|Posted on June 20, 2014 at 7:40 PM|
"Mashti!" I screamed, when I reached the camp, "Mashti! Mashti, open the godsdamned door!"
There was no reply, only the distinct sounds of sobbing. I attempted to open the door to her yurt again, but she had done something to make it unopenable. Either she put a barricade in front of the door, or she had done some sort of magic to force the door shut. Mashti was a Wise Woman once. The idea of her using magic to do such a thing didn't seem unlikely.
"Go away!" she snarled, though her voice was shaky. I sighed and slumped up against the wall of the yurt, trying hard not to cry myself. The rain was pouring hard now, and my clothes were damp, and my hair was dripping down my shoulders but I didn't care. Without thinking about it, I rubbed the telepathy ring Mashti had given me. There was still no response from Julan.
That was when I got up and trudged towards the Ahemmusa Camp, where I saw Shani talking in hushed voices to the camp healer until she saw me and said goodbye to the woman.
"What are you doing here?" She asked. "Has something happened?"
I gulped. "Julan's missing. Do you know where -?"
"Wait, Julan's missing?" Shani exclaimed."Oh, Gods...what happened?"
I explained my story to Shani as quickly as I could, and I personally thought my speech sounded almost incoherent but she seemed to understand what I was saying.
"You're the Nerevarine?" she whispered, not bothering to disguise the shock in her voice. I nodded slowly, and showed her the ring on my finger. "And Mashti did what? But Ahmabi said -"
"Yes, I forgot to ask?" I snapped. "Who in Oblivion is Ahmabi?"
"She's the previous Ashkhan's wife," Shani replied, "and she really, really hates Mashti and Julan. In fact, no one is supposed to talk about them here. So you really shouldn't - ULINA, WAIT!"
Before Shani could say another word, I rushed through the crowd of Ahemmusa Ashlanders and burst into the Ashkhan's yurt, where an elderly Dunmer woman sat on the floor, praying. She was dressed pretty well for an Ashlander, and looked pretty disgusted to see a younger, drenching Outlander girl like me burst into her yurt without permission. Ahmabi.
"Yes?" She asked, her voice curt. "How can I help you?"
"You can help me by telling me why you hate Mashti Kaushibael!" I flared.
Ahmabi's expression was even more angry than it was before. "WHAT DID YOU SAY?"
"I heard she married someone in this camp," I continued.
Ahmabi began readying a fire spell. "Han-Sachael was only ever married to one woman, and that woman was me! Get out!"
But I didn't want to get out. I wanted to ask her more questions, even if it killed me. But an invisible force pulled me out of the yurt and I was suddenly face to face with Shani.
"What in Mephala's name were you thinking?" She snapped. "She would have killed you!"
"Well, I need answers," I snapped back. "And no one's telling me anything! Julan's gone; I need to find out why."
Shani paused for a minute, then glanced back towards Ahmabi's yurt, where two male Ashlanders were trying and failing to calm her down. Then, Shani turned back to me.
"I'll meet you at the Varo Tradehouse tonight," Shani whispered. "Then, I'll tell you what I know."
Some part of me hoped Julan would be sitting in the Varo Tradehouse, drinking to his heart's content, but instead I was greeted by Shani, who was sitting at one of the tables, trying to keep a low-profile. I approached her and she smiled weakly.
"Right, this should be private enough to talk," she began. "I'm sorry to drag you over here, but you never know which of the hunters might be lurking in the Grazelands, listening in. This was the only place I could think of where we might get some privacy. This was always where we used to come when..."
Shani shrugged and let the sentence hang in the air.
"Anyway, I promised you some answers, didn't I?" She asked.
"You did," I responded.
"Julan's mother – virtually everything she's ever told him is a lie. She never found him in the Grazelands – of course not. She got pregnant by Han-Sashael, our Ashkhan. Everyone knows what really happened, but we don't talk about it to spare Ahmabi's feelings. She could never have any children of her own you know..."
