Silver-Bloods


Previously: Thongvor Says

"He's making you what?"

In the beginning, Zahra had promised herself to never share the details of marriage with Bothela and Miuri, yet she couldn't stop herself from venting. Furiously grinding some rocks of void salt, her lips seemed to move completely independent of her will.

"Tonight," she bit out. "I have to go sit and eat with Silver-Bloods tonight. He didn't even ask me if I wanted to go!"

"Well," Muiri began unhelpfully, "you are a married woman now, Zahra. Where one of you goes, so does the other."

Bothela shot her a look. "My dear girl, there are limits to that rule, which isn't even a rule so much as a suggestion. Surely, she can't be expected to break bread with those vipers." She turned back to Zahra, her eyes genuinely concerned. "They are a dangerous family, Zahra."

"You think I don't know?" Zahra exclaimed. "I know who they are. I see them for exactly what they are. The problem is, my husband cannot. He grew up on the streets of Solitude, in the shadow of the Blue Palace, watching the nobles go about their business day in, day out. And though he won't admit it, a part of him wishes he could be one of them."

Muiri looked confused. "Doesn't everybody?"

"No!" Bothela and Zahra yelled together.

"I've seen dozens of these noble types come and go," Bothela told them. "I've watched houses rise and fall. Those people aren't better than us. Half the time they're deep in debt. The other, they're drinking themselves to death or fucking their own sisters. Even worse, these are Silver-Bloods - lying, thieving, murdering thugs. They built their wealth off the backs of our people, dear girl - stole our lands, took our mines, then imprisoned us so we could dig their silver out for them."

"Exactly," Zahra nodded. "Roggvir thinks that because these nobles support Ulfric, they are somehow more like him. But you and I know that nobles are nobles. They only care about themselves. Thongvor wants to become Jarl and the only way he can do it is if Igmund is overthrown. He doesn't actually care about Nord freedom or whatever other nonsense these Stormcloaks are spouting."

There was a pause before Muiri asked, "So what are you going to wear?"

Both older women shot her look before Zahra snapped, "What I'm wearing now. I don't have to impress anyone. Gods willing, our first dinner with them will also be the last."

***


Roggvir was obviously excited about visiting the Treasury House, where the Silver-Bloods resided. To be fair, Zahra was curious too. The Treasure House doubled as the official bank of Markarth. It was through here all the laborers in the reach were paid their wages and it was here the bulk of the Reach's silver was stored.

Once they walked through the doors, through the long, shadowy entry way and down the steps, however, Zahra's curiosity ended. Aside for being much bigger than the inn and shop she was used, the Treasury House was no different from any other building in Markarth. Same Dwemer stone and doors. There was a smug Breton woman at the front desk who derisively looked them up and down.

"The Treasury House is really just for patrons of the Silver-Blood family," she stated as some sort of greeting. "You don't belong here."

"My husband invited them, Rhiada," a cold voice interjected. Zahra and Roggvir turned to see a blonde, Nordic noblewoman clad in a dress of green silk. "Next time, try asking people their business before turning them away."

She turned her attention to the young couple. Though she also looked them up and down, her face remained emotionless. "I am Betrid, wife of Thonar Silver-Blood. Please follow me."

They wordlessly obeyed, exchanging a quick look of confusion as they followed Betrid. She paused at another entry way and pointed to the door. "Thonar and Thongvor are waiting for you," she said to Roggvir. "They've asked that the women dine separately tonight."

It took everything to keep Zahra from visibly shuddering. Roggvir smiled at her warmly, brightly, laying a soft kiss on her lips before leaving her alone with the human icicle.


Betrid casually took a seat at a nearby table. "I hope you like Breton food," she snorted. "Seems like it's all we eat here. Before I came to Markarth, I never knew one could make so many kinds of pies. Fish pie, kidney pie, even pigeon pie, of all things."

"I wouldn't know, my lady," Zahra quietly admitted as she took a seat. "I prepare all of mine and my husband's meals and I only make Nordic food."

Betrid was amused. "Newlyweds?"

"Yes, my lady."

"Married for love, I assume?"

"Arranged," Zahra replied stiffly. "But I have come to care for him deeply."

"Good for you," the older woman chortled. "I never wanted to get married. I put it off as long as possible. My family is from the Reach; we had our own mine and our own vineyard, and I was poised to be a very wealthy heiress. I didn't need to get married."


