Previously: Sunny Days

Much to her dismay, the next several days in Riften remained bright and beautiful.

Annoyed, Katarinya continued to feign menstruation, but she didn't have to feign fatigue. She bribed Hilde to secretly bring her plain raw meat, and explained it away as a menstrual craving. Not that Hilde needed an explanation; she was getting five gold coins out of it.

When the clouds returned to Riften, there was a sigh in the Keep; a mood descended like a dreary fog and things began to return to normal. Katarinya finally emerged from her room, clad in her signature widow's garb.

"You look well, my lady," the Jarl remarked. "Well-rested, for sure. Did the maids take good care of you?"

"Yes, Your Grace," Katarinya replied politely. "As an apology for my extended absence, I offer this humble token from Solitude." She presented Laila with a bottle.

The Jarl's eyes lit up. "Spiced wine? In war time?"

Katarinya beamed her a bright smile as she nodded. "I have several bottles; take as many as you like. Apparently the East Trading Company has reopened its ports."

"Anuriel," Laila gasped, holding the bottle in awe and turning it. "Invite Maven Black-Briar to dine with us this evening. And send for a bard as well. I want to see her turn green with envy."

"Please invite Ingun too," Katarinya smoothly added. "I'm sure she wouldn't miss out on spiced wine for all the world."


It was sunset in Riften; the evening sky was ablaze with red, gold, and orange as she left the castle and walked out to the courtyard. She could withstand sunsets; the sun's power held little sway as it faded from the sky.

Harrald Law-Giver was about to begin practicing when he saw her, smiling and greeting the guards. Her presence caught him off guard, so much he briefly forgot who and where he was.

"My lord," she bowed her head slightly, when he stared at her agape too long. "I am here as requested."

"Of course," Harrald blinked, gathering himself. "It's good to see you up and about. It is a shame you missed the sunny days. It will be long before we see anything like it again in Riften."

Katarinya gave a small smile. "Indeed."

"Right then," Harrald nodded, remembering himself. He laid down his bow and quiver and picked up a sword instead. Pointing to a random guard, he simply said, "You."

Katarinya resisted the urge to roll her eyes as the sparring session began. Warriors were nothing to her but food, and Harrald was no great warrior. The skill was there, the practice hours were definitely put in, but she had seen many gifted fighters in her time, and he was not one of them. The guard he fought was only slightly better, but of course, allowed Harrald to win. As did the next three he challenged.

"Well done, my lord," Katarinya applauded him politely. "You're in good form."

"I am, aren't I?" he beamed proudly. Aglow with triumph he looked her over casually. "Are you well then? Fully recovered?"

"I am," she replied neutrally. "And just in time, it would seem. Your mother has invited the Black-Briars to dine tonight. There will even be a bard."

Harrald appeared slightly confused. "What's the occasion?"

"One of my shipments from Solitude was a crate of spiced wine," she chuckled. "A rather difficult item to acquire in wartime."

"And an expensive one," Harrald nodded briskly. "This sounds like the evening will be a dull affair."

"A thoroughly dull affair, my lord," she mused, one eyebrow raised. "'Tis a good thing spiced wine wasn't the only thing I had brought in from Solitude."


"Katarinya asked the Jarl to invite me?" Ingun Black-Briar blinked, not sure how to take the news from the blonde Elf steward. The young dark-haired woman turned back to her alchemy table, lost in thought and confusion.

"She thought you might enjoy spiced wine," Anuriel replied casually. "Truthfully, I think she grows bored at Mistveil. She recently spent several days inside, courtesy of her monthly discomfort. She completely missed the rare sunshine. I think she also finds the attention from the Law-Giver men a bit tiresome."

Ingun turned back around. "Does she?"

Anuriel gave a slight shrug. "I think she does."

"Tell me, Anuriel, about this Katarinya woman," Ingun asked her. "I'd like to hear an honest opinion from someone who is neither besotted with her beauty nor blinded by her gold."

"The Widow Velethi is an odd one, to be sure," the steward replied. "I don't know if it's from living in Raven Rock for so many years or grief from the loss of her husband."

"What's so odd about her?"

The Elf shrugged again. "Redguards are typically a strong, healthy people yet this one seems easily weakened. She requires a lot sleep, and takes a lot of tonics. I don't know if, perhaps, she is chronically ill.

