Viper at the Breast

The rest of the day passed uneventfully enough; Zahra walked the city, bought some perfumes and trinkets at the shops and allowed herself to fully appreciate the beauty of the ancient city. Like so much of Skyrim after the war, the city had blossomed. She still didn't want to live there and she was still eager to leave, but this time, Markarth didn't weigh heavily upon her.

She wasn't in doomed marriage this time, living off peasant wages and wondering when the nightmare would end. Her own thoughts caught her off guard as she remembered she wasn't happy in her marriage, that she and her husband had never been madly in love.

It's not about love, a cold voice reminded her. It's about guilt.

She still felt guilty about leading Roggvir to his doom and yet, for the first time, it didn't cut as deeply as before. She felt less anguish and more acceptance now: they had wed, he had died, and there was nothing she could do to change any of it now.

He was gone, but she still had a life to live.

Eventually, she had to rejoin Rayya at Understone Keep which, if she was being honest with herself, she didn't mind. The palace was beautiful now, an unexpected blending of Dwemer, Nordic, and Imperial elegance.

It was midday, so the court was crowded with royal envoys, Thalmor Justiciars...and of course, Silver-Bloods.

Or rather one Silver-Blood, the very bane of Zahra's existence. Thongvor looked a little older, a little grayer since last she'd seen him, and despite his beloved Stormcloaks losing the war, he still had that defiant air about him.

He was standing in the hallway that led towards the throne room, away from all the others. It's not like he was welcome; as she recalled, Thongvor was never welcomed at Understone Keep; he was nuisance. But today, he was a silent nuisance, slumped against the wall, eyes wet with grief.

Seeing him so surprised, so much that Zahra stopped walking and stared for a moment, as though to make sure her eyes did not deceive her. They did not; he'd clearly been crying.

Zahra paused to marvel: the great and powerful Thongvor Silver-Blood was actually crying.

He caught her staring, and grumbled, "My kinswoman is dead. Nothing will ever be the same."

"Condolences, my lord," she said, and turned back towards the throne room.

"I thank you, my lady...?" he trailed, searching her face.

"Forgive me, my lord," she stated primly. "My mistress awaits me."

She hurried away from him, determined to keep her distance. She didn't trust him with her name, not now, not yet, not when he was mourning. He didn't need her name to awaken any memories and create any inconvenient associations.


"What the fuck did you do?" Rayya rasped, pulling Zahra aside.

Zahra blinked. "Do?"

"All of Markarth is whispering about the murder of Betrid Silver-Blood," Kaidan said grimly.

"Well, don't look at me," Zahra scowled reclaiming her arm. "I was in Karthwasten."

"Of course you were," Rayya snorted.

"I was in Karthwasten," Zahra pressed through gritted teeth. "Lord Ainethach will testify to that fact."

"Oh, I'm sure he will," Rayya hissed. "I can't believe you, Zahra. Of all the things I could never imagine you doing--"

"I didn't 'do' anything!" Zahra insisted. "I just spoke with Thongvor; he didn't recognize me, just as you said. Why would I jeopardize that?"

"Revenge isn't logical," Kaidan raised an eyebrow. "And we all know how much you didn't want to be here."

"Well, I got over it, okay?" Zahra retorted. "I went to visit an old friend to clear my head. Besides, how does a Silver-Blood get murdered in Markarth with no one the wiser as to who did it?"

"She wasn't in Markarth," Rayya growled. "She was just outside Old Hroldan."

"Which is in the complete opposite direction of Karthwasten, or have you people forgotten how to read a map?"

"A most convenient alibi," Kaidan chortled. "Rayya, I suggest we delay our return to Falkreath, if only by a day. We don't want to draw suspicion to ourselves."


Click to enlarge
Zahra immediately returned to her room at the inn. As much as she was eager to leave Markarth, especially now, she knew Kaidan was right. Her absence cast doubt and if anyone else found out she'd been gone, she could be branded a suspect.

There was a sealed message laid waiting for her in her room. She opened it without thinking, but its words had a most sobering effect.

My dearest lady,

I know you killed her. Don't worry, I won't tell anyone. In fact, I wanted to thank you. She most certainly will not be missed.


"Fuck the gods," Zahra hissed, promptly tossing the message into her hearth. She recognized the name; Hamal was the famed high priestess at the temple of Dibella. Zahra wasted no time, telling no one as she headed back out into the city.

The temple was another great wonder of the city; Zahra regretted not visiting it earlier under better circumstances. The priestesses were readying themselves for the evening meal when she arrived, but they didn't shoo her away.  In fact, they seemed to be expecting her.

Hamal was an older Nord woman, her hair long gone white. She was tall, and despite being a Dibellan, she wore the plainest brown robes.

"My lady," the priestess greeted neutrally. "To what do we owe--"

"Why the fuck does everyone in this city think I killed Betrid Silver-Blood?" Zahra rasped. "I'll have you know was on the other side of the hold, in Karthwasten."

Hamal cocked her head to the side, amused. "Is that so? Well, then I must be mistaken."

"Mistaken?" Zahra snapped. "You put a target on my back and call it mistake?"

"What target?" Hamal scoffed, her voice low and throaty. "Only two people in the world know the truth and they're right here in this room. I don't know what quarrel you had with her, but rest assured, you were not alone."

"I had no quarrel with Betrid," Zahra bit out. "And how do I know you didn't get rid of her? You're the one who's celebrating."

"And with good reason," Hamal nodded almost gleefully. "We Dibellans once had a proud tradition of courtesans, passed down through the centuries...until that spoiled, jealous cunt led her fellow noblewomen in crusade to get all our girls expelled from Markarth. For years, they've been cast to the furthest corners of Skyrim, scratching out a living in bunkhouses and barracks like common whores.

"I had Betrid sterilized years ago in retaliation, but this," Hamal beamed, chuckling, "this is much more gratifying. Up until now, I thought the bitch was untouchable. I don't know why it didn't occur to me to simply have her followed to Old Hroldan."

"I had nothing to do with this," Zahra hissed. "I am sorry about your girls, but none of this has anything to do with me."

"Of course not," the priestess nodded amicably. "And as for my girls, I can finally summon them home. You have my thanks, Lady Zahra, whether you want it or not. Go with the goddess."


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