Good Lives


Previously: One of Them

Determined to avoid the Jarl, Zahra sent for her things to be delivered to Dead Man's Drink. She knew she'd have to face him eventually, but for now, she desperately need time away from him. Already she could feel the growing weight of his gift around her neck.

But as the evening wore on, she fleetingly wondered if she'd made a mistake. It was one thing to hang out at the tavern, enjoying song, story, and drink. Staying the whole night at an inn, however, was no longer charming or even comfortable.

Dear gods, Zahra shuddered at the realization. I really am turning into one of them.

When the innkeeper showed her a room for the night, Kaidan caught the subtle grimace on her face and laughed.

"What's so amusing, pray tell?" she grumbled, surveying a room she'd actually stayed in before.

"You're changing," he raised an eyebrow. "It happens when you become accustomed to comfort."

She turned to face him. "Speaking from experience, are we?"

Kaidan was honest. "I've lived a full life," he shrugged. "I've traveled across Skyrim a dozen times over. Sometimes, I slept outdoors. Sometimes, I had coin for an inn. And sometimes, I found myself in the rather well-appointed lodgings of esteemed society."

"But you get over it, right?" she asked, turning back to the room. "A few nights of discomfort and you readjust to the simple life?"

"Yes," he nodded slowly, "but it gets harder as you get older. You need a soft, warm bed in your old age, Zahra. You can only live life on the road for so long."

"So are you done wandering, then?" she prodded. "Once you settle down in Rayya's house, is it all over for you?"

"Gods willing," he shrugged.

***


The carriage arrived just after dawn, as promised. It was the plain, simple, uncovered carriage commonly used across Skyrim, and the ride north to the manor took only a couple of hours.

Once again, Skyrim's beauty unfolded before them, making Zahra question her decision to live in a city. The birds were out with the sun, the smell of dew was fresh upon the grass, and the sweet morning air was cool and refreshing. Their carriage leisurely rolled up the stone road in the shadow of tall trees, while various quick-footed creatures frolicked in the woods.

"Days like this, it's good to get out of the city," Kaidan sighed blissfully. "Rayya picked a perfect day for travel."

"Indeed," Lucien concurred. "No matter how many times I travel this road, I remained spellbound by the beauty of this country."

When they reached Lakeview Manor, Rayya herself was waiting for them outside her house. The Thane had apparently done some shopping; she was wearing new silk clothes with new boots, and there was a circle of jade and emerald upon her head, like the Jarl's.

Zahra was admittedly impressed by the manor; it was a beautiful two-story home done in the hybrid Nordic-Imperial style, resulting in simplistic luxury. In addition to a small stable, the Thane had her own smelter, a pen for cows and chickens, and even a garden.



"Welcome to Lakeview," Rayya beamed proudly her strong voice. "In addition to being fully furnished, my new manor is also fully staffed. My bard finally arrived last night."

Zahra's eyes widened. "You have your own bard?"

"It pays to be a noble," Kaidan snickered.

"Clearly," Lucien blinked, equally awestruck as he looked about the grounds. "This is astounding, Rayya."

Roggvir would have loved this, Zahra thought, and immediately, she felt the familiar pangs of sorrow and guilt. The manor was not on the level of those in Solitude, nor the Silver-Bloods' Treasury House in Solitude, but it was still regal and beautiful and even luxurious in its own way.

Rayya led them into her new house, where further surprises awaited. The Thane had hired two maids, both Redguards, and the bard was a Nord, like the carriage driver. The rooms at Lakeview were spacious, open; the ceiling was high. And as soon as their feet crossed the threshold, everyone fell into a cozy rhythm at once.

The bard introduced himself as Llewellyn, and Rayya immediately requested he play some soft lute music. The lute was the perfect choice; the songs were slow and gentle, not intended for dancing. It was the perfect background noise.

Kaidan busied himself at the cooking spit, taking over for one of the Redguard women, whom Rayya introduced as Anisah and Farida. Anisah was young, newly from Hammerfell, while Farida was an older woman who'd lived in Falkreath for years, and had many stories to tell.




While their stay at Ivarstead had been magical and idyllic, and their stay at Markarth gave them a taste of big city living, life at Lakeview Manor simply felt...right.

A calm fell upon her unlikely any other; it surpassed the fun nights at Dead Man's Drink, the hours spent working in the apothecary, or even the nights spent sleeping in Jarl's hall. Zahra felt her entire body relax as her mind stopped racing for the first time in forever.

I could have had this life, she realized, as she looked at the smiling faces around, swaying with the music. If my parents had focused on family and not fallen in with necromancers, we could have had this life. I could have had siblings and friends, married a local boy, and borne another generation under the same roof as my parents.

She bit back the rising bitterness, reminding herself that her parents were dead, her husband was dead, and her life as a necromancer was over. She was still young, apparently beautiful, and despite all that she'd been robbed of as a child, her future as a woman was still bright.



I will work hard like Rayya, she vowed. I will continue to excel at my work, save my coins, and some day build a homestead as fine as this.

I don't care if it means I become one of them. "They" live good lives.

It wouldn't be easy, she knew. It would take some time, and she would have to marry up. Thankfully, her position in the Jarl's court made it all the more likely.

When breakfast ended and Anisah began clearing away the dishes, Rayya suddenly turned to Zahra.

"Come, little sister," the Thane invited. "Let's go for a walk about the grounds."

Next: Epilogue

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