"So she lied to him," I muttered bitterly. "How...how could she do that to him?" How could she give him that sacred mission when she knows just how dangerous it is? "And Julan never suspected anything?"
Shani shook her head. "She has him brainwashed, Ulina! But... sometimes I do wonder if he doubted her, he just was too proud to admit it."
I began to wonder the same thing, a thing wasn't out-of-character for Julan to do.
"...I mean, he used to spend a lot of time at the camp when we were growing up, he heard what was said. But then, Ahmabi wanted to hide the truth from him so much that she started a hundred different rumours about Mashti, to disguise the true one. Most of them were false, so of course Julan thought they all were. And, well, he loves her," Shani finished simply.
Shani then told me the story of Mashti's murderous deeds, and another reason why she was never to be forgiven by the camp.
"Mashti actually killed the Ashkhan?"
I sighed and leaned back in the chair. "Good Gods…"
"Julan just wanted to believe her," Shani continued, "and of course he wanted to think that he was special, and not just some illegitimate outcast with no future. I mean who wouldn't?"
Shani had a point there.
"And Han-Sachael...he said...nothing?" I whispered angrily.
Shani shook her head.
"Never, Ulina. He knew of course, but he never let Julan suspect. I honestly don't know why. Perhaps it was Ahmabi's doing. But I used to see him watching Julan in the camp sometimes. When he thought Julan wouldn't see him. And it's too late now. You know what Mashti did, in the end. She can never be forgiven. I should have told you this earlier. He might have believed it coming from you..."
Probably not, I thought.
"Julan's…obviously crazy about you," Shani continued. "But even then there was never anything to disprove Mashti's lies. Until now. He must realise he can't be the Nerevarine. I just don't know what he might do. You have to make Mashti talk. She has to know something. I'll wait here, it wouldn't do any good for her to see me."
Damned right I'll make her talk, I thought.
"Thanks, Shani," I said to her. Shani smiled.
It was already early morning when I made my way back to Kaushibael Camp, and I was already tired when I arrived back. I saw the door to Mashti's yurt low open and I stepped inside.
"I knew you'd come back," she said blankly.
"I'm sure you did," I said dryly, entering the yurt. The woman looked absolutely exhausted. "How could you? How could you do that to Julan?"
"Don't play dumb with me!" I flared. "You told Julan he was Nerevar; you lied to him! How could you do such a thing, send him on such a dangerous mission -"
"How?" Mashti interjected, her cold eyes looking at me angrily. "We were outcasts, Ulina. His father would not, or could not acknowledge him. I could never return to my people. What kind of life could I offer my child, reviled and rejected? When I left the Urshilaku I took little with me except my knowledge of the prophecies. So I gave him a dream, a purpose. It was all I could give him. I had nothing else."
"You could have just told him the truth!" I snapped, then realized I wasn't yelling at Mashti anymore; I was yelling at my parents for not telling me who I really was. I took a deep breath and began talking again, trying to keep my tone of voice as calm as possible. "If you had told him the truth, he wouldn't be where he is now! Why, Mashti...why did you have to make him believe something that wasn't true?"
"Not true?" Mashti retorted. "You know nothing about truth, Ulina. No, you speak of facts, and what are facts? Facts mean nothing to me. Julan could have become the Nerevarine, no matter what the prophecies say. There is always another prophecy, and if there is not, then you can make your own. He could have done anything, anything, that he put his mind to, if only he believed in himself. The fault is mine, for not making him believe enough."
Her eyes flickered towards the ring on my finger, and I pulled my hand away from her eyes when I noticed.
"I know you are the one to bear Moon-and-Star," she continued. "Perhaps my son and I have been mere tools to guide you towards your destiny, or perhaps you will fall, like so many others have done. I no longer care about the prophecies. Whether I used them, or they used me, it is all over now. It is finished, Ulina."
That's when I lost it.
"Mashti, I don't have time for this!" I screamed. it took an awful lot not to smack her across the face. "I need to find Julan!"
