Thongvor Says

Previously: The Happy Couple

As much as life in Markarth was a disappointment--and a trying one at that--Zahra did her best to acclimate. In the days that followed, she and her new husband quickly fell into a routine. On days he had to work extra, she'd bring him dinner at the smelter and leave a tub of warm water out for him so he could wash before bed.

By day, Zahra befriended Bothela and her young apprentice Muiri, but never told them too much about herself. She kept stories about her family and history as deliberately vague as always. 

In the meantine, Roggvir was perfectly comfortable living in an inn, ordering food and fine beverages but Zahra knew that defeated the whole point of saving money. Since work at the apothecary wasn't nearly as busy as the smelter or the mines, she decided to start cooking to save money.

The meat cart at Markarth had a wide selection, from common staples like goat, chicken, and cow to more expensive offerings like boar, bear, and sabrecat. There was also the strange option of horse meat.

And while the meat obviously came from animals, she could tell right away that the vendor, Hogni Red-Arm, was a cannibal.

If bandits were the natural enemies of necromancers, cannibals were their unnatural allies.

Much of the flesh and organs harvested from the dead were often gifted to cannibals by necromancers, usually in exchange for some kind of service. It was an odd relationship which had proved highly beneficial for centuries, but the fact remained that necromancers didn't like cannibals, didn't trust them, and preferred to avoid them whenever possible.

Like now. Even though she could smell the stench of human flesh on his breath, Zahra decided not to make "contact". There was no need for them to start any kind of relationship outside of vendor and customer; she was a retired necromancer, after all, and needed to stay out of that life to preserve her already delicate marriage. For despite their amicable demeanors and seemingly normal routines, Zahra could tell there was something wrong with her and Roggvir.

"I'd like a leg of goat, please," she told Hogni.

"You sure about that?" he flashed a bloody grin. "The Orc village where I get my meat brought down a troll. I've got some prime cuts."

Zahra shook her head as her stomach churned. She'd had troll once before and never wished to taste it again. "Just the goat, please. And a small jar of salt."

Hogni sighed. "Hard as a man works," he shrugged, wrapping up the leg for her, "he deserves to come home to more than some goat."

Nice try, Zahra smirked. "Hard as young couple works," she told him, "they've got to save every septim they can."

She headed back to the Silver-Blood Inn and purchased some cheap Nord mead in the great hall. Roggvir was going to have to get used to drinking the plain stuff again. The finer vintages--Frost River, Honningbrew, Black-Briar--added up after a while, even when he only bought them by the tankard.

She made a simple goat stew with some leeks, potatoes, and cabbage. As the sun died, she poured her husband a goblet of mead and awaited his arrival, oddly interested in whatever news he'd bring from the mine.

Roggvir arrived a bit later than expected, smelling of sweat and mead. She didn't begrudge him that; a part of her was happy to see him after all. She greeted him with a light kiss and began serving dinner.

It was interesting, being a part of the daylight world, being "normal". She was living in a big, beautiful city, working in a shop, and married to a smelter. It was exactly the life she'd always imagined she wanted, and yet now that she had it, Zahra was struggling to be happy.

Because no matter how hard she tried, Zahra couldn't bring herself to enjoy life in Markarth. It was loud with the constant rushing of the waterfalls and endless ringing of blacksmith hammers. As the threat of war grew, so did the newcomers. Every walk of life was fleeing to cities like Markarth to take comfort behind its great walls--nobles, traders, scholars, and even beggars.

Zahra's job was mind-numbingly dull, with little to report. She harvested herbs, dried them, ground some, and turned others into potions. She labeled bottles and catalogued various items throughout the shop, while Miuri struggled with basic alchemy and Bothela gossiped shamelessly with customers.

As for her marriage...there was a growing quiet between Zahra and Roggvir.

For one, he was coming home later and later, like tonight. But what disturbed Zahra the most about it wasn't that he was seeing another woman. As fate would have it, Roggvir had begun seeing someone far worse.

"I think I may be able to get a job in the Silver-Blood household," Roggvir suddenly told her, eagerly helping himself to the stew. He chewed the goat meat noisily and winced ever so slightly at the mead.

"What makes you say that?" she asked him. Zahra preferred a hot cup of herbal tea before bed instead of mead or wine. It settled her stomach and her head didn't ache in the mornings.

"Thongvor Silver-Blood recently stopped by the mine," he replied. "He's going to be the next Jarl of the Reach."

Zahra was confused. "Last I checked, Igmund is neither old nor infirm."

"No, but he supports the Empire, and the Reach is Stormcloak territory." He said it so simply, like it was a fact everybody knew. He then added, "Attaching ourselves to a family like the Silver-Bloods could be very good for us."

"It would be terrible for us," she stated flatly. "You are assuming the Stormcloaks will win the war. They will not."

"Thongvor says our soldiers have already won several skirmishes against Imperial soldiers across Skyrim," Roggvir casually bragged, tearing a piece of bread and sopping up some stew.

Zahra raised an eyebrow. "The Stormcloaks aren't fighting Imperial soldiers, Roggvir," she said slowly, almost gently. "They're fighting tired, overworked hold guards who are spread too thin. You saw it as we made our way across the country. War hasn't really begun. The Imperial Legion isn't even in Skyrim yet."

"It makes no difference," her husband insisted, shrugging once more. "Thongvor says Ulfric's Palace of Kings has hundreds of rooms, housing hundreds more warriors. They'll be ready if the Emperor is foolish enough to come to Skyrim."

"Oh, the Emperor will come," she assured him, "and he will come with thousands of warriors from Cyrodiil. They will be joined by thousands more from Skyrim and High Rock. He could even request additional troops from the Thalmor, who love nothing more than hunting Nords for sport."

Her voice had gone up a bit, which she hadn't intended, but she couldn't could stop herself.

That fucking Silver-Blood is filling my husband's head with propagandist nonsense, she blinked in growing alarm. The same nonsense which got his head chopped off in the first place.

Zahra's heart began thudding wildly as she realized why her marriage was deteriorating so quickly and so soon. She'd chosen the wrong man. Roggvir wasn't the type to learn from his mistakes, even if he could remember them.

"We're not afraid to die," Roggvir told her, his tone matching her irritability. "We are Nords, bred for hardship. Thongvor says one taste of our weather and the Legion will run home with its tail between its legs." He busied himself with eating for a time while Zahra's stomach soured.

Eventually, he took another swig of mead and cringed. "My love, leave the mead selection to me. In time, a position with the Silver-Bloods will mean we can afford a finer vintage."

"You keep assuming they'll take you in," Zahra blinked, her tone clipped and bordering on shrill.

"Thongvor has already invited us to dine at his family home," her husband smiled. It didn't reach his eyes. "And I've accepted."


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