Ripples in the Pond

Previously: Satiation

Saerlund turned about, looking for Katarinya. He felt like it had been ages since they'd spoken and was eager to get reacquainted now that she was no longer on bed rest. But as he moved through the milling guests and tried to shut out the bard, all he found was Ingun Black-Briar, looking smug.

"Where is the Widow Velethi?" she asked, to his surprise. "I understand it was her idea to invite me, and yet she's nowhere to be found."

"I was looking for her as well," Saerlund replied. He turned around once more, scanning the great hall.

"She's a curious one, isn't she?" Ingun continued, almost whimsically. "Likes to eat raw meat and conveniently falls ill on sunny days."

Saerlund's patience was running out. "She wasn't ill, Ingun. It was her monthly courses."

"Does your mother stay in bed all day, every day, for several days from her monthly discomfort?" Ingun blinked. "Do your maids? When we were together, did it stop me going on a hunt or for a ride along the river?"

Saerlund's brow furrowed. "Katarinya has a delicate constitution."

"After living in the desert for several years? And here I always thought Harrald was the stupid brother," came the clipped rebuttal. "Something tells me she is anything but delicate, Saerlund."

"Just what are you getting at?" he finally snapped.

Ingun gripped his arm and dragged him out of the hall, into the moonlit courtyard. "You Law-Givers really aren't that bright, are you?" she rasped. "Katarinya is a vampire, Saerlund. She showed up in Riften out of nowhere, bought some gifts, flashed her pretty little smile, and you idiots invited her into your home!"

Saerlund stared at her for a moment, completely speechless. When he finally regained his wits, he burst into laughter.

"A vampire?" he chortled. "Ingun, our steward is a Bosmer. Our court wizard is also a Bosmer. If she were a vampire, those Elves would have smelled her from miles away. And though she's not the most organized mage, Wylandriah is still a mage. And I think a mage--of all people--would know if a vampire was in our midst."

Ingun faltered, mind whirling as fleetingly wondered if she made a mistake. How could two Elves not smell a vampire?

"Katarinya is a sickling, nothing more," Saerlund snorted. "You're an alchemist, for Mara's sake. You know that some people suffer from thin blood, which they typically supplement by eating meat...the less cooked the better. She's in been in our home for weeks, Ingun. No guards or servants missing, the maids are all healthy, and she's never attacked my family. How is she surviving, if she's a vampire?"

Ingun felt the blood drain from her face as her mind spiraled.  She began to panic as she started to think she'd made a grave error. "Saerlund--"

"I don't love you, Ingun," he finally said, his tone flat and dead. It had been a long time coming. "I never loved you. We will never be together. You have got to stop this."

"I only meant to--"

"She's not a vampire," he reiterated. "Katarinya just a widow, a weary, lonely, sickly widow who plans to move on from Riften as soon as it's safe to travel. Slandering her won't change things between us."


The party went on late into the night, but Saerlund retired before it ended. He tried knocking on Katarinya's door but there was no answer; he figured she was already asleep. He turned in for the night, and joined his brother for breakfast next morning in the great hall.

"What is this?" Saerlund asked, taking another sip of his goblet. The flavor was unfamiliar.

Harrald's eyes were bright. "Frost River mead. From Solitude."

Saerlund's eyes widened, taking another sip. "I can taste the mountain snows," he murmured. "To think we've spent all our lives drinking Black-Briar swill."

"Indeed!" Harrald laughed heartily. He was glowing; Saerlund couldn't recall the last time he'd seen his brother so happy.

"You say it's from Solitude?"

Harrald nodded. "Katarinya gifted it to me last night in my chamber," he said. "She always knows just what to acquire. I think she also has a book for you; something about dragon language or some such."

Saerlund paused. "This was last night?"

There was silence, then tension, as Harrald's face flushed. "Brother," he began cautiously, "don't be angry."

To his surprise, Saerlund wasn't. He was surprised of course, amused even, though he knew better than to show it. There was no way Katarinya could be genuinely interested in Harrald. She was too cultured, too refined, too traveled. It took everything to keep Saerlund from laughing in his brother's face.

"Careful, now," he joked. "Last night, Ingun was trying to convince me our dear widow is a vampire."

Both men laughed, easing the tension in the room.

"She must really want you back," Harrald snickered. But then there was a flash...just a quick and blurry flash of memory. He dimly recalled Katarinya her licking her bloodied lips.

Lovers bite each other, he immediately dismissed the thought. We were in the throes of passion, nothing more.

