For most chimer diplomats, it is commonly known that, according to most dwemeri customs (for each clan has its own idiosyncrasies and headaches) a dwemer will happily refuse to dance with someone, to drink to someone, to break bread with someone, to share their bed with someone, or pledge themselves in a life-long matrimonial bond of great sincerity if they are not particularly enamoured with the idea, and may even laugh in your face given the opportunity, regardless of how inappropriate the situation.
It is less commonly known that, if you feel particularly wronged by this course of action, and respect your dwemer companion’s intelligence enough (which, if you are communicating with a dwemer, it is assumed you do), you will encouraged be directly and openly voice it with them at the closest given opportunity, where you will most likely be dragged into an excruciating argument over the minutiae of your dispute for over an hour.
What even fewer know is that it is possible to even win these arguments if you don’t appeal to notions like ‘propriety’ and ‘status’ and instead approach your opponent on even and honest footing. As far as the dwemer are concerned, gentle lies and flowery falsehoods like ‘propriety' are for children, who don’t know better, altmer, who refuse to know better, and nauseating sycophants.
The takeaway for any chimer diplomat is this: don’t ask a dwemer to dance if you don’t expect the answer to be no.
Kagrenac has not said the word ‘no’ in six days or six nights. She is on her sixth cup of wine on the sixth night of the Chimeri Royal Wedding and at least sixteen times has she had to field requests from the baffling to the banal from highest echelons of noble chimer society. And what requests! One noble wanted an intimate biographical account of a third century dwemer they believed they both shared relation to, another wanted her to recount prime numbers to six digits within a hour, another wanted a “scientific” explanation of a prophetic dream they’d had from Azura, another quite insufferable wizard wanted to present his “ground-breaking” theories in the form of a two-hour lecture where she had been strictly advised against interrupting, and so on, and so forth, and so on, whatever it takes to keep “diplomatic relations” afloat.
And now Kagrenac is on her sixth cup of wine on the sixth night of the Chimeri Royal wedding on the edge of ballroom under a softer moon and she would like nothing better to shut up for six weeks and dance.
But no, she has somehow been persuaded, cajoled, gods-know-what-ed into giving a lecture varying dwemeri schools of thought on the institution of marriage to the bleary-eyed, beautifully dressed, probably-far-too-drunk head of House Dagoth who is inexplicably enraptured with the concept of its total abolition. The concept of marriage is complete antithetical to most strands of dwemer philosophy, she had supposedly once declared (although she had no memory of ever saying this). But more fool her, she has been now asked to explain going through the origins of principles of dialectical logic, the abolition of caste, the historical shift of sacred-to-profane and profane-to-sacred as quickly and matter-of-a-factly as possible, trying not to cry with boredom.
It is at this opportune moment Nerevar approaches her with the latest request of the evening.
“You are not busy, I hope.”
Immediately, Voryn Dagoth shrinks into his drink like a dead violet - he traded his dignity for an empty bottle of brandy about six hours prior. Kagrenac sighs, pretends she has seen absolutely nothing, and she shakes her head. It wasn’t even an actual question, anyway.
“May I, then, have this next dance with you?”
She glares at his outstretched hand. Quite frankly, part of her would rather watch Voryn squirm for another hour - goodness knows when she'll next get the chance, he usually prizes his dignity like ebony pearls. She considers staring Nerevar down - it’s worked before on other men - however, he does not look particularly comfortable with her silence, and perhaps he believes she will bite his entire hand off as means of refusal. It would hardly the most fantastic of all the marvellous tall tales she has overheard about her this evening. Hardly the “diplomatic” option.
(and she would like to dance, at least once, to a different tune)
She stands up. “You may.”
They move into position. The music begins with the softest of drum beats, echoing through the hall. It’s so delicate, you might think it would break - but it shoulders on, and bursts into a sweet melody. There’s something hopeful about the way it is composed, but the harmonies are so very sad, she might compare it to a fading star were she more poetic, or perhaps the last dulling sparks of a forge.
“I’ll lead, if you don’t mind,” says Nerevar, taking her hand without warning. In a moment, she instantly forgets anything the music is doing and instead resolves to count the number of missteps he makes while dancing.
