite a fortune stashed away, but he didn't have anything else to occupy his days. And the truth was further that having little else to occupy his time and thoughts, the Bulletin was very important to him.
Gorgos, having delivered all the messages, began to clean and as he did so, he told Thaurbad all the news in town. The boy always did so, and Thaurbad seldom paid him any attention, but this time he had an interesting report. The Mages Guild had come to Alinor.
As Thaurbad listened intently, Gorgos told him all about the Guild, the remarkable Archmagister, and the incredible tools of alchemy and enchanting. Finally, when the lad had finished, Thaurbad scribbled a quick note and handed it and a quill to Gorgos. The note read, “Have them enchant this quill.”
“It will be expensive,” said Gorgos.
Thaurbad gave Gorgos a sizeable chunk of the thousands of gold pieces he had saved over the years, and sent him out the door. Now, Thaurbad decided, he would finally have the ability to impress Alfiers and bring glory to the Temple of Auri-El.
The way I've heard the story, Gorgos had thought about taking the gold and leaving Alinor, but he had come to care for poor old Thaurbad. And even more, he hated Alfiers who he had to see every day to get his messages for his master. It wasn't perhaps for the best of motivations, but Gorgos decided to go to the Guild and get the quill enchanted.
The Mages Guild was not then, especially not then, an elitist institution, as I have said, but when the messenger boy came in and asked to use the Itemmaker, he was greeted with some suspicion. When he showed the bag of gold, the attitude melted, and he was ushered in the room.
Now, I haven't seen one of the enchanting tools of old, so you must use your imagination. There was a large prism for the item to be bound with magicka, assuredly, and an assortment of soul gems and globes of trapped energies. Other than that, I cannot be certain how it looked or how it worked. Because of all the gold he gave to the Guild, Gorgos could infuse the quill with the highest-price soul available, which was something daedric called Feyfolken. The initiate at the Guild, being ignorant as most Guildmembers were at that time, did not know very much about the spirit except that it was filled with energy. When Gorgos left the room, the quill had been enchanted to its very limit and then some. It was virtually quivering with power.
Of course, when Thaurbad used it, that's when it became clear how over his head he was.
And now,” said the Great Sage. “It's time for your test.”
“But what happened? What were the quill's powers?” cried Taksim.
“You can't stop the tale there!” objected Vonguldak.
“We will continue the tale after your conjuration test, provided you both perform exceptionally well,” said the Great Sage.
After the test had been given and Vonguldak and Taksim had demonstrated their knowledge of elementary conjuration, the Great Sage told them that they were free to enjoy the day. The two lads, who most afternoons fidgeted through their lessons, refused to leave their seats.
“You told us that after the test, you'd tell us more of your tale about the scribe and his enchanted quill,” said Taksim.
“You've already told us about the scribe, how he lived alone, and his battles with the Temple secretary over the Bulletin he scripted for posting, and how he suffered from the Crimson Plague and couldn't speak. When you left off, his messenger boy had just had his master's quill enchanted with the spirit of a daedra named Feyfolken,” added Vonguldak to add the Great Sage's memory.
“As it happens,” said the Great Sage. “I was thinking about a nap. However, the story does touch on some issues of the natures of spirits and thus is related to conjuration, so I'll continue.
Thaurbad began using the quill to write the Temple Bulletin, and there was something about the slightly lopsided, almost three-dimensional quality of the letters that Thaurbad liked a lot.
Into the night, Thaurbad put together the Temple of Auri-El's Bulletin. For the moment he washed over the page with the Feyfolken quill, it became a work of art, an illuminated manuscript crafted of gold, but with good, simple and strong vernacular. The sermon excerpts read like poetry, despite being based on the archpriest's workmanlike exhortation of the most banal of the Alessian doctrines. The obituaries of two of the Temple's chief benefactors were stark and powerful, pitifully mundane deaths transitioned into world-class tragedies. Thaurbad worked the magical palette until he nearly fainted from exhaustion. At six o'clock in the morning, a day before deadline, he handed the Bulletin to Gorgos for him to carry to Alfiers, the Temple secretary.
