Spinning Less Elaborate Fictions

Featuring the River Estate mod
Previously: On the Road to Riverwood

The Jarl Balgruuf's estate in Riverwood was...something else. Despite only being his second home, it put Siddgeir's hall in Falkreath to shame. Zahra was speechless.

"Astounding, isn't it?" Eyvindr beamed at her. "My father was once Balgruuf's guest many years ago. He stayed here once and never stopped talking about it."

"I can see why," she murmured, drifting through the property as though in a dream. The mansion was built in the traditional Nord style, with arches and dragon heads and even a pool on the front deck. Nestled in the mountains, along the White River, the view was breathtaking.

"I wouldn't mind having our honeymoon here," Eyvindr admitted, offering only the slightest note of flirtation.

"Nor I," Zahra replied without thinking, mesmerized by her surroundings. "I wonder why we're staying here."

"Aside for the obvious romantic setting?" he shrugged. "We are an envoy from another Jarl, after all."

"Yes, but when I accompanied Thane Rayya to Markarth, we had to stay at the Silver-Blood Inn."

Eyvindr shuddered. "Jarl Igmund is known for neither his hospitality nor his frugality, I'm afraid. Traditionally, royal--and noble--envoys are supposed to be offered lodgings befitting whoever it is they represent."

A servant welcomed them indoors while Bjorg saw to the carriage and horses. The interior was a display of luxury, with Dibellan fountains, carved pillars, and fine red rugs.

"Balgruuf has a...sensual taste," Eyvindr blinked, visibly surprised. "I wouldn't have expected it from him. Siddgeir certainly, but not him."

"These furnishings alone must have cost a large fortune," Zahra gasped. "Enough to feed all of Riverwood a dozen times over."

"Ever since the end of the war, these Jarls have been spending like mad," he chuckled.

"Indeed they have," Zahra muttered. "I didn't recognize Understone Keep once Igmund was done with it."

A page took them on a tour, showing them the dining hall, the court mage's study, and the exquisite bedchamber reserved just for them. When they were told the room was just for them, Zahra's surprise was obvious.

"We are betrothed," Eyvindr hastily corrected the young man. "I can sleep in another room."

"Of course, sir," the page bowed slightly. "Right this way."

Zahra was beginning to get the sense that Jarl Balgruuf hadn't seen his new and improved estate, and with the impending arrival of an envoy it was a chance to kill two birds with one stone. He probably need someone to test the place for him, make sure all the amenities were available and the like.

That evening, after the servants drew them each a hot bath, they dined on sumptuous boar cooked in onions and mushrooms, and drank Honningbrew mead. Zahra was impressed to the point of dismay.

No, really...where was all this treatment in Markarth? Rayya's a whole Thane.

She didn't like the nobility, nor the idea of marrying into money, but she couldn't deny the appeal. And she couldn't deny the appeal of Eyvindr who, after several cups of mead, called for a lyre. He played many a Breton tune, singing along in his strong, deep voice, plying her with many a smile and wink. Resist as she might, she found herself laughing at times.

He really wants this to work. Zahra wondered why that was. She didn't consider herself a great beauty. She had no great wealth, nor lands, nor bloodline, and contrary to what Siddgeir was now telling people, Rayya gave her the nearly meaningless title of baroness.

"Where are you from?" he finally asked, as the servants cleared the dishes away.

"Before Falkreath? Markarth," she answered. "I was an assistant alchemist there."

"Were you born there?"

"No," she shook her head, relaxing into all the familiar stories. "I was born just outside Kynesgrove. My parents were bound were for Whiterun at the time, or so the story goes." Zahra was actually born at Witchmist Grove, but she didn't want to tell anyone that.

"So you lived in Whiterun?"

"I lived all over," she recited. "Mages are constantly searching for new knowledge. You'll find they are a surprisingly nomadic people."


"A few," she nodded. "I knew two alchemists in Markarth." And forget to pay them a visit last time I was there. "When I arrived in Falkreath, I befriended Thane Rayya." Pretty sure that's over now.

"Any childhood friends?" he asked.

"I wasn't raised around other children," Zahra snorted, even though she didn't mean to. It was the mead. "My childhood consisted of lessons and travel, nothing more. That's why I ran off and eloped." She took a sip and realized she needed to switch to water, and never become drunk around this man. She was already letting some of her real personality slip.

"I know you didn't want to speak of him again, but how did he die?"

"I wasn't there, nor was his body brought back to me," she replied bitterly, picking up a fresh cup and filling from a pitcher of spring water. "Something about a Forsworn arrow to the throat."

"By the gods," Eyvindr gasped. "I'm so sorry, my lady."

"It's quite all right," she nodded, with a small smile. "I've had time to heal."

It's so much easier to lie to the living, she mused. When was I betrothed to Roggvir, I practically had to draft a tome. She didn't even need that many lies this time around.

"We should sleep, we have an early morning," she suggested. "And we want to make a good impression. Drink plenty of water before you go to bed."


Despite not being hungover, Zahra didn't want to wake. The bed was exactly what she imagined it was like to sleep on a cloud. The mattress was feather, the bedding soft cotton and velvet.

Fuck the rich.

As she swung her legs over the edge of the bed, she wondered if that included her now. Five thousand septims was a fortune and yet her betrothed had paid her dowry without blinking. Along with her severance from Siddgeir, she was accumulating wealth at a decent pace. For she was marrying the owner of two mines, who apparently inherited additional wealth from his mother's side. It was baffling.

Two servants drew her a steamy morning bath, with juniper oil and yellow mountain flower petals. A handmaiden brushed and braided her hair and dabbed the back of her neck with perfume. Zahra's life at Lakeview had always been comfortable, but this was another level of comfort, the kind she'd only read about in books and wasn't even certain was real.

After she was dried and dressed, she was joined by Eyvindr and his towering steward Bjorg to resume their journey to Whiterun, where they would have breakfast with one of the richest and most famous Jarls in Skyrim.

I'm still not one of these people, Zahra insisted to herself, even as her heartbeat quickened in anticipation.

"Sleep well?" Eyvindr yawned, clearly hungover.

"I did," she nodded, resuming her persona. "And you?"

"I swear the Jarl has no shortage of fine chambers in that house," he yawned again. "I hope there's bacon at breakfast. If not, I suppose I can always request it from the kitchens."

Zahra blinked. "You can do that? At a Jarl's court."

He laughed, surprised and amused at the same time. "You still don't understand who we are? Who we're about to be? I blame Falkreath. That court has always been too small, too humble. With luck, we could live somewhere much finer."

Now she felt a twinge of panic. Already she missed her lake, missed her swimming, and her quiet days. "Eyvindr," she began gently. "It took me a long time to find my home. Solitude was too expensive. Markarth too dangerous. Whiterun is admittedly beautiful but--"

"It's all right," he assured her. "I will buy--or build--you a house in Falkreath that you can visit any time."

After a beat, she suddenly blurted, "I want Lakeview."

Eyvindr's eyes widened. "Lakeview? Doesn't that belong to the Thane?."

"I can buy it back from her," Zahra nodded resolutely. "Rayya never appreciated it, not like I did."

"But Zahra--"

"I am the Baroness Illinalta," she reminded him. "I want Illinalta. Besides, Rayya is a Thane, always traveling on the Jarl's business. I'm sure she can take up permanent residence elsewhere."

Next: Pawns


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