"It'll never happen, of course," Saerlund waved. "Whatever madness possessed me before has left me now. I'll never go near her again."


Katarinya was fully refreshed, her strength completely returned, her senses sharpened once more. She couldn't let it show, of course; she'd already established her persona as a weakling, a delicate lady who required plenty of rest and tonics. And she liked this idea of an ailing woman. She'd never thought of it before.

Usually she was the temptress, the Daedra on the shoulder encouraging a Thane to try skooma for the first time or talking a young Jarl or Jarl's son into spending way more gold than necessary. The fragile lady was something she needed to remember for later. It would have to be fine-tuned, of course, but at least it quelled a lot of questions.

"My Jarl? You asked to see me?"

Laila Law-Giver gestured for her to come closer. "Last night was quite a success. Even Maven Black-Briar didn't stumble out of here until very late hours. And Aesgir Snow-Shod, her business partner, couldn't stop talking about the wine." The older woman sighed blissfully, closing her eyes and savoring the memory.

She opened them suddenly. "It has been a great pleasure having you here, Katarinya. Your presence has given me things I'd forgotten. The joy of receiving a fine gift or hosting a celebration for no reason. You even make my boys happy."

"Her Grace is granting you a permanent household position," Anuriel announced, and she wasn't as blissful. "You are to become a court lady."

"You are free to purchase whatever property and hire whatever additional personnel you wish," Laila waved slightly.

Whoa, Katarinya blinked. Slow down. When the Empire won the war, she didn't want to be stuck in Riften under Black-Briar rule.

"I will pay rent for my room," Katarinya offered. "And I would like Hilde and Gudlaug assigned to me full-time as my personal maids. I will reimburse the Keep for the loss of their services, so that you may hire their replacements."

"As you wish," Laila waved, yawning.

Anuriel, however, appeared to be suddenly thrilled with this development. She gestured towards her study. "Come; we'll discuss terms."


That evening, she visited Saerlund's chambers discreetly, and he was trying very hard to not to be awkward.

"I heard a rumor that Miss Katarinya is now Lady Katarinya," he smiled as he welcomed her to take a seat.

"You heard right," she chuckled, brandishing a bottle and pouring them both a drink. "That damn steward of yours tried to bleed me. She demanded far more than my room and those maids are worth. But I was happy to oblige her." It was just a drop really; a paltry hundred a month for the room, and a one-time payment of five hundred septims for each maid.

Saerlund paused. "What is this?"

"Colovian brandy," Katarinya winked. "I had it brought in from Solitude."

Saerlund's jaw was on the floor. "This is Colovian brandy?"

"Divine, isn't it?" she beamed. "My husband couldn't live without it. He'd pay handsomely to have it shipped all the way to Raven Rock every single month."

But he wasn't listening, of course. He was savoring the dark, rich flavor of the brandy while slowly succumbing to the influence of the skooma. She knew when exactly when it hit because he locked eyes with her, just as his brother had done. It also helped that Colovian brandy was infamous for loosening tongues.

"My brother is beneath you, Katarinya," he said lowly, almost dangerously. "He is a brute and a barbarian, and would embarrass you at every function in Solitude."

Katarinya chuckled. "I would never take Harrald with me to Solitude. It's supposed to be you, remember?" she reached across the table to lightly stroke his hand. Unlike Harrald, Saerlund didn't need sex. His fascination with her went far beyond the physical, causing him to need something entirely different.

There was no music as she rose, pulling him to his feet into a slow, swaying dance.

"We could leave before war comes to the Rift," she cajoled, slowing her voice to a slither, rasping against his neck as he surrendered to the spell. "We could travel to Whiterun and drink Honningbrew mead at the palace of Dragonsreach. We could travel to Markarth and behold the waterfalls. And then, we will land in Solitude, where I will procure us a fine house. We will have our own bard, a covered carriage, a jasmine garden...and we will go to the Burning of Olaf and drink Frost River mead in the firelight."

She noticed his blood was much thinner than his brother's as she sank her teeth into him and drank. She would not be able to rely too much on his blood. Her suspicion was confirmed when he soon collapsed and had to be laid to rest on his bed while she poured the healing tonic straight down his throat.

It's because he won't eat properly. He doesn't like the food at the Keep.

This presented a complication. She couldn't very well feed on Harrald every night; not only was it dangerous, she couldn't abide his company nearly that much.

She was just going to resolve this the old way.

Next: Tightening Nooses


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