Mashti scowled. "No. It is finished. I have lost the final thing that it was possible for me to lose. I have lost my son."
I shook my head and then turned around. "Not if I have anything to say about it."
Mashti's expression softened.
"Please, Mashti," I begged, "I know you know. Just tell me."
"It matters little where he went. He will never return to me, I know that much. I have lost him forever. He never even raised his voice. His face as he left... he looked so much like his father, like Han-Sashael... I know he will not be coming back."
"Mashti, I already said -"
"I danced for him," she blurted, "when he came with his men to make trade agreements with my father. All the girls, we performed a sacred dance, before the evening meal. We only called it sacred in order to justify its place as traditional, but we were right. It was sensual and beautiful, and what could be more sacred than that?"
Now I knew I had to shut up and listen. This was obviously very important.
"He came to my yurt that very night," Mashti said. "He was charming and handsome. Perhaps I was a fool, but I believed him when he said he would marry me. We left at dawn. By the time we arrived in the Grazelands I was deeply in love, and stunned by the beauty of my new home. I was happy, too happy. I soon discovered the truth.
"My love was already married. He wept, and begged my forgiveness. He had been captivated by my beauty, he had lost his wits, he would make things right, his wife did not understand him, he loved me. Male talk. But I was very young, and I loved him. And I could never return home. So I accepted everything he said.
"He told the tribe that I had come to train as a wise-woman. Ahmabi was suspicious, but she had no proof. I saw him in secret, whenever he could get away. I knew people were talking, but I cared little for their opinion. I was happy. But of course it could not last.
"I became pregnant, and we could no longer conceal the truth from his wife. I imagine you know the rest by now. He never said a word in my defence when she wove her lies to cast me out. Not a word."
That was when Mashti burst into tears again. I had no idea what to do or what to say, and it felt so awkward after a few seconds. But from the sounds of things, Han-Sachael didn't love either Mashti or Julan enough, otherwise he would have done something. As I was thinking these thoughts, I saw Mashti rummaging through an old wooden chest, pulling out what looked like various alchemy ingredients until she pulled out what looked like a dress. The dress was beautiful and was almost white. I'd say it was a cream color. Ashlanders make awesome clothes sometimes, I thought.
"Once it was going to be my wedding dress," Mashti said. "My sisters and I sewed it, when I was betrothed to my father's gulakhan, and I took it with me when I left with Sashael. Of course I never used it."
To my surprise, she handed it to me.
"Mashti, I -"
"Here, you take the thing." She insisted. "I have kept it too long already, and it has nothing but sad memories. It's only a dress; someone else should wear it, and make new memories for it. Or throw it away, I care not."
I saw that she was not going to take no for an answer, so I took it and stuffed it into my rucksack.
"Now, I think you want to know where Julan is," Mashti said.
I nodded. After all, that was why I was there.
"The last time he left me, when I told him to abandon that girl from the camp, he later told me he had been living in a cave to the southwest of here," Mashti pointed in that general direction. "I think he said it was west of the caves known as Dun-Ahhe, in the mountains near an outcast camp. Perhaps he is there, perhaps not. But before you go... He asked me to give you this."
Mashti handed me an old, tattered piece of paper.
"I don't know what it says, I never learnt to read," she admitted. "Take it and... I should confess something."
"I had not intended to give you the note, nor to direct you. Why should I help one who, day by day, has drawn the affections and loyalty of my son from me?"
I felt myself flush and attempted to open my mouth, but Mashti held up her hand.
"No, do not speak, Ulina. I am not so poor a mother that I cannot read his heart in such matters. I have learnt from the past. When I made him choose between that Ahemmusa girl and myself, I thought to strengthen his loyalty to me, but... I miscalculated. I underestimated his attachment to her, and perhaps I underestimated him. I nearly lost him then, and now, now that I have truly lost him..."
"Thanks, Mashti. I'll bring him back."
Before I left I opened the letter that Julan had written to me, and I felt rage rise up as I read it over and over again.
Sorry for running off like that. I needed some ansers and well now I have them. I just need to figure out what to do with them.