It isn’t as if she hates the idea of dancing. It isn’t even as if she hates the idea of dancing with him - oh, who is she fooling, it’s absolutely him. He’s an awful dancer - but everyone delights at the opportunity of telling him how bold and inventive his footwork is, and - that’s the second misstep he’s made.
“You dance very well,” he says, a note of surprise in his voice.
“I know,” she says.
“Ah - of course, no offence was meant, of course. Just an observation.”
“None was taken.”
“Well! I’m pretty impressed regardless - you’re a scholar, a politician, and an accomplished dancer. What’s the next grand ambition for The Grand Architect, then?”
“You must know some incredibly poor dancers if you’d say that.”
“That was a joke, Nerevar.”
There is a long moment of silence. Kagrenac wonders if he had specifically requested a song that would last longer than five minutes.
“Can I ask you an honest question?” he asks her.
Kagrenac considers saying nothing. To question his ability, “can you?”, that would be facetious. To answer honestly would be… unwise, and directly clash with all the diplomatic training she has had to endure to reach this moment. To lie simply and sweetly as she knows fits chimeri custom might have been the thing she would have done were she more sober - but the bitter aftertaste it leaves in her mouth is simply unpalatable in this moment.
“What would happen if I said no?” she retorts.
“I would admire your nerve, certainly.”
“And I imagine, Lord Nerevar, your curiosity would not be sated. Who else might you ask?”
He cackles at this. “There is the rub. I am at my own wedding, sparing no expense to cater to everyone’s desires, and yet I cannot find an honest answer in any corner of the room to the most simple of questions. What would you have me do?”
Kagrenac considers this genuinely. She would ask someone known for their honesty. She would ask someone who wouldn’t flinch from the truth.
“I will answer your question, Nerevar. But you must answer one of my own.”
“A question for a question! How exciting! Then, I wish to know: what do your people truly think of us?”
She almost stops abruptly. “You would ask me this?”
“Without question, you’re highly regarded amongst your people, and your authority is respected with good reason, I believe. You have an excellent critical eye for detail, from what Dumac has told me. But he has been rather evasive on this topic. I want to know what the people really think. What say you?”
Kagrenac draws in a deep breath.
There is no right way to answer this question.
“I think you’re rather insufferable, actually, and your appeal to an authority to speak directly for ‘the people’ speaks volumes about you,” she does not say. Instead, she says: “I think it’s quite honestly too early to draw concrete conclusions. Nor could I possibly speak for all of the dwemer, only for myself, for most of us have not seen hide or hair of any chimeri delegation, and doubtless they have only heard of fantastic tales about the strange mer that live on the other side of the mountain.”
Nerevar has made fourteen missteps so far in the course of this conversation. Remarkable.
“Is that all?” he says, with a noticeable pang of irritation.
Not for the first time, Kagrenac wonders what he would look like if all his entrails were dumped on the floor.
“Hardly. The greatest concern is still the war of course - the Nord raiders inspire a great deal of fear even among us, Nerevar, even with our successes so far, and that clouds… everything. Some are still frightened, thinking we celebrate far too soon, and…” she shakes her head. “Is this really the conversation you want to have over a dance?”
“Where else would you have it?”
“I would prefer a debate chamber where we are to be heard properly by all sides.”
“There is none.”
“A pity." The conversation lulls, for a moment, as the flute rises and she spins around him twice, three times, even, before taking his hand in flash. "Dances are better suited for heartfelt declarations of passion, I’ve been told. Not that I would know of such things, being such an arcane and mysterious dwemer, who knows nothing of music or rhythm or tone. Speaking of passion, where is your wife? Surely the good reputation of her people is of equal interest to her?”
“Dumac has surely been giving you lessons, for you dance around questions almost as well as you do ballrooms.”
"Do you and Almalexia dance much, Lord Nerevar?”
He winces like someone has just slammed a hammer on his foot. Which Kagrenac certainly has not.
"That's my question," she adds. "I have answered yours to the best of my ability."
"That's a ridiculous question."
"Is it?" she asks, her face blank.
He opens his mouth. And closes it again. And opens, almost like a goldfish.
"Once," he says, curtly.
And he says nothing more for the remainder of the dance.