Epilogue: Redguard Girls

 
Previously: Good Lives

Zahra and the Thane rounded the manor together and the young mage gasped as the homestead grounds gave way to a grand view of forests, mountains, and lake.

"You are so blessed," Zahra whispered, closing her eyes and soaking it all in as the sun shone brightly down upon them.

"Blessed?" Rayya scoffed. "I worked for this, all of this. I've served the House of Stuhn through two Jarls, first killing the enemies of Dengeir, and then the enemies of Siddgeir. I've shivered in the cold, walked long roads, gone days without food or bathing - I earned this."

"Still," Zahra nodded slowly, "you are blessed to be rewarded for your hard work." She paused, and when she spoke again, her voice came out a little more bitter. "My husband was never so lucky as to be blessed for his."

"I may not know where you're really from or who you really are, little sister," Rayya raised an eyebrow, "but Kaidan and I can see the suffering in your eyes, and we recognize that struggle. You're no stranger to hard work; it's the reward part that's unfamiliar. I've embraced what was due me and you now need to do the same."

Zahra's head snapped towards her. "You're right, my Thane," she said in a clipped tone. "You don't know me. You don't know what I've done or what I've been through, but I can tell you this: people like me don't wear pretty dresses and live in fancy halls. And we don't become the jeweled mistresses of Jarls."

"If Siddgeir were betrothed to literally anyone else in Skyrim, I'd be fucking him myself," Rayya blinked. "I'm not suggesting you jump into bed with him; Kaidan was right to advise you against that."

Zahra relaxed a bit, but then she was confused. "Then what 'blessing' would you have me embrace?"

"By my right as Thane, I am declaring you Baroness Ilinalta, a lady who is as beautiful as the lake," Rayya gestured. "I'll draft a letter the Jarl this evening so Nenya add it to the official hold records."

Zahra's eyes widened. "Baroness?"

"A mostly ceremonial title with neither land nor coin attached," Rayya clarified, "but it still has many benefits. You will officially join the ranks of nobility, set above others. You can run errands for the Jarl, travel to other holds on his - and my - behalf. A when you finally decide you want another husband, the common rabble won't dare speak to you."

Zahra stared at Rayya, rendered speechless. Amused, the Thane gestured, "Come. Let's walk the grounds."



They headed down the hill towards the lake, and were a third of the way there, when Zahra noticed another voice muttering to her left. Confused, she went to stand on a ledge overlooking some stone runs. In the center was a figure draped in black, leaning over an altar. Nearby, Lucien knelt in meditation, while three skeleton warriors stood guard.

Zahra fell her stomach plummet to the ground as a chill danced upon her skin. "Is that...a necromancer?" she asked haltingly, struggling to breathe.

Rayya actually chuckled. "Don't call her that to her face. That's Carmella, an old friend of mine and Kaidan's. She's a fellow Redguard who dropped out of the College of Winterhold to wander Skyrim, but I always told if I ever got a house, she was welcome to stay as long as she liked."

Zahra was still flummoxed. "But...but she's a necromancer."

The Thane's eyebrow rose again. "Carmella considers herself...an artist, of sorts. She thinks of death as her brush. But just to be clear, she'd never harm the living. And besides, her little skeleton friends keep my property safe from wolves and bandits." Rayya paused. "Want to go down and meet her?"




Zahra was no stranger to walking skeletons, and yet this was really weird.

It had been months since she practiced the necromantic arts; she was sure the stench of death had long faded from her and yet...here, now, in the presence of another's dark works, she felt naked, almost like a fraud.

"Carmella," Rayya introduced, "this is Zahra."

"Oh, yes," Carmella mused, rising from her altar. "Our soon-to-be Baroness Ilinalta." The black-clad mage dropped a humble curtsy. She then turned to Rayya. "Will I be getting a title at some point?"

Rayya snorted. "You don't play well with others, and Zahra is already a prominent member of the Jarl's court."

Zahra was happy to stand mutely while they talked about her. She couldn't think of anything to say and feared she'd betray herself if she opened her mouth. It was simply too bizarre to stand with an obvious necromancer and some normal people in broad daylight.

The necromancer's pretty red lips spread into a slow smile. Her voice was so soft and sultry. "Too true. I don't think I could come and go at the behest of another."

"Zahra and I are bound for the lake," Rayya invited. "Care to join us?"

Carmella shook her head. She seemed like such a petite, dainty creature. "Lucien here has agreed to help me translate some texts."

"We'll leave you to it then," Rayya smiled, gesturing for Zahra to continue their walk.




The awkwardness quickly faded as they headed on down the hill, across the main road, towards the shores of the lake.

"We should all go for a swim later," the Thane suggested, "when the sun is higher. In a few weeks, it'll be too cold for that."

"I love water," Zahra murmured. "On our way down to Riften, to get married, I made my husband stop and marvel at every waterfall and river. I didn't get out much as a child."

"I can tell," Rayya laughed.

"My last guardian was a mage, and a brilliant one at that," Zahra admitted. "But she mistook me for her maid. I spent a whole year of my life cooking and cleaning for that woman, and running her little errands. My life was so stifling, I never noticed the beauty of Skyrim around me."



"I was in Hammerfell when I was small," Rayya told her. "I vaguely remember crossing the great red desert with my father. I remember asking why we couldn't stay home and my father said in Hammerfell, men like him were as common as sand. But in Skyrim...in Skyrim, he could become something." She paused for a moment as they watched the sun's rays bounce off the lake. "He did become someone, and I surpassed him because of it." She turned to Zahra. "You could surpass me, you know. And someday, should you help another of our sisters, they could surpass you."

Zahra smiled, oddly warmed by that. For the first time in her life, she felt a certain weight lift and she realized what it was. It was the burden of shame about her lack of an identity, of having no real place or purpose in the world. That phase of her life appeared to be finally over.

From now on, she was Lady Zahra, Baroness Ilinalta, a mage at the court of Falkreath. She was a widow who loved and lost, but despite her guilt and anguish over the loss, she could still love again some day.

She was...free.



~ Fin ~

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