"Redguards are also natural born warriors, yet I've never once seen her show any real interest in weapons or fighting. However, she did mention spending her earlier youth studying the bardic arts in Solitude before marrying a wealthy Dunmer. It could be she was merely bred for a life of leisure. But the oddest thing about her perhaps would probably be her eating habits. She likes her meat fresh, preferably uncured and practically raw, with blood dripping onto the plate."

Ingun abruptly stopped pacing, staring at the wall. "Does she?"

"Aye," the steward nodded wearily.

Ingun slowly turned around, summoning her brightest smile. "How delightfully strange. Well, you can count me in, steward. I would love to come to dinner at Mistveil tonight."


The Jarl ended up inviting more people, of course; she even had the kitchens kill and roast the last two pigs. Katarinya felt for the older woman; the stress of war and debt had probably left her hollow and depressed, and for the first time in a long while, she felt like a normal Jarl.

Her steward might disapprove, but clearly, the woman just wanted to have some fun.

Could be the last time she does before going into exile. 

There would be balls and bards at Windhelm, of course, but it wouldn't be the same. Exiles weren't guests of honor; they weren't encouraged to marry and certainly not to reproduce. They were given the bare minimum to survive and maintain their dignity. No fine furs or spiced wines awaited her at the Palace of Kings.

The maids, Hilde and Gudlaug, were under explicit orders: keep Saerlund and Ingun plied with wine and out of her hair and to let Harrald know she had gone to his room immediately after dinner. If anyone else asked, they hadn't seen her, and didn't know where she was.

For five gold coins each, neither questioned it.

She expected him to perhaps wait an hour or so before returning to his bedchamber, but mere minutes after she arrived, so did he.

"You wished to see me?" he asked, practically out of breath.

Katarinya resisted the urge to laugh. Last time, he'd come to her chambers and tried to claim her as though she had no choice but to bow to his will. This time, they were in his, and he looked like an eager schoolboy.

"I have a gift for you, my lord, from Solitude," she told him, grinning brilliantly.  She walked over to a nearby table picked up a bottle. "It's mead."

Harrald was confused, but curious. He never turned down an opportunity to try a new mead. She poured him a cup after they took their seats.

"It's not Honningbrew," he remarked.

"No, my lord. That's from Whiterun. This vintage, however, is from Frost River," she told him. "I was hoping you'd like it."
"I can taste the cold rivers of the North," he said, before draining his cup and pouring himself another. She watched his reaction closely, noting when the skooma began to take hold. Soon, he was calmed, lulled in as his inhibitions slowly slipped away.

"Ingun is stalking my brother tonight," Harrald suddenly told her, boldly looking her in the eye. "And my mother is showing off to her guests. We are alone...finally."

Katarinya feigned embarrassment. "My lord," she lowered her eyes.

In a flash he was pulling her into his arms.

"I saw you first," he said through gritted teeth. "Before my brother, before my mother, before even that damned Elf whose eyes see everything." He kissed her, rough and urgent, before picking her up and carrying her to his bed.

Katarinya hadn't cared about sex in a very long time; for her it was just another feeding tool. As Harrald tore off his clothes, she primly unlaced her widow's gown and joined him on the bed, letting him distract himself with drugged kisses while she finally sank her teeth into his throat.

His warm blood filled her mouth. He tasted like a typical Nord warrior, full of salt, sweat, and earth. She drank deeply of him, as she had longed to do since they'd first met. His blood was rich and savory, flowing free down her throat, and if she hadn't eaten a plate of barely roasted pig earlier that evening, she would have drained him entirely.

I really shouldn't deprive myself like this for long periods. She always vowed not to, but blending in often required it.

She licked the twin holes in his neck and laid back. She could already see the haze of skooma and blood loss taking him; he was sluggish and heavy-lidded, too weak to move. He rolled over and weakly lay by her side. Katarinya rose, naked, padding across the cold floor to prepare a second cup of mead, this time laced with a potion of mountain flowers and vampire dust. It would heal the holes in his neck and refresh his blood loss.

He would have only a foggy memory of the night, and all would be well.

Katarinya licked her bloodied lips as she dressed and stood over him.

I wonder how his brother tastes.

I really miss my "Get Undressed" mod. This looks ridiculous.


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