Spinning Elaborate Fictions

Zahra suddenly realized how tired she was. Her journey across Skyrim finally hit her; her body ached, she smelled, and the conversation with Norion sapped the last of her strength. She went across the street to a tavern called the Winking Skeever. It was larger than the Bee & Barb and much nicer, even had customers early in the morning. They were travelers, like her, and there was an even wider array of people than in Riften.

The innkeeper was an Imperial. For ten septims, he led her to a huge room that made her eyes widen in disbelief. In addition to a large bed with an embroidered cover, the room had a giant wardrobe, tables, chairs, bookshelves, and animal skin rugs.

"I'll send up a tub and some bathwater," the innkeeper assured her. "Will you be needing anything laundered?"

Nothing in her books had prepared her for this. For a few more septims than the other taverns, she received a large wooden tub. Some young women arrived with jugs of hot water, pine soap, and dried flower petals. They took her sweaty robes, and promised to clean and return them as soon as they dried.

She sank into the tub of steaming water and let the warmth wash over her. She scrubbed her travels from her hair, skin, and soles of her feet before rising to dry off. Exhausted, she collapsed upon her bed without ordering supper.

For the first time in days, she dreamed, and it was neither of caves nor undead slaves. Instead, she experienced the strangest thing. She was in a field somewhere with Roggvir, the executed traitor. He was dressed in the studded armor of Nords and adventurers, while she wore a plain dress and flowers in her hair. He beamed a brilliant smile at her, but when he spoke, she couldn't hear his voice.

Even so, she knew whatever he was saying gave her great joy, for even though the feeling was unfamiliar, Zahra experience perfect happiness for the first time in her life. She felt her face grinning back him, broadly, unabashedly, even as she had no idea why.

When she woke, the tavern was cold, dark, and silent as the grave. She rose and checked for her clothes, and sure enough, they'd been left at her door.

She had the strangest--and strongest--urge to see Roggvir's body. It was so powerful that every time she remembered her dream, her entire body warmed and her heart soared. After dressing, she snuck out into the night without any thought or hesitation, and headed for the hall of the dead.


Norion wasn't surprised the see the necromancer back in the shop first thing the next morning. She arrived even before Gisli, and that was saying something. Though she was bathed and wearing cleaner robes than yesterday, she still smelled of death in that way that only one mage could sense another.

"How do you do it?" she asked him bluntly, flatly, eyes without emotion.

"What's that now?" he asked, more amused than confused that she couldn't be bothered with a proper greeting. Necromancers weren't known for their social skills, after all.

"The illusion magic," she blinked. "I never mastered it."

Norion paused, looking her face over for a moment. He calmly sipped his morning ale.

"Lesson the first," he began patiently, "all the best illusions are rooted in reality. I wanted to pose as a cousin to Taarie and Endarie. First, it helps that I'm an Altmer, same as them. Similar height, same eyes, same hair. Any passerby who sees us together naturally assumes we are kin. After that, I use the power of suggestion. I wear enchantments--rings, necklaces, and the like--which help me to alter people's perceptions of me, if only slightly."

"And then you play your part," Zahra nodded, understanding.

"Exactly," he also nodded. "I don't spin elaborate fictions. I never lie, not directly. Lies can get you caught. Instead, I'm quiet. I do my chores, I pull my weight around the shop, I dress like my family has money but not too much, and I blend into the community with as little explanation as possible."

Zahra nodded again, slowly, and more so to herself. "I'll need to buy some clothes."

Norion smiled slightly. "You'll have to talk to the sisters for that."

"No," she shook her head. "I need to buy clothes from you, and I need you to work your magic on them." She lightly tapped her satchel. "I've got the coin."


After running errands in the morning, Zahra decided to explore Solitude. She figured she might as well, since she was about to leave it for a long time.

It was a beautiful city; it seemed impossible to get bored here. It had everything - castles, three-story manors, a great temple, and even a college for bards. She actually visited the school and went to the small arena where they held concerts and festivals. It overlooked the Sea of Ghosts, and made her feel small.

She steered clear of the castles; she was no noblewoman and didn't feel like getting into it with the guards, especially not now. She didn't visit the Temple of the Divines either; she already knew the priests there would not welcome her kind.

Despite her limited exploration, the overall experience was still heady, still exciting. She tasted Frost River mead and spiced wine; she bought her first vial of real perfume and got to enjoy the sight of real nobles in all their finery. They were like creatures from another world to which she knew she'd never belong, and she was strangely fine with that. She had no dreams of wedding a lord and living one of these fine manors. She was so far removed from that world that she didn't bother. Her heart tugged as her mind echoed Norion's words about being fulfilled by simpler things.

After a couple of hours of walking about, Zahra headed back to the Winking Skeever, where she had much work to do.

Next: Waking


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