The Lodge

A/N ~ I think I might grab screenshots of the lodge party and revisit this chapter.

Previously: Tending the Web

Jarl Laila Law-Giver twisted before her bronze mirror again, determined to see herself from every angle. She was interrupted by her steward, who was immediately horrified.

“Are those…are those new furs, Your Grace?” The Elf could barely get the words out.

Laila beamed at her own reflection. “Just arrived from Whiterun. Their reputation does them no justice.”

Her steward was alarmed. “But…but my Jarl….”

“Calm yourself, Anuriel; I didn’t pay for them,” the Jarl slightly rolled her eyes. “Couldn’t even if I wanted to. No, no…these are a gift from Katarinya.”

Anuriel relaxed a bit, torn between mild concern and growing amusement. “She ordered new furs for you? Just like that?”

“Gratitude for taking her in, of course.”

“Of course,” Anuriel nodded, trying hard not to smirk. “Finding a use for her after all, I see.”

“Indeed,” Laila replied smugly, still unable to tear herself away from her mirror. “Saerlund and my maids all have new clothes, and I didn’t have to lift a finger.”

“And Harrald?” the Wood Elf raised an eyebrow. “Did she procure anything special for him?”

The Jarl let out a bemused laugh, surprisingly sweet and musical. “She smuggled Honningbrew Mead into Riften for him. He’s in his chambers with his brother now, guzzling it down.”


“By Talos…you can taste the very earth,” Harrald gasped, leaning to grab the bottle and refill his cup. "It's no wonder Maven does everything in her power to keep it out of the city."

Saerlund seemed mesmerized by every sip. He took a few before speaking. “It’s heartier,” he murmured finally.

“This is proper Nordic mead,” Harrald raised his cup. “That Black-Briar swill tastes like honeyed lies.” He drained half his cup before continuing. “Speaking of the Briars, are you really still going to their lodge?”

Saerlund sighed. “I already promised Ingun.”

“But you’re not fucking her anymore,” Harrald blinked matter-of-factly. “You finally came to your senses on that one.”

His brother shrugged. “I’m bringing Katarinya as a buffer. She doesn’t favor hunting, so we’re skipping that part and attending in the evening. She already booked us a carriage so we can get there and back as quickly as possible.”

Harrald snickered. “Ingun’s not going to like that. She’s going to see everyone’s favorite widow as competition.”

Saerlund nodded pensively. “Katarinys really must have loved her husband. She says she’s been mourning him since before she left Raven Rock.”

Harrald nodded in agreement. “That must have been some mine he owned.”

“He was a Dunmer,” Saerlund told him. “In addition to being a shrewd businessman, he was long-lived. He amassed riches even before he bought the mine.”

There was a subtle flicker in his brother’s eyes. “Katarinya told you this?”

“Yesterday,” Saerlund nodded, pretending not to notice the shift in his brother’s demeanor. “When she brought my new clothes.”

Harrald gave his brother the onceover. “You like pretty things. You always have. You’re letting a woman buy you clothes now?” he scoffed.

Saerlund was amazed at his own calm. “It’s just a gift between friends, brother.”

Harrald was dismissive, but they both knew how he really felt. “It makes no difference,” he shrugged. “Her late husband was an old Dark Elf who no doubt busied himself with his mines and his ledgers, and you’re a dandy who dreams of a life in a great city.” He snickered. “Tomorrow, in the courtyard, with our warriors, I will remind her what a real man looks like.”


"He's bringing that Hammerfell whore."

Ingun Black-Briar furiously paced the sitting room at her family lodge while her brothers Hemming and Sibbi sat near the fire and laughed at her.

"Are you still obsessed with him?" Sibbi sneered, as his sister seethed with rage.

"Mother should have left you to rot in prison," Ingun furiously spat. It only made them laugh harder.

"Perhaps you need to leave Riften for a while," Hemming casually suggested. He was the more reasonable sibling. The brothers spoke with Nordic accents. They'd never cared for their Imperial studies growing up, not like Ingun.

"It's wartime, Hemming," she snapped. "It's not safe to travel."

"It is for us," Sibbi shrugged. "Mother can easily hire a carriage and armed guards. You could go to Whiterun, see the palace of Dragonsreach."

"Or go to Markarth," Hemming suggested, raising his cup. "Stay at the Silver-Blood Inn."

"You could go all the way to Solitude even," Sibbi nodded. "Stay at the Winking Skeever, visit the Blue Palace, and start fucking some filthy rich Thane."

