A Tale of Two Brothers

 
Previously: A Chance Meeting

A/N ~ Sorry for the delay. The keyboard that came with the new desktop was NOT suited for extensive typing. Had to get a new one.

4th of Frostfall 201, Fourth Era

It's been ages since I last stayed at Mistveil Keep.

My last stay in Riften, several years ago, I posed as the mistress of some jeweler who owned what is now called Riftweald Manor. He was a drunken, lecherous lout, but he did have very fine taste. There wasn't a room in that house that wasn't adorned in silk or velvet, and as such, he found Mistveil to be beneath him. I agreed.

Mistveil's greatest days have long passed, and I was blessed to witness some of them. The keep is now forlorn, staffed with a third of what it needs in terms of guards and servants. Even her beauty has faded into dust and cobwebs, which I never thought possible.

There is a plague in Skyrim; a vile, heinous epidemic in which many great cities and fine castles are rendered shadows of their formerly glorious selves. There are times when I wonder if the entire province will become one big ancient ruin the bards sing of, and I shudder to think it.

It's why I left for the Imperial City in the first place.

***


Well now...this simply won't do.

The chamber she was granted was more befitting a guard. It wasn't as cramped as she feared, but it wasn't very clean either. The servants clearly hadn't been in this room in a long time; everything look just as they must have left it the last time they tidied up. Not that it mattered. She had no intention of sleeping in her own bed, for as fate would have it, Harrald had a brother.

Katarinya so enjoyed siblings.

Siblings were natural-born competitors; most of the noble or royal siblings she met either hated each other or really hated each other. Their mutual loathing often blinded them to all else.


After inspecting her room, Katarinya returned to the main hall, eager to introduce herself to the young man. She found him sitting behind his mother's throne, off to the side.

Unlike his brother, who wanted to show what a Nord patriot he was by practically living in that odious armor of his, Saerlund wanted to show what a proper gentleman of the empire he was by wearing fine Imperial silk. This actually made sense to Katarinya, seeing as how his whole family spoke with Imperial accents (and his mother even wore Imperial lace).

"My lord," Katarinya greeted with a curtsey.

Saerlund looked up. He was never greeted in such a courteous manner, and certainly not with such an elegant accent. 

"I am Katarinya, my lord," she told him. "I met your brother in the wild and he brought me to court. Your mother has retained me as a bard."

The surprise in his eyes softened into curiosity. "You met Harrald in the wild? He was hunting? Alone?"

"Yes," she nodded happily. "And thankfully so. I found myself in a place called Autumnshade Clearing. He came to my rescue."

"I bet he did," he murmured, looking her over. "Welcome to Mistveil, Miss Katarinya. I apologize in advance for the state of things."

Katarinya feigned ignorance. "State of things?"

"I can tell by your comportment that you're no common bard," he replied. "Especially if my mother has retained you so quickly. I also know it is every bard's greatest hope to perform in some great house, but you'll find no greatness here. Odds are, you won't even get paid."

"A hot meal and a warm bed are more than sufficient payment in these troubled times," Katarinya cheerfully told him. "You're mother's reputation is well-earned." To be fair, the Law-Givers were honorable by nature and had been for generations, hence their name.

"Harrald shouldn't have been hunting alone," Saerlund said suddenly. "As always, he remains reckless and short-sighted."

And so it begins. "He was explaining to me how stifling castle life can be," she told him, using her gentlest voice. "Day in, day out behind high walls, surrounded by guards."

Saerlung met her gaze squarely, his tone tempered with steel. "The average Skyrim citizen could only be so lucky, especially in a time of war."

True. "I'm sure his mind is heavy with these times, my lord," she shrugged. After a pause, she carefully added, "I hear your family is facing exile."

"And I along with them," he nodded grimly.

Katarinya slightly raised an eyebrow. "But you support the Empire, do you not?"

There was a brief flash of anger in his eyes. "Harrald tell you that?"

