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Saturday, July 7, 2012

XXII - Grim Advice

There was still much to do. Fen spent the next few weeks at the Guildhall in Vivec, taking care of all the business she had neglected during her time in Mournhold, finishing by tendering her resignation as Arch-Mage to Skink-In-Tree’s-Shade.
“The Council will not be pleased,” he told her earnestly as she handed him the formal letter that had been written out the day before. “You are the best leader we have had for some time.”
“I’m hardly ever here,” Fen told him. “I haven’t attended a single council meeting in Cyrodiil. And I have Morrowind to look after now. I’m sorry, Skink, but I can’t neglect the Guild any more.” When this was done, Fen returned to Mournhold, where she helped to oversee the repair of the Plaza, from which Almalexia’s statue was promptly removed and the opening into Bamz-Amschend sealed once more.
“There is much we can learn from the Dwemer that once dwelled beneath Mournhold, Princess,” Effe-Tei said to her as they stood side-by-side, watching workers lay a heavy stone over the hole.
“Perhaps,” Fen replied quietly. “But not now. It will be best if the place is forgotten. For now, at least.”
After that there were meetings and conferences, diplomatic relations that Fen began to witness for the first time in her life. Great House Councilors from Vvardenfell were frequent guests, greeting Fen with pleasant surprise. She grew used to waking in the morning and spending most of her day involved in these meetings, so it was a rare thing when she was finally able to pull away and find a day to return to the grassy northeastern coast of Vvardenfell.
The sky was a deep, stormy grey, clouds saturated with rain and bursting to unleash it. But they held fast as Fen moved beneath them, her hood pulled low over her face, the clay urn cradled in her arms, her cloak whispering as she slipped through the tall grasses. She raised her head as she came to the top of a hill, the wind pulling against her cloak and loosening a few hairs from her braid. The Ahemmusa camp was arrayed below her, the collection of guar hide yurts that moved slightly in the wind. There were a few people about, herding in their guar, packing up their work before heading into their yurts to wait out the storm. Fen hefted the urn into her arms, her face set, and descended into the camp.
The wooden wind chimes that hung from the awnings clicked serenely as Fen made her way through the camp, heading for Shani’s yurt. She ignored the glances from the Ashlanders as she passed them, focusing only on her goal. She reached the yurt, ducked low, and slipped inside.
Shani was sitting before the firepit, her shaggy red hair loose around her shoulders, sitting cross-legged as she repaired the fletching on an arrow. She looked up when Fen entered, and her face brightened.
“Fen! Gods, it’s been ages!” Shani threw aside the arrow and stood up. “How was Mournhold?” She peered over Fen’s shoulder. “Where’s Julan?”
“Shani,” Fen said softly, “I think you should sit back down.” Shani studied Fen’s face, suddenly concerned.
“What are you saying?” she asked, her voice low. “Fen, what’s going on?”
“Shani,” she replied quietly. “Julan’s dead.” Shani stared at Fen, her eyes wide, her mouth slightly open.
“Julan – Julan’s – ?” Fen nodded and Shani stepped back, her hands trembling. She sank to the floor of the yurt, her eyes glistening in the dimness. Fen knelt down beside her, and Shani let out a cry and buried her face in her hands.
“I – I don’t understand,” she sobbed, her shoulders heaving. “Why – How – ?”
And so, haltingly, Fen explained what had happened, and it seemed like they were crouched there for hours, Fen watching silently and listening to the rain and thunder outside mixing with Shani’s sobs.
After some time, they both sat staring into the fire, Shani’s eyes bloodshot and her face ruddy with grief.
“We have to tell Mashti,” she whispered. Fen hugged the urn closer to her chest.
“I know.” Shani got shakily to her feet and donned her cloak, and they left the warmth of the yurt behind. The sky had grown dark since Fen had entered, and though the storm was less violent, rain still showered down and the occasional boom of thunder echoed across the Grasslands.
