Shrieking with joy, they race towards the beckoning sea, first through wispy clouds of dry sand, raised by their bare heels, and then across the wet, brownish-gold tide line, separated from the rest of the coast by a thick green belt of dried seaweed and littered with tiny white seashell shards that stick to the skin of their soles. There are about a dozen of them - youngsters from twelve to twenty years of age, mostly Redguards, a couple of Bosmer, a Breton and an Argonian, all of them lean, swift and agile, as though woven out of sunlight and gleeful laughter.
They rush into the water with a roaring splash, and then stop, hand in hand, watching with widened eyes and baited breath, as a gigantic wave looms nearer and nearer, slow but unstoppable like the flow of time itself - and when its foaming crown towers over their heads, ready to come crashing down, they all leap, and let the powerful force of the wild sea sweep them up and carry them in its embrace, screaming at the top of their lungs, laughing, and whistling teasingly as one of the boys hobbles awkwardly through the heaving water after his loincloth, which has been torn off by the great wave's impact.
As the sea gradually grows calmer, they start playing tag, waist-deep in the water. The Argonian cheats, of course, using her racial ability to hide from the others beneath the waves and then pouncing out, her scales glistening bright silver in the sun, and tickling her hapless victims till they can't breathe.
They are young and full of life, and their wild joy makes them stronger; it takes long, very long for their game to wear them out. But eventually, one by one, they start waddling ashore. Some throw themselves onto the sand and take to lazily watching the waves caress the coast. Others trot over to where they left their clothes and satchels, come back with snacks, wrapped in greasy rags and snatches of paper, which they peel off in abrupt, violent tugs, impatient with hunger, and, nestling cozily with their backs against the sun-warmed boulders, sink their teeth greedily into bread and cheese, not even minding the occasional pinch of sand that gets mixed in with their food. And there are those that wave goodbye to their friends and, casually tossing on their threadbare cotton tunics and shabby, once-white loose trousers, run off up the winding rocky path back where the city lies, shrouded in bluish, hazy mist. Two sixteen-year-olds, a tall, full-lipped Redguard and her strapping Breton beau, find a comfy nook in the shade where they can kiss, and play with each other's hair, and whisper silly, silly things that the others would surely have laughed at.
But there is one that stays behind, swims up to the single black rock that juts out, fang-like, some way off the coast, climbs up to its very top and remains there, motionless, statue-like, gazing out towards the horizon, where the sea blends in one with the darkening sky. She is the oldest of the little group, and, but half an hour ago, also the loudest - but now her ringing voice is silenced, and her large, sparkling blue eyes, which stand out strikingly against her dark Redguard skin, are dimmed with thought.
This may very well be the last time she sees the sea. Her parents have already taken her to the smithy at the market; she has been prodded and measured and whirled round in front of a suit of steel armour serving instead of a mirror. Every day now her gear will be ready, and then, there will be long, long farewell embraces, and Father's trembling hand on her shoulder, and Mother's attempt to hide her tears, and a shrill chorus of her friends' voices, telling her to write soon, wishing her a safe journey, daring her to kill a giant first thing after she crosses the Skyrim border... And then, she will turn her back on the dusty, narrow, maze-like streets where she grew up, on the bustling harbour with ship masts reaching up to the sky like the spears of an Imperial regiment, and with hungry gulls circling overhead, shattering the air with their loud cries... She will begin her quest for adventure, her journey towards a new, unfamiliar land, where so much lies in store for her.
She is eager to leave, having been restless with wanderlust for the past few years. But at the same time, her heart is not as light as she expected it to be. She is going to miss her family, her friends, the safety of familiar surroundings - and the sea. By the Nine, how she will miss the sea!
For her, it is a living being. There have been times, now and then, when she imagined it as a man. An elven mage - she has seen plenty of those, growing up among Aldmeri asylum seekers. Yes, an elven mage. Powerful. Dangerous. More often than not, unfeeling and cruel. But sometimes, when caught off-guard, showing his softer side. Her playmate. Her old and very dear friend.
The tide is on the rise; the waves lash angrily at the rock where she is standing. Even though the sky ahead is overcast with heavy, leaden clouds, the water is shaded a bright, vivid green - her favourite sea colour. The colour of her imaginary mage's eyes.
She squats down and dabs her fingertips into the swirling foam. 'Are you upset to see me go?' she asks in a gentle whisper. 'Don't worry; I will never forget you'.
She straightens herself up again and, with a short cry, kicks off the rock and dives in for one last, farewell swim.
He keeps boots on while crossing the strip of the coast covered with small, sharp grey rocks; no self-respecting Altmer would want his superior flesh to grow all grimy and scratched and bloodied. But as soon as he steps onto the soft white sand, he stoops down, pulls off his boots and, tossing them aside, walks barefoot towards the water. Sinking his toes into the tender, warm, wet sea foam, he stops and takes a deep, ravenous breath of the salty air. For a while, he just stands there, gazing at the waves from below his half-lowered eyelids, allowing the fresh breeze to tug playfully at his robes, making the dark, gilded cloth flap in the air and knocking back his hood.
This may very well be the last time he sees the sea. The orders have already been signed; his transfer has been made official. Tomorrow he will leave Alinor for that detestable hole of a human province, where it will be his solemn duty to lead the Justiciars in their noble quest to make the barbaric Nord heathens see the light. It is an honourable task, for the glory of the Aldmeri Dominion and for the greater good of the lesser races; he has accepted it gratefully and without question. But still... He might loathe to admit it - it is improper for an officer of the Dominion to show weakness before he has even started carrying out the orders of his commanders - but he is going to miss his homeland. Most of all, the sea.
Ah, the sea... For years, it has been the only thing capable of touching a cord within his heart. When he was a child, the coast used to be his refuge, his sanctuary; he would escape here - from his house, which was filled to the rooftop with the conventional Altmeri collection of rare antiques, priceless symbols of social status that seemed to him, a mindless infant that he was, so soulless, so devoid of significance. From his lessons, which at times grew too gruelling, too complicated for him to understand. From his family, which had done everything to provide him with a superior upbringing, but did not give him what he, at the time, foolishly longed for the most - love.
And as a young mer, he would talk to the waves, venting out all the feelings that were seething within him. His fear of disappointing his betters. His burning, ambitious desire to prove his worth, to repay the Thalmor for the great honour of accepting him into their ranks. And his doubts - for there was a time, long ago, when he found some aspects of the Thalmor teachings to be difficult to accept...
The sea has never failed to comfort him, to heal him. He has often thought of it as a living being. A woman. Careless, volatile, capricious - but loving and caring. And infinitely beautiful.
The breeze has died down; the water surface is now almost glassily still, reflecting the blue colour of the cloudless sky, making it deeper, richer. This is the colour his imaginary woman's eyes would have had, had she been a being of flesh and blood.
The tiny waves crawl up to his bare feet, and the sound they make is almost like a quiet, melancholy sigh. As though the sea is sorry to see him go.
It is a foolish, inappropriate impulse - but he finds himself unable to fight it. Just like in his youth, he smiles at the sea, and says to it - to her, 'I will never forget you'.
And then, unbuckling his robes and laying them down next to his boots, he goes in - for one last, farewell swim.