The Farmer's Wife

 

"How about the green?" the high priestess asked excitedly. "You like the green, don't you? I've always thought it was your color."

It was a quiet day at the temple. As autumn deepened in Whiterun, the summer sicknesses had passed, and no wounded guards were brought in today. So Ahlam sullenly sat in a tub of lukewarm water while Danica Pure-Spring held up one dress after the other, trying to gain her interest.

"Might as well," Ahlam mumbled, lightly shrugging her naked shoulders. "I've been wearing green for as long as I can remember."

Danica refused to give up. "You must be excited about visiting the castle, at least. Not many people get to visit the Cloud District, and they certainly don't get an invitation from the Jarl."

Ahlam's shoulders rose slightly, then slumped. By now the water had to be cold.

"Ahlam," the priestess began delicately, "for years I listened to you rail about your husband's...negligence, and I counseled you to be patient and have an open mind. And now look. Everyone knows how much the Jarl has relied upon your husband. They know he's about to be made a Thane. All these years of struggle and sacrifice are coming to fruition."

"My husband could've come home," Ahlam murmured softly, staring at the wall. "He could've come home and told me the news, instead he stood in the market like an imbecile, hoping to 'run into' me."

Danica nodded solemnly. "You two have been estranged for quite some time, living separate lives. A reunion was bound to be awkward."

"He was rude, Danica," Ahlam bit out. "The Jarl had to order him to invite me, and he was very upset about that."

"And now your worlds collide," Danica raised an eyebrow. "Balgruuf is, above all, an honorable man. He will not allow your mistreatment to continue. We know both know why you were invited. Your husband will be a Thane, Ahlam. You will become a lady, and then nothing else will matter."

Ahlam snorted. "How will nothing else matter?"

Danica paused before calmly, cryptically stating, "Contrary to popular belief, nobles don't just sit around all day wearing pretty clothes. When you are a lady, and you are at court, you can make new friends. Powerful friends. And that's when you can make things work for you." She turned and picked up a towel. "Ready to dry off?"

***



Ten years in Whiterun, and Ahlam had never visited the Cloud District.

Like all citizens, she was curious. She listened to the songs of the bards, and occasionally read a story or pored over a picture, but as she climbed those vaunted steps and drew closer to the ancient castle of Dragonsreach, she realized seeing was truly believing.

It suddenly occurred to her that she'd never seen walls so high or been anywhere near a building this big. As she drew closer to the great double doors, she wondered what marvels lay behind them.

Once the guards let her in and she entered the foyer, Ahlam almost began to understand her band for the first time in years.

Why would he come home to their small house, barely above a hovel? Why would he leave these carved pillars and statues, these beautifully woven rugs a servant was sweeping even now? Why would he abandon this grand hall, with its banners, and long tables draped in linen, its elegant firepit, and all these servants milling about with seemingly endless trays?




Ahlam quickly realized she was dressed only slightly above a servant. Her green dress was nice enough, but her hair was not elaborate, and she had no jewels to adorn herself. Breathless, she came to an abrupt stop, unsure of where to go or what to do next. It wasn't until she spied her husband to her right and he subtly waved her over that her feet began to move again

Nazeem wordlessly gestured for her to take a seat next to him, and then promptly resumed ignoring her.

***


It seemed things were much more dire than Balgruuf had imagined.

He knew Nazeem never went home. He knew the couple slept in different buildings. And now, it appeared they didn't speak either, for they sat stiffly apart and made no eye contact. As a nobleman descended from a long line of nobleman, Balgruuf was no stranger to dysfunctional betrothals and marriage.

But this...this was dysfunction on a level he'd never seen before.

And the Jarl was confused; Ahlam was obviously a beautiful woman, and strikingly so. Her skin was as dark as the earth, and perfectly luminous and smooth. Her hair was still jet black, her body fit and strong. She appeared at least ten years younger than she ought to be, and yet her husband willingly left her to sleep alone.

Balgruuf decided to say nothing for now; it would be improper to get too involved in their marriage anyway (if one could even call it that). He decided he would simply continue to invite Ahlam to court. After all, Nazeem could only ignore her for so long.

***

"Who's that?" Hrongar asked, stuffing his mouth with bread and meat.

"I believe that's Nazeem's wife," Proventus Avenicci blinked. The Imperial steward seemed genuinely shocked as he said so.

Hrongar raised an eyebrow. "Nazeem has a wife?"

Proventus nodded slowly as though in daze, staring across the great hall. "For many years now. He spoke of her in the beginning, and then never again. I thought she might have died."

Hrongar glanced back at the woman. "Does she have a name?"

"Ahlam, I believe," the steward nodded again.

Hrongar paused. "Ahlam? Like the healer at the temple?"

"One and the same."

Hrongar called over to the captain of the city guard. "Commander Caius, is Ahlam not the healer you said tended you at the temple?"

The aging Imperial soldier nodded his balding head. "It took a few days, but she fixed my leg. Almost like new. Why do you ask?"

"My left shoulder's been bothering me for months," Hrongar grumbled. "Not one of Farengar's so-called treatments have worked. I think it's time for a second opinion." He waved over a serving woman. "Fianna, have that woman come over here."

***



Ahlam was half-surprised that the only person who would bother to speak with her was a servant.

"Madam," the white-haired woman quietly said, "Lord Hrongar would like to speak with you."

Suddenly, Nazeem seemed to remember his wife existed.

"Why?" he demanded. Ahlam flinched slightly; she'd never heard him so demanding. He sounded like a truly self-entitled noble in that single word alone.

"He didn't say, sir," Fianna replied politely. Ahlam could already tell the woman had had to learn to be patient with Nazeem over time. "But he asked that she come over."

Nazeem dismissively waved her way before quickly turning back to his wife. "Be polite, be humble. Address him as 'my lord', and tell me everything he says when you return." He then dismissed her with her a wave as well.

Under any other circumstance, she would've called him out on his behavior, but the brother of the Jarl of Whiterun had requested her presence and she was too curious to be annoyed.

Ahlam first impression of the lord was strong. He was clearly a seasoned warrior, replete with scars, muscles, and war paint. He sat in full armor at the dinner, his eyes serious and unyielding upon her.

Ahlam worked to keep her voice from shaking. "You asked to speak with me...my lord?"

"I am told you are a healer at the Temple of Kynareth."

She nodded. "Yes...my lord. I am skilled in restorative magic and I am trained in alchemy."

"I need a consultation after dinner." He subconsciously rolled his left shoulder. "I have an injury that is taking too long to heal, and our court mage has been useless." The red-haired sorcerer was sitting further down the long table, oblivious as Hrongar shot him a dirty look.

She nodded more quickly now. "Of course, my lord."

He dismissed her with a polite bow of his head, and she walked back to her seat.

She'd barely sat down before her husband began. "What did he want?" Nazeem rasped.

"Medical consult after dinner," she replied softly, without looking him.

Nazeem paused, surprised, as though suddenly remembering what she did for a living.

"Whatever his injury is, tend it well," he commanded. "And do not embarrass me."

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