Shizzal returned to the camp a little later after Drai. His hunting group had found a kagouti, and after a difficult battle, the Ashlanders had brought the beast down and dragged it back to camp between them.
The outlander found Drai sitting up front of his campfire. He was oiling his bow string, but Shizzal could tell by his look that the Ashlander was far away. Shizzal called out a greeting anyway, and came to sit by his friend.
“Everyone seems so grim after a successful hunt,” Shizzal finally observed when Drai didn’t speak. “What’s going on, Drai?”
“You found a kagouti,” Drai observed in return, his eyes drifting to the slash marks up and down Shizzal’s leathers.
“Yeah,” said Shizzal with a grin. “Killed it, though. These hunters are tough, Drai. You could do well here; I’m surprised you don’t join their tribe.”
“Are you not?” said Drai darkly. He coiled the bowstring and put it in a pouch, only half oiled. Confusion blooming on his face, Shizzal followed him as the Ashlander got up and walked deeper into the Tengri camp. The Ashlander acted like he wanted to tell Shizzal something, but he remained silent as they walked, and Shizzal glanced around, looking for clues in the environment.
“No…oh, no…” Shizzal breathed as they passed a weeping willow and the full scene up front of him came into view.
Drai was silent still.
“They can’t mean to… we should do something for her, Drai!”
“We already did something,” Drai said coldly, “when she and her father trespassed into Ashlander territory.”
He turned his head to regard the ritual out of the corner of his eye. Mephalans, led by Zeketah, circled a young Dunmer woman dressed in city-dweller finery. The Ashlanders teased her like they might a kagouti, jabbing her with spears until her blood ran thick and she tired from the constant spinning to face each new attacker in panic.
Shizzal turned on Drai. “Look, I know you homelander sorts are really testy and territorial sometimes, but this is…this goes too far!”
Drai looked back at him wordlessly, and Shizzal felt his heart sink. The circle closed so that the woman was hidden from view, and he knew by the rising chants what would come nect.
“I have to go,” Shizzal said abruptly. “I can’t watch this. I’m sorry, Drai, I just–I can’t watch.”
Drai said nothing, looking away. Beyond them, the blue fire of Mephala’s passion flared against the night sky as the woman screamed.
The next day dawned clear and bright over the Ashlander camp. The sun’s fingers crept over the deadened coals of the campfires, the scaled leather of the yurts. It crept over the bones and ritual instruments still laying where they had fallen around the shrine to Mephala. The light suddenly didn’t seem so bright then to Shizzal, but cold and revealing.
He was packing his few belongings on to a guar. Drai had shown him how to manage the complicated straps of the Morrowind saddles, but the animal was having none of it. It threw up its head and chewed on the tie-down rope. It wriggled its packs too far back on its haunches and then lashed out at him with its tail when he tried to correct it. Shizzal was about to give up and go on foot when a hand reached out and restrained the guar.
“Oh. Hi, Drai,” said Shizzal, refusing to look up. “I didn’t expect to see you awake. You know, after last night…”
Drai took Shizzal and the guar in with a glance. “You’re leaving.”
Shizzal swallowed. “I meant to go before…before anyone noticed.”
Drai and Shizzal met gazes.
“I got the 36 Sermons for you, like you wanted,” said Shizzal, turning to point at a stack of packs concealing House Dunmer books inside. “I tried to read them on the way back from Mournhold, but they didn’t make much sense. I didn’t see anything about Mephala in them, though it’s always possible I missed something…”
Drai reached into the first pack, touching the cover of the top book. It was an old, beaten-up copy, with much of the writing and the Temple emblem on the front cover flaking off. With a quick tug, Drai ripped the rest of Vivec’s symbol away.
He and Shizzal met glances again, but this time, Shizzal couldn’t hold it.
“I didn’t think my people would be like this,” Shizzal said in a low voice. “What I saw in Mournhold was totally different from what I saw here in the–in the Ashlander camps. I know you’ve been helping me to fit in here ever since you found me, Drai, and I really appreciate that, especially because I know how dangerous it was for you to speak for me in the first place. But, Drai, I just…don’t. Fit in, I mean.”
Drai didn’t answer.
“So I guess I’ll see you around.” Shizzal managed to pull himself up on the guar before it bucked again. Drai released the tie-down rope, and tossed it up to Shizzal. The guar worried its bit and gurgled a protest, but Shizzal didn’t give the reins any slack.
“Then go,” said the Ashlander coldly, and he turned to walk away himself when the Shizzal didn’t move.
Drai stopped, but he didn’t look back.
“I’ll come back. I promise. You’re my friend. Your…honored guest. That makes us clanfriends, yes?”
Drai didn’t answer and kept walking. Shizzal swallowed, bowed his head, and turned the guar away.
That had been two years ago. Shizzal had never returned.