As expected, Alfiers never wrote back to compliment him or even comment on how early he had sent the bulletin. It didn't matter. Thaurbad knew it was the best Bulletin the Temple had ever posted. At one o'clock on Sundas, Gorgos brought him many messages.
“The Bulletin today was so beautiful, when I read it in the vestibule, I'm ashamed to tell you I wept copiously,” wrote the archpriest. “I don't think I've seen anything that captures Auri-El's glory so beautifully before. The cathedrals of Firsthold pale in comparison. My friend, I prostrate myself before the greatest artist since Gallael.”
The archpriest was, like most men of the cloth, given to hyperbole. Still, Thaurbad was happy with the compliment. More messages followed. All of the Temple Elders and thirty-three of the parishioners young and old had all taken the time to find out who wrote the bulletin and how to get a message to congratulate him. And there was only one person they could go through for that information: Alfiers. Imaging the dragon lady besieged by his admirers filled Thaurbad with positive glee.
He was still in a good mood the next day when he took the ferry to his appointment with his healer, Telemichiel. The herbalist was new, a pretty Redguard woman who tried to talk to him, even after he gave her the note reading “My name is Thaurbad Hulzik and I have an appointment with Telemichiel for eleven o'clock. Please forgive me for not talking, but I have no voicebox anymore.”
“Has it started raining yet?” she asked cheerfully. “The diviner said it might.”
Thaurbad frowned and shook his head angrily. Why was it that everyone thought that mute people liked to be talked to? Did soldiers who lost their arms like to be thrown balls? It was undoubtedly not a purposefully cruel behavior, but Thaurbad still suspected that some people just liked to prove that they weren't crippled too.
The examination itself was routine horror. Telemichiel performed the regular invasive torture, all the while chatting and chatting and chatting.
“You ought to try talking once in a while. That's the only way to see if you're getting better. If you don't feel comfortable doing it in public, you could try practicing it by yourself,” said Telemichiel, knowing his patient would ignore his advice. “Try singing in the bath. You'll probably find you don't sound as bad as you think.”
Thaurbad left the examination with the promise of test results in a couple of weeks. On the ferry ride back home, Thaurbad began thinking of next week's temple bulletin. What about a double-border around the “Last Sundas's Offering Plate” announcement? Putting the sermon in two columns instead of one might have interesting effects. It was almost unbearable to think that he couldn't get started on it until Alfiers sent him information.
When she did, it was with the note, “LAST BULLETIN A LITTLE BETTER. NEXT TIME, DON'T USE THE WORD 'FORTUITOUS' IN PLACE OF 'FORTUNATE.' THE WORDS ARE NOT, IF YOU LOOK THEM UP, SYNONYMOUS.”
In response, Thaurbad almost followed Telemichiel's advice by screaming obscenities at Gorgos. Instead, he drank a bottle of cheap wine, composed and sent a suitable reply, and fell asleep on the floor.
The next morning, after a long bath, Thaurbad began work on the Bulletin. His idea for putting a light shading effect on the “Special Announcements” section had an amazing textural effect. Alfiers always hated the extra decorations he added to the borders, but using the Feyfolken quill, they looked strangely powerful and majestic.
Gorgos came to him with a message from Alfiers at that very moment as if in response to the thought. Thaurbad opened it up. It simply said, “I'M SORRY.”
Thaurbad kept working. Alfiers's note he put from his mind, sure that she would soon follow it up with the complete message “I'M SORRY THAT NO ONE EVER TAUGHT YOU TO KEEP RIGHT-HAND AND LEFT-HAND MARGINS THE SAME LENGTH” or “I'M SORRY WE CAN'T GET SOMEONE OTHER THAN A WEIRD, OLD MAN AS SCRIBE OF OUR BULLETIN.” It didn't matter what she was sorry about. The columns from the sermon notes rose like the massive pillars of roses, crowned with unashamedly ornate headers. The obituaries and birth announcements were framed together with a spherical border, as a heartbreaking declaration of the circle of life. The Bulletin was simultaneously both warm and avant-garde. It was a masterpiece. When he sent it off to Alfiers late that afternoon, he knew she'd hate it, and was glad.
