The sun vanishes beneath the sea-filled horizon. It leaves behind a sky mottled with stars beginning to glow against shades of violets and blues. Before the water that in time becomes the Sea of Ghosts, the Junasa have taken down their yurts and firepits are no more than ash and bone from fish grilled across their heat. Along the sand are the tracks of nix-ox heading to the Ash Mountain while the outline of footprints trails the water edge in the opposite direction. Along the rising cliffs are distant figures - a mixture of nix-ox and the silhouettes of travel-ready Ashlanders who march off with their haul of fish: the Junasa.
As they do so, two of them remain in the rear facing the coastline to watch the figure stumbling through the sands.
A dunmer stripped of all but a tattered robe.
T W O_D A Y S_E A R L I E R
"Ye reckon ye be or ye know ye be?" The words are exhaled in her direction with a haze of aromatic smoke from the cigarette between the lips of a dunmer leaning against a stack of crates filled with crabs and other seafaring goods. Unlike the Hlaalu or Redoran that would come to the designated trading grounds the Junasa host throughout the year, he is much different in appearance.
Broad-shouldered with a sinewy form and his features are wolfish with the typical crimson gaze Dunmer carry about themselves.
"I will be ready to go by then, Vik."
Vik, short for Vikhus who serves as quartermaster of the Salty Hydra. For months, the ship and its livelihood have come to visit the Junasa during open trade to purchase foodstuffs. Syndassa built a rapport with them as she aided in loading their purchases onto their ship - a caravel called the Salty Hydra.
The two of them were a contrast of cultures in truth. Where she was several years into her apprenticeship beneath a wise woman of the tribe, he was an unsavoury sort of worldly souls travelling on an accord she could not understand. The Junasa are no strangers to conflict, but the tales that Vik carried on his tongue were much different than fighting other Ashlanders or outsiders - even the creatures of the Mountain.
He called himself a jack-of-all-trades when it came to life. Seeing the world is the lead force into how he got into the Salty Hydra. At one point, a close mate of Vik showed Syndassa a sketchbook they kept of chalk drawings. Each page filled with scenery from around the realms and at points recreations from fights or memories the crew aboard the ship made with one another. These scenes may not be the real thing, but Syndassa often views them as holy things - illustrations of the world that Azura leaves her beauty upon - a world that is far larger than the Junasa and the Red Mountain.
Syndassa watches those who come out to the market in a much different way than the other Junasa. They are suspicious of outsiders and enforce firm rules that default into their focus on maintaining their cultural roots within Morrowind. Unlike her, they do not look to the sea as an untamed aspect of Azura awaiting exploration to other lands. They see it as a resource, though thankful as they are for its presence.
During the last few months, these markets have become the highlight of her life, the path to becoming a new generation of wise women serving the Three no longer calls to Syndassa. In truth, it never did. Deep down there was a longing to see the world beyond the Red Mountain and its borders; A calling from Azura herself to see the beauty of Tamriel and all it has to offer.
Such things are heresy, the Junasa have never released their own into the greater world. They have no plans to do so either.
As Syndassa finishes dinner around the fires with the other wise women, the conversation falls onto her and Vikhus. "Do not stray, young one, these are not men of your kind, they are outsiders, and you cannot enter a relationship with them." The crones impart their unwanted words on the mer who scowls down at a serving of rice and fish spread across a leaf.
They ignore her expression as the focus is mostly on their meal but the conversation carries on with remarks about Vikhus and other outsiders.
"They only come to see if they can swindle us."
"All outsiders are the same, they come here with their noses up in the air while buying our catch without pause. They do not know the meaning of honour or family - the Tribunal especially. Heretics, the lot of them."
Syndassa had no concern for the Tribunal and growing up there was only the limited interactions with them at markets, and they did not seem so hostile and hateful as the Junasa painted them. Although she did not care for them either way, the desires of her heart involved seeing the world in honour of Azura. Not sitting around fires reading bones or flame to determine how the tribe should move next or providing healing services until she is an elder. The, she would be sold to dying without ever seeing what is beyond the Red Mountain - a place that would be home but Azura beckons Syndassa elsewhere.
Morning arrives quickly as Syndassa lays within her yurt - tossing and turning at the thoughts that plagued her mind. By tomorrow, the Junasa will have picked the market encampment up to begin the trek to a new location where they would spend weeks surrounded by the harshness of the Ashlands - far away from the seas.
In the few dreams, the mer has she has left the Junasa behind, following the whim and voice of Azura across the seas of the realms. Syndassa awoke with this fresh in mind, and it felt as if it were a message from the Three directly.
