Thanks to Haute Quêteure for editorial advice.
AMI-ELI. BIRTH OF AMET
[One of the few surviving accounts of Ami-El, Cyrodiil's forgotten third emperor. The historical merits of this tale are dubious, and many of its claims are contested: among other things, the marital status and death of emperor Belharza, the status of minor mythological figure Asterion, and the very gender of the emperor here depicted are all contradicted by other sources. Some have theorized that the presentation of Ami-El as a woman is an attempt to legitimize him in the Alessian matriarchal line, similar to the highly apocryphal Lle-a-Vvyd cycle. All in all, the serious student of First Empire history would do well to put this story aside, save perhaps as a curiosity of Nibenese thinking.]
In the days of Cyrodiil new-forged the blood of Morihaus was strong in the veins of Empire. So it was with Belharza, the Man-Bull, defender against the winged hordes of Ayleidoon, who wreathed the city anew in brightly colored silks, for the expanses of white stone were loathsome to us, signal of torture and long slavery. In palaces of silk we lived, and in halls of silk our children slept, and the whole of the city was as a raiment of silk, until we called it the City of Silk, for we believed it whole made of silk, and the Woven City, for we believed it made by the craft of our mother's fingers.
Belharza's children slept in palaces of silk, and wore silken clothes, and when they dreamed, their dreams were as of silk, for these were the days of First Freedom. Belharza had fathered these children on the women of the north, whose blood is clear as water, whose skin is white as the snow, whose hair like the gold found in the Larsii river. Northern, all, save his youngest child, whom Belharza fathered on a woman of Nibennum, Llesa, his favored bride, whose blood runs thick and red as the river, whose skin was dark and patterned with whorls and snakes, whose hair was wiry and black. And within her the aspect of Morihaus manifested itself anew, so that when the girl-child was still in the womb, she grew the black horns of the bull, and pierced her mothers side, and killed her.
And Belharza grieved the death of Llesa, whom he had cherished, saying: "This child, manifest of the divine blood that lives within, has come to us garbed not in silk, but in the blood of the mother, my love. I cannot hold her and not see this. My halls, the clothes my children wear, their peaceful slumber was paid for in a price of blood many times over, first in slavery, then in revolt. I am loath to pay this price anew. Rather I give this child to the river." And after this, great Belharza grew cold, and ever more inward. And he called his servants and told them to rid him of his daughter.
So the horned child of Belharza was cast into the lake, which did not swallow her, but carried her along its back, to the south, to the banks of the Niben. There she was found by humble people of Nibennum, a man who carved knives from the bone-fish, a woman who sang the moths and wove fishing-nets. These people were pious, and in their heart's ear they heard the river speak to them and bade them care for this child. And they took her in and named her Amet, which in the tongue of their tribe means River-Found.
II. ASTERION, KING OF BULLS
Now in those days the brothers and sisters of Belharza were the minotaurs. They were many, and had many children, and they did not yet shun the cities of men for the wild and distant places. They were wise, then, having been taught by their father, Morihaus - though his lessons were already fading in their minds. And of all the minotaurs the ruler was Asterion, who behaved not as a servant of Empire, but as a solitary king of his kind, and they loved and feared him. Asterion was once a hero of renown, who fought the winged hordes of Ayleidoon by the side of his brother Belharza, and built many bridges over the Niben. But in old age his flesh had become white, his mind had become clouded, and his desire was for the red power in his brother's hand.
Mournful day, Belharza's death! Our banners we burned, and our faces we covered in ash, and ash we poured into the river until the red waters turned black. And we gathered and sang, and wept, and praised his virtues many. And the brothers and sisters of Belharza, the bullish spawn of Morihaus and Aleshut, came to the city and mourned, and their king, Asterion, came to the city and mourned. But the heart of Asterion was not on his tongue, for he had seen the Ruby-of-Kings, clasped in the cold left hand of Belharza, so mighty still in death, and within him the word ambition was spoken.
The children of Belharza then gathered at the catafalque to hold a banquet round his silent remains (as was the custom in those days), and Asterion was present in a place of honor. And when the last dregs of bitter wine were poured on the ground, Belharza's oldest child came forth, her name was Belmahar. She said: "Sisters and brothers, honored herdkin, today we have mourned the passing of our father-emperor. I ask of you, mourn him no longer, for he was Emperor, and by Divine pact his name is now bound to the Ruby-of-Kings, forever, to stand by and give wise council. See how it glows with star-made splendor! As long as this stone lies in the hand of the line of Mori-Alesh, our empire will grow, and will come to encompass, in time, all things, the lands of the west, and the lands of the east, nations above, and nations below, an empire of Man, eternal, fixed between the stars. Now of all here present I am firstborn, and claim the right of Empire."
