The Baroness Illinalta

Sunlight streamed through the windows of the carriage as the caravan rolled southward from Riverwood to Falkreath. The whole land was bathed in light, the mountains, the plain, the rushing White River. Eyvindr gave his fur-lined cloak a hitch, suddenly remembering that no matter far south one went or how brightly the sun shone, there was always a chill in Skyrim.

Bjorg, his aging, balding steward, noticed and smiled in amusement as he sat opposite the young lord.

"You never liked Falkreath," the older man wryly remarked, his Nordic accent thick.

"I'm more of a Solitude man," Eyvindr admitted, his own accent Imperial. "Though on occasion, I'm willing to settle for Whiterun. Falkreath is too small for me, surrounded by far too much wilderness."

"And yet," Bjorg remembered, "it is the capital of the hold. And if one wants to do business, they do have to go through its Jarl."

Eyvindr relaxed into the carriage cushions. "Well, at least it's not the old man. He hated my father." Dengeir was an ancient, irritable cretin who constantly tried to gouge Eyvindr's father on taxes. The former Jarl resented their family's wealth and spent years trying to legally seize their mines.

" And now, both old men are gone; one in the ground and in the other rotting away in his small doubt bitter over the failed rebellion," Bjorg chuckled humorlessly.

"It's the young men's turn now," Eyvindr shrugged. "I'm looking forward to meeting Siddgeir. Though...the young Jarl is said to have an affinity for all things Imperial."

"He was educated in Solitude and has a taste for the finer things," Bjorg nodded. "Perhaps he will appreciate another refined young man at court."

They arrived just before noon. The caravan disbanded at the city gates; the Imperial soldiers escorting it left to report to their Legate in Falkreath while their passengers milled into the city. Some scurried into the waiting arms of their friends and relatives; others headed straight to Dead Man's Drink. But Bjorg and Eyvindr were bound for the Jarl's hall, and when they arrived, Eyvindr was visibly surprised.

He kept looking about himself, taking in the giant wooden pillars, marveling at the beauty of their carved bases. He savored the warmth of the fire pit, eyes widening at the sight of Siddgeir upon his throne, flanked by a High Elf in blue lace, and a Nordic warrior 

The black-haired Jarl was amused by how Eyvindr openly appreciated his surroundings. "Did you think we lived in a hovel?" Siddgeir mused, lounging back against his throne. "People often assume that."

Eyvindr blinked rapidly, struggling to remember if it had always looked like this but then recalled he hadn't spent much of his childhood here.

"I don't know, Your Grace. I can't recall," he admitted honestly. "Once I could read, write, and pick up a weapon, Father packed me off to be fostered at Mistveil Keep in Riften. Thought the Law-Givers would be a good influence on me."

Siddgeir cackled. "And look how that turned out! Welcome, Eyvindr, son of Erlingr. These are my steward Nenya and my housecarl Helvard."

Eyvindr bowed his head slightly. "My lord, this is my steward Bjorg."

Bjorg bowed low. "Your Grace." 

"I hope you're hungry," Siddgeir invited. "We were just about to sit down to midday meal."

Eyvindr tried to remain neutral. "And what, pray tell, is on the menu?"


They sat down in the Jarl's small dining hall as young servants hurried about, filling their cups with mead and stoking the hearth. They were joined by Skulnar, a hulking Nord Legate in heavy Imperial armor, and a blond Imperial man in mage robes. Eyvindr could tell right away they were both just there for the food.

The table was long, wooden, ornately carved and covered in a fine line cloth, embroidered with gold thread. The goblets, dishes, cutlery, and candlesticks were all polished silver.

"Gifts from the lord of Karthwasten," Siddgeir said, when he caught Eyvindr admiring them.

"Aye, Ainethach," Eyvindr nodded. "He hosted us just last week."

"And how is good Ainethach?"

"Well," Eyvindr replied. "With the war over, and the Silver-Bloods finally leaving him alone, business is booming in Karthwasten."

The first course was a light vegetable broth with bread. The second was pheasant breast braised in butter with lemons and leeks, served alongside carrots and potatoes.

"How are you liking it so far?" Nenya asked. Unlike most High Elves, she spoke with an Imperial accent. She smelled of juniper and jasmine and ate her food rather daintily.