Thaurbad was surprised to get a message from the Temple on Loredas. Before he read the content, he could tell from the style that it wasn't from Alfiers. The handwriting wasn't Alfiers's usual belligerent slashing style, and it wasn't all in Alfiers's usual capital letters, which read like a scream from Oblivion.
“Thaurbad, I thought you should know Alfiers isn't at the Temple anymore. She quit her position yesterday, very suddenly. My name is Vanderthil, and I was lucky enough (let me admit it now, I begged pitifully) to be your new Temple contact. I'm overwhelmed by your genius. I was having a crisis of faith until I read last week's Bulletin. This week's Bulletin is a miracle. Enough. I just wanted to say I'm honored to be working with you. -- Vanderthil.”
The response on Sundas after the service even astonished Thaurbad. The archpriest attributed the massive increase in attendance and collection plate offerings entirely to the Bulletin. Thaurbad's salary was quadrupled. Gorgos brought over a hundred and twenty messages from his adoring public.
The following week, Thaurbad sat in front of his writing plank, a glass of fine Torvali mead at his side, staring at the blank scroll. He had no ideas. The Bulletin, his child, his second-wife, bored him. The third-rate sermons of the archbishop were absolute anathema, and the deaths and births of the Temple patrons struck him as entirely pointless. Blah blah, he thought as he scribbled on the page.
He knew he wrote the letters B-L-A-H B-L-A-H. The words that appeared on the scroll were, “A necklace of pearl on a white neck.”
He scrawled a jagged line across the page. It appeared in through that damned beautiful Feyfolken quill: “Glory to Auri-El.”
Thaurbad slammed the quill and poetry spilled forth in a stream of ink. He scratched over the page, blotting over everything, and the vanquished words sprung back up in different form, even more exquisite than before. Every daub and splatter caused the document to whirl like a kaleidoscope before falling together in gorgeous asymmetry. There was nothing he could do to ruin the Bulletin. Feyfolken had taken over. He was a reader, not an author.
Now,” asked the Great Sage. “What was Feyfolken from your knowledge of the School of Conjuration?”
“What happened next?” cried Vonguldak.
“First, tell me what Feyfolken was, and then I'll continue the story.”
“You said it was a daedra,” said Taksim. “And it seems to have something to do with artistic expression. Was Feyfolken a servitor of Azura?”
“But the scribe may have been imagining all this,” said Vonguldak. “Perhaps Feyfolken is a servitor of Sheogorath, and he's gone mad. Or the quill's writing makes everyone who views it, like all the congregation at the Temple of Auri-El go mad.”
“Hermaeus Mora is the daedra of knowledge ... and Hircine is the daedra of the wild ... and the daedra of revenge is Boethiah,” pondered Taksim. And then he smiled, “Feyfolken is a servitor of Clavicus Vile, isn't it?”
“Very good,” said the Great Sage. “How did you know?”
“It's his style,” said Taksim. “Assuming that he doesn't want the power of the quill now that he has it. What happens next?”
“I'll tell you,” said the Great Sage, and continued the tale.
haurbad had at last seen the power of the quill," said the Great Sage, continuing his tale. "Enchanted with the daedra Feyfolken, servitor of Clavicus Vile, it had brought him great wealth and fame as the scribe of the weekly Bulletin of the Temple of Auri-El. But he realized that it was the artist, and he merely the witness to its magic. He was furious and jealous. With a cry, he snapped the quill in half.
He turned to finish his glass of mead. When he turned around, the quill was intact.
He had no other quills but the one he had enchanted, so he dipped his finger in the inkwell and wrote a note to Gorgos in big sloppy letters. When Gorgos returned with a new batch of congratulatory messages from the Temple, praising his latest Bulletin, he handed the note and the quill to the messenger boy. The note read: "Take the quill back to the Mages Guild and sell it. Buy me another quill with no enchantments."