And the kin of Belmahar rose and gave assent, all but Asterion, whose voice was as a roar, dissenting: "I have seen enough! The line of Belharza has grown weak and white within. They live in squalid cities of Elf-stone and rotting silk, pacified by the simple happiness of the freedom to do nill! They sleep, and rejoice, and growsmall. Is this the line of Morihaus, the winged bull, who slew many Elves, who defied Merid-Nua and cast her shrine down, who taught the bees to make honey in remembrance of the blood he spilled? Morihaus, who flew across Cyrod in a single day, and pierced the ground in predetermined places to bring forth the Niben's eight tributaries? You have no right, Belmahar. My line is the true blood of Mori-Alesh, and I claim Empire."
Said Belmahar: "You may have the blood of Morihaus, bull-uncle, but of the blood of Esha, the mother, you know nothing. Aleshut, powerful matron of man, protects us so that none may ever harm her children, save her children. See!", and Belmahar gestured to a far wall, which was covered with all manner of weapons, some fine, some crude. "These are the swords our enemies have raised against us, time and time again, assassins and usurpers come forth to claim the throne, yet these weapons did us no harm, they glanced off our skin, they pierced us, but drew no blood. Of all of mankind, only the children of Esha may harm the children of Esha, and none of us will willingly harm another."
And Asterion was silent for a while. then, he rose and spoke with traitor's tongue: "None of you would willingly hurt another, but I am too a child of Esha, and I am under no such injunction." And with that he gored Belmahar with his great horns, which was kin-bone to Belmahar, and deadly, and he called his bullish subjects to do likewise to the children of Belharza, until all were dead. And he took the Ruby-of-Kings from Belharza's hand, breaking the fingers that would not yield, and ordered him and all his children burned, and their bones ground to dust, so that none could from them fashion a weapon to harm him. Then Asterion Usurper left the city, and journeyed with his servant horde to the valley of Horns, which he proclaimed the new city of Cyrod.
III. THE MOURNING-BULL
While this all had come to pass, Belharza's castaway child was ignorant of it all. She had lived many years on the river banks, and had grown to maturity, strong, fearless, sharp-eyed, horn-crowned. And on the day of Belharza's death, Amet walked the jungled paths to the riverside.
On this path, she passed a stream come forth between two crooked stones, and from the water a voice reached out to her, saying: "Hail Amet, daughter of the Bull, come into her inheritance today, and ignorant of it all." Said Amet to the water: "Silent, crooked stream. I care not for the voice of the water, for I am neither poet nor ferryman. I am Amet, the horned, tall and strong, daughter of the bone-carver". The river replied: "Listen, Amet, for you are daughter of me, in a fashion, for when you were young the waters cared for you, and carried you, and gave birth to you anew on the reedy banks of the Niben. You will go to the river, true, but there you will not wash your clothes nor carry sweet water back home. On the river you will see a beast, a bull, wounded by an iron spear. Black deed! When you see this bull, you must take hold of the iron and pull it out, to ease the beast's suffering, but you must not touch the skin, for inside this beast burns a hateful fire. This bull hates you. It will tell you of your task, your inheritance, but it hates you, will try to wound you, and you must expect help nor gratitude."
"Fine words the river speaks today", Amet answered, "You will tell more prophecy? Sing a song, perhaps? It has been long since I heard good river-song." But the water did not respond. So Amet walked on to the grand river, the Niben, the only river whose words are truth. Many are the poets who sleep on the banks to hear the river sing, and many the lovers who drown themselves, thinking its muddy embrace preferable to the touch of the living. But that day the river was silent, and all lovers were dead already, and Amet saw that the waters had turned black from the City's mourning-ashes. "A black day!" She thought, "Black deed! Something vile must have happened in the Woven City." And she saw, far off on the horizon, the slender tower of Cyrod entwined with a second tower, a twisting tower of smoke.
And in her heart's eye she saw a black bull rise from the river, a bull made of flame and mourning-ashes. The beast bellowed, wounded by a spear in its side, and wrestled to the shore, where it collapsed. And Amet walked closer, and touched the steaming flank of the beast, feeling red fire rage beneath the skin, both the skin of the beast and the skin of herself. Then, remembering the river-voice, she gathered her strength and took hold of the spear, pulling it loose. And from the wound came forth a tongue of flame, and from the mouth of the bull came forth a tongue of flame, and mocking laughter, like a storm in summer. The bull then spoke to her, saying: "Hail, Amet, scorned daughter. Know now your true ancestry: not a child of Niben folk, but a child of Belharza, Man-Bull, dead today and in death defiled. You are the last of his line."
