Everybody seems to talk about Master Aryon as being an Imperial sympathizer because he has a reputation as being the “progressive Telvanni”: he’s hired a racially Imperial mercenary as captain of his guard, and his tower is in the middle of what appears to be Imperial architecture. Therefore, this seems like it would be a logical conclusion to reach. But is it the correct conclusion? I’ll admit, I hope not, since my character is fiercely anti-colonial and one of the reasons she joined House Telvanni is because of how they refuse to recognize Imperial rule as legitimate.
Let’s look closer at the evidence.
Speak to Aryon’s captain, and you will realize that, while he is indeed racially Imperial, the man is a mercenary and is in no way affiliated with the Imperial Legion. Aryon does have a rather diverse cast of characters on his staff, after all. I’ve seen, among his host and retainers: Khajiit, Argonians, Altmer, Bretons, Imperials, and of course Dunmer. Because he is the “progressive Telvanni”!
Does the Legion recognize Aryon’s claim in Tel Vos as legitimate? Aryon explains the permitting process, and how nobody may develop land or lay claims in Vvardenfell without express permission from the Empire. After explaining this, Aryon tells the Nerevarine not to worry about him though, as he is confident he can hold his own against the Empire if they decide to siege his tower for building it without “official” permission.
So it would seem that Aryon does not have any Imperial recognition of his holdings in Tel Vos, as he admits that the Empire might try to unseat him. This would be pretty typical for a Telvanni. Indeed, all of the Telvanni Masters with holdings on Vvardenfell are there explicitly in violation of the Imperial decree, which is also a major reason for their being there. Things are getting pretty crowded and cut-throat for Telvanni on the Mainland, especially since many of the established Telvanni nobility on the mainland are either liches or vampires, and have probably ruled their holdings for a thousand years or more. This doesn’t leave much room for young Telvanni nobles to advance or gain holdings of their own. So when the Imperial decree about Vvardenfell came down, the established Telvanni aristocracy hatched a plan to kill two birds with one stone.
Telvanni, as a house, will often go out of their way to violate an Imperial decree to demonstrate that they do not answer to the Emperor. House Telvanni announced that any holdings their nobles could take and keep on Vvardenfell would be officially recognized by the house, and would advance said noble in the Telvanni hierarchy. So of course, several young Telvanni made their way to Vvardenfell to try their chances. At last, this was a way to advance! This was a very clever thing for the established Telvanni to do for a few reasons: it gave the frustrated young nobles an outlet to spend their energies on instead of always fighting the older Telvanni to claim their holdings; it would ensure that Telvanni interests were established on the island of Vvardenfell; and maybe those young nobles would kill some Imperials or even each other while they were at it. Win/win for those old liches holed up in their towers on the mainland!
The plan seems to have worked, for the most part. Several Telvanni masters have established holdings on the island of Vvardenfell, and due to the vast power (and even vaster wealth) of the Telvanni, the Empire seems like it is essentially powerless to enforce its decree and stop the Telvanni from claiming land on Vvardenfell.
So why does Aryon live in a hybrid of a Telvanni tower surrounded by Imperial architecture? If you search the South Tower, you might find some clues. Here, Aryon has set up a Dwemer museum, as well as an Imperial museum, with several artifacts from these cultures on display. There is an unusual exhibit in Aryon’s Imperial museum, though: a live Imperial guard, held captive in a barred cell and put on display for the museum. Aryon, in fact, has several Imperial soldiers held captive in his fort. This should begin to paint a picture for you: after the aforementioned Telvanni decree, Aryon took his host and retainers to Vvardenfell to seek his fortune. There, his host came upon an Imperial fort at Vos. They managed to siege and take the fort by force, and the surviving defenders which Aryon could not ransom back to the Empire are currently held as prisoners of war. Aryon proudly displays the plunder from his conquest around his tower, hence all the Imperial paraphernalia around the place. We can only speculate as to why one of the prisoners was selected to be put on display in the “Imperial Museum” with the rest of the plunder. Maybe he was the captain of the fort?
Then, depending on whether you think Aryon’s tendencies bend more towards the petty or more towards the pragmatic: he either planted his tower in the middle of the fort as a giant middle finger pointing straight at the Empire, or he figured there was no reason to let a perfectly good structure go to waste so he decided to plant his tower in the middle of the fort for extra protection. Or both.
That pretty much covers Aryon’s history on Vvardenfell and his motivations. And now for a few extra details that are largely incidental but I think really seal the deal:
He has a copy of “N’Gasta Kvata Kvakis” on his desk, which he is clearly in the process of studying and attempting to translate. If you don’t already know, “N’Gasta Kvata Kvakis” is basically the game’s shorthand for “if you see this book, you’re in a necromancer’s house.” This produces remarkably few false positives. It should hardly be surprising that Aryon would dabble in necromancy, as it is a pretty typical pastime for a Telvanni, but he probably wouldn’t be doing it so flagrantly if he was indeed collaborating with the Imperial Legion or even pretending to follow their doctrine. Instead, he doesn’t even make a pretense of hiding his necromancy.
Trebonius Artorius, Arch Mage of the Mage’s Guild Morrowind chapter tasks the Nerevarine with killing all of the Telvanni councilors in Vvardenfell: Master Neloth, Arch Magister Gothren, Mistress Therana, Mistress Dratha, and yes, Master Aryon. This also does not seem surprising, since the Mage’s Guild and the Telvanni loathe each other. The Empire expects the Telvanni to register with and pay dues to the Mage’s Guild if they want to continue providing magical services. However, as you might recall, the Telvanni reject the Empire’s right to rule in Morrowind and pretty much flaunt the fact that they refuse to join the Mage’s Guild. The Mage’s Guild seems to occasionally get the young Telvanni here and there, but they seem to drift away after realizing that the Mage’s Guild is nothing but a bureaucratic nightmare and a racket designed to scam them out of their money. And of course, the Mage’s Guild intends to hunt down these young Telvanni and either strong-arm them into paying all their back-dues or murder them (or both). Gee, I wonder why they left the guild? So, as an official government organization of the Empire, if Master Aryon was indeed working with the Empire in any capacity, you might expect Trebonius Artorius to grand Aryon some clemency in this regard.
Take all these details and observations together, and you realize that although Master Aryon is a very atypical Telvanni Master in many respects (most likely due to his relative youth), in regards to his attitude towards the Empire he seems to be a very typical Telvanni. And, I mean, he put a living Imperial soldier on display in an “Imperial Museum.” That is a rather Telvanni thing to do.