The open air of the marketplace shimmered in the midday heat. All but the most ambitious of merchants had closed up their stalls and retreated inside to nap away the languid hours.
The stillness was then only broken by a Dunmer sprinting after an Argonian. Shizzal’s airy Redguard tunic was soaked through with his sweat, but he imagined the lizard he pursued was suffering more. The Argonian’s scales had been cracked and dry when the shipmaster had brought it up from the galley, and it didn’t take an expert to tell the lizard wasn’t much longer for this life.
It had remained placid while it had lined up with the other slaves bought from the galley, staring at the tiles while Hasami gave his usual speech of emancipation. Until Hasami had stepped too close, and the Argonian had thrown a vile concoction of a greenish substance into the merchant lord’s face. Hasami screamed, and the guards closed on him, but the Argonian was quicker.
Shizzal was also quicker, leaping after the Argonian when it dove through a glassless window. Such was expected of him, though he had no idea why Hasami would be interested in recapturing a single slave. Hasami brought a dozen such up from his ships every day, taken from galleys captured on the high seas and to be rehomed by the lord’s good will.
Or so Hasami claimed. This wasn’t the first “freed” slave who had fought back.
The Argonian had hit the ground hard, hissing and panting, but Shizzal had rolled, landing himself in a flower bush. By the time he had pulled his shirt from the clinging thorns, the Argonian had nimbly scaled the wall and dropped down on the other side.
Not to be outdone, Shizzal climbed after it, looking left and right. Spots of greenish-yellow blood marked the Argonian’s trail. It broke cover just as Shizzal passed it, and he spun to follow.
The Argonian moved quickly despite its pitiful condition. Shizzal blood sped as he raced after it, dodging merchant stalls and the guttersnipes in the alleys, running up walls, jumping the gaps between roofs. He enjoyed the running more than the chasing, and stopped a few paces away when the Argonian finally sank to the ground. It was trapped on the edge of a rooftop garden with no escape.
The Dunmer and the Argonian considered each other across a crop of pepper plants. Shizzal expected the lizard to attack, to taunt him, but it didn’t move. Its expressionless stare set him on edge.
“That wasn’t smart,” Shizzal finally remarked when he couldn’t stand the staring contest any longer.
The Argonian didn’t answer.
“What’s your name?” Shizzal was hesitant to come closer, for a reason he couldn’t pin down.
The Argonian gulped for air before it answered. “This one is known as Keeps-Low.”
” ‘This one’?” Shizzal asked, shaking his head. “Well, THIS one is known as Shizzal, and you’re in deep shite, mate.”
The Argonian blinked once with an audible click. “You have your ssire’s ken about you,” it hissed.
“Funny, I thought I and Hasami looked nothing alike,” said Shizzal flatly.
“His ssarcasm, too,” grunted Keeps-Low. It held its mouth open between words, throat pulsating like a distressed frog.
Shizzal grimaced, and strode over with what he hoped was a confident-looking swagger. “Look, lizard. I know your kind and mine don’t get along, but it’s no call to go playing footsies with the race card. Hasami freed you, and you paid him back by trying to shank him. I’m here to tell you that that shite don’t fly.”
Keeps-Low hissed, tucking its claws and cuffing Shizzal’s ear like a master might cuff a disobedient child. Shizzal drew his curved blade and held it up to the Argonian’s neck in response, but the Argonian didn’t even blink. Its sibilant voice dropped to a whisper. “Hass you talking his dirty talk, thiss Hasami. Lissten to me, little fetcher. Ssea bred and salt born is what you are. Not sspawn of dishonest merchant lords.”
“I’d shut up and apologize if I were you,” growled Shizzal. His ear stung, and a line of cool blood was dripping down his neck from where the Argonian’s claw had nicked him. His good humor was fast fading.
“Hasami can bark all he likess at dead logs,” hissed the Argonian, “for I will join the Hist ssoon. But I owe something sstill to your egg-mother. Leave thiss place, Ssalt-born, before the rains come. Sstop treading false waterss and return to your kin across the White-Gold roads.”
“My mother?” Shizzal asked, stunned. Slaves would say anything when backed into a corner, particularly Argonians who knew most other races couldn’t read a lie on their expressionless faces. But something about the desperate panting of Keeps-Low gave him pause.
“Hass it ever asked where the slaves Hasami frees go? Truly go?” hissed the Argonian. “Has it ever wondered why it hass no parentss?”
“Shut up!” cried Shizzal. The comment had struck him in a raw spot, but he couldn’t let the devious Argonian know that. “Hasami demanded we kill you for your insult, but I was planning to give you mercy. This is how you repay me? By giving threats and telling lies?”
The Argonian blinked and closed its jaws. Its dilated nares showed gray around the edges. “When Hasami sayss thiss, he sayss it with a straight face.”
“Shut–” began Shizzal.
“I tried, chief,” said the Argonian, closing its eyes. “I am ssorry. Thiss one has chosen his own path. The rainss come to wash all away.”
“The fetch are you talking about–” started Shizzal, but the Argonian fell forward towards him. Out of reflex Shizzal slapped the body away with his sword. He saw no blood, for he had used the flat, but the deflating throat and limp limbs told him all he needed to know about the Argonian’s hold on life.
What he wanted to know, on the other hand, would not be told to him by a sorry corpse. Shizzal turned away from the dead Argonian in sudden anger. The trek to the compound seemed longer on the way back than it had on the way out, and Shizzal walked it in ill humor.
The languid hours of noon passed, and the sleepy merchants emerged from their cool quarters to stare after the Dunmer passing by. The stillness was broken by several voices now as the vendors began to hawk their wares. They would be at it until long into the evening, when the streets were lit by paper lamps, their lights shimmering red in the sea’s depths.