Gorgos didn't know what to make of the note, but he did as he was told. He returned a few hours later.
"They wouldn't give us any gold back for it," said Gorgos. "They said it wasn't enchanted. I told 'em, I said 'What are you talking about, you enchanted it right here with that Feyfolken soul gem,' and they said, 'Well, there ain't a soul in it now. Maybe you did something and it got loose.'"
Gorgos paused to look at his master. Thaurbad couldn't speak, of course, but he seemed even more than usually speechless.
"Anyway, I threw the quill away and got you this new one, like you said."
Thaurbad studied the new quill. It was white-feathered while his old quill had been dove gray. It felt good in his hand. He sighed with relief and waved his messenger lad away. He had a Bulletin to write, and this time, without any magic except for his own talent.
Within two days time, he was nearly back on schedule. It looked plain but it was entirely his. Thaurbad felt a strange reassurance when he ran his eyes over the page and noticed some slight errors. It had been a long time since the Bulletin contained any errors. In fact, Thaurbad reflected happily, there were probably other mistakes still in the document that he was not seeing.
He was finishing a final whirl of plain calligraphy on the borders when Gorgos arrived with some messages from the Temple. He looked through them all quickly, until one caught his eye. The wax seal on the letter read "Feyfolken." With complete bafflement, he broke it open.
"I think you should kill yourself," it read in perfectly gorgeous script.
He dropped the letter to the floor, seeing sudden movement on the Bulletin. Feyfolken script leapt from the letter and coursed over the scroll in a flood, translating his shabby document into a work of sublime beauty. Thaurbad no longer cared about the weird croaking quality of his voice. He screamed for a very long time. And then drank. Heavily.
Gorgos brought Thaurbad a message from Vanderthil, the secretary of the Temple, early Fredas morning, but it took the scribe until mid-morning to work up the courage to look at it. "Good Morning, I am just checking in on the Bulletin. You usually have it in on Turdas night. I'm curious. You planning something special? -- Vanderthil."
Thaurbad responded, "Vanderthil, I'm sorry. I've been sick. There won't be a Bulletin this Sunday" and handed the note to Gorgos before retiring to his bath. When he came back an hour later, Gorgos was just returning from the Temple, smiling.
"Vanderthil and the archpriest went crazy," he said. "They said it was your best work ever."
Thaurbad looked at Gorgos, uncomprehending. Then he noticed that the Bulletin was gone. Shaking, he dipped his finger in the inkwell and scrawled the words "What did the note I sent with you say?"
"You don't remember?" asked Gorgos, holding back a smile. He knew the master had been drinking a lot lately. "I don't remember the exact words, but it was something like, 'Vanderthil, here it is. Sorry it's late. I've been having severe mental problems lately. - Thaurbad.' Since you said, 'here it is,' I figured you wanted me to bring the Bulletin along, so I did. And like I said, they loved it. I bet you get three times as much letters this Sundas."
Thaurbad nodded his head, smiled, and waved the messenger lad away. Gorgos returned back to the Temple, while his master turned to his writing plank, and pulled out a fresh sheet of parchment.
He wrote with the quill: "What do you want, Feyfolken?"
The words became: "Goodbye. I hate my life. I have cut my wrists."
Thaurbad tried another tact: "Have I gone insane?"
The words became: "Goodbye. I have poison. I hate my life."
"Why are you doing this to me?"
"I Thaurbad Hulzik cannot live with myself and my ingratitude. That's why I've put this noose around my neck."
Thaurbad picked up a fresh parchment, dipped his finger in the inkwell, and proceeded to rewrite the entire Bulletin. While his original draft, before Feyfolken had altered it, had been simple and flawed, the new copy was a scrawl. Lower-case I's were undotted, G's looked like Y's, sentences ran into margins and curled up and all over like serpents. Ink from the first page leaked onto the second page. When he yanked the pages from the notebook, a long tear nearly divided the third page in half. Something about the final result was evocative. Thaurbad at least hoped so. He wrote another note reading, simply, "Use this Bulletin instead of the piece of shit I sent you."
