Daedra in the Dark

Previously: Widows


One of the first rules of posing was to know one's enemy, and Katarinya had broken it. And she'd broken it because she hadn't thought of the Black-Briars as enemies, at least, not her enemies. Initially, they'd courted her favor.

But by getting in good with the Law-Givers, she'd unintentionally supplanted them. And it was frustrating because she had worked so hard not to upset the balance of things; she hadn't paid off the debts Laila owed to them because that would take away Maven's power. She hadn't slept with the Black-Briar brothers because that would also offend Maven. She hadn't flaunted her affair with Saerlund in order to avoid offending Ingun.

How the fuck did she even figure it out? Katarinya wanted to growl and tear out her own hair.

The second rule of posing was to never get comfortable, and she'd gotten more than comfortable. So comfortable that she was about to get herself burned at the stake.

She need to escape, and she needed to do so now. But before she made any drastic moves, she needed to know more. Which meant speaking with the most knowledgeable person she knew.

"My lord," she asked Saerlund after breakfast the next morning, "why is Maven Black-Briar so feared? Aside for practically owning the Rift, what makes everyone so terrified of her?"

"Her connections," he replied simply. "She has allies among the Thieves Guild and within the Dark Brotherhood."

And the Dark Brotherhood knows all about vampires, Katarinya winced. I should have learned this months ago. And I would have if I hadn't been so...distracted.

"Is that why you broke things off with Ingun?" she asked, not that she cared at this point. She just needed keep up the appearance of making innocent conversation. "If you had wed her long ago, your mother might have declared for the Empire sooner and avoided all this."

Saerlund looked uneasy, shifting from one foot to the other. "Ingun...is an unusual person," he began awkwardly, his face soured. "She's obsessed with alchemy, for one, and has a tendency to experiment on animals."

Katarinya frowned. "What, like healing potions and such?"

"Ingun has no interest in healing anyone," Saerlund said, locking eyes with her and holding her gaze to further press his meaning.

"Oh," Katarinya blinked. "How...morbid."

"The whole family's like that. Sibbi spent time in prison for murder, Maven has ordered the deaths of many a rival...and Ingun is just a serial killer-in-waiting. You know," he added with a sudden harsh laugh, "she once suspected you of vampirism."

So it was her, Katarinya stared. She suspected me, then told her mother...who believed her, of course, because I am in fact a vampire and once anyone makes that connection, all the others fall into place.

Saerlund was still laughing. "Ridiculous, isn't it?"

"Ridiculous," she tittered weakly. "Of course."

I have to get out town tonight. And she'd have to lay low for a long time afterwards. Thankfully, there's a war going on.

That should keep them distracted.


Laila Law-Giver was surprised when a servant announced Maven Black-Briar was there to see her. She couldn't recall the last time she received Maven in her chambers, and though Katarinya's presence had emboldened her in recent weeks, she knew better than to refuse.


Maven swept into the room like dark storm, her grin razor sharp.

"To what do I owe this surprise?" Laila asked, refilling her own goblet and taking a seat by her fire. She knew better than to ever call a visit from Maven a "pleasure".

"I felt we should talk, after last night revelries," Maven shrugged, coming to join her without being asked.

Laila raised an eyebrow. "You mean after implying Katarinya was a shallow, gold-digging whore who ought to cease mourning her dead husband before his body is even cold? You should be talking to her, not me."
"Katarinya is such an interesting woman, isn't she?" Maven continued, grinning even more widely. "So old, yet so young. And so very, obviously wealthy. She snaps her fingers, and your son gets new clothes, you get new furs, your keep is suddenly filled with meat and mead...yet she can't seem to afford to change her own clothes."

Laila rolled her eyes. "She's a widow, Maven. We've been over this."

"Which explains the dress," Maven nodded, "but I couldn't help but wonder why she always wears that same ring every day: silver, inlaid with amethyst."

The Jarl sighed. "It was the last gift from her husband, Maven. I know the concept of loving one's husband is foreign to you, but--"

 "You never really were a bright one, Laila."

"What are you complaining about now...dark and dour Maven?" Laila fired back. It was like a dam burst inside her, finally unleashing the flood. "If it's not about getting the husband you want, then it's about not getting the friends you want. The house you want. The land you want." She cocked her head to the side. "Or the throne you want. Maven the Bitter, always second best and never satisfied."

The Jarl was stunned by her own outburst, and the eerie silence which followed. She set her goblet down, gathering herself as she tried to figure out how to talk her way out of this.

Maven kept her smile in place, even as her eyes flashed fire. "Simple Laila," she drawled, dangerous and taunting, "pretty as a milkmaid and painfully just a dull." Her tone took a darker turn. "Spoiled, simpering Laila. Can't handle politics; backed the wrong side and doomed her whole family. Can't handle finances; so desperate for coin she latched onto the first stranger with a purse, and never even noticed the bitch was a vampire!"

She could practically see the moment the air left the Jarl's lungs and Maven savored it; she relished the sight of blood draining from Laila's face, and it delighted her to see her longtime rival struggle with this revelation.

"Stupid Laila," she mercilessly hissed. "You blissfully smiled for weeks while that thing sat across the table from you and ate raw meat. You paid no mind when she shrank from the sun for days, all because she bought you fine furs and a few herds!" She slammed her goblet down, causing the Jarl to slightly jump.

