It was a beautiful day in Whiterun. The winds blew fair across the plains, smelling of grass, farm, and river. Their carriage parked at the Whiterun stables and Bjorg escorted them through the great city gates and into town.

Whiterun's charm and beauty reminded Zahra of Ivarstead. She remembered the bursts of  joy and all her hopes of marrying Roggvir, that precious yet brief feeling of being a normal girl with her handsome Nord warrior.

Of course...I was not normal and he was no warrior.

As much as she feared history repeating itself, there was something different this time and she couldn't quite put her finger on it just yet.

It was a quiet, lazy day in the city as they climbed the steps to Dragonsreach. The streets were empty, the market stalls and shops were just opening up and in the distance, they could hear the ring of a blacksmith's hammer echo beneath the clear blue sky. In the distance, the mountains known as Brittleshin Hills loomed, capped in mist and snow.

Zahra sighed as the sunlight fell upon her face.

"Beautiful, isn't it?" Eyvindr murmured. "I've always had a soft spot for Whiterun. I often wondered what my life would've been like if I'd been fostered here instead of Riften."

Before Zahra could even begin to think of a response to that, Bjorg politely reminded them it would be unwise to keep the Jarl of Whiterun waiting.

The books and songs did not and could never do the great hall of Dragonsreach justice. As they climbed the stairs towards the throne room, the ceilings seemed impossibly high, and the wooden walls and pillars smelled of smoke, mead, and history.

There were two long tables in the mammoth-sized hall, and several well-dressed nobles were in attendance. The Jarl's household was quite diverse; his steward was a balding Imperial and his housecarl a stern-looking Dark Elf.

The Jarl himself was blond, clad in very fine clothes as he lounged on his throne. His steward, announced the nervous duo to him. His eyes fell upon Zahra, then Eyvindr, then flitted back to Zahra.

"So you are the young couple staying in my river estate?" he said, eyebrow slightly raised.

Zahra was more than happy to let Eyvindr do the talking. "Yes, Your Grace," he answered. "The Jarl of Falkreath sent us with a message."

The steward opened the letter from Siddgeir and skimmed it for the Jarl. "It is appears young Eyvindr here is the heir to Bilegulch and Embershard mines in Falkreath. He also recently became betrothed to the Baroness Illinalta." He glanced at Zahra. "I assume that's you."

Zahra nodded stiffly. "Sir."

But Jarl Balgruuf was more amused than intrigued. "Tell me, my does one become a baroness named after a lake?"

Zahra breathed deep and carefully recited her lines. "For serving my Jarl with distinction during the war." She gave a slight nod. "I was his court mage."

The shift in the hall was immediate. Even the Jarl moved slightly on his throne, while all around them, the nobles in attendance exchanged hushed whispers.

They like that, she suddenly realized. Even though most of them don't understand magic, they respect military service. Zahra's brow furrowed. How had she not thought to capitalize on that sooner?

I was busy swimming.

"You are both quite welcome to Whiterun," the Jarl stated, and Zahra noted the change in his tone. "Have you set a wedding date?"

"No, my lord," Eyvindr replied. "We just met the day before yesterday."

There was a ripple of light chuckling in the hall, and Balgruuf smiled. "Our Temple of Kynareth is a popular choice for weddings. I trust Siddgeir will no doubt provide you land on which to build a suitable home, but you should consider an additional residence outside Falkreath. You'll probably be elevated to Thane in no time, and will be sent on court business often, as Thane Rayya is."

The couple exchanged looks before Eyvind answered, "Yes, Your Grace."

"And you must spend another night at my estate. In fact, I give you leave to use it during your honeymoon."

This time, the couple replied in unison. "Thank you, Your Grace."

"Well, then take a seat," the Jarl gestured. "Morning meal is about to begin."

Just now noticing my mod is missing from this scene

The young people awkwardly obeyed, taking two seats closer to the throne. The warmth of the firepit was welcome as the servants brought around platters of boiled eggs, crispy bacon, freshly baked bread, and an assortment of fresh fruit.

"Thank the gods," Eyvindr sighed wearily, helping himself to everything in sight. Zahra was much more reserved, even as her stomach growled. Something had just happened here at the Jarl's court, but she wasn't sure what it was. She knew better than to ask now though; they were surrounded by ears and eyes.

After morning meal, the great hall emptied and the couple was given permission to tour the castle. When Zahra knew they were safely out of earshot, she rasped, "What was that all about?"

"What do you mean?" Eyvindr asked.

"I thought we were bringing a serious message for the Jarl," she scowled. "Our wedding announcement? Why would Balgruuf care about that?"

"He doesn't," came the honest reply. "The point of that letter was to inform Balgruuf that Siddgeir now has iron and orichalcum mines at his command. This was but a sly attempt to initiate trade."

"But the mines are yours!"

"And the taxes Balgruuf and I will have to pay on exporting the ore will go to our money-hungry cunt of a Jarl," Eyvindr grumbled. He cast his gaze down over the railing, to the first floor which was now mostly empty. "As expected, we are but pawns in a much larger game."

Zahra closed her eyes in exasperation, willing herself to remain calm. "It wasn't Siddgeir," she bit out, before slowly opening them. "This is Nenya's doing."

That surprised him. "His steward?"

"Siddgeir's not the sharpest tool in the box, Eyvindr; that bitch of an elf does his thinking for him. She does the thinking for everyone in that fucking court." Zahra gestured to her gown. "She chose my dress, Eyvindr!"

Her betrothed sighed loudly.

Zahra snorted, cocking her head to the side. "You still want to be one of these people?"


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