Lovers and Wives


Previously: The Betrothal

"What do you mean he won't dissolve your marriage?"

Ysolda was looking a little unhinged tonight, her reddish hair in disarray as they sat down to dinner. Nazeem had tried to make her house a bit more palatable, but the new tables and chairs seemed out of the place with the aged walls and the cooking spit in the center of their sitting room.

The whole scene left Nazeem a little tired.

"My wife and I grew apart over the years, and apparently, everyone thinks it's my fault," he signed wearily. "The Jarl says I drove her into the arms of her lover, and that I am to make peace with her if I want to become a Thane."

"What's this?" she demanded. "He's adding new hoops for you to jump through? The title is yours and everybody already knows it."

"He doesn't want the scandal, Ysolda."

"Oh, fuck scandal!" she suddenly roared, slamming her hands down on the dinner table. "I'm with child, Nazeem! How can you reconcile with your wife, when I'm carrying your child and we are to be married?"

He was too weary to be shocked. "That is delightful news, my dear," he smiled tiredly.

Ysolda was appalled. "How is that delightful news? What future can this child possibly have?"

"A well-provided future, complete with a proper education and a father who acknowledges him publicly," Nazeem stated simply. That seemed to calm her; it apparently hadn't occurred to her he planned to stay no matter what the Jarl said.

She was still wary. "Are you sure that's wise? Is that not still a scandal?"

He raised his hands and shrugged in growing amusement. "A scandal that could've been avoided had Balgruuf simply done what I asked. Two can play this game, my love. Besides, he's in for a much bigger scandal soon anyhow. One he won't be able to contain or explain away no matter what he does."

"And what is that?"

"My wife's lover is his brother," Nazeem chuckled. "And his brother is about to introduce my wife...to his future wife."

***

It was completely mad, of course, but as their entourage headed north, Ahlam cared less and less.

She gazed out the window of their carriage, enraptured by the landscape rolling by. From the stables, they'd first taken the road east then north, then west, rounding the city and its surrounding farms. Plains soon gave way to hills, caves, and rivers, and she was spellbound by them all.

"Skyrim is beautiful," she gasped, almost in disbelief.

Hrongar appeared to be surprised. "You didn't know this?"

"Imagine living ten years in Whiterun, hearing all about the beauty of Skyrim, but never really getting to see it," she replied. "When the war is over, I want to visit all the Western holds."

He smiled brightly at her. "We shall do so together," he promised. "In style."

She turned back to him, eyes clouded in worry. "My love, when the war is over, you'll be married and living in Hjaalmarch."

Hrongar visibly shuddered. "Over my dead body."

"I'm sure your brother will happily arrange it," she laughed teasingly, swatting his arm lightly with her hand.

"As soon as my wife is with child, I'm returning to Dragonsreach," he nodded stiffly.

"You can't leave your pregnant wife alone," she chided him gently. "It's deplorable."

Hrongar winced at her words, knowing they were true. He laid back against the cushions of the carriage, snaking an arm around her and holding her close. In the west, the sun dipped below distant mountains and darkness slowly settled upon the first day of their journey.

"We'll stay at an inn," he murmured. "Best not to travel in the night."


They found a small inn on a farm at the base of the snowy mountains leading into Hjaalmarch. With the, travelers were fewer upon the road; the inn was empty and Hrongar booked all the rooms. It was uneventful evening, with a dull meal, no music, and no baths.

They set out early the next morning, deciding to take a shortcut through the northern valley.

"My men warn me the pass is treacherous," Hrongar told Ahlam, "but it will cut a full day off our journey."

She nodded resolutely. "Let's do it."

They headed into the snow and the woods. This time, Hrongar rode with his men, while Ahlam stayed in the carriage, listening to every rock it rolled over. They reached the main road in less than a day, where Hrongar had to lead his men against a waiting Frostbite spider.



"A spider?" Ahlam exclaimed, jumping out of the carriage to examine the creature. "On the road?"

"This is Hjaalmarch," Hrongar grudgingly reminded her. "I told you it was a wild land."

They reached the southern gate of Morthal just before sunset. The wooden houses were small with thatched roofs, just as Hrongar had said. Highmoon Hall towered about them, its guards standing like sentinels in the torchlight. They didn't even flinch in the cold.

Ahlam was rendered speechless by the coziness of the snowy little town. "It's so charming," she whispered incredulously.

Hrongar shot her a look, appalled. "This village is a shithole, Ahlam."

"It's idyllic, my lord," she insisted. "Even in war time, there's a peacefulness here."

"There's a nothingness here," he grumbled, leading her through the town to the local tavern. Moorside Inn, it was called, and it was flanked by two burned out houses. "No blacksmith, no proper stable, a tiny sawmill...."

"You can change all that, you know," she raised an eyebrow. "When you are Jarl Consort. You can help these people build."

Moorside was run by a Redguard woman, and if that was surprising enough, its bard was a tone-deaf Orc, drunkenly singing by the fire pit while a handful of patrons scowled.



Hrongar greeted the innkeeper with a coin purse, slamming it down on the wooden counter and declaring, "I'm booking all the rooms. My company and I intend to be comfortable during our stay, so hire as much extra help as you need to make that happen."

The woman's dark eyes were wide. "Of course, my lord," she gasped, probably never having seen this much money before.

"We will all require baths, madam, with hot water and soap."

"Yes, my lord."

"And a bottle of your best mead for each of my men."

"Why yes, my lord."

"What's on the menu tonight?"

"Steamed mudcrab legs," she told him. "It's our specialty here in Morthal."

Ahlam was surprised. "Mudcrabs?"

The woman nodded politely. "The marshes are crawling with them, my lady, just beyond the northern gate. I like to steam them, sprinkle with salt, squeeze of lemon, and a heaping of butter."

Even Hrongar's eyes widened. "That sounds delicious."

"I can show you to your rooms," she gestured. "Just give me an hour or so to round up some more people. There's always folks looking for work in Morthal."

***


"It's hideous."

"It's temporary, my love."

Hrongar, turned and turned about the small room. The skin rugs were beyond worn, the bed didn't look remotely comfortable, and like the rest of the inn, the walls smelled of aged wood and smoke.

"It's hideous," he stubbornly repeated.

An hour later, while lounging in a large wooden tub of hot water and swigging from a bottle of mead, he was in a much better mood.

"What's the plan, love?" Ahlam asked, leaning over to lightly massage his wet chest as she soaked with him.

"Tomorrow, we present ourselves to Jarl Idgrod, the Old Ravencrone," he yawned, stretching.

"I presume I'm to remain here?"

"You will do no such thing," Hrongar blinked. "If her daughter is to be my wife, she needs to know the way of things upfront."

Ahlam was cynical. "Won't that offend her entire family?"

He snorted. "Of course, but it won't change anything. Ravencrone will want her daughter to marry me no matter. She wants her humble bloodline joined with my greater one - no matter what. And she wants my dowry."

Ahlam was taken aback. "Dowry?"

Hrongar nodded. "My brother wanted to expedite this process, so he threw in a dowry as part of his original proposal. I'm here to negotiate the final sum." He paused, gazing at her with level eyes. "It will be the same for your children someday, you know," he added softly.

It was her turn to snort. "I don't foresee anyone wanting to marry into my family."

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