The Calm


Previously: Silver-Bloods

The next morning, the young couple woke to a lovely surprise. The Silver-Blood family had paid for their room for an entire month, and advanced Roggvir a week's wages. Roggvir was elated of course, smiling brightly, lifting his wife off the ground, and kissing her passionately in celebration.

"Some day soon," he promised, "you'll no longer have to work at the shop. I'll buy us a home where you'll lounge about in silk in all day, or whatever it is Lady Silver-Blood does. Vlindrel Hall is vacant, I hear."

"Vlindrel Hall is reserved for the next Thane of the Reach," Zahra scoffed, moving away from her husband to make the bed.

"Then I'll become a Thane," Roggvir decided. "When the Stormcloaks win the war, and Thongvor becomes the new Jarl."

"You'll really have to prove yourself to him then," she mused, safe in the knowledge that none of this would ever actually happen. She thought of Betrid's words, of what Skyrim would look like under Ulfric's leadership. She shuddered slightly before turning back to her husband. "I'm off to the bath house."

"Nonsense," Roggvir shook his head. "I will send for a bath...now that we no longer have to pay for it."

A half hour later, the couple  was soaking in a large wooden tub by the fire, soaping each other gently, playfully.

"You're going to make me late," Zahra smirked, genuinely grateful for this time.

"Then be late," her husband grinned. "I don't recall enjoying a stay at the inn so much since Solitude."

Zahra's eyes darkened. Had we met under different circumstances, we could still be in Solitude, where the beds aren't made of stone, and the Stormcloaks don't dare show their faces.

"Do you miss it?" she asked softly.

He shrugged, wet skin glistening in the firelight. "Not anymore. Markarth is a fine city in its own right, and it isn't overrun with simpering Imperial shills. In Solitude, I was no one. Here, I can become someone."

"You're not 'no one' to me," she said. "You do understand that, right? That I don't mind earning my keep and I don't want to be some vapid noblewoman?"

Roggvir smiled at her kindly. "My sister is a hard-working woman married to a hard-working man. When they first started out and she got with child, I watched her suffer. It stayed with me. I always told myself that if I ever married I'd make sure my wife wanted for nothing during her pregnancy. I want to give you a good life, my love. And I don't want our children starting from the bottom; I want them to inherit a house, a farm perhaps, at least some gold when we die." He shrugged sadly. "My parents left me nothing. I could never do that to our children."

"Six months," Zahra conceded finally.

Roggvir was confused. "Six months?"

"Six months in the service of Silver-Bloods," she nodded resolutely. "If we are no better off then than we are now, we stick to our original plan. We take whatever coin we've saved, and we move on. There is no better opportunity," she hurriedly added, when she knew he'd interject, "than working for Silver-Bloods. You said so yourself. They've already saved us one month's worth of lodgings. They should have no problem seeing our fortunes rise within the next five."

"And if the war does not permit it?"

Zahra let out a soft snort. "The Empire will takes its time. It's Ulfric who doesn't want to drag things out. His soldiers are already poor and starving; once the war truly begins, it won't take much to break their faith in him. The Imperials won't go around attacking poor, defenseless citizens, and if the Stormcloaks do, Skyrim will rise up against them."

Roggvir was astounded. "Did you really read all of this in books?"

"I had a very dull childhood," she reminded him, bemused. "When I ran out of myth and lore, I moved on to military history and politics. Never thought I'd actually have to put it to use, of course."

***

"I don't like it." Bothela shook her head of long white hair. "Silver-Bloods don't know how to be kind and generous."

"That's why I hope to cut our time in Markarth short," Zahra sighed, rubbing her temples. "I traveled across Skyrim and back with my husband - he's no great warrior. If Thongvor is attacked outside these walls, I fear Roggvir won't return." She paused suddenly, looking around the shop. "Where's Muiri?"

"Delivering tonics to Understone Keep," the old woman sighed, returning to her ledgers. "Have you ever been?"

"No," the Redguard scowled slightly. "Why would I?"

"It's quite a sight," Bothela's eyes widened. "An entire Dwemer city beneath the palace. They've been excavating it for years. The great mage Calcelmo himself is overseeing the project."

"That actually sounds interesting," Zahra admitted, picking up broom. The shop was already clean, but she liked to be thorough. "For a moment I thought you were going to spout some nonsense about all the fancy nobles and about that one time you bedded a lord."

"One time?" the old woman threw back her head and laughed. "In my youth, I bedded a different lord every night. It was easy back then. I was young, pretty, and there were so many nobles to choose from."

"What happened?"

"The Great War came and went," Bothela sighed, her shoulders slumping a bit. "Hammerfell left the Empire, the economy changed, and the next thing I knew...less nobles. There hasn't been a Thane in Markarth for years. Not to mention, all the courtesans left."

Zahra paused. "I think I read about them. They were housed in the Temple of Dibella?"

"Housed and trained," the Breton nodded. "There was a time when a young girl could come to Markarth and pledge her life to Dibella. She'd spend several years learning languages and literature, music and dance. And in her seventeenth year, she'd be sold to the highest bidder for one night. Astridr of Markarth earned a thousand septims her first night. The infamous Madam Haelga racked up quite a bit too...before she was banished."

"You've seen some interesting times, Mistress Bothela," Zahra smiled broadly, genuinely impressed.

"And now the Stormcloaks bring us more," Bothela smiled back ruefully. "May the gods have mercy on us."

***


Zahra returned home that evening to find her husband in the main hall of the inn, enjoying a drink by the fire with a new friend.

"My love," he called her over, "this is Vorstag. He is--"

"--a sellsword," Zahra smirked. She could always tell.

Roggvir took a swig from his tankard, no doubt of some expensive mead charged to the Silver-Bloods. "He's been telling me the most amazing stories."

"I heard quite a few myself today," Zahra yawned. "If it's all right with you, my love, I'm turning in early."

"Get some rest," Vorstag raised his cup to her. "On the morrow, I'll keep your husband safe beyond these walls."

That woke her. "You're leaving?" Her head snapped back to her husband. "So soon?"

Roggvir shot his new friend a look. "The Forsworn have been attacking Stormcloak warriors out on patrol," he explained. "Thongvor has pledged to make it stop."

Vorstag instantly sensed her concern. "A simple scouting mission, madam. We merely seek to identify potential camps, not engage the enemy."

"I knew you'd worry," Roggvir took her hand. "That's why I planned to leave a note."

"You'd be better off drinking some water and heading for bed," Zahra scolded him. "You don't want to be hungover on your first mission out there."

"It's just one drink," he promised. "One drink, and I'll join you."

She wanted to say more, to yell at him, to curse the Silver-Blood name for gifting them with bounty and not allowing them at least a few days to enjoy it. But instead she bit her tongue and went to bed, laying down on the stone and glaring at the walls for what felt like hours. Eventually, she tired and fell asleep alone.

The next morning she woke, and Roggvir still was not there.

Next: The Storm

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