And Amet asked: "Who are you, smoke-bull? What do you speak of?" The bull replied: "I am the bull, Morihaus, and I am Belharza, son of Morihaus, and I am even blind Asterion, son of Morihaus. From me your blood flows." And Amet said nothing, for a fever took her strenght, and she rested against the bull's heaving flank.
After long a time, the bull spoke again. "To you I entrust the Empire of Aleshut, though there is part of me that rages against you, even in death, for your mother's life." And from the beast's flank and mouth sprung forth fiery tongues, lashing Amet, coalescing in her hand in the shape of a red diamond. "This is the sign of your office, now in the hand of a kin-murderer. Your uncle, the white Asterion, has murdered your brothers and sisters, and now plays at empire in the valley of Horns, where monsters roam. To you falls the task of vengeance".
"How do I do this?", Amet asked, to which the bull replied twin-tongued, saying: "Asterion has many warriors, also, he is invulnerable to the weapons of man. Only you, child of Esha, can wound him, by a weapon of the self", and saying: "You were the death of Llesa, Nibennum, my beloved. I give you this task far beyond your feeble reach. Fail, daughter. Let this empire rot with my bride, burn with my bones."
And when Amet woke, it was cold, and dark, and there no stars burned that night. And in her hand there was no stone, but a festering burn-wound, shape of a stone. So Amet returned home, feverish, and slept for many days, and her foster-mother and father wrapped her head and her wounds with healing silks, and many fine roots and herbs that bring sweet dreams and dull the senses, but her sickness did not abate - for none of the Niben's sweet-dream-spices could quell such a fire.
IV. THE APE'S SONG
A fortnight after Amet's revelation, still she twisted and turned unconscious in the darkness of her chamber, until there was a sound, the sound of a thing from outside. She woke, and at the foot of her bed sat an old ape, a bony creature, with loose teeth and bleeding fingers.
And Amet asked of the beast: "Who are you, then, Ape-Man, to visit me on the door to ill-waking?Another spirit of prophecy, no doubt, with double tongue, speaking words that are flames that are gems that leave wounds." They ape replied: "I speak prophecy, yes, but you will not hear it. It is a word from your father's mother to your children's children. You are a link in a chain that binds the world, a hand carrying a burden the eye is not meant to see."
"I have no use for animals and their lying songs, their burning words. I have caught a fever from a Topal-fly, and now I dream the strange paths. Will you listen to my dream, Ape?" The ape did not reply.
"In my dream I am the favored child of the emperor, great Belharza. I sit at his left hand in the throne-room. Before us there is a long line of claimants and subjects, each with his grievance, his anguish, his gifts. On each judgment Belharza asks my advice, and I give wise council. now from the darkness behind the hall comes a white bull with a red head, blind-eyed. It moves to strike my father, but I throw myself between them, and catch the horn. It tears me apart, but I do not feel it. I die, but I do not feel it." The Ape replied:"A dream, then, for a foolish Niben-child to council Empire. A dream indeed, for a child to undo what calamity has befallen the youthful dominion of man. Congratulations, Empress, on dreaming!"
"A fair speaking-beast you are," Amet said, "Your kind is to listen to the thoughts and dreams of man, and reveal their hidden meaning through the reading of portents and the trading of favors with hidden principalities. You are not to speak in such mocking tone." The ape laughed, then, and bit itself in the arm, drawing blood. "I am not a Niben dreaming-bird," it said, "But a vessel for the divine knowledge. The word of Aleshut is my word, but my word is nothing to the ears of man. They laugh, and say that I am ape-man, and instead they worship the Dmath, outsiders, that would break them if they but knew the why and the how. But you, you are emperor. If you but gave your voice to me, all could be different."
"Leave me be, Ape-Man."
The ape persisted: "I know of your task, your burden. You are to fight dread Asterion, the White. He has never been defeated. You will die, and your bones will be ground to dust, and no gipsy-moth will be there to take your name. You will fail, unless you listen to my plan, and follow my lead, and do as I propose. Then you will succeed, and become empress of all you can conceive, and more besides, for such a small price."
"What the price, Ape-Man?"
"The hearts of your children, and your children's children, for me to teach them the words I have learned in long nights of penance and supplication. I beg of you, Empress-to-be, Empress-in-all-but-name-already! Grant me your voice, and your empire will not fall, it will grow and thrive, it will come to encompass the all of Tam-Rugh, in time, even to stretch between the nonce-stars of the places far and unknowable to man!"
