Mushrooms, Mudcrabs, and Marshes - Oh My

 
Previously: Meet the Ravencrones

When Idgrod left her mother's chambers, she found Lady Ahlam had returned to Moorside Inn, supposedly to change her clothes. At first she found that frivolous, but then recalled the lady's dress was much too fine to go traipsying about Morthal.

Ahlam did return to Highmoon Hall in a less opulent dress than her first, but her new gown was still quite exquisite.

"Is that...elvish silk?" Idgrod stared, as Ahlam climbed the stairs to meet her.

The lady shyly nodded. "I find it a lot less restrictive than some of the Imperial gowns."

Idgrod paused. "Imperial fashion is popular at Dragonsreach?"

Ahlam nodded again. "Very much so. Once my husband began to openly campaign for Thane, I had to change my hair and entire wardrobe."


Idgrod blinked. How nice for you. "Shall we?"

Ahlam smiled brightly. "Lead the way."

***

Jarl Ravencrone was genuinely amused by her future son-in-law.

He was a walking contradiction; a hardened Nord warrior with a thick Nordic accent, yet he dressed like an Imperial lord and she bet he'd even received an Imperial education. Balgruuf's family had profited heavily from supporting the Empire for generations, and for generations they'd bred these hybrid contradictions.

She was willing to admit her own children were also hybrids, but to a far lesser degree. They were still very much in touch with their Nordic roots, more so than this pampered lord.

"No Stormcloaks on the road, I take it?" she opened negotiations, pouring two goblets of clear spring water. Since she had no study, they were back in the small dining room, and she wanted him nice and sober for this.

"We cut through the valley to shorten our trip," the young man replied stiffly. "We may have to take the long road back, however."

"It's only an extra day," she assured him. "If you keep to the western roads, you're unlikely to run into any rebels. They don't have the numbers to patrol our holds, despite Ulfric's propaganda."

"And Morthal has fared well thus far?" Hrongar asked.

Ravencrone snorted. "Nobody comes to Morthal, not even for the iron mine. Which makes sense, seeing as we don't own it."

"Of course," he nodded, seemingly lost in his thoughts.

"Of course, once my daughter receives your dowry of ten thousand septims and starts building, we may yet receive more visitors."

That woke him. "Ten?" he blinked. "My brother said five thousand was the agreed upon price."

"It was five thousand," the Jarl sneered, "until you brought your silk-swaddled whore into my hall and humiliated my daughter."

Hrongar's faced reddened in the flickering candlelight as he fumed. "Ahlam is no whore."

"Not in the honest sense, no," Ravencrone shook her head. "I'm sure she's a fine lady from a noble family, and is probably all the rage at court." The old woman practically spat those last words.

"She is beloved throughout our city," he replied shortly. "She is admired and respected."

"And another man's wife," Ravencrone cackled. She waved dismissively when he would protest. "Don't try to explain yourself to me, boy; I know how the story goes and I don't care so long as it doesn't negatively affect my daughter. I will not sentence her to a miserable marriage, is that clear?"

Hrongar glared at her. "Even if I were to set aside Ahlam and forsake all others, I may never love your daughter." He cocked his head to the side. "Surely, you know how that goes."

"No one's talking about love, child; we're talking about marriage," she clarified. "The marriage between a future Jarl and her consort. You are required for exactly three things: the wedding, the creation of children, and a dowry of ten thousand septims. Half upfront, and half after the wedding."

"Your Grace--"

"Balgruuf will agree to it," she nodded resolutely. "Your brother will agree to anything if it means keeping Imperials out of his bloodline and his courtly business. As we speak, my husband is drafting a letter explaining our revised terms, along with the manner in which you presented yourself to us." She sipped her water. "I suppose he'll want a word with you when you return to Dragonsreach."

"I came here with the intent to be open and honest with your daughter," Hrongar insisted.

"You could've used more tact."

"It wouldn't have softened the blow," he countered. "Ahlam and I are in love, Your Grace. We wanted to marry each other, to live honorably and respectably with each other. We never asked for this war nor the threat of Imperials taking over our houses, but we will find happiness in this life where we can."

"As will my daughter," the Jarl promised him. "You can count on that."

***



"By the gods, you people are blessed."

Idgrod was surprised to hear that. "Nobody says that when they visit Morthal."

She watched Ahlam close her eyes, breathing in the clean mountain air. They were standing on the bridge of the northern gate, while the lake flowed lazily beneath them.

Ahlam opened her eyes. "I take it the marsh is just beyond there."

"Yes," Idgrod nodded. "It's called as Drajkmyr, and was recently infested with vampires."

Ahlam spun to face her, alarmed. "Vampires?"

Idgrod's young eyes darkened. "It's why my mother installed the drawbridge years ago. Most vampires have trouble crossing water. She hired many hunters to rid us of the fanged plague, as she called them." The teenager paused. "We lost a lot people during the purge."

"I can only imagine," Ahlam murmured.

"Come," Idgrod gestured. "We'll look mushrooms inside the town. The vampires may be gone, but the marsh is still treacherous for those who don't know it."



The mushroom search was over before it began, as Ahlam seemed blissfully distracted by the peaceful calm of the small town. Idgrod walked her through, showing her the houses, naming all the residents by heart, and even taking her to the small fishery. Ahlam not only genuinely delighted, but grateful for the excursion.

She's probably used to be cooped up in a castle somewhere, bored with her embroidery or some such, Idgrod figured.

They eventually wandered just beyond the wooden walls of Morthal, where a giant mudcrab suddenly emerged from the lake and started wading straight for Ahlam.

Idgrod was used to this; in fact, Morthal residents looked forward to running into mudcrabs. Like the average Skyrim resident, she was armed at all times. She drew her long, steel dagger from her side and was about to intercept the creature when she noticed Ahlam with her arms outstretched, plumes of fire shooting from her hands, forming a cloud of flame and scorching the mudcrab.

The teenager's mouth fell open as the older woman calming ceased burning the mudcrab. She stood up straight, adjusting herself as the dead creature floated and drifted towards land.



Okay...wasn't expecting that.

"You're a mage???" Idgrod exclaimed, shocked by such a dramatic display of magic.

"I am," Ahlam replied, more so to herself than the girl. "For many years now."

Idgrod's eyes fixed on Ahlam, torn between growing awe and simmering irritation.

By the gods, just how perfect does she need to be?

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