Death, But Make It Fashion

 

"Where in the name of all the gods did you find this abomination?"

Indrathel looked down at herself. The dress she'd chosen for the gathering was muslin with a black lace overlay. It was no doubt inspired by Imperial design, but with long split sleeves.

Numbly, she looked back up at Endarie and blinked, "I pulled it off the corpse of a vampire."

The Altmeri seamstress's eyes widened in horror. "You did what?"

Indrathel shifted uncomfortably. Standing in the middle of Radiant Raiment fully clothed, she felt completely naked. The tailoring siblings were an extremely disapproving, judgmental family of the utmost discriminating taste (well, except for maybe that weird younger brother the sisters oddly never spoke to). She had seen their handiwork all over the bodies of nobles in Solitude and was hoping they'd have a miracle to spare for her.

"I already washed it," she mumbled, suddenly feeling like a sullen teenager. "I just need it mended and let out in a couple of places."



"Oh, you need much more than that," Taarie shuddered. "And you say you're wearing this to the Blue Palace?"

Indrathel shrugged. "Commander Atirion invited me to a dinner...or something." After an awkward pause, she blurted, "It's not like I could afford one of your dresses on short notice! I had to improvise!"

"Well, you are a member of the Thalmor," Endarie reasoned, unpacking a small sewing kit. "I suppose they'll forgive your sartorial ignorance...if nothing else."

Indrathel didn't miss how she practically spat the word "Thalmor". She'd noticed that humans weren't the only ones uncomfortable in presence; Bosmeri and non-Thalmor Altmeri were even more tense around her. It was like she was an unwelcome reminder of some secret shame, ruining their good time (and social standing).

Nevertheless, the sisters worked quickly, letting out the waist a couple of inches while mending the sleeves and tightening the bosom of the dress. A half hour and few dabs of their cheapest perfume later, and they were done.

"I assume you won't be accessorizing?" Endarie blinked as Indrathel paid her. "I think a nice gold necklace set with an emerald or diamond would be sufficient enough to distract the other attendees from your dress."

"I'm a member of the Thalmor," Indrathel reiterated. As she left the shop with her neck and fingers bare, she suddenly found herself wondering why she ever enlisted in the first place.



It was oddly warm in Solitude today, a rarity in northern Skyrim. She made her way to the Blue Palace on foot rather than hiring a carriage or agreeing to accompany Atirion; she didn't want him to get any ideas. In fact, as Indrathel wandered past the Hall of the Dead, cutting through Solitude's cemetery and drawing all sorts of looks from the citizens, she wondered why she was even going to this party in the first place.

What the hell was she even going to talk to anyone about?



When she arrived at the palace and crossed paths with the first noble, she knew the evening was doomed. He was a Thane, if she recalled correctly, and a particularly wealthy one, judging by his flawless tailoring. He looked her up and down before asking, "I meant to ask Atirion before; are you by chance a Wood Elf?"

"No," Indrathel replied, wondering what the hell kind of question was that. "My mother was Altmeri, my father a Redguard."

"Oh," he blinked dismissively. "I figured you were too tall anyway. It's just...you reminded me of someone I met at the Thalmor Embassy, during the Ambassador's last dinner party."

Oh, dear gods...you're Erikur, she cringed. She remembered him, drunk, slurring, and pawing at the poor Bosmeri serving woman, Brelas.
 
The blond man walked away suddenly, presumably forgetting all about her, and Indrathel was starting to realize that her dress wasn't just a disaster; it was both armor and repellent.

Atirion was running late to the gathering, as were many other nobles, so she decided to pass the time by drinking. As soon as a servant brought around a tray of goblets, Indrathel snatched one and drained it, not caring what it was

Another Thane spied her, taking interest. "You are Commander Indrathel?" she asked, but it sounded more like she was intoning. She was another Nord, with reddish brown hair and a deep, strong voice.

"That is correct...my lady," Indrathel replied, her mind racing to remember decorum. She didn't feel remotely comfortable or familiar around nobility, and yet she could remember interacting with nobles many, many times.

"I overheard Commander Atirion refer to you as the 'Hero of Northwatch Keep'," the Thane continued. "What does that mean?"

Indrathel traded her empty goblet for another full one before turning back to the noblewoman. "Where should I begin?"

***


Years later, the Blue Palace would still speak of the strange elfish woman who came to dinner and regaled the guests with tales of vampires and Thalmor corpses, and walking naked with a dagger through blood-drenched snow. She would speak of casually massacring bandits in a fort and watching Imperial soldiers carve up Stormcloak rebels on the road.

They would speak of her spellbound audience, sitting and staring at her in morbid awe while she stood, goblet in hand, reciting her gory tales with the utmost detail and honesty. Ironically, no one would remember her name (of course), but they would remember that she came to court dressed like a vision of death itself, with each description of her gown more garish than the last. Some would say she arrived in tattered black velvets, while others others claimed she wore faded, bloodied silks, but they all would agree that she was very, very drunk.

Meanwhile, while the horror show was happening in real time, Indrathel had lost track of how many drinks she'd had. The wine was of an exceedingly fine vintage, she knew; it was sweet with hints of snowberry and Jazbay grapes. It warmed her blood and body as the drink went down, making her forget her worries and insecurities.

"...and you know the most fucked up part of all?" she randomly demanded, as she neared the end of her saga (for which her language content would also be remembered). "The Thalmor--read: Elenwen--just sent more of our people right back to Northwatch Keep to clean up the mess and re-staff that crumbling shithole of a fort. Meanwhile, I got reassigned to the Headquarters where we, the Dominion's elite, are forced to rotate beds--can you believe that? No wonder Atirion remains at court; if not, he'd probably be sharing a bed with Mirnor...and you already know none of the heat would come from that side of the bed."

She drained her goblet and traded it for another full one from a servant who knew better than to argue. Hand on hip, Indrathel drank, before turning back to her audience who gawked back her in rapt attention.

"You know, I can't stop asking myself why the fucking hell I even signed up to join these people?" she went on. "Despite their perpetual sneering, every Thalmor I've ever met is a dull, humorless puppet with a huge stick up their ass. Like...I've sat through countless military briefings since my contingent was nearly wiped out, and yet I have heard nary a word about the bloody vampires! It's as though no one wants to dare breathe a word about those fucking, blood-sucking, undead--"

"What did I miss?" At this point, Commander Atirion finally arrived from whatever was keeping him.

Thane Bryling turned to him, eyes wide and smiling with the deepest glee. "Nothing at all. Commander Indrathel was just telling us about vampires."

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