Plitinius Mero didn’t make sense.
Once upon a time, Queen Barenziah was a paragon of virtue, bravery, and wisdom, so sweet she gave everyone toothaches. At least, according to the fairy tale that is the Biography of Queen Barenziah.
No one really pays attention to this official biography, except to learn a few extra names and have a chuckle. This is because the “real” story appeared in The Real Barenziah (TRB). Promise of slight pornography: fulfilled.
The author is only given as “anonymous” in the text of TRB, but we know that it was Plitinius Mero who wrote it (although even that name is apparently an alias). He admitted as much in the TES III: Morrowind expansion Tribunal. He was presumably the individual who wrote down Barenziah’s “private confessions”, as mentioned in the TES II: Daggerfall quest Barenziah’s Book. Eventually, someone involved in that quest would set the stories loose. Mero’s work was defaming to the queen, threatened the Empire, and was fairly lascivious. So it’s no surprise that the public ate it up – at least, they ate up the censored version which was subsequently released. The work was ordered banned, and Mero was ordered to be executed.
But then, Barenziah stepped in, and gave Mero a new identity as a scribe in her employ.
What the hell?
After Daggerfall, if you were told that the personal friend of Barenziah who wrote TRB would appear in the next TES game, you would’ve expected to find that person on a rack somewhere. Maybe there would be a quest where you’d save him from indescribable, endless torture, or perhaps kill him yourself. But no, you find him in the courtyard of the royal palace, with nothing but good things to say about his employer, the Queen Mother of Morrowind. I say again: what the hell?
According to Mero, “She knew my work to be true, and I believe she felt a sense of amusement, if not satisfaction, at the tale’s telling. She protected me from the Imperial family, and spread the word of my demise at her guards’ hands. Since then, I have traveled with her under this name, acting as her scribe, her advisor, and dare I say…her friend.”
I call bull****. Even if you (for some reason) want to believe Barenziah was a compassionate and innocent figure, this is not how rulers react to betrayals of their confidence. I don’t care if she’d known Mero since he was born; he doesn’t just get a pass for endangering her and her family, especially not with the Empire calling for blood. If that’s all there was to their relationship, then this just doesn’t make sense.
So, why did Bethesda even introduce Mero into Tribunal in the first place? He played no meaningful part in quests. He foreshadowed an expanded biography of Barenziah which never materialized. For nine years in total, he was just a big, fat loose end. TES fans were left to do what they do best: speculate rampantly. Mero reeked of “to be continued”, but no one could be sure what the rest of the story would be.
The rest of the story
Finally, in TES V: Skyrim, we were introduced to The Nightingales (TN), and suddenly Mero’s place in the grand scheme of things became clearer. If you take TN as substantively true, then the release of TRB was damage control, not damage. Knowingly or not, Mero was Barenziah’s chief propagandist.
That was why Barenziah gave these “private confessions”, why an edited version was eventually allowed into circulation, and why she spared Mero. And while this can easily be dismissed as a game limitation, it would also explain why Mero is apparently willing to tell his tale to any doofus who wandered through the courtyard: regardless of whether he’s a naive patsy or a trusted and loyal servant, Mero was affirming the story that Barenziah wanted people to believe. Or at least, the story she could tolerate them believing, as it was just damaging enough that apparently no one suspected that it was covering up more embarrassing truths.
There’s still room to believe what you want, and even synthesize your own story surrounding Barenziah, Mero, etc., however you wish. There’s a myriad of ways to speculate on the truth of Barenziah’s life, but Mero’s place in it circa 3E 427 has the benefit of being witnessed in-game. Almost everything else we know is just words on a page, but any theory on the truth behind Barenziah’s life must be squared somehow with her unusual relationship with Mero. The Nightingales is the only stated version of the story which at least begins to explain Mero, who had been begging for an explanation for nine years.
Now, these last two topics, arguably, depend upon the eye of the beholder. Look at them a certain way, and there’s no inconsistency at all. Maybe in this case, for example, Barenziah was really just that nice of a person, that she forgave Mero his transgression and, at a time when she was at her weakest politically, she went out of her way to keep him safe. All out of the goodness of her heart. In which case, Barenziah’s story was all wrapped up with a nice bow, and TN was just unnecessary retconning a decade after the fact. Well, I don’t know what Disney games you’ve been playing, but in TES, someone that compassionate is like a unicorn: extremely rare, pretty much doomed to die within a minute of being discovered, and though you can change that fate if you really want to, it’s not worth the effort.
The Barenziah which I perceive wouldn’t bother to save Mero just for the hell of it. The only way reason she would save him is if Mero was an asset to protect. Maybe if he was an adopted son or something akin to that, that would be another motivation to consider, but I haven’t read that story. Maybe it’s on its way, but for now, we’re left with TN, and TN gives the only credible hint on why Mero was still alive and in one piece when he appeared in Tribunal.
But there’s room for doubt, I admit. As I alluded to last week, TES is so full of powerful plot devices and gray areas that you can’t be sure of anything. So a “Lore Lapse” will not always be some irreconcilable contradiction. It will often be a topic of the lore where a source, on its face, is simply hard to reconcile with the others.
Next week’s topic, though, is particularly hard to reconcile, and is not in the eye of the beholder. It’s straight numbers, and they don’t add up. Should be short and sweet. 😉