|Posted on June 20, 2014 at 7:55 PM|
The first thing we did was open the door to Mashti's yurt. She was sitting by her small fire, sipping from a clay cup. Her face looked puffy and she looked exhausted. She must have been crying all night. I cleared my throat and Mashti looked up. She smiled.
"Julan," she began. "You...you brought him back."
I turned towards Julan, who was looking at her with the coldest expression I had ever seen on his face.
"Julan," Mashti began, turning to face her son, "you must -"
"Be silent," Julan snapped. "I 'must not' do anything! I'm here for answers from you, and nothing else."
I glanced at Julan, but he didn't turn to look at me. He was obviously too angry to do so. And with good reason.
"I know you murdered my father," Julan continued angrily. "But I want to hear it from you. Why you did it. And why I shouldn't kill you where you stand."
Oh, gods. I hope he doesn't really kill her! I thought. For all her faults, I didn't think Mashti deserved to die.
"So," Mashti began coldly. As usual. "That is why you have come. You ask me why I murdered Han-Sashael?"
"Of course," Julan returned. He didn't say anything else, but I thought he was going to finish the sentence with a rather sarcastic, didn't I just say that?
"I shall tell you everything you wish, my son. But you already know everything, do you know not? If you know that I killed him, then surely you know the rest? Please tell all the sins of your wicked mother since you know them so well."
Mashti voice was full of sarcasm and anger, but at the same time I could sense her hurt. I felt Julan tense beside me and I held onto his arm.
"I know what the Ahemmusa said happened. I never believed it could be true, until now," Julan said.
"And now you no longer believe me," Mashti replied sadly.
"You speak nothing but lies. Lies to hide your shame and your failure. Everything they said about you was true, yet I defended you. But you... you are despicable. You lured him to his death in some cave-"
Mashti snorted in disgust. "Some cave? Julan, the cave is known as Sanit. It lies south of here. Its tunnels run deep, even running beneath Red Mountain. It is the source of the Daedra and Corprus beasts invading these lands. Sashael... he was so bold, so reckless. Drunk with the thrill of the chase, perhaps he thought he could drive back the beasts beneath the mountain, and finally make his people safe..."
"And then he was lured there by you!" Julan spat, unsheathing his sword. I let out a small scream and pulled on his arm, trying to stop him from attacking his mother. Mashti, however, remained strangely calm and didn't stop Julan.
"I know you can summon Hungers!" Julan shouted. "And make them obey you. I know you were seen approaching the cave!"
"Yes," Mashti replied, glaring at Julan. "I was watching. I scarcely believed he could be so foolish..."
"Shut up! You killed the guard, Mashti. Then you entered the cave to finish the job!"
I had to say something. Anything. Anything to break up the horrible argument Julan was having with his mother.
"You really killed the guard, Mashti?" I asked. Julan and Mashti turned towards me, as if realizing I had been standing there.
"I did, Ulina," Mashti told me. I felt my heart sink even lower than it had from watching the argument, if that was even possible. "He refused to let me come near him. His fear made him rash... I was forced to defend myself. I had to follow Sashael, to stop him. I had seen the things that dwelt deep in that cave. There was far worse than Hungers in there."
Julan snorted. "Oh, so you went in to save him? Yeah, right! Funny how they all ended up dead, then, isn't it? And you came out without a scratch!"
Mashti shook her head in frustration. I thought I saw tears welling up in her eyes. Again.
"I-I was too late," Mashti whispered. "His men were dead, and he-he had gone deeper in, lost in a haze of slaughter. Killing all in his path, unaware that he was the only one still standing. I ran and ran through caves of corpses, but deep beneath the mountain the tunnels were dark and maze-like, and I could not find him. I heard him, dying, but I could not... I never even found his body."
There was a sudden silence in the yurt, and then I saw Mashti turn towards me. "I shut myself in my yurt for a week. I said that I was praying to Azura, so that my son might not know of my grief."