Without speaking, they began to trek through the slick, dark grass towards the coast, their heads down, faces hidden beneath their hoods, the urn cradled in Fen’s arms. The sound of the Sea of Ghosts grew increasingly louder, and as they neared the shore they saw that its waves were choppy and reckless, splashing onto the dark, rock-covered sand then being pulled sharply away again.
Kaushibael camp looked alone and forlorn, the three yurts huddled against the cliff in the pouring rain. A single lantern hung outside Mashti’s yurt, throwing a small pool of light onto the sand below. They paused outside the flap.
“You go in,” Shani muttered, her voice thick. “You should be the one to tell her. I have to…” she glanced toward Julan’s yurt. “I want to say goodbye.” Fen tucked the urn under her arm and slipped into Mashti’s tent. The Dunmer sat silently before her fire, her ragged hair pushed back from her face, which was tired and worn. For a time, Fen just stood before the flap, unspeaking, as Mashti stared into the fire. Then, finally, Mashti spoke.
“Sit down, Outlander.” Fen sat, and Mashti turned to face her, and Fen saw her eyes were heavy with pain. In that instant, it was clear.
“You know.”
“Of course I know,” Mashti spat savagely. “He was my son, Outlander. My only son. I knew when he was scared, when he was grieving, when he was elated. My heart told me that. I knew from the moment it happened, when the visions of his death woke me from my sleep.” Mashti paused, her eyes fierce with hate. “Your people have minds poisoned by the Imperial filth. You grow your children as separate entities, as things that are no longer a part of you, that will live and die away from you.” Mashti closed her eyes. “The Wastes People, they call us. Savages. But you are the ones that have warped the ways of the Dunmer, have tainted your lifestyle. To my people, a child is a part of you and always is. We feel what our children feel, we know when they are in pain, because our love for them is so fierce.” She shook her head, gazed wearily into the flames. “You know nothing of love, Outlander.”
“I do,” Fen said softly, and Mashti did not even glance at her. “I loved your son.”
“You barely knew my son.”
“I knew him better than you think.” The Dunmer said nothing. “Mashti, please listen to me. Julan knew me better than anyone else. Anyone.” She paused. “What you were saying…about growing children as a part of you. Julan was a part of me, Mashti. He was my best friend. He was my brother.” Fen paused. “He taught me about your people. I was ignorant when I came to Vvardenfell, and Julan changed that.” For a long time, there was silence. Then Fen lifted the urn and set it down. “I do not know the proper burial rites for your people,” she said. “But I couldn’t leave his body in that evil place.” Mashti’s eyes flickered to the urn, then up to Fen’s face.
“Fen,” she muttered, and Fen realized it was the first time Mashti had ever called her by name. “Thank you.” Fen nodded, and she silently stood, knowing that it was her time to go. She spared one final glance at Mashti, crouched over Julan’s ashes, then slipped out into the rain.
The sea was choppier now, its waves crashing roughly into the shore then rapidly pulling back again, leaving tiny stones and shells in their wake. Fen swept the bottom of her cloak over her arm and reached down, unlacing her boots and stepping out of them. Her toes curled in the wet sand, and she slowly walked out until she was standing in the foamy surf.
She stared out to the slate-grey sea dotted with the rounded stones of Azura’s Coast, listening to the rain plummet into the sea and the thunder echo across the stirring waters. The waves came up again, crashing around her ankles and chilling them to the bone. She pulled her hood down and closed her eyes, letting the rain soak into her hair and her face. Fen remembered the first time she had stood in the waves here, the morning she had revealed that she was a princess to Julan. She imagined him standing beside her as the icy water swirled around their ankles, his dark hair clinging to his face, his crimson eyes narrowed against the rain.
Fen opened her eyes. She stood, once more, alone on the beach, her hair dripping into her eyes and gooseflesh rising on her legs as the water crashed over them. Silently, she took several steps back, out of the surf, and slid her feet back into her boots. She stared out at the darkening sky, blending seamlessly with the haggard waters, and turned away, raising her hood over her face and walking, alone, into the storm.

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