Tending the Web

Previously: Mistveil

Anuriel often wondered if Wylandriah was slightly mad; the Bosmer mage was not known for her sharp memory nor her attention to details. Despite that, she had somehow graduated with honors from the College of Winterhold.

The mage's quarters were in such a disarray, the steward stopped and marveled that the woman hadn't already blown up the keep.

"Wylandriah, for the love of Zenithar, get a maid to help you sort this place out," Anuriel sighed.

Wylandriah was amused. "Miss Katarinya suggested the same thing, except she was nicer about it."

Anuriel paused, head slightly tilted to the side. "Katarinya came to see you?"

"That she did."

"What for?"

The mage threw her a chastising look. "Would you like it if I told people what you or the Jarl came to me for?"

The steward was unmoved. "Katarinya is not me nor the Jarl."

A quick chat with Wylandriah
Wylandriah shrugged, turning her attention back to her potions. "Nothing life-shattering, of course. Moon sugar and jasmine oil to scrub her skin, in case you're wondering how she gets its so smooth. Juniper berries and yellow mountain flowers for perfume, some deathbell and nightshade to help her sleep at night, crushed pearl and vampire dust for a facial mask..."

Anuriel's eyes widened. "Vampire dust?"

Wylandriah nodded. "A rare item."

"An expensive item," the steward's brow furrowed.

The mage shrugged. "She has expensive taste."


"Our new guest spends money like a drunken princess," Anuriel warned the Jarl, as they met to discuss the household accounts.

"That's because she's got money like a princess," Laila shrugged, poring over a ledger while her steward hovered over her desk. "Enough to make the Black-Briars look like paupers, in fact."

"My lady, I realize you're biding your time until you figure exactly how to put Katarinya to some use, but in the interim, I suggest we find a way to curb her spending. Otherwise, by the time you come up with a suitable idea, she won't have any coins left."

"The woman spent years in the deserts of Raven Rock, surrounded by beggars and huts. Riften is probably her first taste of civilization in a very long time. Once she's shopped and spent to her heart's desire, she'll turn her mind to more serious matters," Laila assured her steward. "Where is she now?"

"In her chambers, teaching some of the maids to embroider," Anuriel rolled her eyes. "As if that's what we really need at court right now."

"I don't know," the Jarl mused. "I see plenty of tattered banners that could use some mending; the gods know we can't afford new ones. My sons could also do with some new clothes. Harrald can't possible be comfortable wearing armor all the time and Saerlund's fancy robes are a bit faded."

Anuriel paused, as though wondering whether to broach the mammoth in the room.

"Your sons are...another issue, my Jarl," the tall blonde Bosmer began delicately. "They both seem a little focused on Katarinya. This morning, Saerlund summoned a barber and Harrald ordered a bath. And Saerlund has invited her to the Black-Briar lodge."

"What of it?" the Jarl shrugged. "Katarinya has taken to publicly wearing widow's clothes. The woman did just lose her husband."

"Yes," came the patient reply, "but your sons seem to be ignoring that."

"No, they're not," Laila snorted, turning a page. "As long as she mourns her husband, they know it is improper to pursue her."

And they both know you want them to marry Nordic girls, Anuriel raised an eyebrow. Whether they supported the Empire or the Stormcloaks, the Jarls of Skyrim were all the same in the end. They didn't mind Elves overseeing their household affairs or Orcs laboring away in their forges, but the gods forbid a non-Nord actually try to marry into their families.

Anuriel suddenly made the executive decision not to get involved. From this moment forward, she would see nothing, hear nothing, and simply pray for a huge scandal.


She'd been given a large chamber at court, which was fine, even if the bed was rather plain and not as soft as she preferred. The rugs were old and faded, and like all the other rooms in the castle, there were dead animal heads on the wall. Nevertheless, the room was wonderfully spacious, which was important when entertaining the most important type of guests.

A long time ago, Katarinya learned that the true power behind any throne or great hall lay not with its lords and ladies, but with its servants.

Servants knew everyone and everything. They were often treated like deaf-mute pieces of furniture, and thus, their loyalty was almost always for sale. Unlike their highborn counterparts, however, servants often charged a much more reasonable fee.

Take today, for example. All Katarinya had done was offer up a basket of fresh apples and some embroidery lessons, and the maids were already singing like songbirds. This is how it always was in the beginning, of course. The price of their chatter was eventually going to go up.

“I hear Lord Saerlund has invited you to the Black-Briar Lodge,” Hilde beamed. She was possibly the youngest, fair-haired with classic Nord features. “You’re in for a fine time. One of my cousins used to squire for the Black-Briars. He said they spend their mornings hunting in the woods, and in the evenings they retire around the fire for meat, mead, and music. The Black-Briars have their own bard, you know.”

“Would that we had a bard,” Fridr scowled. She was an older maid, with wrinkled skin and hair grown white. She appeared to have some experience sewing, for her stitches were tight and neat, and the whole process seem to come easily. “The Jarl’s court has been too long without music.”