I turned towards Julan, who lowered his sword. "I...I think I remember that," he said softly.
"It is the truth, Julan. I am sick of lies, and now it matters not. He is lost to me, and now you too are lost to me. Nothing matters to me now."
I heard Julan sigh heavily.
"Perhaps I might believe you," Julan said, "but... why did you never tell me, while he lived? He was my father, and I never knew him. How could you deny me that chance?"
"Deny?" Mashti snorted in disgust. "What have I denied you, Julan? The chance to be rejected and reviled, as I have been! If you would tell me of my sins, then tell of his as well. He denied you, not I, he refused you as his son, I merely spared you the pain of knowing it. I loved you too much to make you endure what I suffered. And now you truly know all I have to tell you. You may kill me now, if that is your wish, I have no reason to live any longer."
Julan stared at Mashti, but then turned around and left the yurt. Mashti gasped and started for the direction to leave after him, but I pulled on her arm. "Mashti, let him go."
Mashti looked at me. "There is nothing else I can say, Ulina."
"But there's stuff I can say."
Julan was lying on his back on the beach. It looked like he was watching the sky. I sat beside him and then he sat up. Julan had gotten sand in his hair.
"I've decided to return my father's bones to the tribe," he said at once. I gave him a puzzled look.
"But what about the ancestors -"
"I'm still not sure about that," Julan admitted. "Perhaps if I find where my father died, there will be evidence of what happened, and some way of proving if Mother's story is true."
"And what then, if... she did kill him?"
"Then…" Julan hesitated. I understood why. "I'll do whatever I have to do. It's my duty. You see, I realised, I'm not the Nerevarine and I never was. But there is one thing that's been true all along – I have a sacred mission to save my people. And now, I know how. But, I think it's time we talked about you."
"About me?" I asked.
"About what you will do, now that you are the Nerevarine."
I sighed, and looked at the Moon-and-Star ring that was around my finger. I had almost forgotten it was there.
"I guess I'm going to have to try, aren't I?" I asked. I took his hand, "but you come first, Julan."
I shoved the door to Sanit open with my hand, and took in the sights before me. The red candles, the eerie feelings, everything...it was unpleasantly familiar.
"This isn't Daedra!" Julan seethed. "This is Sixth House! I can't believe those bastards are building their filthy altars over my father's bones! I'm going to gut each and every last one of these lunatics!"
"We'll get to the bottom of this," I said, "I promise."
Ash zombies made their way towards us, no doubt because they heard Julan's shouts. I unsheathed my sword and proceeded to hack them to pieces. Julan did the same and we continued through the cave, careful not to step on the corpses of the zombies.
The cave was filled with sixth house servants, and Julan and I had to kill them all. Deeper into the cave there were daedra. I saw hungers as well as something else I hadn't encountered before. Tall, golden women who were carrying spears.
"Golden saints," Julan told me. "We need to get moving."
I ran towards the next room, bumping into an invisible barrier. I saw a hunger in the distance. It began to run towards me, but went through the barrier instead.
Well, that got that out of the way.
"ULINA! GET OUT OF THE WAY! NOW!"
I turned around and saw what was probably the most frightening sight ever; a giant hunger. Julan readied his bow and arrows and began shooting at the thing. It began to shriek. I rolled out of the way and found a way to stand up, unsheathing my sword. Then, I began to hit it. Blood spilled into my hair and onto my clothes, but I kept hacking away anyway.
The body of the hunger fell into the pool of lava across from us. Julan and I stood there, watching the bones and the skin melt away.
"You do realize you're a mess, right?" Julan remarked.
I nodded."I'll clean up when we get out of here."
Julan and I continued on through the cave, and then I saw it. I saw a pile of bones on the floor beside a spirit.
"Hah! Han-Julan!" The spirit said, before going on to say something in Ashlander dialect, a language I didn't fully understand yet. I tugged in Julan's arm.
