I forgot to grab an outside shot while she still had this hair!!!
Previously: Riften

Despite having been born and raised at the court of Mistveil Keep, Saerlund could not abide the food.

Tonight, the kitchens served roasted goat legs with a stew of boiled cabbage, carrots, and potatoes. The goat was undercooked, and he couldn't taste a single spice in the stew, not even salt.

He pushed his pewter plate away from him. "Take it back," he sighed to no servant particular. One of the younger maids obliged him.

"Shall I bring something else, my lord?" she asked.

"Why bother?" he grumbled, reaching for his goblet of mead. It seemed to be the only palatable thing these days.

"You've got to keep up your strength," his mother reminded him. Jarl Laila Law-Giver held out her goblet for a refill.

"What strength?" his older brother Harrald scoffed, tearing into his goat leg. "Boy's already as thin as orphan."

Saerlund's eyes narrowed. "I'm not a boy."

"When was the last time you picked up a sword and sparred in the courtyard?" Harrald snickered. "Is that why you starve yourself? So you don't have to be a warrior?"

The two brothers were as different as night and day. Harrald was taller, more muscular, with pale skin and long, light red hair. Even now at dinner with his family, he wore his armor of studs and fur.

Saerlund, the shorter brother with the short dark red hair and ruddier complexion, favored Imperial fashions, donning silks instead of armor. The only thing he had in common with his brother (aside for blood) was that they both spoke with Imperial accents like their mother, courtesy of an Imperial education. It was ironic, given that House Law-Giver officially supported the rebellion against the Empire.

"Is there venison?" Laila asked the maid. Harrald resembled her the most, same shade of hair, same complexion, same regal bearing of a warrior. But like Saerlund, she dressed in the Imperial fashions, favoring long, lace gowns.

Saerlund shuddered. "I hate venison. The kitchens practically serve it raw."

Harrald grinned at his brother. "Aye, brother...raw and bloody, just as it should be."

"Is there pheasant?" Saerlund asked in vain. The kitchens could, on occasion, produce a decent pheasant breast.

"Not tonight, my lord," the maid replied. "The Keep is out of pheasant."

"First thing in the morning, send to the market for pheasants," Laila ordered. "And remember to keep the kitchens stocked from hereon out. For now, bring your lord some bread and cheese. We never seem to run out of those."

Saerlund was actually growing sick of bread and cheese, but he kept his mouth shut.

"Anuriel tells me she saw a new face at the temple this morning," Laila remarked, leaning back into her chair. "A Redguard woman, donating charity. Anuriel says she sounded like a High Elf."

Harrald's eyes suddenly lit up, leg of goat frozen in midair en route to his mouth. "Indeed, I saw her too. She was at the Madesi's stall yesterday; I overheard them talking while I was at the blacksmith's. She was buying a gold necklace set with a ruby."

Laila's eyebrow went up. Not even the Black-Briars had money like that these days.

"I haven't seen her," Saerlund piped up, refusing to be left out. "But Ingun mentioned her to me the other day. She was at the apothecary procuring a tonic or some such. Ingun overheard her saying something about making an investment."

"I must send Anuriel to investigate further," Laila murmured.

"We should invite her to court," Harrald suggested. "She is...quite a beauty," he added with a wink.

Laila didn't like the idea of her heir marrying a Redguard, but if this woman had the kind of money she suspected, it was best to keep her close and under tight surveillance. The last thing Laila needed was yet another Maven Black-Briar running about her city.


Mistveil was a stone castle, with surprisingly high walls and a fine main hall. Like most keeps of Nordic design, there was a fire pit in the center, surrounded by long tables for dining. There were guards everywhere and servants scurrying about the room, stoking the hearth, setting down pewter plates and pitchers.

The throne stood on a stone dais a few steps up from the dining area, and behind the throne was a door to the residential area. On either side of the large door stood a a guard and a long, engraved wooden bench. And on the benches, the sons of the Jarl sat coldly apart.

The first guests to arrive to dinner were Maven Black-Briar and her daughter Ingun. Ingun was a spitting image of her mother; both women had long dark hair, olive complexions, and Imperial accents. Laila was often amused by Maven's presence; she'd known the Black-Briars her whole life. In her youth, Laila had been lauded a great beauty while Maven...not such much.

Despite all the wealth and influence Maven acquired over the years, it delighted Laila to know her rival's mediocre visage had passed on to her daughter.

"My lady," Maven bowed her head slightly. Beside her, Ingun offered a slight curtsey.

Laila raised an eyebrow. I see the girl lacks grace as well.

"Always good to see you, Maven," Laila smiled. "How are things at the meadery?"

"Business was slow until we acquired a new investor," Maven honestly replied. "A Redguard woman. She was kind enough to even purchase a case of our finest vintage."

"You're referring to Katarinya," Anuriel interjected. "She will also be joining us for dinner this evening."

