On the Road to Riverwood

Previously: Heir to the Mines

I can't do this.

Zahra's heart pounded in her chest as she climbed the steps of the Jarl's keep, her new leather boots scraping the stone. Each step was heavier than the last, as though she was walking to her doom. She practically swayed on her feet as she entered the main hall, spying a blond man near the dais.

That's not Lucien, she blinked as she slowly drew close. Where in Oblivion is Lucien?

Probably buried in a book somewhere safe and sound, she answered her own question. Everyone was off somewhere; Rayya had gone to Hjaalmarch and taken Kaidan with her. It was like arriving in Falkreath all over again, alone without a friend in the world.

Except Ainethach. He's the reason you're here, remember?

Ah yes, Zahra scowled. I need to remember to thank him for this.

The blond man was tall, like her. His hair was down his neck, braided away from his face. He was dressed in fine Imperial silks, with a jeweled circled upon his brow and an ebony sword on his hip. His blue eyes widened only slightly when he saw her, looking her up and down.

His gaze was like a punch to the stomach as she recalled the Jarl's words: Young. Rich. Handsome.

Siddgeir flashed an amused smile from his throne as the young couple met. "Eyvindr, son of Erlingr, may I introduce Lady Zahra, the Baroness Illinalta."

Eyvindr seemed to pause before straightening up, the bowing politely. "My lady."

"My...sir," Zahra caught herself. He wasn't a lord yet. She bowed her head slightly. "It is a pleasure to meet you."



"Wonderful," the Jarl beamed. "Now that we're all fast friends, let's get down to business. Rayya is off negotiating with the painfully ancient Jarl of Hjaalmarch. Since I have to host an Imperial envoy, I need the two of you to deliver a message to the obnoxiously perfect Jarl of  Whiterun." He gestured to his steward. "Nenya?"

The tall elf handed a sealed letter. "The arrangements have all been made. A carriage will take you to Riverwood this afternoon, where you will lodge at the very fine ancestral River Estate, of Jarl Balgruuf.

"The morning after you've rested, another carriage will take into Whiterun City, where you will then attend upon the Jarl at Dragonsreach, and provided him with this letter. Consider it your first official duty as a couple."

Zahra felt as though she'd missed something. "Without...a marriage?"

"You are, as of now, betrothed," Siddgeir reminded her, taking a sip from his goblet. "A wedding is just a formality at this point."

"Eyvindr has already paid the agreed upon dowry of five thousand septims, ten percent of which was taxed by this court," Nenya added. She held out a purse. "This purse is for your your journey. The remaining funds will be sent to Lakeview Manor, to do with as you please."

Five thousand.... Zahra blinked accepting the purse in a daze. "I thank the court," she remembered to say. "I am honored to be betrothed by Your Grace."

"As am I," Eyvindr bowed to the Jarl, his deep voice calm and measured. He turned back to Zahra. "Shall we depart, my lady?"

***

Eyvindr's whole body was stiff as he escorted his betrothed to their waiting carriage. They sat opposite each other, while Bjorg accompanied their carriage on horseback. Eyvindr didn't miss the older man's wink and smirk just before the carriage door shut.

"I've never ridden in a carriage this fine."

Eyvindr was startled to hear Zahra speak. She had such a low, soft voice, and she seemed every bit discomfited as he.

"It's mine," he told her. "The cushions are covered in silk from Cyrodiil; the rug was woven there as well. I had the carriage built in High Rock just before I left." After a pause, he asked, "Have you ever been?"

"I've never left Skyrim," she confessed. She was quite a comely woman, with smooth brown skin that shone in the sun. Her dark makeup was unexpected, but it helped accentuate her amber eyes.

"Is that...a touch of Altmeri I hear?" he asked. He hadn't expected that idea.

She nodded slightly. "I had Altmeri tutors."

"Oh?" His eyebrows raised. "So you're not a graduate from Winterhold?"

Zahra shook her head. "I had a private education."

Eyvindr couldn't resist a small smile. He liked that, for some reason. "I had tutors as well," he said. "When I was fostered at Mistveil Keep in Riften."

It was her turn to look slightly surprised. "You were fostered? Like a lord?"

Eyvindr chuckled. "My father was no lord, but he was richer than most, in part because my mother's family owned a small ebony mine in Jehanna." He touched his sword. "This blade was forged by my great-grandmother, passed from parent to child ever since."

"It's exquisite," she said quietly. "You good with a sword?"

"Aye," Eyvindr smiled broadly. "And you are said to be exceptional in magic."

"My primary talent is alchemy," she replied. "But I can also wield fire and lightning."

Eyvindr eye's widened, impressed. "Gods help the fool who attacks our carriage then, eh?"

She gave a small, weak smile which he gladly took. He'd seen many a childhood friend betrothed and knew first hand that this could have been so much worse.

"So you know by now my parents are gone and I have no siblings," he continued, forcing his body to relax and his voice to sound cheery. "What about you?"

"Same," she nodded. "Though, mine died when I was small and I never knew them. I was...fostered by mages and scholars."

Eyvindr was further impressed. Zahra seemed such a serious, quiet woman, which had worried him at first, but was now growing on him. She was clearly a well-bred woman of class.

"I take you've read many books and speak multiple languages?"

"I do," she said, with that small nod again.

"Any musical instruments?"

She shook her head. "Music was never my talent, though I've had lessons."

"I'm fairly decent on the lyre," he told her. "I can play for you some time."

She proffered that weak smile again. "I would like that." She seemed to hesitate, then decide to finally ask him. "What have they told you about me?"

"Next to nothing," he admitted. "Only that you are an accomplished woman, are beautiful. I am pleased to see Siddgeir wasn't embellishing."

She seemed to warm to that, shifting awkwardly in her seat. "They told me you were handsome," she confessed. "I'm grateful as well." There was that hesitation again. "I'm a widow, sir. My last husband was not as handsome as you, but he was kind and he died young."

Eyvindr was caught off her guard. While he wasn't completely turned off, he wasn't particularly thrilled by the revelation either.

"Any children?"

"No," she shook her head.

"Was he a baron, or Thane, or..."

"He was not a lord. He was no one of note. I married--and lost--him before I came to Falkreath, before the war." Pause. "Today is the first day I haven't worn a widow's garb since he died."

Eyvindr forced himself to breathe. "Thank you for telling me." And fuck you, Siddgeir.

"I will not speak of him again," she promised. "I just...wanted you to know."

"I understand," Eyvindr nodded, even though he wasn't sure he did.

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