Pillow Talk

The Temple of Kynareth
 Previously: Pawns

Jarl's Hall, Falkreath

It was early morning, well before the sun. Nenya rose from her bed and padded naked across her fur rugs to her vanity, where she sat down to brush her tussled blond hair into submission.

From her bed, Helvard sleepily murmured, "Where are you going?"

"It's almost dawn, Helvard," she told him. The two were by no means a "couple"; this was just a long-standing arrangement for the sake of convenience.

"Then the Jarl won't up for hours," he grumbled into the pillow.

"No, but there are preparations to be made," Nenya insisted, steadily brushing her hair. "By now, Balgruuf has received our message. I wonder if he's suggested they use the Temple of Kynareth for their wedding."

"You care that much about those two?" the housecarl marveled, still groggy.

"I care about the advancement of our realm," she reminded him. "Trade with Whiterun will be especially profitable now that the war is over." She paused. "But I do wonder if they're getting along."

"They're getting along."

"What makes you say that?"

"Did you see them?" he snickered. "That's a young, healthy, extremely good-looking couple. Zahra in particular has grown quite beautiful in recent months."

"I suppose we've had a civilizing effect upon her," Nenya conceded. "And now...the Jarl."

"He's never gonna marry."

She turned all the way around on her stool. "We have to change his mind. Without an heir to continue his line, you and I will grow old out in the cold." She turned back to her mirror and resumed brushing. "We got lucky with Siddgeir. He was young and pliable, while Dengeir was old and unpopular. The looming war helped us immeasurably. But now we are at peace. Things are different."

Helvard yawnned and shrugged. "Rayya could take over."

"She has the legal right," Nenya nodded, "but you know the Nords will never accept a Redguard as Jarl. And she's older, possibly barren." She paused again. "Olfina Gray-Mane."

"Betrothed to Jon Battle-Born," he yawned again. "Whiterun's worst kept secret. Shall we go down the list again? Idgrod the Younger of Hjaalmarch--now married to Lord Hrongar of Whiterun. Ingun Black-Briar--self-explanatory. Nilsine Shatter-Shield--Stormcloak sympathizer."

Nenya was grim. "You've made your point."

"The High Queen or her cousin Jordis? Never gonna happen. Balgruuf's cousin Lydia? Never gonna happen. Balgruuf's daughter Dagny? A fucking child."

"An Imperial then," the steward shrugged.

Helvard finally sat up in bed, the blankets pooling around his waist. "You bring an Imperial girl here, her family will follow one by one until there's enough of them to oust us."

"Then what do you suggest, Helvard?" the elf finally snapped.

"Put a pretty Nord girl in his way, someone simple, someone common, someone controllable," he shrugged. "When she gives birth to his first bastard, we'll have the child declared the heir of Falkreath. It'll motivate her to have more."

Nenya blinked, surprised. "That's...actually not bad."


Highmoon Hall, Morthal

Kaidan awoke in bed, alone. He looked across the room to find Rayya wrapped in a thick woolen blanket, staring out the window.

"I remember when this hall was a hovel," she murmured, feeling him stir behind her. "Wooden walls and floors are now stone. The servants have doubled in number, and the Ravencrones now wear silk and velvet."

He sighed, laying back against the pillow. "Come back to bed."

"Sun's up."

"And?" he asked. "You don't have any meetings today. The Ravencrones are off supervising another remodeling of something or other."

"Everything's changing in Skyrim," Rayya frowned slightly. "I go to places, meet people I've known for years, and I don't recognize anything."

"They don't recognize you either," he pointed out, eyebrow raised.

"I don't recognize me," Rayya admitted softly, blinking. She gave her blanket a hitch. "I think I should grow my hair out."

Kaidan's eyes widened. "What?"

"And I need to scrub this old warpaint from my face. I'm not a sellsword anymore, Kaidan."

This made him sit up and swing his legs over the edge of the bed. "You're a warrior," he said lowly, deliberately. "This is Skyrim. Your shaved head and warpaint command respect wherever you go. You've already taken to wearing silks and circlets, what's next? Long gowns like some simpering courtier?"

She turned to him. "I am a courtier, Kaidan."

"You know what I mean!" he rolled his eyes, exasperated. "You're not these people, Rayya; you're better."

"Am I?" she demanded. "I am a Thane. Perhaps I could be more."

Kaidan was incredulous. "More what?" he exclaimed. "Like a Jarl? You're a very deserving woman, but we both know that's never gonna happen."

"Maybe not be one, but I could wed one," she finally blurted. "Think of it, Kaidan. Even a Jarl the likes of Igmund could be a great match."

The air stilled between them as the truth lay bare. Kaidan's gaze met hers squarely, his chest rising and falling in measured breaths before he uttered his next words.

"So there it is." His head tilted. "I wondered why you wouldn't set a date for us. It's because you've been aiming higher."

"We could still be together," Rayya shrugged haplessly.

"While I share you with another?" the Akaviri glared.

"You could also take a lover, Kaidan. Or I could arrange a favorable match for you as well."

"That's an awfully crowded scenario you've got there, love," he glowered.

"It's how things are done among the nobles!"

"We are not nobles!" he roared, finally rising to his feet. "We are warriors, not vaunted inbreds descended from warriors--we are real. They envy us. They see our scars, hear our tales and  songs written in our honor, and wish they could trade places with us!"

Rayya was teary eyed and exhausted. "No one wishes they could be us," she whispered. "We are orphans. They have families and homes--"

"We are a family!" he reminded her. "We have a home--is that not enough?"

She didn't have to answer, of course. Her silence was the answer, as was the haunted look in her eyes.

"Well, isn't this perfect," Kaidan mused in a dead, leaden voice. "My friends have all moved on. They're all court mages and thanes now. One wonders how the hell we got here."

Rayya gave that helpless shrug again. "I guess we grew up."


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