"Point is, sister," Hemming said, "a girl like you could do far better than a man from a doomed family. General Tullius has already entreated the Jarl of Whiterun to join the Imperials in the war. When Balgruuf agrees--and we all know he will--the Stormcloaks will be decidedly outnumbered. Once the Empire wins, the Law-Givers will be exiled to that shit hole of a city, Windhelm, and you'll never see Saerlund again. Nor should you want to," he added.

"Mother won't let them live," Ingun shook her head.

"Oh, yes she will," Sibbi snickered. "The only thing that would please our mother more than the death of Laila Law-Giver is the knowledge that she and her spawn are rotting in the crumbling Palace of Kings for the rest of their lives."

"When they arrive tonight, distract the Redguard bitch," Ingun barked at her brothers. "Saerlund and I need to talk."

Saerlund and Katarinya arrived just after the sun went down, and the Black-Briar brothers moved to intercept, not because of their sister's request, but because they were genuinely interested in the Widow Velethi. Her fame was well-deserved as she was striking young beauty in her elegant long widow's gown.

"My lady Katarinya," Hemming greeted, appearing as though he were taken aback by her looks, "tonight we'll be serving the stag we hunted this morning. I hope you don't mind eating uncured meat."

"Not at all," she graciously assured him. "In fact, please advise your chef I prefer my meat as bloody as possible."


"When you were last at the lodge?" Ingun asked Saerlund, as a servant brought over two goblets of Black-Briar mead. After drinking Honningbrew earlier that day, he found it unbearably sweet.

The Black-Briar lodge was a two-story wooden estate outside the city. There was nothing special about the architecture or even the decor, but it was it was fully staffed with servants, guards, and a bard. Such luxury was unheard of these days in Riften.

Behind them, a bard had begun playing the flute by the fire while Maven Black-Briar and a few more guests of her guests arrived at the lodge.

"Same time last year," he shrugged. "We were celebrating the end of Last Seed."

"That's right," she chuckled lightly. "As I recall, you stayed the night."

I was ridiculously drunk and bored, he didn't tell her. And there hadn't been a war going on. Life seemed more optimistic back then.

"Perhaps tonight, history shall repeat itself."

"I promised to get Katarinya back to the Keep tonight," he shook his head slightly.

"A carriage can take her," Ingun shrugged dismissively. "It's been so long, Saerlund," she added, lightly touching his arm.

"Ingun," he began lowly, carefully, "I thought we agreed--"

"We agreed that we would wed in secret before the Rebellion fails," she reminded him, "and before my mother betrothes me to that oaf from Falkreath. Instead, you stopped speaking to me without warning. I don't understand you, Saerlund. Your entire Keep is heavily indebted to my family; your mother and brother have declared for that barbarian traitor...I can't help but think you're actually looking forward to watching your house fall. Or am I missing something?"

Saerlund's response was clipped. "You're missing the fact that your mother would never accept our marriage. Our union would jeopardize her legitimacy the moment she took the throne. My right would supersede hers, Ingun. My body would turn up in the river."

"We wouldn't have to stay in Riften after we wed," Ingun insisted. "You always wanted to see Solitude. We could take a fine house near the Blue Palace. My mother has ensured me access to my inheritance once she becomes Jarl."

Saerlund was becoming less irritated and more amused. "You think really your mother would buy us a house in Solitude? I never would have thought the daughter of Maven Black-Briar could possibly be this naïve."

"If you never thought it could work, then why you did go along with it?" she snapped.

"Because I really was that naïve once," he replied.


"You have to forgive our sister," Hemming apologized to Katarinya. He and Sibbi were clearly tipsy and trying not to snicker at Ingun and Saerlund's hushed bickering at the other end of the lodge. "She and Saerlund used to be involved."

"Call it what it was, brother; they were fucking," Sibbi shrugged, goblet in hand. He seemed a bit more inebriated than his brother. "More aptly, he was fucking her, then he tired of her, and now she won't let it go."

"Needless to say, your presence has awakened a sleeping dragon," Hemming sighed.

Jealousy, Katarinya mused, subtly looking across the room and slightly tilting her head in amusement. She could work with that. Jealousy was one of those pesky human emotions that easily led to one's own undoing. Everyone in that room knew Maven Black-Briar would never approve of Ingun and Saerlund together. Even now the Black-Briar matriarch kept shooting them disapproving looks.

"I don't know why it would," Katarinya said simply. "I'm still mourning my husband, and something tells me I'm not Laila Law-Giver's ideal daughter-in-law. It's not like I'll be staying at Mistveil Keep forever."

"All good points," Hemming nodded, "but our sister is in denial. Instead of simply accepting that Saerlund is no longer interested in her, she's decided to blame you. You can expect some...unpleasantness from her in the future."

Next: Sunny Days


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