Confronting the Mistress


"You fried this thing pretty crispy," Idgrod murmured, kneel to drag the dead mudcrab to shore. She busied herself with removing the shell and harvesting the meat. "Typically, they're best eaten steamed, but we can salvage this with some salt and butter. The guards of Highmoon Hall can have it for lunch."

Ahlam blinked, surprised to hear that. "You feed the guards."

Idgrod nodded. "I try to. My family doesn't have much by way of coin. What little we earn in taxes goes to the hold guards and house servants, and even then, it's still not much. So we pay them in other ways - grain from the farms of  Frost River, and whatever extra we have in food."

She used the shell as a large bowl to collect the meat, deftly working with her dagger. Idgrod was clearly a proper Nord country girl, handy and hardy, yet still very beautiful.

He will love her, Ahlam realized as she watched the girl work. Maybe not right away, but months into the marriage, when she starts wearing fine clothes and he grows accustomed to the tranquility of this place...he will love her.

It wasn't a panicked thought, merely an observation. Unlike Hrongar, Ahlam harbored no delusions about their love.

She followed Idgrod back to Highmoon Hall, where there were was a small gathering of guards at the steps. They dispersed as Idgrod approached, revealing a very large, very dead Frostbite spider.

Ahlam's eyes widened. "Is that...another spider?"

Idgrod nodded. "They sometimes crawl into town, but its quite rare. It's usually a treat when they do."

Ahlam was baffled. "Please tell me you don't eat them too."

The teenager actually laughed. "No, my lady, but they eat some interesting things. One time I gutted a spider and found an amethyst. Another time, a few septims." She stepped over its legs and headed onward into the hall. "But since I didn't bring this one down, I don't get to cut it open. To the victor go the spoils."

***

"We leave in the morning," Hrongar grumbled in their bath that night. "The hag has doubled my dowry."

Ahlam chuckled before she could stop herself. "You knew there'd be consequences, my love," she reminded him.

"And she's written to my brother," he scowled, "who now doubt demand an audience as soon as we arrive in Whiterun."

"Again," she mused, lightly sponging his chest, "consequences." She sponged him some more in silence, before adding, "You should send your intended a gift. To help soothe things over, of course."

"What use does Idgrod have for pretty jewels and or lace all the way out here?" he scoffed.

"None," Ahlam said curtly. "Your betrothed is a dedicated, hardworking young woman who genuinely cares about and quite literally feeds her people. Buy her something useful...a cow, some goats, a half dozen chickens, a few sacks of flour--something."

Hrongar mulled it over. "Their stores do seem to be a bit bare."

"It would be much appreciated," Ahlam nodded. "Her family doesn't have much, and they need every septim of your dowry and more."

"Fine," he sighed, waving. "Before we leave, I will have all those things sent to Highmoon Hall."

Ahlam was pleased with herself, knowing the gesture would go a long way towards easing tensions with the Ravencrones. Now she just had to think of how to deal with the Jarl of Whiterun.

***


The lovers found themselves standing before Balgruuf a couple of very short days later, and the blond Jarl was in a visibly foul mood. The court emptied before he commanded it to, and Ahlam could feel Hrongar tensing beside her.

"Ten thousand septims," Balgruuf spat at his brother in greeting. "The Ravencrone wants ten thousand septims, all because you couldn't leave your mistress at home. Better yet, not have a mistress at all!"

"So you agree," Ahlam said calmly, her voice level, her eyes unflinching.

Balgruuf's eyes snapped her way. "What are you on about?"

"Your Grace agrees that mistresses are damaging to relationships, both personal and political."

Both men were staring at her now. "My lady," the Jarl began calmly, "I'm well aware of your husband's indefensible behavior with Ysolda. But you yourself have engaged in similar behavior, and that hasn't helped the situation at all."

"I'm not referring to Ysolda," she replied calmly. "You were my husband mistress long before he met her."

Out the corner of her eye, she could see Hrongar staring at her as if to say, Gods, woman...please make this work.

Balgruuf was clearly on his last shred of patience. "I may have incurred a few debts at your husband's expense, my lady, but I have cause nowhere near the damage of a mistress."