She nodded slowly. "I understand it didn't go over well with your mother."

"I am disinherited," he bit out. "Should my mother die and my brother become Jarl, he has vowed to execute me."

Oh, they HATE hate each other, Katarinya blinked. She could work with that.

"Surely, he doesn't mean that," she shook her head. "I may not be a noble, but I've spent enough time around them to know that when the time comes to make good on such threats, most don't have the stomach for it."

This wasn't entirely true. Some didn't have the stomach, but most certainly did.

***


She found Harrald later on, dining in the guards quarters, which was normal for a Jarl's son to do, but didn't strike her as the sort of thing Harrald liked to do.

"My lord," she greeted cheerily. "Do you not dine in the great hall with your family?"

"Usually I do," he nodded, "but I also try to spend time with our warriors. For morale," he added with a shrug. He was eating a potato with a side of leeks, drinking mead from an old tankard. She could smell the vintage; it was Black-Briar mead. Apparently, they hadn't changed the recipe in years.

There was an odd silence, a pause of sorts, before he asked, "How find you Saerlund?"

She offered an awkward chuckle. "He seems to be under the impression you're going to execute him."

Harrald's eyes glowed like coals, his jaw tensing as his nod stiffly and stated in a low, dangerous voice, "I will, you know. I will take great pleasure in hanging his body from our walls."

She feigned surprised. "He seems so gentle. Surely his crime of speaking a mere few words--"
 
"That gentle man," he spat, interrupting her, "endangered our entire family. In times of war, every house and hold is filled with spies, and he dared to give Ulfric Stormcloak cause to question our loyalty. Mother should've offered Ulfric his head!"

"Oh, you'd like that, wouldn't you?"

Katarinya turned to see Saerlund. Harrald rose from his plate, and she watched to the two brothers seemingly square off.


"I see you still have the run of the place, traitor," Harrald grumbled.

"Come now, brother mine; don't act all high and mighty," his younger brother scoffed. "I know you could care less about the war one way or another. The things you say are just an act to please Mother."

"Perhaps," Harrald cocked his head to the side. "Perhaps not. I'm disappointed in you brother. You had it all. You had it all and your mouth cost you everything."

"So, is this what it's come to?" Saerlund asked sourly. "You'd have your own flesh and blood hanged just to solidify your grip as the next Jarl?"

"If that's what it will take then so be it."

Dismay gave way to disbelief. Saerlund seemed genuinely shocked. His voice came out soft, bordering on hoarse. "What's become of us? We used to be inseparable... always fighting back to back and letting nothing stand in our way. You've changed, brother mine."

Harrald's jaw tensed once more. "I've done what I needed to do keep Mother happy. It doesn't matter what I really believe...brother mine."

And there it is, Katarinya raised an eyebrow. This is about survival.

Saerlund shook his head. "You've done what you've had to for yourself, not for Mother. There's a storm on the horizon, brother, and it will blow through here with all its fury."

He's right about that, Katarinya raised an eyebrow.

"Did you need something?" Harrald suddenly demanded in a clipped tone, returning to his meal.

His brother whipped out a ledger. "I ran some numbers for Anuriel. It seems we can afford to compensate for the Black-Briar shipment if you and I both forfeit our weekly allowances."


"What?" Harrald roared.

Katarinya was surprised as well, but for different reasons. How did the black sheep of the family have access to the household accounts? And how was he still receiving an allowance? Didn't that defeat the point of disinheriting him?

Because he's the smart one, she suddenly realized. Good with numbers, good with politics. He's probably the smartest member of his family.

"Maven has forgiven too many lost shipments, not to mention this house is already heavily indebted to her," Saerlund pointed out matter-of-factly. "She's going to let this go."

"Fine," Harrald replied through gritted teeth.

Saerlund closed his ledger and nodded rather professionally. "I'll leave you to it then."

An impoverished noble family on the brink of ruin, during a time of war, Katarinya mused. I could make a whole feast of this.

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