"Foolish beast. Begone now, Ape-Man, and trouble me no longer."
To this the ape hissed and spat blood. "Idiot spawn of runaway slaves! Whore-child of a stinking beast and his lewd concubines, lying lifeless on the floors of a stolen palace, clad in the emissions of carrion-moths! You will not listen to me, but I know of one whom you will hear, one whom I know better than all her subjects, than all of mankind! Hear me, Amet of the River, and hear the voice that splits my skull, breaks my teeth, twists my tongue!"
And the ape's mouth stretched, blood pouring from his tongue and gums, and out from it came Aleshut, a statue of Aleshut, radiant, artfully made, painted in many colors and decorated with many silken threads. And the statue spoke, and its voice cleansed Amet of the fire, and its voice was the waters and filled the chamber, and its voice was a light in the waters and filled the chamber, and its voice was a thousand silver-colored fish that swam in the waters and filled the chamber, saying thus:
"Hail Ami-El! Beloved daughter, to you the cities of the valley, and the kingdoms of the west, to you the Strident Coast, and the people of the Crossing Vale, and to you the holds the north, and to you the city of the Kvetchi, and to you the Pale Gates, and to you the Reaching Hold, and to you the highlands of Oak, and to you the hill of Sancre Tor were freedom lay hidden, and to you the high winter-mountains, and to you the great forests of the middle-way, and the rice-lands of Che-i-Dal, and the marsh-lands of the south, and the lands of the river-lords, and to you the tributaries of Nibennum, and to you the deep woods of Iter Mir, where venom seeps, and to you the Topali Shore, and to you the cities of De-Lo-Diil and Bra-I-Diil, and to you the Islands of the City of Cyrod, numbering eight, with their towers without number, bridges without number. From your neck will hang a blood-stone, and you will be clothed in silk, and clothed in moths, and clothed in iron, above your head there will be a radiant sphere of moths, behind your back will be a legion of warriors, at your feet will be the loving embrace of the sea, on your hands will be the blood of your kin, and you will rule Cyrod, with me, and you will be Cyrod, with me. There are but two strikes of a knife between you and your destiny."
V. THE VALLEY OF HORNS
And when Amet awoke, her mind was water-calm. She went to her father, the bone-carver, and said to him: "Father, I've need of a knife of the self." Her father replied: "There are many knives I have, knives of the bone-fish I carve myself, knives I have bought from the men of the north and the beasts of the eastern marshes, who live in the dark and sell their belongings for stories of dreams and wishing-deeds. But I have no knowledge of a knife of the self."
"It is but an easy thing, father. Cut off my horn, the right one, and fashion it into the shape of a dagger, for I need a knife that will slay true, as I will be a knife in days to come." And Amet's father, being pious, and respectful of the spirits and apparitions, he did not protest, but did as Amet desired. And from her right horn he fashioned a knife, black and curved, with a strong hilt, a sharp and honed edge. It was a good bone-knife, the likes of which one could trade or hunt with, it was a knife that would command respect of the prey and in the market-places, and worth much in beads and shells, and Elven-coin.
And with this knife Amet went to her mother, the net-singing woman, and bade her: "Mother, I've need of a silken grip for this knife's hilt, the likes of which only you can sing." And Amet's mother, the net-singing woman, was like her husband in piety and knowledge of the unseen, and did as her daughter desired. And she sang a fine piece of silk in the colors red and blue, remembering the many dead she had seen on the river, and on the river's bank, and remembering their souls and their splendor, and from the memory of their souls she wove a piece of silk in the colors red and blue. And Amet wrapped the hilt of her knife with this silk, and tested its edge, and its grip, and found it was good. Then she said good-bye, and left for the east.
Long Amet traveled, along the eastbound road, away from the valley and its sweet water, its forests and soft sounds. In the mountains of the east, the air is dry and filled with fine dust. In these mountains no tree grows taller than a man, before it dies, no water comes forth from between two stones. There lies a great fissure where Morihaus once struck the earth in anger, where the wind howls and bites, where stone twists and turns, where men betray and kill each other for little gain. There the minotaurs held their court.
At the entrance of the valley there was a gate where and flutes of hollow elf-bone hung the walls, so the valley would ring with the cries of dead Ayleidoon. This gate, now, was guarded by a minotaur, his name was Tull-Am. And when Amet came to this gate, Tull-Am called out to her, saying: "Hail, stranger! You stand before the gates of Cyrod, the court of Asterion, Emperor. Have you come to bring tribute?" Answered Amet: "I have no tribute save an arms-length of bone for the king of cows. Rather I am cut and bled than I would acknowledge blind Asterion, Usurper! Step aside, cattle-guard."