“Among other things,” Gudlaug snorted. She was a little older than Hilde, and dark-haired with very pale skin. “Before the war, servants could eat a full meal and wash it down with some decent mead. Now we’re lucky if our drinking water is clean enough, or there’s any leftover bread in the morning.”

“At least there’s less work now,” Hedrun shrugged. She appeared to be around the same as Gudlaug, but with wild red hair and freckles. “The Jarl’s family doesn’t have too many clothes to wash, they can’t afford to host grand parties, and the guards tend to themselves." She turned to Katarinya to explain, "Before the war, there were more servants, and much more work. Now, we're all that's left...except for Elsa, who works in the kitchen.”

Katarinya nodded, appearing deep in thought. “The Keep couldn’t afford the wages?”

“The Keep can’t afford anything,” Fridr chortled. “The Jarl is heavily indebted to the Black-Briars.”

Gudlaug chuckled bitterly. “Everyone’s indebted to the Black-Briars. It's sort of a running theme in Riften. We haven’t gotten new clothes since the war began. Apparently, our needs aren't worth the cost of adding to the debt.”

Katarinya beamed a bright smile at them. “I can help in that department. As you know, my husband died and I will be in mourning for quite some time.” She set down her embroidery, and rose to walk over to and opened the chest that held her less extravagant clothes. “I have many dresses I no longer need. Take whatever you need.”

Might as well get rid of some old clothes. I'll get better ones later.

She thought they would hesitate, but they didn’t; even old Fridr was on her feet in flash, beating the younger women to the chest. The maids descended like a pack of vultures, happily rummaging through the collection. In moments, each had chosen what she wanted and was modeling her choices.

“Oh, my lady,” Hedrun murmured, gazing upon her green clad form and touching the finely woven fabric. “You ever need anything of us, simply ask.”

Katarinya gave a light-hearted chuckle. “Just tell Elsa to keep my meat extra bloody.” It would have to sustain her for now, until she started properly feeding again, which needed to be soon. She could feel herself growing weak. “And speaking of food, I have a case of Black-Briar mead that I’m not drinking. Please,” she gestured, "take it for yourselves.”


The mistake others often made was to try to do too much all at once. It was one thing for Katarinya to spend her money on herself. It was an extremely delicate matter to spend money on someone else.

It’s the small things that matter, she reminded herself, as she made her way to Saerlund’s room. While servants made formidable allies, it always helped to have a member of the actual noble family on her side as well.

Harrald clearly appreciated her beauty, but he most likely he desired her for her foreign attributes. Men like Harrald typically just wanted to sate their sexual curiosity and then move on. Saerlund, on the other hand, appeared to be taken with her as a whole. He also seemed to be the more refined brother; he bathed and washed his hair daily, and kept an overall neat appearance.

Marrying him was out of the question, of course; Katarinya never made that particular mistake before and wasn’t about to start now. She also wasn’t delusional enough to believe the Jarl—or any Jarl of Skyrim, for that matter—would actually allow their sons or daughters to marry some Redguard stranger.

“My lady?” he greeted, opening the door and appearing slightly surprised.

Katarinya flashed him her brightest smile. “Might I come in?” He stepped aside to welcome her in.

“To what do I owe this pleasant surprise?” he asked.

Katarinya smiled, genuinely this time. She had to admit, he really was a gentleman.

“A package arrived,” she showed him. “From the tailor's.”

He wordlessly accepted the silk-wrapped package and opened it as if in a daze. There, on his lap, lay new silks in the Imperial style.

“Katarinya,” he gasped.

“I am grateful that your family has let me stay in your fine home,” she told him. “I am happier than I have ever been. Apparently, these silks are all the rage in Solitude.”


She cocked her head to the side. “Have you ever been?”

He slowly shook his head, still in awe as he fingered the fine fabric. He could still smell the perfume they used at the tailor shop.

“My mother and brother support the Stormcloaks,” he said softly, still spellbound by his new clothes. “They would never step foot in the capital.”

“And you?” she lightly probed.

He suddenly raised his met her eyes. “The Empire will win the war,” he told her soberly. “They have the coin, they have the numbers, and they have time.”

Katarinya already knew all this, but she feigned innocence nonetheless. “What will happen to your family if the Empire wins?”

Saerlund’s eyes darkened. “Whenever a Jarl’s family backs the losing side, they often end up imprisoned or exiled. But in the case of Riften, Maven Black-Briar will be made Jarl after my mother. And she’s held a grudge against my mother since they were girls. When the Stormcloaks lose, our bodies will wind up in the river.”

“Why do you stay then?” she asked, honestly curious.

Saerlund sighed, suddenly weary. “Even though I support the Empire, I would be the son of a traitor. I’ll be stripped of my title, and what little land and wealth my family have left. Where would I go?”