"I want you to abdicate, immediately," the noblewoman finally snapped. As she rose to her feet, her voice shook with years of pain and pent-up rage. "You are as unfit for the throne as the day you assumed it. I want you to pack up your useless children and get out of Riften. I want you to leave now! Otherwise my daughter and I will tell all of Skyrim how the wise and honorable Laila Law-Giver welcomed a vampire into her court!"

Maven whirled in a fury and left the royal chamber, leaving Laila to crumble under the weight of her choices.


"You summoned me, my Jarl?"

Laila looked up to see Katarinya enter her chambers and curtsey. It was like seeing the woman for the first time, and finally realizing that she was, in fact, not a woman at all. Despite that smooth, unlined brown skin, there was no youth in this person. And her smile, her blindingly beautiful smile...how had Laila never noticed that it didn't reach Katarinya's eyes?

"Was that Maven I just saw leaving?"

"Please sit," the Jarl murmured softly, too tired at this point to fear for her life. She paused before speaking next. It seemed hard to even find the air to utter the words. "She knows." She looked Katarinya in the eyes. "About you."

Realization dawned in the vampire's gray gaze and for another fleeting moment, Laila wondered if that was her real eye color or just a spell to deceive her.

Katarinya's voice was dangerously calm. "Does she now?"

"I'm guessing Ingun figured it out," Laila nodded, looking to the fire. "That girl was always too smart for her own good. And I, on some level, knew there was something...different about you. Just like I knew you were sleeping with both of my sons." She looked up. "Why are you here?"

There was a long pause before the vampire finally spoke.

"The sun doesn't favor Riften," Katarinya smiled wearily with a slight shrug. "I thought I could stay here for years, but the war complicated things. Riften was never my first choice, of course, but I have to keep moving. If I stay too long in one place, people start to ask questions. I prefer the big cities, naturally, but coin attracts attention and makes me rather memorable to powerful people. So I change my name and I move on."

"I have failed my family, my hold, and my fellow Stormcloaks," Laila confessed finally. "I deserve my exile, I see that now." She was starting to choke on her tears as her eyes watered.

Katarinya remained unmoved. "Do you think me a Daedra?" she asked softly. "You think you can make a deal with me to solve all your problems? You made a deal with Maven Black-Briar once. And then another with Ulfric Stormcloak." She tilted her head to the side. "You don't make good deals, Laila. I suspect you never have. And now here we are."

Laila looked at her urgently. "You can save my children," she rasped.

"You know why you don't make good deals?" Katarinya titled her head to the side. "Because you look for the shortcut, for the easy way out. You relied on Maven because it was the fastest way to get money. You allied with the Stormcloaks because their cause was popular, not because it was right."

"What do you want?" the Jarl asked desperately, helplessly.

Katarinya's voice remained soft, but her words cut like steel. "You don't have anything I want, Laila." After weeks of bows and curtsies and "my Jarl", it was bizarre hearing the vampire so casually call her by her first name.

Resigned, Laila sat back in her chair, resuming her drinking. Her voice was leaden when she spoke. "Where are you from?"

"Hammerfell," Katarinya nodded.

"Where in Hammerfell?"

"I can't remember," the vampire shrugged.

The Jarl glanced at her, visibly shocked. "That long ago?"

Katarinya nodded with a wry smile. "That long. I do remember we were headed to someplace in Skyrim, probably the Reach."


"I think I was with my family," Katarinya frowned slightly, struggling to remember. "There were others buried with me, but I can't remember them."

"I'm so sorry," Laila blinked, dazed. "What's your real name?"

"I can't remember," Katarinya slowly shook her head. "I think it might have been Amani or Aminah. That's what I remember telling someone my name was back then. Or maybe, as a mortal, I simply wished that was my name; I'm not sure."

There was another long pause between them as Laila drank in silence. "There's no way out for me, is there?'

"No," Katarinya shook her head. "I've run the scenario from all angles. Simply put, you're a traitor. Your sons are sons of a traitor. If you're not exiled, you will be executed."

"How do I ensure we are exiled?"

The vampire was amused. "Why are you asking me?"

"Katarinya," Laila rubbed her temples, "I suspect you are centuries old. Judging by your accent and your manners, I can tell you've been around the nobility for a very long time. You've seen rulers come and ago, and no doubt survived many wars. You understand politics. You know things."

"I supposed I could expedite a message to the Emperor for you," Katarinya offered. "You have many Imperial sympathizers in this city. I recommend you state your surrender and willingness to abdicate your throne in exchange for safe passage to Windhelm. If the Emperor orders you to remain unharmed, not even Maven would dare disobey him."

Laila's voice was hollow. "And while I wait?"

"I can ensure you are comfortable, now and when you are in Windhelm."

Tears streamed down the Jarl's face. "Why do you do this for me?"

"I don't," Katarinya replied honestly. "You raised a remarkable son, Laila, a smart young man who once gave you wise counsel you ignored, because it wasn't the easy way out."

"You do this for Saerlund?" Laila's eyes were wide, possibly with hope. "You love him?"

The honesty continued. "I've never loved anyone. I just don't think he should suffer because his own mother fucked things up."


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