Scorned


Previously: Rising Star

"A mistress."

Ahlam moved through the temple like a summer storm, looking neither left nor right. It was thankfully empty, not that she would have cared just now. She confronted Danica and Jenssen directly; they were gathering soiled rags for washing and stopped when she came to stand before them.

"My husband has been fucking that...wench Ysolda, and you people knew, didn't you?"

They exchanged looks; Danica looked panicked, while Jenssen did not.

"Why would you assume we knew?" Danica asked, turning back to Ahlam.

"Because you two know everything," Ahlam bit out. "Everyone confides in the high priestess, and Jenssen is always at the market, gossiping like a fishwife."

The priestess looked pained with the acolyte merely shrugged.

"It's true," he admitted casually. "I wanted to say something, but Danica insisted you probably already knew."

"Did he finally tell you?" the high priestess asked solemnly, setting her basket aside.

"Of course not," Ahlam replied in a clipped tone. "I had to hear about it over a midday meal with Lord Hrongar on Dragonsreach Terrace. You see...the good lord has been so kind to me because he assumed that since my husband flaunted his marriage vows, then I must have as well."

Again, the priestess and the acolyte exchanged looks.

"But you knew that too," Ahlam deduced through gritted teeth. "That's why you didn't discourage me from meeting."

"A messenger from the castle arrived earlier," Danica confessed. "We know his lordship plans to patronize the temple independently of the Jarl."

Ahlam scowled. "You used me."

"No," Danica shook her head adamantly. "No, not at all. This is what we talked about. Making powerful friends, making things work for you."

The Redguard was incensed. "How is any of this working for me? My husband has enjoyed his wine, his woman, and his fancy clothes...an entire life away from me. Your temple is getting a nice fat purse. Everyone is benefiting from this madness but me!"

Before either could answer her, another messenger from the castle arrived. This time it was Fianna, carrying a small wrapped package. She smiled when she saw Ahlam, approached, and much to the healer's shock...she curtsied in greeting.

"My lady," Fianna greeted. "Lord Hrongar thanks you for your company this afternoon, and asks that I deliver this token of his friendship."

Ahlam moved as though in a dream, accepting the package and unwrapping it without thought. Behind her, she could practically hear Danica stop breathing.

Cloth gave way to metal; it shimmered and shone in the candlelight of the temple as Ahlam stared in muted disbelief. The necklace was gold, finer than anything she'd ever seen, much less owned.

"He looks forward to seeing you at the evening meal and bids you a good day," Fianna cheerfully reported. She curtsied once more before leaving. "My lady."

Ahlam was still staring at the unbelievable gift in her hands when Jenssen muttered behind her, "And so it begins."

***

"You can't leave your husband."

Danica spoke from the doorway of Ahlam's small chamber at the temple. The Redguard healer was standing before a full length mirror, modeling her new necklace with the green dress in the candlelight.

"You knew all this was going to happen," she murmured. "This mirror wasn't in here before."

"You are a beauty, Ahlam," Danica said simply, her panicked, hesitant tone gone now. She picked up a brush and came to stand behind Ahlam, lightly brushing her hair. "I knew once you entered the castle, you were bound to catch someone's eye. What I didn't foresee was the Jarl's brother."

"He's unmarried," Ahlam raised an eyebrow, lightly fingering the gold around her neck. "Why can't I can leave my husband for him?"

"Because without your husband, you're no longer a noblewoman," the high priestess advised. She stopped brushing walked over to a dresser she'd also moved in earlier. From the top drawer, she removed a small bottle of perfume. She came back to dab a little on the back of Ahlam's neck. "Nazeem's title will keep you rubbing shoulders with Whiterun's elite. You will have unfettered access to Dragonsreach."

"So it's to be me with the Jarl's brother and Nazeem with that...that wench," Ahlam bitterly rasped. "What kind of marriage is that?"

"The noble kind," Danica answered simply. "Practiced throughout many great houses in Skyrim. You'll get used to it." She turned away to put the perfume back. "You'll continue staying here, with us to advise you. Once we receive our first stipend from Hrongar, I will have Jenssen procure additional items to make you more comfortable."

Ahlam was appalled. "That's not what the money's for."

"The average monthly patronage we're awarded is one hundred septims - just enough to cover whatever ingredients we require," Danica told her calmly. "The Jarl's brother is giving us two, no doubt to maintain your...comfort."

"Will he come here?" Ahlam asked. The thought made her stomach twist.

"It's likely," the high priestess nodded. "He'll probably come in disguise, at night."

Ahlam shuddered. "I feel like a whore."

"If you're a whore, then you're a very expensive one," Danica raised an eyebrow. "That necklace alone is worth enough to furnish a room at Wintersand Manor, or replenish your livestock. And it's just the beginning...my lady."

***


Hrongar had noticed Ahlam's beauty the moment he first saw her, but when she arrived at Dragonsreach wearing his gift, he found her all the more desirable.

Her hair and manner of dress were the same, but she was different; as she climbed the steps into the great hall, there was a new, discernable sway to her hips. Before, she'd been stiff and visibly uncomfortable at Dragonsreach, but tonight, she smiled freely and greeted everyone.

He was worried that he'd offended her earlier; she seemed shocked to find out her husband was involved with another woman. He was well aware that it was also presumptuous of him to approach her in such a manner, but in truth, he didn't want to waste any time.

Ahlam had a beauty that hadn't graced the halls of Dragonsreach in a very long time, and unlike her husband, Hrongar was no fool.

"Send the lady some apple wine," he commanded a passing servant. "And tell Fianna to come speak with me."

As he waited for Fianna, he watched Ahlam interact with the court. Lady Lillith Maiden-Loom offered her a rare smile and Lord Olfrid Battle-Born chatted with her a while. Even the court mage exchanged a few words with her.

Hrongar paid particular attention to when Ahlam's husband approached her. He couldn't hear what they were saying, but he didn't miss when Nazeem's flittered to his wife's chest, then back to her face, then once more to her chest. To his credit, he didn't make a scene or address the necklace at all. Hrongar was relieved; the last thing he wanted to deal with was a jealous hypocrite.

"You asked for me, my lord?"

"Yes, Fianna," Hrongar looked up. "When supper is concluded, please report to my chamber."

***

Dinner was uneventful, after which Fianna came to Hrongar's chamber as ordered. Hrongar got straight to the point.

"There are going to be some changes," he began. "I'll need my room cleaned twice a week from hereon out."

"Of course, my lord."

"Ensure we have a decent supply of apple wine. I know it's not popular at Dragonsreach, but I don't want to risk running out."

"Yes, my lord," Fianna smiled broadly.

"Have the court tailor report to me in the morning."

"Yes, my lord."

"I know you have many duties at the castle, so I'll need a reliable messenger who can come and go whenever I need."

"I'll find you a page, my lord."

"And have the kitchens start offering some dishes from Hammerfell. The Imperial menu is getting tiresome."

"I'll have to clear it with the steward, my lord."

Hrongar sighed. "Never mind then." He didn't want to overreach in this matter. He reached into his armor and produced a small pouch of coins. "For your discretion," he raised an eyebrow.

Fianna curtsied. "My lord."

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