Even in the darkest nights, there was always the promise of a new day dawning.
Daniyah’s face was a swathe of lurid reds and purples, accented by stark white lines – a grotesque yet elegant exaggeration of human features made to look twisted and demonic. The natural droop and mottling of her burn scars was exagerrated by the face paint, and in the fire’s dancing brilliance, she cavorted alongside other dancers, motions graceful from long years of combat drills.
Children whooped with laughter as Alik’r shamans cast shadowy ‘demons’ for the dancers to drive back, their feet stamping the ground, their fingertips becoming claws as they twisted and leered. Her heart pounded with the throbbing of the drums, her voice rising with the others in song, and though the war torn borders of Hammerfell were never far from her thoughts, here she could lose herself – if only for a night – in the celebration of Baranth Do.
Again and again, the dancers swirled their airy silks to frighten away the ‘demons’ of last year, ethereal monstrocities carefully crafted to the delight of the crowd, giving way before the men and women who howled and roared. Even the smallest of children could hardly be afraid, watching the illusions fade in fear of the brave, ferocious champions.
She didn’t often indulge herself in drink, but tonight the battered Redguard felt fire in her belly which made her voice louder as they sang songs of the Alik’r, of the Ansei and other heroes of their people. Even though she was no longer a young woman, or a child, she couldn’t help but feel lighter, freer – she could see the shadows of horrors in the magical illusions. It was a good way of being, to devote a night of revelry to letting go of last year’s nightmares; there was wisdom in these old pageantries, as literal and light-hearted as they were.
As the stars glinted overhead, one by one the revelers trickled away, leaving the night to wear on and the dancing to ebb to slower, more tempered songs. At long last, her bones aching and old scars prickling in discomfort, she wiped the paint from her face and settled herself, grinning, among the elders.
The heat of the fire was a welcome reprieve from the cold night air, and she shared of the sweetly spiced bird and baked flat breads, content to listen rather than speak herself.
The world could wait another day. Though it was not in her nature to forsake duty for pleasure, Daniyah journeyed to the desert for Baranth Do each year she could. Tradition was important; it helped define her in the context of her people, as a part of her culture, particularly after years spent in High Rock, in Cyrodill, and in Skyrim.
She had once resented her parents’ interference, when she was abruptly snatched from the tutelage of a Breton knight and placed beneath a traditional Redguard. But in the years since, she had come to understand it as a blessing – she was proud to be Redguard, now, though there were merits to the Bretonic Orders.
As she sipped her liquor, she wondered, not for the first time, at the divide between the races of Men, between such different ways of seeing Tamriel. Her eyes slowly drooped, head nodding as the fires dimmed. The coming years would bring hardship and suffering to all; there was no doubting it.
The star glittered overhead as the last of the dancers finally found their seats, the low murmuring of voices blending with the pop and whisper of the fire. Though they all longed for a brighter future, war was a serpent that devoured all in its path and left nothing but ashes behind. What she was doing was small, and Daniyah had begun to wonder if it would be enough.
With a soft groan, she drew herself to her feet, and murmured her blessings and goodnights to those gathered. When she laid her head down on the saddle that was her pillow, Daniyah found herself more troubled than before she’d come to the festival.