Heartwood Mill

Previously: Tightening Nooses

Life was good.

She had a good thing going: a high place at court, a life of comfort, and three healthy blood donors in the form of a noble family. Katarinya never fed on servants and guards.

Her days were simple; educating her maids, watching Harrald spar in the courtyard, going for walks with Saerlund, and gossiping with the Jarl over fine wine in the evenings. She even got back to reading; Mistveil Keep had a small library only Saerlund used, and it had a surprisingly decent collection of Nordic, Breton, and Imperial literature.

And at night, all Katarinya had to do was simply choose which Law-Giver she wanted to drink from before bed.

Katarinya liked the Jarl best; Laila had be eating heartily lately, putting on some much needed pounds and filling out her gowns. And she was taking long baths, perfuming her hair and skin. Her sons bathed, but not so thoroughly as she. Unlike Saerlund, she was a more well-rounded eater, sampling fish, fowl, mutton, venison, and  beef, sometimes all in the same evening. Unlike Harrald, she also ate fresh fruits and vegetables, and drank plenty of water.

But most of all, Katarinya liked the Jarl's chambers. Of course, they didn't compare to the suites she'd seen in Solitude or Markarth, but she still liked the open space, the high ceilings, the cozy hearth. She would sit by the fire after feeding, taking in the scent of the ancient wood and pondering the histories of the Jarls who came before. She wondered how long the Law-Givers had ruled the Rift and why now their family was so small.

Riften was growing on her, with its fog and mist and sunless skies. This family was growing on her, in away. She enjoyed her conversations with Saerlund; he was a bookworm and yes, a dandy, but there was nothing wrong with that. Now that he was eating better, he was walking more.

He spoke about wanting to study at the College of Winterhold some days, and the Bard's College on others. But then he'd remember he was the son of a traitor and instead turn his attentions to the past. He was full of fun facts about Tamriel's history and lore; he also had a good memory for poetry. He favored the ancient bards of Skyrim, and could recite their works with passion and wonder.

She loathed to admit Harrald was growing on her too. Now that the whole household--including Katarinya--was well fed, they had more strength and energy. He was sparring more often, even improving, growing bolder and more adventurous.

One rainy day, he went so far as to sneak Katarinya out to Heartwood Mill, far beyond the city. When they arrived, she found that the small mill sat between two bridges, upon the shores of Lake Honrich.

"You wanted to go for a swim, remember?" Harrald smirked. "Well, here no one will see you. No one will judge you. Your reputation at court will remain perfectly intact."

It was the perfect weather for swimming, at least for her. The rain pelted the lake with heavy drops while thunder and lightning crashed above their heads.

It was Harrald who began to disrobe first. "You can let down your hair here," he told her softly, slowly taking off his armor and unlacing his boots. "You're not a court lady in this moment. You're not some prim widow who has to publicly mourn."

To her surprise, his words touched her.

These were actually taken during the last "incarnation" of Katarinya.
I didn't want them to go to waste.

She was tired, tired of playing her roles. The human, the widow, the lover, the friend. She had played these and so many others over the years that they were starting wear on her. Sometimes, she wanted to do this, strip down and run through the wilds without a care in the world.

But then she remembered those awful first years of being a vampire, and how she vowed never to return.

She let down her long black hair and unlaced her widow's gown. The two stood for a moment, seeing each other in the light they way never had before, before finally entering the water. They were already wet from the rain, but the waters were deliciously cool and welcoming, unlike the cold fat droplets raining down on them.

Katarinya sighed at the crisp air of the mountains and lake. "Castles can be so confining."

"Indeed," Harrald murmured, eyes fixed on her. "Sometimes I think it would be best if I left everything and everyone behind and ran off to be a hunter in the wilds."

She raised an eyebrow. "Why don't you? You'd probably be better off."

"I can't leave my mother," he shrugged. "I couldn't live with myself."

She nodded, respecting his decision. But before she could ask anything else, he cut her off.

"Enough about my family and our impending doom," he said, swimming forward. He took her in his arms and begin kissing her, slowly at first, then more possessively. Everything about Harrald was ironically possessive when it came to woman he could never have a future with.

Perhaps that's what drives him, Katarinya mused. He knows I'll never truly be his.

She allowed it; now that her strength was back, she enjoyed the feel of a warm, wet body pressing against hers. Possessiveness turned to passion quickly, surprising even her as she kissed him and clawed at his back. Her last mark had been a wizened old Imperial financier who'd never so much as picked up a sword. She'd forgotten the feel of warrior.

They came together in the water and on the shore, their bodies crashing together like the thunder and lightning above them. The moment was surreal, almost transcendent, as though their feral love-making was a part of something greater than themselves.

Katarinya's whole body shuddered beneath Harrald as her mind went blank. She didn't return to herself for several moments, and when she finally did, the rain had stopped, and the thunder had retreated to the distance.

That was...good, she blinked, still surprised. Had she known it would be like this, she probably wouldn't have bothered with all the drugs.

I wonder what his brother's like in bed.  


"This is the most delicious thing I've ever tasted."

Katarinya beamed a broad smile at Saerlund, amused as she watched him devour a plate of braised beef and roasted potatoes. He blindly held out his goblet for a refill of Frost River mead, and Hilde patiently obliged him.