Dont worry or anything like that Im fine I just want to think. And dont think Im angry about you being nerevarine in a way I think I knew it all along. Or maybe I just knew I wasn't. Doesn't matter much now I suppose.
Anyway looks like I wont be needing a trainer any more and you never did need me and least of all know. I know youll make a good Nerevar better than me anyway but that's not hard.
Keep an eye on Sha for me wont you. And mother too I suppose funny how just when I find out she really is my mother I dont want to call her that any more.
Good luck but you dont need it.
I sighed. He had tried to say goodbye, but I wasn't going to to let him. Not now. Not yet. Not if I had anything to say about it.
I opened the door to the cave and slipped into the water below by mistake. The clothes I was wearing were now a mess again. In the distance, I heard the humming of scribs and water. I approached the water and saw Julan's ring sitting on top of a large rock in the water. There was no doubt in my mind that Julan was here.
I quickly stripped off my now ruined clothing and jumped into the water. The cold was terrible, but my worry for Julan kept me going. I picked up the ring when I found it, slipping it onto my finger for safekeeping, then put the ruined clothing back on.
"JULAN!" I shouted. "JULAN, IF YOU'RE HERE PLEASE ANSWER ME!"
I continued through the cave, until I found an old, wooden door. There was no other way through the cave, except through that door. And there was an ancestor ghost guarding the door.
"You shall not pass," it hissed. "Leave now."
"I'm looking for Julan Kaushibael," I said.
"He is ours now."
"He's...he's not dead?"
"He still walks the earth, but he is ours now. He will hear our words. He will do our bidding."
No, no...this just cannot be!
"Who are you?" I snapped.
"We are the ancestors of the Ahemmusa. For too long, he has ignored our cries for vengeance. For blood. But his mind is clear of the lies of his mother, and at last he can hear us. We have waited too long. But now he is ours. He will do our bidding."
I tried to keep a calm demeanor, hut knew I was failing. The thought of what Julan was going through while I stood there scared me more than ever. More than when I had been shipped to Morrowind for the first time.
"Let me talk to him -"
"No, he is our now."
"But I'm his -" I broke off. Just what will I call myself. A girlfriend? A lover? "- friend. I can help!"
The ghost paused for a moment.
"Yes. Perhaps you can help him, if you are his friend, but bring me some token of his that proves your friendship, then I will let you pass."
I pulled off Julan's telepathy ring and showed it to the ghost. It seemed to be all the proof it needed.
"Just remember, he is ours now."
"GET OUT OF MY WAY!"
"You cannot have him; he is ours now."
"JUST TELL ME WHERE JULAN IS!"
"No, for he is ours now."
It felt that for the longest time I was running around in circles in the back of the cave, until I heard Julan's shouts from the very bottom. I climbed down a set of stairs and found him, lying on the floor, crying out things like "no, no! Get away!" The ghosts were hovering over him and I made no hesitation to rush towards the crowd and attempt to push them away from him.
"Julan!" I cried.
Julan coughed. "Ulina? Is that -? GET AWAY!" He yelled at one of the ghosts, that was attempting to release him from my grasp. "Not you, them. Make them get out of my head!"
I turned towards the crowd of Ahemmusa ancestors, who were still floating around, trying to near Julan. In a rage, I shouted. "LEAVE HIM ALONE!"
The ghosts were furious.
"Earthwalker, why are you addressing us? This is clan business, family business. You have no place in this."
"You're hurting him!" I shrieked.
"Yes, we are hurting him. Because he will not listen. So we make him listen. Until he agrees to carry out vengeance for our kin."
"But in the process, you're breaking his mind!"
"His mind matters little. What matters is blood – blood shared and spilled. We called to him in his dreams, but the lies of his mother made him unable to listen. Now he can hear us, but still he resists!"
I was so stunned, I let my jaw drop. It wasn't Dagoth Ur Julan heard in his dreams, it was these abominable things.
"Why does blood matter?" I asked.
