Been a while since I wrote any fan fiction, but here's a short piece I wrote down tonight, and also posted on AO3.
For best effect, read this story out loud and imagine it being spoken by Ahkari, in her voice.
Come in, traveller. Come into this one's tent. You bear news from distant lands, but you also carry the dust of the journey. You are weary. You are hungry. Come, come in; rest, and eat. There will be time for talk later.
Here, sit down on this mat, it is this one's finest. Let her brush the dust off your coat, take it off your shoulders, and put it away. It is good to see you relax. Take this water to quench your thirst; soon there will be food. Allow this one to wash your feet while we wait; you are a welcome guest, an honored guest.
This one has not seen one of your people for almost as long as she can remember. You are a stranger, wandering strange lands; what could you be doing here? No, do not answer, this one should not learn of your affairs. There are questions that must not be asked. It is not this one's business.
This one sees that you have finished eating. The meal was to your taste, yes? There is more, should you still be hungry. This one will see to it that your every need is taken care of, honored guest. Speak your wishes, and this one will serve you.
Ah. But this one must offer her apologies, esteemed guest; there is one wish that she cannot fulfill, one service she cannot provide. You seek a lover's embrace for the night, and you would choose her. You honor her with your request; yet she must refuse. It cannot be done.
Eat more, traveller, sate your hunger.
You would ask this one why she must remain celibate. It is an old tale. Lips have not spoken it for years, ears have not heard it for decades. This one does not care to remember it. Yet you, you are a stranger. Tonight you are here. Tomorrow you will be gone. This one cannot lie with you tonight, but she can tell you her tale. Then you will understand.
Stranger. Traveller. Guest. What this one will tell you is for your ears only. Her words must be forever sealed in your soul. Protect them as you would protect her. Take them with you to your grave.
This one's name, traveller, is Ahkari.
Ahkari comes from a faraway land. She was born under the sign of the Serpent. The name she bore is lost and forgotten, but know this: she was a boy.
This one does not know how you grew up, noble guest. Did you know your parents? Did they love you? Did they provide for you? If so, your childhood was happier than hers, for she never knew mother nor father. The streets were her home for as long back as she can remember. Malnourished, scrawny, the runt of the litter, this is what she was; a kitten left to die that survived.
She did things she was not proud of, traveller. Most of all, she stole. There is no shame in stealing to sate one's hunger. Do you not agree?
You nod. You do agree. Yet not everyone did. And when this one and her friends stole the purse of a nobleman, the guards soon came, and they showed no mercy. This one was taken alive, traveller, one of only a few. Bound. Chained. Thrown into a cell. It did not take long until the sentence was handed down, and punishment meted out.
The others hung that day. One by one, they were strung up before this one's eyes. Yet when this one's turn came... they saw her youth; she was but a child. They spared her life, but they did not treat her kindly.
For you see, noble guest, her punishment instead was slavery. And before they sold her, they mutilated her; a knife was taken to her most precious parts. Ahkari had been a boy up to then, traveller. Now she was never to become a man. Anything and everything she once had... it was taken from her. It is gone.
And this one was sold, to an old merchant. He was no kind master; he beat her, severely, for the slightest infractions, or for no reason at all. At night, he forced himself on her. This one hated him, hated the things he did to her. He hurt her so much.
For two long years, dear traveller, this one endured her fate. For two long years, she travelled with her master; for two long years, she served him in whatever way he wished, and for two long years, she endured everything he did to her.
But the Divines smiled on her one night. This one's master had taken her on a trip to a distant city, and they were alone in their carriage. Masser and Secunda had hidden their faces as they crossed a swamp that night. And the master had been drinking skooma.
His dagger slid easily from its sheath. And when it spilled her master's blood, Ahkari knew her torment had finally ended.
You squirm, traveller. This amuses Ahkari. You do not need to fear her; you are her honored guest. Sit, and relax, and listen.
Ahkari stole a life in more ways than one that night. She not only took her master's life, she also took a new life for herself, to replace the life that had been cut off of her when she had been sold as a slave. She took his rings, and his purse of gold and gems; she took his horse, and from his wares she chose a woman's finery, gown and cloak. The swamps accepted everything else, and they also swallowed the master's body, never to be seen again.
This one's story is almost finished, traveller. She rode off without direction, and left her old life behind. In the next town, her gems bought wares, and her gold hired khajiit as guards. She took a new name, Ahkari, and set off for distant lands. Ever since, she has been a merchant, and the only master she has served is herself.
This, traveller, was twenty years ago. This one has seen a lot since then, and heard a lot. She has bought a lot, and sold a lot. She has travelled a lot, and learned a lot. Do you remember the boy that this one used to be, traveller? Banish him from your thoughts; he is dead. It is only Ahkari that sits here before you tonight.
But you will understand now why Ahkari cannot lie with you tonight.
Let this one go out and fetch more food for you, traveller. She will also pour more water for you. And your shoulders are tense; she will massage you. Share your news and your stories with her while she does. Then afterward, we will both go to sleep.
Ahkari has trusted you tonight, dear guest. Remember your vow of silence, and keep her secret.
The idea for this story originally came to me when I spoke to Kharjo about how he ended up as a caravan guard, and he referred to Ahkari as "he": "Ahkari freed me from a prison in Cyrodiil, and now I must repay my debt to him." Ever since it's been my headcanon that Ahkari is secretly male, and only passing himself off as a woman for unstated personal reasons.
This story puts a darker a twist on that, while at the same time exploring just how Ahkari ended up where and who and what she is today.