Yeah, I had to add a lighting mod after this. Expect a change in screenshots soon.

Apparently, Igmund wasn't the only who'd been spending. The Silver-Blood family, rich as ever, had been doing some renovations to their inn. There were plants now, sconces, and new rugs. They'd even salvaged and installed some Dwemer artifacts throughout the inn.

"My husband and I used to live here."

Zahra's voice was dull, her shoulders slumped as she stared into the inn that haunted her dreams for months, now barely recognizable. "We stayed here for what felt like an eternity."

Rayya casually raised a small coin purse and shook it. "Fifty septims says nobody here remembers you."

Zahra shot her a look.

"I'm serious," the Thane stated resolutely. "I'm betting no one here remembers you--not the owners, the staff, nor the patrons--no one."

Zahra decided to test that theory, wandering the inn in search of familiar faces. The staff greeted her courteously, but none recognized her. And she forgave that, seeing as innkeepers, they saw plenty of faces all the time.

Vorstag, the Nordic sellsword who once befriended her late husband, was still sitting by the fire after all this time, drinking his cheap mead and swapping stories with anyone who would listen. Zahra approached him but didn't speak; she just looked him over and noted how much he hadn't changed. Same damp long hair, same armor, same war paint. He eventually caught her staring out the corner of his eyes and turned his head slightly towards her.

"Need to hire blade, my lady?" he offered, eyes twinkling.

Zahra blinked. He really doesn't remember me. She should've felt relieved but instead she felt enraged. Roggvir was your friend, and you can't even recognize his widow?

"No...sir," she said finally, neutrally. "My lady's housecarl protects me, Mister...?"

"Vorstag," he cheerily introduced himself, the firelight flickering across his pale skin. "I live at this inn when I'm not on the road, so if you change your mind, you know where to find me."

"You travel often?" she asked lightly, not even sure why she was asking, except to maybe give him one last chance.

"Silver-Bloods always hire a large escort whenever they travel," he nodded. "Trust I don't need to explain to you who they are."

Zahra managed tight smile. "Of course not." You fucking piece of shit.

"Except for Lady Silver-Blood, that is," Vorstag chuckled. He was clearly a little drunk already. "Just yesterday, I offered to escort that cold fish to the shrine outside Old Hroldan, and the bitch slapped me."

Zahra's head cocked to the side. "Shrine?"

"Betrid Silver-Blood likes to visit the shrine of Dibella at least once a year," he told her.

"But we have a temple of Dibella's right here," Zahra blinked, voice calm even though her heart was racing.

"She appeals to the goddess for a child," the sellsword laughed, "and prefers to do so privately, as though all of Markarth doesn't know she's a barren old shrew."


"Didn't recognize you, did he?" Rayya wryly smirked.

"No," Zahra shook her head slowly. "I hope you don't mind if I leave dinner early. I want to head out early."

"Head out where?" Kaidan asked.

"I need to visit Karthwasten while we're in the Reach," Zahra replied. "It's been some time since I visited my old friend Ainethach."

Rayya's eyes widened. "The lord of Karthwasten?"

Zahra was getting impatient. "You remember...he helped me land the position of court mage."

"That's some esteemed company," the Thane insisted. "Is he still unmarried?"

"I'll ask when I see him."

After spending the day relaxing and refreshing them selves, they returned to Understone Keep, where a grand spread awaited them in the Jarl's private chambers. Like the rest of the palace, everything was made of stone, including the furniture. That said, the Jarl had his own waterfall. The waters rushed loudly, yet soothingly, as they all sat down to a proper Breton dinner. Zahra was sharply reminded of how she hadn't missed Breton food.

And though she repeatedly felt the Jarl's eyes upon her throughout the evening, Zahra  didn't speak. Instead, he spoke with Rayya and Kaidan about trade with Falkreath, discussed tariffs, and news from the Imperial City.

And when enough time passed, Kaidan walked her back to the Silver-Blood Inn.

"He likes you," the Akaviri warrior mused.

"Yes, yes...Jarls usually do," Zahra sighed.

Kaidan laughed. "You've changed you know. You're a proper lady now. Soon the bards will sing of your beauty through all of Western Skyrim."

"Except I'm no great beauty, and you know it," Zahra scowled. "I'm just young and healthy, and for these Nords, that's enough."

"And a noble, don't forget that," he reminded her. "You could wed a Jarl now, if you liked. I know many would choose you over some scheming Imperial shill."

"I would never wed Igmund," Zahra shuddered.

"What about Siddgeir?" Kaidan asked.

"Gods, no," she cringed, remembering his smoke-filled hall, and the endless nights of raucous laughter. "And what's all this talk of marriage?"

"I'm getting you used to the subject before Rayya--or Siddgeir--brings it up," he told her. "The end of the war brings new opportunities, Zahra. You could live a fine, comfortable life if you play your cards right."

"I supposed I wouldn't mind it," she admitted. "Just not a Jarl."

"Ainethach is a kindly man who earns a good living and runs a fine village," Kaidan suggested gently. "I'm sure Rayya would support your choice if--"

"Not him either," Zahra adamantly shook her head. "I don't want to live in a small village in the Reach, eating like a Breton for the rest of my life."

Kaidan laughed just as they reached the inn. "I don't blame you, lass."


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