"On the contrary, Your Grace, you have caused all the damage," Ahlam insisted, her still voice astoundingly calm. "You seduced him with your fine robes and your highborn status. He wanted to be like you. So he gave, and he gave, and he spent in numerous desperate attempts to be like you."

The great hall of Dragonsreach was so quiet, the only sound one could hear was the crackling of the fire pit.

"You have three healthy children, my lord," she went on. "Did you know I wanted children? My husband once promised me a house full of laughing children, and yet for all ten years of our marriage, he told me to wait because children are costly, and the Jarl needed our coin.

"You have a fine castle, the envy of all Skyrim, I imagine. I never needed nor wanted a castle, but my husband did once promise me a fine home. After ten years, there are still unfinished rooms with earthen floors in my house, because the Jarl need coin for his own.

"And don't get me started on the food. Do you know what it's like to go hungry while living on a farm? How horrifying and dehumanizing it feels to know that all that food being harvested is going to someone else's table?"

"My lady, I cannot afford to pay your husband back in full, you know that," Balgruuf said lowly. His humility was having a calming effect, even as his cheeks reddened in shame. Next to Ahlam, Hrongar began to relax. "That's why I am trying to make amends."

"I want my husband vested as Thane," Ahlam intoned, her voice tolling like a bell. "Now. No more delays, no more hoops for him to jump through. And I want the property adjacent to ours signed over to me, also today. It's a fine house; it's everything my husband and I dreamed of, and I know you confiscated it several months ago from the last Imperial ambassador."

Balgruuf's eyes widened. "Skyfall? You want the Skyfall estate? Woman, do you realize how much it's worth?"

"If I had to guess, I'd say its value mirrors my husband's generosity towards you over the years...wouldn't you agree, Your Grace?" Ahlam blinked.

***

LOL...it's the real Ahlam

It was a bold move confronting the Jarl, so Ahlam kept her distance afterward, retiring to the temple. When she rose the next morning, she noticed there was a new member of temple. She was dressed like a student from Winterhold, in the colors of a restoration mage.

"Lady Ahlam," the young woman greeted. "I heard you arrived last night."

"You have me at a disadvantage," Ahlam raised an eyebrow, "Miss...?"

"Batul, my lady," the young woman replied. "I'm a Third Year at Winterhold."

Ahlam was impressed. "Third? Most don't make it past the first."

"You studied there?"

Ahlam shook her head. "I was trained in Hammerfell many years ago. Then I did the stupid thing and got married."

The young woman blushed. "Yes, I...I know...I mean, Priestess Danica explained--"

Ahlam smiled, deeply amused. "I'm off to speak with Danica. A little advice from someone who was in your position not too long ago? Never put your faith in a man. Live your life to the fullest, and when a situation no longer works for you, walk away."

***


Danica Pure-Spring was in the middle of her morning ritual when Ahlam approached, but she stopped in mid-prayer.

"You've returned," she greeted. "Was your journey...fruitful?"

"Hrongar is betrothed to a woman a little more than half my age," Ahlam sighed. "The Jarls of Hjaalmarch and Whiterun both despise me...and I think I may be with child."

"Such auspicious timing," the priestness raised an eyebrow. "Two days ago, Ysolda had me terminate hers."

Ahlam's eyes widened. "Gods, why?"

"Well, there was no point, was there?" Danica casually shrugged. "She thought she was going to marry your husband. She assumed she'd be the one accompanying him up and down the steps of Dragonsreach. Once she realized that she'd never be a noblewoman, she decided to move on."

"So...they're no longer together?"

"No," the priestess shook her head. "She ended that as well."

"Wow," Ahlam gasped, staring at the water in the center of the hall. "So much can happen in two days." She suddenly looked back up at Danica. "Lord Hrongar's patronage is ended. He is betrothed to another, and I have a new house outside the city."

"Shall we send your things?"

Ahlam shook her head. "They were quite costly. Keep them. Sell them. Use them whichever way benefits the temple most."

"And you?" Danica smiled. "Shall we take a look at you?"

Next: Epilogue

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