Heir to the Mines

When Zahra returned to Falkreath, she was summoned to court straight away. She expected this; Kaidan had made it very clear that the powers that be were bound and determined to marry her off. And she didn't mind the change in scenery; Rayya was still very angry with her and had taken a separate carriage on the way back.

Is it really anger, or fear? Zahra wondered on the journey home. She was amused; she'd noted that though once a fearless sellsword, Rayya seemed a lot more terrified of dying now that she was a noblewoman.

Zahra snorted. Isn't that what they all fear?

It was sunny the day her carriage rolled into the city, the cool, supple breeze gently wafting over her skin. Zahra was officially sporting a new look; instead of reddish brown hair, she'd gone a lighter route, with black makeup. Not the most conventional, of course, but she didn't care.

Though not as stunning and mysterious as Understone Keep, the Jarl's hall was warm, bright, and welcoming.  Court was empty when she arrived and she was grateful for that. Understone Keep had too many people, too many sounds, and it felt good to return to the quiet.

But when she came to curtsy before the Jarl's throne, Zahra noticed it was too quiet, perhaps...Lucien was not in attendance and there was a discernable chill in the air as the Jarl, his steward, and his housecarl all gazed down at her with very level eyes.

"Your Grace," she greeted, remembering to remain calm.

"My Lady Zahra, you look well," Siddgeir replied. For months after she first arrived at court, he'd tried to bed her. He flirted with her almost every day, his eyes always warm upon her body. All of that was gone now. "I have a new assignment for you. The heir of Bilegulch and Embarshard Mines has returned to Falkreath and is seeking ennoblement. Since Eyvindr has fought no battles, shed no blood for his people, nor served this realm in any other distinctive manner, he will have to gain nobility through marriage...to you."

Zahra kept her voice light. "Marriage? As an assignment, Your Grace?"

He paused to look over her. His lips curled in amusement that didn't reach his eyes. "Rayya has informed us of your...activities in Markarth."

Zahra's voice was like cold steel. "I didn't kill Betrid Silver-Blood. I was in Karthwasten when she was murdered, on the opposite side of the Reach. Lord Ainethach can vouch for me."

"Yes, he does that, doesn't he?" Nenya asked, her voice soft even as her eyes shot daggers. "Vouch for you, I mean. We needed a court mage, so he vouched for you. The wife of a common enemy suddenly dies, and he vouches for you yet again."


"We're not here to judge," Siddgeir interrupted with a wave of his hand. "The gods know the Silver-Bloods are no friends of ours. As far as we're concerned, they are traitors to this kingdom and if I were Igmund, I would've have stripped them of their titles, their lands, and their precious silver mines the very second the war was won. I'd mount Thongvor's head on a spike and toss Thonar into Cidhna Mine with all those natives he enslaved for years. But alas, I am the Jarl of Falkreath and I have to look to my own problems."

Zahra stiffened. "And this...Eyvindr is a problem?"

"When he clears those mines of bandits and squatters and whatever else is lurking below, and gets them up and running, he'll be the richest man in Falkreath, just as his father was before him," the Jarl stated bluntly. "Erlingr was a demanding, overbearing constituent with too much power and we're not interested in dealing with that nonsense all over again. I'm fine with having nobles at court, but only if they are bound to me in some way. Only if they are people I can control."

She nodded slightly, understanding. "You want me to spy on him, tell you if he betrays you?"

"Actually, we want you to kill him," Nenya blinked. "That's what you do, isn't it? Slit the throat of anyone who crosses you?"

Zahra shot her a look. "I didn't slit Betrid's throat."

"No, you're a mage," the tall elf drawled. "You likely blasted her with fire or lightning or some such."

"Either way, we admire the initiative," Siddgeir hastily cut in, before the women fell to bickering. "It's that exact sort of can-do spirit that will get you through your marriage."

"And if he does not betray you?" Zahra pointedly asked.

"Then you live happily ever after," the Jarl shrugged. "Eyvindr is young, handsome, rich. He can provide you and any children you bear a very a comfortable lifestyle."

Young. Handsome. Rich. Zahra almost flinched. She didn't know why Siddgeir's words affected her, but they did, and it was most unsettling.

"That all being said," Nenya added, "you have dutifully mourned your husband since the day you first came to court. Now you will be betrothed to another and so we can't very well have you wandering about in widow's garb."

"Before you meet," the Jarl interjected diplomatically, "it would please us if you wore something more...colorful than your usual wardrobe choices."

Zahra stared at them for a moment. "Colorful?"

"I had the tailor prepare something for you," Nenya said.

Zahra saw no need to feign cordiality around this woman anymore. "I'm sure you did."


To be fair, the dress wasn't hideous.

It was, however, a lot louder than what Zahra usually wore, so much she felt like an entirely different person wearing it. The dress was Nordic in fashion, but a bright pinkish purple that she never would've chosen had His Grace not commanded it. Nevertheless, it flattered both her form and her complexion and she supposed that if was going to meet her betrothed, it might as well be in something like this.

Because it was one thing to discuss marriage in the abstract. Now that it was becoming real, Zahra had to admit she was terrified.

I can't do this again.

In the past year, she increasingly how to admit just how much her marriage was a disaster from the start. She had resurrected an executed traitor, plied him with potions and lies for months, all the while trying to maintain a passionless marriage in a city she hated.

I'm not good at this.

She had no idea what she was going to talk about to this man, nor what kind of life they could possibly have together. She had no idea how to raise children and she feared this man, this Eyvindr would see right through her.

"You look lovely."

Zahra turned away from her bedroom mirror to see Kaidan lounging in the doorway.

"Thanks," she said flatly, turning back to her reflection. "I hate it."

"You're nervous," he noted, eyebrow subtly.

"Kaidan, I have been married exactly one time before and as much I loved my husband, and was loyal to him, our marriage was a failure," she said stiffly. "I was not a good wife, I will never be a good mother, and I can't kill this man if he betrays the Jarl!" She turned to face him. "What madness is this?"

Kaidan chuckled. "Many a wife has killed her husband for less, Zahra."

"Where is Rayya? Can she not face me?"

"Rayya is at court getting her next assignment," he said simply, eyes downcast. "I don't know where Siddgeir will send her next. Probably Whiterun or Hjaalmarch."

"I am innocent, Kaidan," Zahra rasped. "So if I don't cooperate I'll be, what, cast out? Exiled? I didn't kill Betrid Silver-Blood. I know why people would think I did, but I never cared about her."

"That may be, but what's done is done and you have a new focus," Kaidan reminded her. "Get to know your betrothed. Bond with the man. Find some happiness in this life, Zahra, otherwise your demons will be never be past."


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