"It's well done," Eyvindr nodded. "It's nice not to eat yet another pie of meat or fish." The whole table chuckled. "This is Black-Briar mead," he suddenly stated, glancing at his goblet before setting it back down. "One never forgets that taste." He looked up suddenly. "Your Grace is betrothed to...Ingrid Black-Briar, are you not?"

"Not anymore," the Jarl hastily shook his head. "Before the war, it seemed like a good idea, but now that her mother is Jarl of Riften, she's thankfully set her sights elsewhere. So you were fostered in Riften before the Black-Briars took it over?"

"Aye, my lord. I hunted and fished with Harrald, studied language and lore with Saerlund."

"An idyllic childhood indeed," Siddgeir sighed. "My parents died when I was young, but not before they sent me to Solitude, back when the old man was still king. He taught me to string a bow and ride a horse. And later, I was educated alongside Torygg at the Bard's College."

Eyvindr's eyes widened. He'd had no idea. "My lord."

"Those were admittedly fine times," Siddgeir sighed. "I would happily wed the High Queen to return to them, but sadly the Emperor has other plans for my own court has for me. Speaking of marriage, I understand you want to become ennobled."

"I would," Eyvindr nodded, blinking, slightly caught off guard as he didn't see the connection between marriage and his ambitions.

"Nobility is awarded to citizens who've served the realm with distinction," Siddgeir told him.

"When our mines were still running and Skyrim wasn't at war, my family paid more in taxes than anyone else in the hold," Eyvindr replied. "Our funds built the walls which protect this city."

"Your taxes helped," the Jarl countered, "as did everyone else's. My uncle's biggest complaint about your father is that Erlingr often spoke as though he were the only one paying taxes in Falkreath. He was not. He was simply one of the lucky who few could afford to pay in gold.

"Others are not usually so lucky. They pay with what they can--a chicken, a goat, a sack of flour or a wolf's pelt. And every one of those taxes matters just as much, if not more, than gold."

Eyvindr paused, as though pondering the Jarl's world. "Does Your Grace have some service in mind?" He had to, otherwise he wouldn't be bringing it up.

"War's over," Siddgeir said grimly, taking a second pheasant breast and cutting into perfect bites. "These days, people gain advancement through advantageous marriages."

Eyvindr felt his blood run cold. Oh the gods, no....

"You're too young for Rayya, but you're about the same age as Lady Zahra, the Baroness Illinalta."

Eyvindr's growing dread paused in the face of confusion. "Zahra? But that's a--"

"--Redguard name," the Jarl helpfully finished for him. "You have a problem with Redguards?"

"No...but a baron, sire? Do they really still award that title?"

"Yes," the Jarl stated, in a tone bordering on clipped. "They do."

"And how did this...Baroness Illinalta serve the realm?"

"She was my court mage," came the simple reply. "During the war, she cured the sick, healed the wounded...and comforted many a dying a soldier," Siddgeir added solemnly. "After the war, she decided to remain with Rayya at her manor by the lake. She's currently accompanying Rayya on a trade mission to Markarth, but when she returns, I will introduce you."


"Marriage. Fucking marriage."

"You wanted to be a lord," Bjorg reminded him, shrugging as he watched Eyvindr pace the large chamber Nenya had assigned them. It was decorated in the traditional Nord fashion, with furs and wools, and goat horn sconces. The older Nord sat by the fire, enjoying the warmth with a horn full of mead. "Sometimes, that's how these things are arranged."

"I wanted to become a lord to expand my business ventures, not be shackled to a stranger," the younger man scowled.

"You wanted to be a lord," his steward reiterated. "It comes at a price. This is a small one. In the old days, you would've had to cut a bloody swath through your Jarl's enemies just to get his attention. Besides, you heard him. She's young, and sounds quite accomplished."

"She'd have to be, I guess," Eyvindr mumbled, distracted.

"You just have to marry her for the title," Bjorg gently assured. "You can always take a mistress afterward."

Eyvindr was visibly disgusted. "That is not the lord I want to be. My mother's body was barely cold in the ground when my father moved in his first mistress. He spent the rest of my youth just cycling through women, younger and younger even as he got older. It was revolting."

"Do whatever you need to be happy in this marriage," Bjorg advised. "Because you're not getting around this young lady. At a young age, Siddgeir was forced to become the leader of a hold during a war, while we were luxuriating in High Rock. He's never going to forget that. He's never going to forgive that. Now, I don't know what so special about this particular noblewoman, but I can already tell he wants you to marry her for some reason other than her title."


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