"We demand blood in payment for that of our fallen brother, Han-Sashael. He lies unburied in the Daedra caves, cruelly slain through a woman's evil and jealous love. She must pay and his bones must be returned to the tribe for burial. He must do our bidding. We are his ancestors. His duty of vengeance is clear."
I was even more stunned, but I said nothing. They wanted Julan to kill Mashti; to kill his own mother.
"I'll tell him," I said at once. The ghosts made a sound of protest, but I held up a hand. "You're obviously not getting through to him. Please."
There was an awkward silence. "Very well. But if you do not succeed, we will try again and again until he obeys."
The ghosts retreated, leaving me with Julan, who was laying on the floor. I put my things down and helped him to his feet.
"Ulina...you've save me again, haven't you?"
"Looks like it," I said, before hugging him.
"Thanks," he said slowly. I noticed he was avoiding eye contact with me.
"Julan, it's going to be OK -"
"No, Ulina, it isn't! She murdered him. It's all true! I heard the story that the scout told of course, but I never believed it. But she did, they said so! The ancestors told me! My mother killed him, killed Han-Sashael, the Ashkhan, my father!"
Julan looked as if he was close to hysterics, so I put an arm on him. "Julan, calm down. We'll do something to fix this."
"They want me to kill my mother! To avenge a father I never even knew! Ulina, this is crazy! But... it's her fault I never knew him. She's lied to me my whole life! She murdered him! Maybe she deserves to die! But... she's still my mother. I can't do this! Can I?"
"Like I said, we'll think of something" I replied.
"But what? They say they won't leave me alone! It's always been them in my dreams, Ulina, the voices! But I couldn't understand them! I thought it was the Sixth House, because they were trying to stop me completing my mission. The one on the mountain I thought was Dagoth Ur... I-I think maybe it was my father. Trying... trying t-to stop... me... g-getting myself k-killed..."
I shook my head. This whole thing had been a mess, and we had to think of something to fix it. For Julan's sake.
"Come on," I said, passing him his telepathy ring, "first things first. We need to get out of here. Then, tomorrow, we'll think of something."
We were standing outside Kaushibael Camp, both tired and soaked to the bone. I held Julan close and we both sat by the fire for a few moments, warming up and letting our clothes dry.
"Ulina, can I ask you something?" Julan asked.
"Are you a religious person? And if so, what do you believe in?"
"I'm not really that religious," I answered, unsure as to why Julan was asking. "I mean, in Cyrodiil, most people worshipped the Nine Divines, but my family didn't take it entirely seriously. There maybe Gods out there; but I really don't care right now. It's not the most important thing, is it? Well, there's Azura, but..."
I felt my voice trail off.
Julan nodded. "I see. That makes sense. My people worship the Good Daedra of course. And our ancestors, although, well, I don't have any myself. Mother said that Azura would protect me, but I'm not so sure anymore. She watches you now. It's funny; I used to think that anyone who didn't share the same beliefs as me was wrong and, well, a bad person. But now I've met so many people who believe all kinds of different things. And lots of them are good people. Like that priestess, Mehra Milo, or Divayth Fyr... and you."
"Me?" I asked.
"Yeah. I mean it, Ulina," Julan said, taking my hand. "Maybe not perfect, but a good person. I mean, you put up with me for how long now? You've save me; twice!"
"And you've saved me plenty of times," I responded.
"Thanks, Ulina. Now, you know that I...I was stupid to throw away that ring, but I guess that when this is all over, you can go on with your sacred mission, and I can go back to the camp. I don't need a trainer anymore."
"You can still come with me," I said hastily.
"But you don't need me around -"
"But I'll want you around," I snapped. "Julan, in case you haven't noticed I'm in love with you!"
There it was. A kiss. And then there was more. I felt clothes being ripped away. I felt the sounds of heartbeats. I felt myself being carried away to Julan's yurt.
Morning came. I awoke and Julan did a few moments later, and we both hastily got dressed. It was time to talk to Mashti.