And Tull-Am flew was enraged, and moved to strike Amet down, but she stepped aside and drove her dagger into the minotaur's heart, to the hilt, marveling at the ease with which this knife cut through fur and flesh and bone. And in a moment, Tull-Am was dead, for he was a young bull, and untested in combat. And Amet thought to herself: "A simple victory! But I cannot expect to proceed like this, for deeper in the valley my enemies will be stronger, and more numerous. For this I must make a disguise, that I may pass unseen amongst my behemoth-cousins."
So she stripped Tull-Am of his fur and skin, and from this skin she made a cloak, in which she disguised herself. And so attired, Amet passed the gate and descended into the valley of Horns, where the wind cuts and howls, where savage monsters roam. Pelin-El warned us for these monsters. He was blind, it is said (he had river-pebbles for eyes) but perhaps he knew truth there, when he told Morihaus of the nature of his offspring.
Amet walked through the valley of Horns, which was filled with many strange and wondrous things, till she reached the center of the valley. There great stones made the form of a circle, and in that circle stood a single spire of stone, a needle wrought by the winds. And at the foot of this stone sat Asterion, garbed in stolen silks, lighting his house with stolen lamps. And he saw Amet, and said: "Hail, Tull-Am, cousin thrice-removed. You smell of blood, today, and though you have lost a horn, It seems to me that you have been victorious in combat. Is there something amiss at the gate of flute-bones?"
And Amet came nearer, and replied: "Hail, Asterion, uncle. I come garbed in blood, the blood of the mother, and I have been victorious, though I have a struggle before me yet. I have given my horn to serve as a weapon of war." And Asterion answered: "You speak in riddles, Tull-Am, as is not your custom, nor the custom of any of our kind. All alike are born in the blood of the mother, though we wash it away, and for all of us, our horns serve as daggers, as weapons aimed at our adversaries. Against whom will you point your horn, cousin? Gladly will I aid you in this struggle, and call many warriors to your side."
"I've no need of any warrior you can command, Asterion the White," said Amet, drawing closer still, "You speak truth, when you say that the blood of birth is easily washed away. I washed mine in the river Niben, and it brought me forth, and birthed me anew. Now I am clean and pure of purpose. Can you say the same?" And Asterion, whose nose was better than his eyes, sensed that something was amiss, and by his heart's mind he understood the nature of Amet, and her intentions. "Ho, I see what you are, little one! You seek to kill me, and reclaim the throne that I took from your unworthy lineage. Fool! Little fool! No," he gestured to his many warriors, who thronged around the city of stone, "Let her draw near! I am under the protection the blood of Esha, Aleshut! Invulnerable to the blades of men! Let her strike, let her tire! I shall break this petty avenger, and no moth there to take her name."
And Amet spoke again: "Asterion, for your ambition the lands of men bled and were brought low, but you shall bleed and suffer thrice for each wound! My father, Belharza, Man-Bull, was unwilling to pay more blood for empire's sake, for my sake, but I know not this hesitation! For I am Amet, Ami-El, the bull's daughter!" And with that, she swept aside her bloodied disguise, and fell upon the usurper with her horn knife. Easily it slid between skin and flesh, bone and sinew, to the heart of the bull.
And proud Asterion, once bravery and power incarnate, did not resist or raise his arm, but staggered, and said: "Here, between the flesh and the bone, I feel a dart. A kin-bone, small yet severe, cuts me loose and sets me on the river Nibennum, river of Arkay. How I have longed for this dagger, in the dark hours when life seemed cold within me, and that my blood still in my veins, my head would become heavy, blacken and rot. Now life is wild, and merciless, full of regret and the hand of an enemy." And so died Asterion, the Blind, the Seething, Asterion the White.
And the spirit of his kin died with him, for when they saw before them fair Amet, they recognized Empire, and the rule of law, and all of Asterion fled from their mind, so that hey now only remember him in the night, when the sky is black and starless, when the wind howls from the east. And the minotaurs departed for the the forests and the far places, and forgot the tongues of men. So will be, and so it is still.
And Amet went to the City of Cyrod, with its numberless towers and bridges without end, with its silken garlands in many colors, in red and blue, its halls and palaces without number, and she took possession of it all. And she was crowned Emperor Ami-El, the One-Horned, and ruled for one hundred years and more. And during her rule there were many great deeds and remarkable events, but of her many laws and decisions, her war with the men of Balalt, her courtship of the sea, and the many bridges she built over the Niben, we will say nothing here.