"Excellent," Maven nodded. "I look forward to getting to know her better." She led her daughter away to sit near the fire pit, summoning a servant over to bring them some mead.

"The Redguard is smart," Laila murmured.

"So it would seem," Anuriel replied, also keeping her voice low. "Investing in the meadery will curry enough goodwill to keep the Black-Briars off her back."

"How many businesses has she invested in now?" the Jarl asked.

"At least five, my lady."

"How much?"

"A thousand septims each," the Elf nodded.

Laila shook her head, amazed. "It's like this woman just shits gold," she rasped.

Anuriel raised an eyebrow, unaccustomed to such language from the Jarl. "Much needed during these turbulent times, my Jarl."

The double doors opened again, and in stepped a tall Redguard woman. Her brown skin glowed brightly in the firelight. She was dressed in the finest velvets, her long black braids tumbling down her shoulders in a high ponytail.

She strode straight to the stone steps of the dais and performed a low curtsey of flawless grace and form.

"My Jarl, I am most honored to stand in your presence," she greeted. Her voice was low and swwet. Laila assumed by her bearing and poise that she must be highborn.

"Good evening, Miss Katarinya," Laila smiled at her. "It's a pleasure to finally meet you. You've grown quite famous in our city over the past few days."

"Thank you, my lady."

"From whence do you hail, young lady?" the Jarl pointedly asked.

"I'm just in from Raven Rock, my Jarl," Katarinya humbly replied.

Laila's eyes widened slightly. "Raven Rock? What were you doing all the way out in the desert?"

"My late husband, Seran Velethi, owned an ebony mine there," the newcomer told. "When he died, I left."

"Can't say I blame you for fleeing," the Jarl shrugged slightly. "I've never been to Raven Rock, and we don't get many travelers from there. That said, what little we do know makes life there sound utterly tiresome."

Katarinya offered a shy smile. "It was, Your Grace."

"My Jarl," Anuriel gently interrupted, "dinner is being served."

"Right then," Laila nodded. "Let's eat."


One of the surprising perks of being the second-born son was that Saerlund didn't have to sit at the central table with his mother and older brother. Instead, he got to sit next to Katarinya.

She was a remarkable beauty, unlike any he'd seen before. Most of the Redguards who came through Riften were merchants or mercenaries. But Katarinya was clearly not born to hard labor; her hands appeared soft and dainty as she cut her venison into small bites.

"You must forgive our kitchens, my lady," Saerlund said with a rueful smile. "They never cook the venison all the way. It tends to stay a bit bloody." He turned to the servant. "Pheasant for me, Hilda."

"I don't mind a little blood, my lord," she cheerfully assured him.

"See, brother?" Harrald called from his table, goblet of mead in hand. "Even the lady favors a bloody cut of venison. Saerlund here prefers to dine like some pampered dandy from Solitude."

His barb drew chuckles from everyone but Katarinya and Saerlund.

"Have you ever been to Solitude, Katarinya?" Maven suddenly asked.

"I was at the Bard's College many years ago," Katarinya nodded. "I was studying to be a vocalist. I met my husband at the Burning of King Olaf."

"Where he no doubt convinced a young naive girl to travel all the way to Raven Rock," Maven mused.

"Indeed," Katarinya beamed at her. "If I had known then what I know now, I never would have accepted."

"Where else have you traveled?" Saerlund asked, intrigued. It was one thing to hear stories of other places from merchants and bards; it was another to hear them from a girl from a proper family.

"The Reach," Katarinya replied. "When I left my home in Hammerfell to study in Solitude, I passed through the Reach."

Saerlund's eyes lit up. "Did you visit Markarth?"

"I did," she nodded. "It was wondrous. The waterfalls, the stone buildings, the Temple of Dibella--I almost chose to stay there instead."

"Are you bound for the East then?" Harrald asked. There was note of concern in his voice. Saerlund also awaited her answer with baited breath.

"Actually, I heard you had property for sale in Riften," she told them. Both brothers seemed to relax a bit. "I believe the house is called Honeyside, a rather reasonably priced location, as I recall. After living at the Bee and Barb, I think it would be grand to have a home overlooking the waters."

"Honeyside is unfit for a proper lady," Saerlund shook his head.

"As is the Bee and Barb," Harrald nodded. He turned his head slightly to the Jarl. "Mother, I think Miss Katarinya would be safer at the Keep until she can arrange for suitable lodgings."

"My home is also available," Maven Black-Briar hurriedly offered. She flashed Katarinya a quick smile. "Usually guests of royal or noble blood stay at the Keep."

"Or guests of our own choosing," Laila reminded her tersely, eyebrow raised. "Anuriel, send for Miss Katarinya's things, settle her tab at the inn, and arrange for quarters here at the Keep."

The smirking Bosmer rose at once to obey. "Yes, my Jarl."

Next: Tending the Web


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