The Heiress

 
Previously: Prologue

"You say that like you're expecting me to jump for joy," Talia blinked, unimpressed. "But you're forgetting I grew up in Solitude, surrounded by nobles. And after the tending the poor, sick, and starving, I learned a very long time ago that the nobility are the absolutely most dysfunctional people in the world."

Sigridr actually giggled. "Why, yes...yes they are. We do so enjoy the gossip that from every traveler and bard. But let me assure you, little one, that we are nothing like those people."

"Oh yeah? How so?"

"Well, for one," Sigridr rose from her chair. "We're not a family of spoiled, self-entitled children descended from spoiled, self-entitled children generations over." Now that she was standing, Talia could see she wore a silver necklace set with a very large sapphire. Her ring was also silver, set with another large sapphire.

Damn...this woman really loves her sapphires.

My father, Asmundr, was an illiterate warrior who earned his title on the field of battle, during the Great War. Heljarchen Village was his reward; he built this hall. When he died, and I inherited his title, I raised that farm you saw out there, as the carriage brought you here."

Oh, Talia's eyebrows raised. We own that too?

She had indeed noticed a farm nearby, with its farmhouse, stable, market stall, and windmill, but she assumed it just belong to another family.

"Since we are not high-ranking nobles with boundless coin, clout, and connections," the baroness continued, "we carry ourselves with pride and impeccable dignity. Which means we don't do anything to sully the family name."

Talia smirked. "Like my mother did."

"Actually, your mother left for Solitude, met a young man, got married, and died giving birth," Sigridr said. "There was nothing dishonorable in her behavior, and even if there were, almost everyone who knew her is either dead or long gone from the Pale." She gestured, "Shall I introduce you to the rest of the household?"

***


"This is Gregor, my steward," Sigridr introduced. "He's served here for, what, ten years?"

Gregor was a tall, shaven haired Nord with a dark beard. He wore some nice silk clothes embroidered in gold.

"It is a pleasure to meet you, my lady," he greeted in a deep voice. Talia suddenly noticed that while his accent was thickly Nordic, her aunt sounded more like an Imperial.

Wow...they must just love her here in the Pale.

"Gregor helps me manage my properties," Sigridr beamed. "He collects rent in the village, double-checks the inventory at the farm, and helps me balance my books."

"It's nice to meet your, sir," Talia smiled slightly. She wasn't about to be the type of "lady" who was cold or impolite to those who served.


"And this is Dessa," Sigridr cheerily continued. Dessa was a Bosmeri woman, short, brown-skinned with brown hair, long pointed ears, and reddish black eyes. "Dessa does the marvelous cooking you smell, along with some light housekeeping."

Talia was surprised yet again. A cook? We have our own cook? I don't have to cook?

Dessa was in the process of making a stew, and while that would normally make Talia cringe, it smelled divine. She detected tomato, carrot, onion, and an array of spices. In an over nearby, fresh bread was baking.

"It's a pleasure to meet you, miss," Dessa smiled over her shoulder.

"Dessa previously worked for Jarl Skald in Dawnstar, our capital," Sigridr proudly explained. "But when the old started getting all 'patriotic', Dessa graciously agreed to leave him for me."

"It's nice to meet you too," Talia said, and meant every word. She hated cooking.

"I can feel the sun coming out," Sigridr suddenly straightened up. "You can hear the winds have stopped. Why don't you tour the properties? The good weather won't last long. Gregor will have a hot bath waiting for you when you return, and I'll lay out some clothes for you."

***


The sun was indeed out, and in the light of a sunny day, the Pale looked very different.

Before her lay a land bathed in light. The air was still intensely chilly, but with the winds taking a break, it was bearable. Though vegetation was sparse in this region, it was still here, hardy, defiant in face of the cold.





The farm was a short walk down the hill from the house. Now that the winds had stopped, she could smell the tilled earth and the mountain flowers. She could hear the clucking of chickens, and the windmill laboring above.

It was...peaceful. Idyllic, even. I could have had a good childhood here.

There was a single horse in a small stable, two cows fenced off from the crops, three people going in and out of the buildings, and the smell of something else, something vaguely familiar, something she remembered from her last trip to Frost River....

"Excuse me," she asked a passing farmhand. "What's that smell?"

"Mead," the blond woman casually replied. She pointed to a building that Talia had assumed was a part of the windmill, but now saw was completely separate.

Mead, she realized, her eyes opening wide. The Baroness produces her own mead.

Mead, even cheap, low-quality mead, was a money-maker in Skyrim. Even the most modest meaderies could uplift entire towns and villages out of extreme poverty. Hell...the Black-Briar family in Riften were said to have built an entire empire on mead.

Talia headed back up the hill in the daze, her heart pounding, her head swimming as the reality of her life came into focus. This is real. This is happening.

Her parents might be dead, but she still had fan aunt, and said aunt was a baroness. This whole time she came a from a noble family, and now she was that family's heir.

She had never been the sort to fantasize that she came from lofty origins. That was the sort of thing other orphans dreamed about. Talia always figured her mother was some sort of peasant and her father likely a sellsword.

But now, the more she thought of it, it made sense. Other children were adopted from the temple as children, some even as babies. And it didn't matter who they were or where they were from--Redguard, Breton, Nord, Imperial--childless parents and homesteads needing workers took what they could. But Talia had always been kept separate, kept apart. No one was allowed to adopt her, and no one explained why. The priestess Freir showed her extra attention, gave her extra lessons, insisted that she always be proper, refined, and on her best behavior.

Now she knew why.

But as much as the bored temple maiden was becoming ecstatic about having a home, land, and family of her own, the orphan in her remained cynical, skeptical. There was no way relatives just showed up out of the blue and to hand a perfect stranger all of this.

So what was the catch?

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