"What happened?" Zahra asked, though she really didn't care.

Betrid's eyes darkened. "Our mine ran dry, and the Forsworn burned down our vineyard. I lost my father and both of my brothers in the attack. My mother and I fled here, to Markarth, where I met Thonar. Even back then he was a very rich man, and that was good enough for me."

Zahra stared at Betrid for a moment, shocked she would say such a thing out loud and to a stranger.

The lady was amused by her reaction. "My dear girl, I could teach you a thing or two about men. The first is that your husband is in that room right now, trying to rise above his current station. And you should encourage him. Encourage him to to rise as high as possible because once your love fades - and it will fade - coin is the only thing that'll keep you two together."

An elderly maid arrived with a silver pitcher. "Wine, my ladies?"

"Yes, please," Zahra and Betrid chorused.

***

"You don't like this war, do you?" Betrid asked later. They were on their third cup of wine and the maid had just cleared away the dishes. Dinner had predictably been a meat pie of some sort, while dessert was apparently fresh fruit and wine. Zahra didn't want to admit it was a welcome change.

"No, my lady," Zahra replied honestly. "My husband wants to fight for his country, which I understand, but I don't want him to die." At least...not again. If she had to resurrect Roggvir once more, it would be very awkward to explain.

"Stormcloak foolishness," Betrid snorted, shaking her head. Zahra was surprised yet again, but then she noticed something. Betrid was a Nord who spoke with an Imperial accent. Her fashion tastes also reflected an Imperial influence; she wore the same type of dress Zahra had seen in the streets of Solitude.

"If I understand correctly," Zahra raised an eyebrow, "your brother-in-law becomes Jarl if the Stormcloaks succeed."

Betrid sighed wearily. "I'll admit, I've often dreamed of that. In fact, I've often dreamed of Thonar becoming Jarl; he's the one who owns half the city." Her tone softened as her eyes took on a faraway gaze. "I've imagined what it would be like, holding court at Understone Keep, greeting dignitaries, hosting parties...." Her entire demeanor immediately became embittered. "But who will come to Skyrim when the Stormcloaks have driven everyone out? Has no one thought of what this will do to diplomacy and commerce? Who will come to our aid when the Thalmor inevitably invade?"

All very good points, Zahra nodded gravely. It was late and she was tired, longing for bed and to be away from this woman. She cast her eyes towards the door where Roggvir had gone.

"It is late," Betrid thankfully yawned, rising to her feet. "I will tell my husband it's time to retire."

***

"Betrid Silver-Blood is a vile, contemptible woman who only married Thonar for money," Zahra scowled as Roggvir escorted her home. "I spent the whole evening listening to the most vain drivel I've ever heard."

Her husband threw back his head and laughed heartily. He smelled of mead and some rich meat, and whatever the men had discussed put him a good mood.

"Thongvor said much of the same about her," he cackled, snaking his arm around her waist. She leaned into the embrace for comfort. The streets of Markarth were never empty; there were still throngs of people, walking, talking, laughing, and drinking. The city guards were on patrol like clockwork, carrying torches and lighting the ancient stones. All around them, the sound of waterfalls filled the air.

 "But such is the way with noble couples," Roggvir added. "They don't marry for love like we do, and they certainly don't know anything about shared hardship. They've been living in that house for several generations, with all their silver and servants."

"Can't you visit the men without me?" Zahra shuddered. "If you must?"

Roggvir nodded, laughing softly. "Yes, love. The next time they invite us for dinner, I will tell them you are unwell or some such."

"That's the sort of excuse they'd use," Zahra mused. She chuckled briefly. "Look at us. One night with the nobility and we're already starting to sound like them".

"As we should," her husband shrugged. "Effective immediately, I'm no longer a smelter. Thongvor has asked me to accompany him as a member of his retinue."

Zahra snorted. "Retinue to where? I hear he spends his days being ignored in the halls of Understone Keep."

"He does occasionally travel, my love," Roggvir patiently reminded her. "In times like these, he needs all the guards he can get."

Zahra felt her whole body tense. But you're not a warrior, she wanted to tell him. She tried to calm herself, remembering that if anything happened to him, she could always just bring him right back. At least then they'd have excuse to get the hell out of Markarth and start somewhere fresh again.

Next: The Calm

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