"Julan, do you know what he said?"
Julan didn't answer; he just stared blankly at the spirit in front of him.
"You do not understand me, Han-Julan?" The spirit asked scornfully, deciding to speak in Tamrielic. "You are no son of mine, then, who no longer speaks the language of his people!"
I suddenly understood that the spirit was Han-Sachael. The man who made Mashti fall in love with him, fathered Julan and then left them without saying a word to defend them. What a coward.
"He said: 'what took you so long?'" Julan told me, turning to me.
"Oh, so you do still remember some of your culture, do you? Ai, these young ones of the tribe, all speaking the tongue of the n'wah, talking like outlanders, forgetting the language of their ancestors." Han-Sachael said in disgust.
Julan coughed. "I'm just a little out of practise is all…"
"Ai, such a generation we have upon us," Han-Sachael smiled, despite himself. "No respect for the tribe. No respect for the ancestors. Leave their father's bones to rot in a cave for three years, his soul trapped, unable to join with the tribal spirits. How will the tribe survive, with children such as this?"
Julan looked down. "Youre right. I have failed you and I'm sorry…"
I suddenly lost it then.
"Julan, you didn't fail him! He failed you! You never even knew he was your father!" I cried. I then turned to Han-Sachael, who was looking at me coldly. "You...you should have said something to your wife, made her accept -"
"You shall not judge me, outlander," Han-Sachael interrupted me. "There are others here who have that task. Such as my son here, he has the right to demand those answers from me."
"And I demand nothing," Julan said. I looked at him, my expression probably dumbstuck. "I understand how it was; you made a mistake – a brief affair, an unwanted pregnancy. What could you do but deny it? Your honour could not be stained by such a thing, your wife was too respected – and you had her feelings to consider. You could not shame the woman you loved by raising another's son as your own, while she remained childless. I cannot blame you. It was a mistake, and you dealt with it as you had to."
Han-Sachael nodded. "Yes, a mistake. I made a terrible mistake. I married the woman my parents wanted me to, because she was a most religious woman, a respected servant of Boethiah, although I did not love her as she loved me. And when she threatened to summon her Daedric lord to destroy you and your mother, I made a deal with her.
"She would let you live, even allow you into the camp, so long as I never named you son, never even spoke your name. Another mistake. I see now I was a fool to think she would harm you, since she would lose her hold over me, and any little love I held for her would be destroyed. But in my folly and panic, I swore binding oaths to the Gods and the ancestors, staking the very safety of the tribe.
"It was always my plan to tell you. When you were a man and had nothing to fear from Ahmabi and her threats. But it is not an easy thing to do, after nearly twenty years... and I had sworn oaths that were dangerous to break. So I hesitated, like a fool.
"But then, your Shani came to me, weeping, and told me of your mother's plan for you. That you were to go to Red Mountain and defeat the devil. That you had to know the truth before it was too late. I sent for you, but you were nowhere to be found. So I went to Ahmabi, and demanded that she release me from my oaths. I no longer cared about her threats. She obeyed me, or, she let me think so.
"No doubt she prayed to Boethiah that very night. What did she pray for, I wonder? I cannot think she intended my death, as, for all her faults, she loved me. But the Daedra interpret requests as it suits them, for their own amusement. She received the trap that ended my life the very next day."
I felt myself blanch. Oh, gods. And Mashti was blamed for his death all that time. Oh, gods. Oh, gods.
"I have made many mistakes in my life, Han-Julan. Many, many regrets. But loving your mother, and fathering you, those things I have never ever regretted. It was the most joy I knew, even if it brought the most sorrow. And now you are here, fulfilling my greatest hopes for you. You will return my bones, and save the Ahemmusa. Take them, and release me from this place. My spirit will no longer retain this mind, and these memories. I shall become one with the ancestors."
Julan gulped. I placed a hand on his shoulder.
