Prologue: Wintersand Manor

Previously: Dramatis Personae

It bothered her deeply that he insisted upon calling it a "manor".

By Skyrim standards, it was a more than decent house, and for that, she was grateful. The wooden frame was solid, the roof had no leaks, and the fact that it had few rooms made it easier to clean. But Wintersand Manor was by no means a manor, and it irritated her whenever her husband referred to it as such. To Ahlam, a manor was supposed to be a large, stately residence, with at least three stories, and preferably located inside the walls of a great city. Wintersand stood just outside Whiterun, wide open to the passing bandit as it sat upon a farm.

At the beginning of their marriage, Ahlam used to comfort herself with the knowledge that at least her husband owned that farm. He'd paid for it outright. The fact that it kept them fed and housed made up for all his other failings, of which there were so many.

Chillfurrow Farm was a particularly fertile piece of land; in ten years it had fallen prey to neither blight not drought. Ahlam and her husband Nazeem had profited heavily from the farm's abundant harvests, more than enough to expand their humble home into a truly great house. But instead of reinvesting in their home, their marriage, and overall future together, Nazeem had chosen to invest in himself...or more specifically, his relationship with the Jarl.

At first she didn't notice; Ahlam was a creature of habit and if there was no change to her personal routine, she didn't mind. Besides, her husband's excuses always seemed plausible back then.

First, they couldn't expand the farm because the Jarl needed money to repair something or other at Dragonsreach Castle, and it was a huge honor to aid in such an endeavor. Then the Jarl needed money to hire more guards at Dragonsreach once his children were born. They were heirs to the throne after all, and their safety was top priority.

When both of his wives died, the Jarl needed money to host lavish funerals, befitting their status. He'd been twice widowed in ten years, and now all of his children were motherless. Gifting him a few hundred septims--both times--was the least they could do.

Ahlam finally began to take notice when she started to see less and less of her husband. In the rare moments when she did see him, he was wearing new clothes and beginning every sentence with, "The Jarl". And it was then Ahlam realized she could no longer ignore his full-blown obsession. It was clear Nazeem idolized the Jarl's status and privilege, and longed to join the noble class in the Cloud District. The simple life had never been good enough for him, and now he was lost. Once, a whole day went by when she didn't see him, then two, then three, and soon it became normal for Ahlam to not see her husband for weeks.

The upkeep of the house and the farm fell to her. She'd wake at dawn and lie in bed alone, staring at the ceiling. Eventually, she'd rise, fetch herself some water from the nearby stream, and heat herself a bath. After that, she'd cook and eat breakfast alone. She'd long learned never to cook for two.

The kitchen was her least favorite room in the house; after all this time, it still had earthen floors and no oven. She had to cook in a small pot over the fire pit, and it severely limited her options. Her diet was most limited to porridges, gruels, broths, and stews, with the occasional piece of roasted meat. She'd eat twice a day quietly, and wash her dishes before leaving or before bed.

With her husband's attention fully diverted from the farm now, they had only one cow and two chickens left. Ahlam would feed them, and check in with Chillfurrow's lone farmhand, Wilmuth. Apparently, the farm wasn't producing as well without Nazeem's attention, so it only needed a single farmhand these days. Which was all for the best, since they couldn't afford another farmhand anyway. Nazeem's increasingly fancy wardrobe had seen to that.

After dealing with the house and farm, Ahlam would report to the Temple of Kynareth, healing the sick and tending the wounded. It was work that paid little, but it was good, meaningful work that earned her the love of a lot of people. She administered tonics and potions to those with fevers and chills; she dislodged arrows and stitched wounds from blades. She birthed children and gave comfort to those who were finally beyond all help.

In the evening, Ahlam would return home just after dark. She'd cook something small, something simple, eat quietly, and wash her dish before going to bed alone at the manor that could have been.


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