Damn, years later, and this one still gets to me.Author’s Note
The silence lasted for what felt like days, though there was no telling in the — wherever this was. Oblivion? Drai had gone spirit-walking a few times before while under the Urshilaku farseer’s tutelage, but always with a strong connection to his body. Now he was Shriven, and there was no telling what corner of the Mundus his spirit had been flung to after his battle with the servant of Mephala. In this darkness, he felt reality slipping away from him.
And with it, slowly, his sanity.
The child Rakhulbi still sat where he had been when Drai came here, now staring into nothing, more like a statue than a person. It was a representation of a memory, Drai realized, inert while it wasn’t activated. Was it the only memory left to him? he wondered.
He didn’t want to think about it. But what else was there to think about? In the solitude, it was the only touchstone of the life he had once had. Even the pain of remembering was better than the unreality pressing in on all sides.
Scared, but desperate, Drai sat down next to the scrawny little Dunmer, and reached out to touch him…
Her body was hot, too hot. It was like touching the stones ringing the yurt’s hearthfire. No living being should ever feel that hot.
Slowly, trying not to make a noise, Rakhulbi poured a cup of water from the waterskin hanging in the doorway and put it to her lips. His mother weakly licked at it, but stopped too soon.
“Drink, Mother, please. You’re sweating all your water out.”
His mother smiled weakly at him and with an effort patted his arm, before lapsing back into the damp guarskin blankets. Rakhulbi held the cup to her lips again, but she didn’t partake.
“Rakhulbi-Sul,” came her voice sometime later. How much later? Rakhulbi roused himself from a doze. He had been up day and night to tend to her, though he wouldn’t have been able to sleep if he wanted to, given the dreams…
“I’m here,” he said, taking her head back into his lap, where it had slipped out sometime while he had been dozing. She was so fragile now, so light, that even his weak body had no trouble readjusting her weight.
His mother opened her eyes and caught his gaze, and her eyes seemed sharper and clearer than they had been in weeks. Fever sometimes did that, Rakhulbi knew. He checked her temperature again.
His mother caught his hand, and brought it to her chest. Her arms trembled with exertion even at that small movement. “Don’t,” she said. “I know that I am dying.”
The yurt went all fuzzy, and angrily Rakhulbi wiped at tears. “No,” he said. “You’re just having a bad night. You’ll feel better in the morning…”
“Rakhulbi…” said his mother, in the same voice she would use when he had been a child, caught doing something he should not. “Please, do not speak. There’s some thing I wish to tell you, before I go.”
Rakhulbi didn’t want to listen. If he didn’t listen, maybe this would no longer be real. He rubbed angrily at his cheeks and the wetness that kept appearing there, no matter how many times he sniffed the tears back up.
“Your father was a House Dunmer,” his mother went on, in a voice so soft he could barely hear it. “I did not say so before, because rumors are better than truth in this troubled time…”
Rakhulbi said nothing. What could he say? So he was the bastard son of a rapist. He had known it deep down since forever.
His mother tried to squeeze his hand, but her fingers didn’t have the strength. Rakhulbi had to bend over to hear her next words. “Though he gave me many things, his greatest gift to me…was you…”
She was fading. Rakhulbi sniffed away another bout of tears that would make his voice unclear. “Mother, stay with me! It’s going to be okay.”
“I love you.”
“I love you.”
“I love you…”