Previously: Behind the Throne

A/N ~ So sorry about the long delay between chapters. I was battling writer's block for WEEKS, but now I appear to be getting a new burst of inspiration. If you're fan of Bridgerton, I've got something for you on my Dark & Twisty blog. And if you're a fan of Mortal Kombat, I've got something for you too.

"Is that...is that a leg of goat?"

Jarl Laila Law-Giver peered down at her plate, leaning in to get a closer look.

"Yes, madam," Anuriel informed her. "Heartwood Mill paid half of its overdue taxes and will pay the rest by month's end. We were able to replenish the kitchens."

Laila's eyes widened in surprise. "Oh, good!" After a pause she added, "Well, I suppose Ulfric is probably working every mine, mill, and smelter overtime in the East."

Anuriel nodded. "And blacksmith, Your Grace. As painful as it is to admit, war can be profitable."

Laila appeared to relax, her stiff shoulders settling. "And to think the Empire believes we need them."

You do, Katarinya smirked. You really do.

This wasn't all, of course. As always, she began with a subtle changes: a few extra chickens in the pen, a single goat, a couple sacks of flour the servants may have overlooked, even some fresh herbs delivered from the market. From chickens and goats, she would smoothly escalate to pigs and cows, (not too many right away, of course), a barrel of potatoes and a few crates of fruit. Black-Briar mead was already the standard at court, and even though most found it too sweet, they drank it because it was free. As with the food, since everything was already paid for, nobody asked any questions.

Because when suffering humans were finally content, they never asked questions.

Harrald suddenly raised his half-eaten plate for a young servant to collect. "This meat is overcooked. Bring another."

Katarinya resisted the urge to smirk. Nothing entertained her more than an impoverished noble who recently regained some coin.

"Walk with me after dinner?" he turned to invite her, picking up his goblet of mead. "It's been a while since I toured the market."

"I would be happy to, my lord," she beamed, before turning back to her own plate. In the event she was forced to eat in public, Katarinya placed a standing order with the kitchens that her meat be served as rare as possible. Unlike Imperials, Nords didn't question the preference; in fact, drinking fresh animal blood was customary in chillier climes anyway.

She ate in the Breton style, wielding knife and fork together. The tender meat spread and bled all over the pewter plate. 

"You don't drink mead," Harrald casually noted.

"Too sweet for me," she replied easily.

"True," he nodded. He took a sip and savored it this time, as though mulling over the flavor. "I think Maven caters to a more Imperial palate when she crafts of her mead. Honningbrew is a far superior vintage, truer to the Nordic tongue, but unfortunately it's made all the way in Whiterun." He shrugged. "Perhaps we shall visit the meadery there after the war."

I highly doubt that, she grinned, stuffing her mouth with meat and savoring the feel of rich blood on her lips. It was good...just not as good as a mortal's.


The walk after dinner was uneventful. They took a walk through the market as planned, but as Harrald didn't actually have any money on him, he couldn't shop, only comment.

"Your blades are looking dull, Balimund," he snidely remarked to the blacksmith.

Balimund shot the young man a look. "My lord didn't complain about the sword I repaired for him."

"Yes," Harrald blinked, his tone clipped. "I recall how long that took you."

Their next stop was the stall of an Argonian jeweler, who admittedly had a decent collection considering the times.

"Pretty necklace for the lady?" he suggested.

Harrald gave his wares a single glance and scoffed. "Your sapphires are cloudy, the rubies are poorly cut, your amethysts are always overpriced, and how come you never have any diamonds, Madesi?"

"I did recently procure some emeralds and silver from Markarth," the Argonian replied. "Perhaps you'd like to place a custom order for the lady?"

"Silver?" Harrald laughed. "The lady deserves gold, Madesi, preferably set with diamonds."

Katarinya shot him a dismayed look. He does remember I know he's poor right? With the current state of his family's finances, he'd be lucky enough to afford amber set into copper.

She suddenly wondered how long the Law-Givers had been struggling for money. Months? Years? Was there a time Harrald had actually known luxury, and was unable to forget?

It certainly seemed that way. And yet, Katarinya could find no trace of recent wealth at Mistveil, no matter how hard she looked.

Perhaps it was when he was young, she surmised, likely when his father was alive. Harrald and his brother were obviously no common brutes; they were well-read, well-spoken, with a taste for finer things. They knew how to walk and talk like nobles. They even had a taste for Imperial fashions.

So at some point, something had gone horribly wrong, and now they were grasping at anything, anyone, to help get them back to the way things were before.

That touched her. Katarinya always had a tiny soft spot for impoverished nobility, and she never understood why.

Maven Black-Briar was leaving Mistveil just as they were returning. The aging matriarch all but ignored Harrald, instead taking a moment to give Katarinya the onceover.

"Nice dress," she sarcastically remarked in that low, throaty voice of hers. She continued her walk without waiting for a reply.

New clothes, Katarinya made mental note. Forget the pigs and cows--next on the list is some new clothes. Vampires were not an inherently vain species; when first turned, they could only think of the thirst. But after a while, as they adapted and learned all the different ways to hunt, they started to pay more attention to their appearances.

A noble, for example, would describe clothes as a form of armor. If the quality was high enough and the style extremely fashionable, they protected the wearer from rich and poor alike. The poor were intimidated and the rich were rendered hesitant, especially of the wearer dressed consistently.

A vampire, however, would describe clothing as more of an enchantment. Even without magic, the right clothes could weave whatever story the wearer chose. And like noble titles, clothes often lied; they flaunted extravagance when coffers were empty...or belied vulnerability where danger lay.


Popular Posts