"Farewell, Han-Julan," Han-Sashael said. "You will serve the Ahemmusa better than I did. One last thing, before my soul is finally released. Tell your mother - tell Mashti - that if I could keep but one memory of this life, to hold with me always, it would be of her dancing..."
That was when the spirit of Han-Sachael disappeared, and I watched Julan gather up the bones of his father.
The Ahemmusa camp was a welcoming sight when Julan and I arrived. Shani was sitting by the beach nearby. and she was the first one we saw. She demanded the whole story so we told her, and Shani jaw dropped by the end of it.
"So you mean - you actually saw -"
"Yes," Julan answered, holding the bones in a sack. "Now we need to go see Sinnammu. Coming?"
Shani opened her mouth, but closed it again and nodded firmly. I smiled and then all three of us proceeded towards the Wise Woman's yurt. Sinnammu was sitting on the floor, meditating. She was a lot older than Nibani - the only other Wise Woman I had met - with long grey hair and a wrinkling face. She was wearing a guar-skin dress and was barefoot.
"We brought the bones back," Julan said suddenly. Sinnammu got up and took the sack from Julan, inspecting them quickly before smiling.
"I shall prepare the necessary rituals as soon as possible," She said. "This is a wonderful thing you have done for the tribe. You must tell me everything that has passed."
And so we told the story for a second time that day. Sinnammu sat and listened attentivly, and when it was over she nodded.
"So. This is how it was," she began angrily, then the Dunmer scowled and looked away. "And we blamed Mashti all this time."
"So you believe us?" Julan asked.
Sinnammu nodded, and with that Sahni and I let out our sighs of relief.
"Oh, yes. But there are others here who will not," she warned. "Ahmabi is known as a deeply religious woman, and a loving wife. You must make her confess her crime, if you would prove Mashti Kaushibael innocent. She is easily angered, and if you provoke her, she may admit all. I shall listen outside, to bear witness."
With that, all four of us left the yurt and and Julan entered Ahmabi's, with me and Shani following along behind. Ahmabi's expression was livid.
"What are you doing here?" She snapped, pointing an accusatory finger in Julan's direction. "How dare you come in here?"
"You have no choice in this, Ahmabi," Julan said coldly. "I know Han-Sashael was my father, and I know about your little bargain."
"And we know how Han-Sachael really died," Shani taunted, "how could you do that, you faithless bitch?"
Ahmabi's eyes widened; if I didn't know any better, I'd say they'd pop out of her skull. "How DARE -"
"Oh, come off it you withered old hag," I snapped, speaking for the first time since I entered the tent. "You're no better than the common murderer and you know it."
"You murdered him, and let my mother take the blame!" Julan raged.
"How dare you say that!" she shrieked, "she did kill him! She tried to take him from me!"
Ahmabi pushed Julan out of the tent, and he fell onto the ground. At that, Shani and I attempted to hold her back as she walked towards Julan, who was lying on his back.
"She forced me to act, she forced me to protect my marriage!" She continued.
"So what did you pray for, the night Han-Sachael died?" I asked coldly.
Ahmabi turned away from Julan to face me. He red eyes may as well have been daggers.
"I prayed for vengeance!" She seethed. "I prayed that witch might know half the pain I felt when he betrayed me for her, and the only joy left to me in the blighted world is that, in that at least, I succeeded!"
"The truth is out, Ahmabi," Shani told her, "you can stop it now."
"Curse the ancestors, just as I long ago cursed the Gods!" Ahmabi yelled. "And curse you all, for I will not give you the satisfaction of taking my life."
Suddenly, the woman pulled out a lethal looking dagger from the inside of her robes. I pulled out my swords, as did Julan, but Ahmabi held it towards us, before she held it towards her heart.
"Lord Boethiah!" Ahmabi called, looking towards the blue sky. "If you care anything for one who was once your servant, avenge me!"
And then she stabbed herself, her body dropped onto the dirty floor. Her blood spilled everywhere, and all we could do was watch the scene in shock.