Drai Hesitates

The Dunmer down below didn’t look like a Temple heretic. If anything, he looked more like a simple traveler. His guar was picketed a few yards from his campfire, and the Dunmer himself sat humming as he stirred a stew pot. The scene seemed relaxed, bucolic.

But Drai knew the cut of the man’s robes anywhere. The House Dunmer were smart enough not to wear robes in the Temple’s telltale red and gold while in Ashlander territory, but they still didn’t comprehend that the Ashlanders weren’t fooled by such a simple disguise. The signs were there for those who knew where to look.

“I wonder what you’re doing so far from home,” murmured Drai thoughtfully, turning down the fern leaf with a fingertip, so he could see as the Dunmer got up and poured some of the stew into a bowl, presumably for the guar to eat. Oddly, the guar ignored it.

“The Widow says he’s a spy,” said Taargus beside him.

“And what are Zeketah’s orders?” asked Drai.

The Dunmer below bent down as if to coax the guar to its food, but then he paused. He looked up and down the screening ferns suspiciously, and put his hand to the knife of his belt.

“Yes, we’re watching you,” said Taargus nastily. “But you won’t find us. You barely know the jungles anymore, do you, despite having pushed our kind out of them.”

Haltingly, the Temple mer got to his feet, staring around him in sudden fear. Like a predator, Taargus tensed in anticipation. The Temple mer called out a name and turned to flee, but it was too late.

It wasn’t Drai who shot the first arrow. He didn’t even shoot the second. He didn’t remember much of the ensuing struggle at all, only coming to standing over the dying mer with his hunting knife in the mer’s belly, the victorious hoots of the other Ashlanders fading into the trees behind him.

Blood was dripping down the Temple mer’s chin, but he was still lucid. He and Drai watched each other, and Drai was surprised to note no signs of ire in the Temple mer’s fading eyes.

“Why are you so calm?” he suddenly asked, twisting his mouth around the strange speech of the House Dunmer.

“The Tribunal watches over me,” said the Temple mer.

His perfect calm irritated Drai. “Your gods are liars and murderers,” he snapped.

But the Temple mer just smiled.

A rustle in the brush alerted him, and Drai swung around. The other Ashlanders were too far away now to help him, and he cursed himself for his lack of awareness.

Not that he needed to worry. A Dunmer girl, barely into puberty, was standing behind him, clutching the stew bowl that had been left out for the guar. Or perhaps not it hadn’t been for the guar after all… She stared at the dying Temple mer, choked up in sudden realization.

“The Tribunal watches over us all.” The Temple mer spat out more blood, then lay still.

Drai and the girl stared at each other. He should call back the others, Drai knew; even though these Ashlanders were not of his tribe, he owed them more loyalty than this Temple scum. But though his hand drifted to his bowstring, he didn’t pull it, didn’t move.

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