They were in the great hall, of course; she knew the Jarl wouldn't like it if she openly entertained the young lords in her chamber. 

"I provided Elsa a book of recipes," Katarinya explained. "I taught her how marinate meat in wine and honey, and how to rub it with herbs and butter. Is the flavor more to your liking?"

"Much more," Saerlund nodded avidly, cleaning his plate.

"Gudlaug will be bringing dessert shortly," she told him. "I hope you enjoy jazbay grapes, peeled and rolled in sugar. You need to eat more, Saerlund. You're thin and pale, and it's unbecoming of a Jarl's son."

"You sound just like my mother," he snorted.

"Your mother cares about you."

"And yet she disowned me," Saerlund countered, sucking the crumbs from his teeth.

"You're still here, aren't you?" Katarinya shrugged. "She could have exiled you to a distant relative somewhere." Pause. "Do you even have any distant relatives, my lord?"

"Thane Bryling is a cousin of ours," he told her. "Political differences keep her from acknowledging this, of course. There's also Calder, a distant cousin who serves as a warrior in Windhelm. He's from the common side of the family, so we don't associate much."*

"Anyone else?"

Saerlund shook his head. "We lost a lot of family in the Great War--my grandfather, my uncles...we're all that's left now."

So many Skyrim dynasties reduced to rubble, Katarinya marveled. She remembered a time when the ruling families were huge, with several heirs and dozens of cousins.

"Black-Briars won't have that problem, of course," he sighed, leaning back in his chair as they awaited dessert. "Maven's got three healthy grown heirs. When the Empire wins the war, Ingun will marry the Jarl of Falkreath. Hemming and Sibbi will likely marry Imperial ladies. Maven will...encourage them to have lots of children. Gods know that family can afford them."

Harrald entered the great hall, fresh from sparring in the courtyard. Normally, he didn't mind seeing Katarinya talking with his brother, but things were different now. Up until now, he had no memory of their couplings, only vague memories of feeling warm and euphoric.

Heartwood Mill had changed that. Now he had a clear, intense memory of what is was like to feel her, taste her, and the mere sight of her talking to his brother--of whom she was so obviously fond--made him deeply uncomfortable.

"What's taking Gudlaug so long with those grapes?" Saerlund suddenly grumbled.

"Who knows?" Harrald replied in clipped tone, coming over. He reeked of sweat. "Perhaps you should go to the kitchen and find out."

I couldn't be bothered to make them sit.
Saerlund usually ignored his brother as well, but today he was in no mood. His appetite was back, he'd been promised a delicacy he'd never had before, and he didn't know why Harrald was even speaking to him right now, much less in a foul mood.

"Hilde," Katarinya dismissed her maid, "please see what's keeping Gudlaug."

"You're feeding him now?" Harrald sneered. He turned to his brother. "Does she cut your food for you too?"

"Brother, whatever your issue is this time--"

"I want this ended," Harrald blinked. "I've been patient, I've been polite, but now I'm giving a command as the elder brother. You have no business with Katarinya." He turned to her. "Don't think you have to be kind to this back-stabbing traitor for my sake."

Katarinya often found human emotions amusing, but sometimes--such as now--they were simply a nuisance.

Humans, she scowled slightly. Always interrupting when you need them least.

"My Lady Katarinya and I merely enjoy each other's company," Saerlund replied flatly. "Perhaps if you picked up a book once in a while, she'd enjoy conversing with you too."

"Perhaps you will both recall that the Lady Katarinya answers only to the Jarl, and is perfectly capable of deciding with whom she prefers to spend her time," she bit out, growing annoyed.

Saerlung looked at her and shrugged. "I've never questioned that."

His response surprised her, but then she remembered. Saerlund's not threatened by his brother.

He never has been.

Unlike Harrald, Saerlund saw things clearly. It's why he supported the Empire in the first place and bore no resentment that Katarinya was sharing his brother's bed. He wasn't worried about Harrald because...there was nothing to worry about.


Katarinya didn't know why she found him so much more interesting all of a sudden, but she knew she needed time and space to explore this newfound interest.

She rose from the table suddenly, swiftly and went straight to the kitchen to find Elsa, not caring how the brothers resolved this tension.

Elsa was red-haired, resembling the Law-Givers just enough that she could pass for one of their bastards. In fact, it wouldn't surprise Katarinya at all if Elsa was the offspring of Laila's dead husband that she never spoke of.

"My lady," Elsa bowed her head in greeting, a smile bright upon her first. "What can I do for you?"

"You're preparing tonight's meal, I presume?" Katarinya glanced around.

Elsa nodded. "The Jarl requested horker meat tonight. I'm marinating it just like you taught me."

"I need you to prepare a goat's leg for Lord Harrald."

"Of course," Elsa beamed. "It's his favorite."

"Use the meat that's going bad," Katarinya ordered bluntly. "Nothing poisonous; we're not trying to kill him, just keep him abed for a day or two."

Not only did the request not shock her, the young kitchen wench was more than happy to oblige in exchange for a few extra coins. Everyone at Mistveil was happy to give Katarinya run of the place, as long as she kept the gold coming.

"Of course, my lady."

Next: No One

*I'm making these relation dynamics up, of course. But it always really bugged me how small some of these families are in the game.


Popular Posts