Furthermore, it aided Syndassa in finding a decision for the questions that often plagued the dunmer. Scooping herself from her sleeping mat and making quick work of her fiery hair into a long braid the dunmer approaches the yurt where the Elders of the tribe spent hours deliberating on various matters.
The Gula-khan and the eldest wise woman already sits with breakfast at the table as Syndassa draws the fabric hung to act as a door. Engrossed in whispered conversation, the wise woman lifts her crimson gaze up onto Syndassa - nudging the other as the conversation abruptly dies.
"You awake with the sun, what for?"
It is the wise woman who speaks first, and the Gula-khan merely tilts his darker crimson hues at Syndassa. He gestures for her to approach and as she does, the mer begins with an emphasis on the Three - her matron in particular: "Azura whispers day in and out as if her head perches on my shoulder."
Their eyebrows lift, beckoning for Syndassa to continue and her face is scrunching up as the words come to the tip of her tongue. "I believe that in my devotion to the Three and pledge to serve Azura, a path shows itself to me --"
"Of course you are, that is why you are an apprentice to the wise women, that is your path."
"-- and it will take me away from here."
The words left confusion in the air as the wise woman pauses with her mouth open ready for a bite and the Gula-khan lowered his hand with a hardening gaze.
"What you speak of," hissing begins from his tongue, "is blasphemy! Azura does not will you to leave - you stupid girl!" The wise woman curls a hand around his arm in an attempt of calming him, without success. "She does not know what she says; this one is wild still."
Syndassa could not control the way her alabaster gaze narrowed into a glare - "What is that look upon your -"
"No! I do not want to be a wise woman anymore," admitting what swirls in her mind is difficult, but Syndassa does not stop there on digging a hole for herself, "Azura blessed the world with beauty: each dawn and each dusk we see the blistering stars and the painted skies and the dutiful sun and all of it is against this backdrop of the Red Mountain but I want to see more!"
A vein along the forehead of the Gula-khan pulsates, and the wise woman has tensed with pursed lips.
"I know the rules of the Junasa too. The Three and Azura push for this and I cannot ignore it, and if you cannot accept that my destiny pushes elsewhere, then that is on you!"
Her shoulders have tensed - squaring up, and her brows furrow into that narrowed gaze as Syndassa sits there with heavy breaths from her impassioned - perhaps uncouth - moment with the Elders.
They sit there in a fiery silence until the Gula-khan slams his fist onto the wood table raised from the ground by stones. It rattles the cups and bowls around, and they are pushed off when the wood pushes forward as he quickly rises to his feet.
The Gula-khan and Syndassa meet face to face, him looking down upon her with beads of sweat forming around his forehead where the still pulsing vein has bulged out, and his gaze could set everyone on fire at present.
"You insolent child, talking to us as if you knew better than your very Elders! The disrespect! And for what?! To tell us your fantasies of leaving the Junasa to visit the rest of the world? What does the world have to offer you, child? How do you know this is the will of Azura?"
The heat of his breath rolls onto her face as the two glare at one another. A few seconds of silence sees the wise woman interject, "She has so far to go in her training; still, these are not the words of Azura - please, do not lose your temper here. The market is almost over, and we can move home - she can work her feelings out with labours."
Syndassa reacts in a way that makes the situation worse because she does not agree with what is said about her - in front of her no less - in regards to her future.
"If you refuse to allow me to follow the will of Azura - who I wholly believe to be the one whispering these things to my heart - then I will not stay here. I will not be part of this tribe or its customs or anything else because I am true to the Three! You are not the Three - none of you are, and I am sick of being told how my life will play out!"
The crack of the Gula-khan striking his open palm against the face of Syndassa carries a sort of resonance to it as she falls to the ground and slides back into the fabric covering the entrance to the Elders yurt. He steps over the younger dunmer with his head looking over a shoulder to the wise woman, "She speaks like a heretic - willingly - so she shall receive treatment like one. If the girl does not wish to fulfil her destiny set here in her blood, then she is to be removed before it spreads to the others.
His departure leaves a pregnant silence as Syndassa picks herself up and the feel of his handprint stinging on her cheek is a harsh reminder of what she has stood up for in the name of the Three - being the one who makes decisions for herself.
The wise woman eventually speaks from across the room.
"In the length of this Tribe existing nestled against the Red Mountain to which the Three provide, never has there been one to desire traditions broken for the sake of chasing dreams."
She crosses the yurt towards Syndassa, no longer willing to look at the mer.
"The will of the Gul-Khan is present, you will now stand before the whole of the Elders and tell them your demands. Be wary, child, for you have made a powerful mistake that cannot be undone."