Prologue: Dawn's Whore

 
Previously: Dramatis Personae

As she much as she hated to admit it, Astridr wasn't ready to say goodbye to Dawnstar.

It was the last place she would have ever imagined ending up (well...aside for Morthal or Winterhold). The weather was often dreadful in the Pale; it snowed almost ceaselessly. The northeast mountains were always covered in snow and large sheets of ice floated upon the western waters.

Because the weather was foul and the farms were few, one would think the food selection would be limited. But Dawnstar was a harbor city, with ships coming and going almost daily, even during war. In addition to all sorts of fish, they brought crates of every fruit, vegetable, one could desire...not that such things mattered in the Jarl's house.

With the ships came travelers and bards, bringing news, gossip, art, and culture from all over Tamriel. She hadn't expected that when she first came here; it was a delightful surprise. And now, after finally settling in, she had to let it all go.



Taking one last stroll, she left the Jarl's residence to head into town. The buildings were mostly wooden, with thatched roofs, but the walls were ancient stone and they surrounded most of Dawnstar. The Jarl's family, House Felgeif, had ruled the Pale for generations, and it was said that most of their money had gone into building walls and yet more walls. It was such an expense to the taxpayers that it left them living in their wooden houses, which weren't always comfortable in the cold.

Astrider's  new leather boots crunched against the snow as she trudged down the hill from the White Hall, where she lived with the Jarl. Her plain silver necklace felt like ice against her skin. Her gown was long, woolen, embroidered in gray, trimmed with gray furs, and like suit armor against the cold northern wind. By the standards of cities like Markarth and Solitude, her ensemble was plain. But in Dawnstar, it was fine enough to identify her as highborn, even though she was no such thing.

Astridr was going to miss being able to dress so simply, which surprised her. Before Dawnstar, she'd known castles and fine manors; she'd moved among nobles and wealthy merchants, collecting gifts of jewels, silk, silver, and gold. For courtesans, the party never ended; life was a stream of concerts, plays, festivals, and balls. And she had to look magnificent for every single one, which she enjoyed. Astridr had always loved braiding her, rubbing on perfume oil, and putting on her prettiest dresses and jewels to go out.

But here...here such excessive frivolity meant nothing. There were no plays or concerts; if the Jarl wanted music, he summoned a single bard. There were few nobles and even fewer wealthy merchants, and want coin people had in Dawnstar, they preferred to keep to themselves.




Walking from one end of the town to the other took mere minutes. It wasn't long before the hustle and bustle of sailors and blacksmiths were at her back, and she was alone, watching the sun die in the distance. She tarried even as the cold deepened; her fingers numbing as she watched her breath escape her. As darkness fell, Astridr gazed upon the water; the soothing lapping of the waves whispered promises of a bright future, but it all sounded hoarse upon the winter wind.

Today, a letter had arrived from Ulfric Stormcloak, and she didn't need to steal a glance to know what it said. She'd never had any friends or fans in Dawnstar. She was a courtesan; they didn't know what to do with that. The monogamous hypocrites hitched their cloaks at her. The insecure called her a whore. At the Windpeak Inn, patrons spread rumors that she was costing the Jarl a hundred septims a night which, of course, was a bald-faced lie. The old man didn't have that kind of money. No jarl did.

As irritating as Jarl Skald's company was, Astridr had grown fond of his chilly hold and had even saved up enough to buy a house for herself. She'd been looking forward to setting a simple homestead somewhere out of the way, with maybe even a small farm or a fishing dock. It would have been her new home. Now as she gazed upon the horizon, trying to figure out what to do next, she realized what she really wanted: to return to her old home.

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