When Gorgos returned with new messages, Thaurbad handed the envelope to him. The new letters were all the same, except for one from his healer, Telemichiel. "Thaurbad, we need you to come in as soon as possible. We've received the reports from Black Marsh about a strain of the Crimson Plague that sounds very much like your disease, and we need to re-examine you. Nothing is definite yet, but we're going to want to see what our options are."
It took Thaurbad the rest of the day and fifteen drams of the stoutest mead to recover. The larger part of the next morning was spent recovering from this means of recovery. He started to write a message to Vanderthil: "What did you think of the new Bulletin?" with the quill. Feyfolken's improved version was "I'm going to ignite myself on fire, because I'm a dying no-talent."
Thaurbad rewrote the note using his finger-and-ink message. When Gorgos appeared, he handed him the note. There was one message in Vanderthil's handwriting.
It read, "Thaurbad, not only are you divinely inspired, but you have a great sense of humor. Imagine us using those scribbles you sent instead of the real Bulletin. You made the archbishop laugh heartily. I cannot wait to see what you have next week. Yours fondly, Vanderthil."
The funeral service a week later brought out far more friends and admirers than Thaurbad Hulzik would've believed possible. The coffin, of course, had to be closed, but that didn't stop the mourners from filing into lines to touch its smooth oak surface, imagining it as the flesh of the artist himself. The archbishop managed to rise to the occasion and deliver a better than usual eulogy. Thaurbad's old nemesis, the secretary before Vanderthil, Alfiers came in from Cloudrest, wailing and telling all who would listen that Thaurbad's suggestions had changed the direction of her life. When she heard Thaurbad had left her his quill in his final testament, she broke down in tears. Vanderthil was even more inconsolable, until she found a handsome and delightfully single young man.
"I can hardly believe he's gone and I never even saw him face-to-face or spoke to him," she said. "I saw the body, but even if he hadn't been all burned up, I wouldn't have been able to tell if it was him or not."
"I wish I could tell you there'd been a mistake, but there was plenty of medical evidence," said Telemichiel. "I supplied some of it myself. He was a patient of mine, you see."
"Oh," said Vanderthil. "Was he sick or something?"
"He had the Crimson Plague years ago, that's what took away his voice box, but it appeared to have gone into complete remission. Actually, I had just sent him a note telling him words to that effect the day before he killed himself."
"You're that healer?" exclaimed Vanderthil. "Thaurbad's messenger boy Gorgos told me that he had just picked up that message when I sent mine, complementing him on the new, primative design for the Bulletin. It was amazing work. I never would've told him this, but I had begun to suspect he was stuck in an outmoded style. It turned out he had one last work of genius, before going out in a blaze of glory. Figuratively. And literally."
Vanderthil showed the healer Thaurbad's last Bulletin, and Telemichiel agreed that its frantic, nearly illegible style spoke volumes about the power and majesty of the god Auri-El."
"Now I'm thoroughly confused," said Vonguldak.
"About which part?" asked the Great Sage. "I think the tale is very straight-forward."
"Feyfolken made all the Bulletins beautiful, except for the last one, the one Thaubad did for himself," said Taksim thoughtfully. "But why did he misread the notes from Vanderthil and the healer? Did Feyfolken change those words?"
"Perhaps," smiled the Great Sage.
"Or did Feyfolken changed Thaurbad's perceptions of those words?" asked Vonguldak. "Did Feyfolken make him mad after all?"
"Very likely," said the Great Sage.
"But that would mean that Feyfolken was a servitor of Sheogorath," said Vonguldak. "And you said he was a servitor of Clavicus Vile. Which was he, an agent of mischief or an agent of insanity?"
"The will was surely altered by Feyfolken," said Taksim, "And that's the sort of thing a servitor of Clavicus Vile would do to perpetuate the curse."
"As an appropriate ending to the tale of the scribe and his cursed quill," smiled the Great Sage. "I will let you read into it as you will."