Katarinya grinned. “I think the answer should be obvious,” she replied, headed tilted. “Fancy an evening stroll?"


Nothing compared to nighttime in Skyrim.

The blanket of stars in the sky, the cool, moist breeze wafting in from the water...Katarinya felt her blood pound as her gaze sharpened and focused on the city before her.

"It's not safe to go for a night stroll in Riften," a castle guard warned.

"We'll only go where the guards are," Saerlund assured him, following Katarinya as though in a trance.

It almost like she wasn't walking, but floating down the castle steps towards the town.

"Where shall we go?" he asked softly.

"To the water," she smiled, a skip in her step. "Castles can be so confining."

"Indeed," he nodded. "I try to find some reason to leave every day, even though there's not much to do in Riften. Not for lords, anyway," he quickly added. "Many of town's pastimes would be considered rather unseemly."

They exited the city and walked the docks; they were mostly empty at this hour as most people were drinking in taverns.

"It's so dark," Saerlund murmured. "I thought there'd be more guards with torches out here."

"It's no trouble," Katarinya assured, holding out left hand until a ball of white light formed, which she then launched above her head. "Let there be light."

Saerlund gasped, "You're a mage."

"Hardly," she snorted. "I learned some magical basics when I was in Raven Rock, but I never excelled. Anyways, look at that."

The dock was lit up in ghostly light, and for a moment, they watched the lazy river roll by in silence, the water gently lapping at the boats nearby.

"I would love to go for a night swim," Katarinya blissfully sighed.

Saerlund appeared to panic. "Please don't," he urged. "You'll be seen, and there will be talk." After a pause he added, "You have an impeccable reputation at court, Katarinya. We...you don't want to jeopardize that."

I could fuck you on that boat over there in plain view of the guards and no one would object, she mused to herself. That's how badly your house needs coin.

"You're right," she conceded. "Let's get back to the city."

They walked the dark streets at the center of town, keeping to guarded areas promised. Eventually, their wandering brought them to the steps of the Temple of Mara.

"I've attended many a lavish wedding here," Saerlund told her, beaming. "Sometimes the festivities filled me with envy. I always wanted to have a beautiful wedding here, to have all eyes on me and my bride, to enjoy that first day of the rest of my life with someone."

"Not for me," Katarinya shuddered. "Never again."

Saerlund seemed caught off guard. "Was your wedding not fine?"

"It was," she nodded. "We wed at the temple in Raven Rock. I had no friends or family with me, while he had all of his friends and his children. No one paid me any mind that day."

Saerlund blinked, surprised. "His children?"

"I was his second wife, my lord," she told him. "We had no children, thankfully, because his first wife had given him all the children he needed. When he died, his ebony mine went to them."

"And...while he lived?"

"He kept me in comfort," Katarinya shrugged. "As much comfort can be afforded in a place like Raven Rock, that is. And we occasionally traveled. Whenever we visited Solitude, he bought me whatever I wanted. It's like he was trying to discourage me from running away." She paused. "It was such a relief when he died."

The timing of her words couldn't be more perfect; they'd arrived at the graveyard adjacent to the temple. Saerlund said nothing of the graves surrounded them; he just kept walking in awkward silence, quickening his pace as he led her back to the castle.

The dead make him uncomfortable, Katarinya smiled to herself. He's superstitious.

"What are you plans for the future?" he suddenly asked, changing the subject. "You seem to have an affinity for Solitude."

"I do," she admitted. "The festivals, the concerts, the shops...of the cities in Skyrim, Solitude is definitely my favorite."

"I envy how traveled you are," Saerlund mumbled. "When the Empire wins the war, I will likely go into exile if I'm not killed. I won't be allowed to travel."

"You know, you could escape before that happens," she suggested, as they wandered back into the castle courtyard. It was so dark she used her candlelight spell again so they could admire the fountains. She loved the sight and sound of rushing water, bubbling and flowing from stone. Fountains were such a mark of luxury.

"You could marry into another noble family," she went on.

"I have nothing," he reminded her. "No lands. No wealth."

"Then marry into a rich family," she shrugged. "Wealthy commoners would pay a king's ransom to mix their bloodline with yours."

"Wealthy commoners are in short supply in Skyrim," a new voice interjected. They both turned to see Harrald lounging against a pillar behind them. "And besides, no wants to marry a sickly dandy who nitpicks his food."

"My lord," Katarinya cheerily greeted. "Going for a night walk as well?"

"Yes," he drawled, glancing over at his brother. "I would've liked to be invited on yours."

"It was spur of the moment," Katarinya said. "I wanted to see the river. I haven't gone swimming in so long."

Harrald's eyes widened. "You went swimming?"

"No," Saerlund hastily cut in. "She merely expressed a longing."

"I see," Harrald raised an eyebrow, and Katarinya could practically hear the wheels whirling inside his brain. "You surprise me, my lady."

She nodded. "I am full of surprises, my lord."

Next: The Lodge


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