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A High Priestess of Skyrim - Chapter 19

Discussion in 'Skyrim Fan Fiction' started by Bren, Mar 6, 2021.

  1. Bren

    Bren New Member

    Feb 14, 2021
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    Chapter 19

    29th of First Seed

    "Surely, this house was never so small when we were growing up." Sophie said as the four sisters embraced.

    "It is exactly the same dimensions now as it was then." Aric said as he kissed his twin daughters in turn. "It is the four of you who have grown."

    I had not spelt so well in some time, a deep, restorative sleep broken only once in the early morning as we continued our exploration of each other, our hands and lips learning each other's outlines, and textures, and rhythms; two bodies becoming one, breath quickening, hearts racing in unison. I had thought afterwards, in the warm nest we shared, of making a lighthearted quip relating to the Champion of Dibella, but I was not sure how he would receive it. "How many women have made the same quip with him after experiencing his most excellent talents?" I wondered. In the end, discretion won out, and I held my tongue, let my head relax on his shoulder, and drifted off to sleep again.

    It seemed on the sort journey to Whiterun later in the morning that the silence between us had changed. No longer the comfortable silence of friendship, but now the comfortable silence of lovers; each glance accompanied by a smile; a reminder of what we had shared.

    "Has there ever been a more beautiful morning?" I asked after we had been on the road for some time. "Have the colors been this bright? Has the air been this sweet?"

    "It is certainly an exceptional morning." Aric said.

    "Some of us find the air sweeter than others." Runa said playfully.

    "Father, what is the Spirit Name for 'Dark Cloud'?" Lucia asked. "I believe that Tayen may have erred when naming Runa."

    "I feel as if my heart will burst from joy." Lydia said, "It has been too long since we have been under one roof. I am fortunate that one cannot die from over smiling."

    "I would be long dead if that affliction proved fatal, good Lady." I said. "Too often your daughters reduced me to tears of merriment. At one point I did not believe I would survive."

    "The Reverend Mother is made of sterner stuff than that." Lucia said. "Though I admit we tested her without mercy."

    "I am glad to see you all returned, hale and whole" Lucia said, embracing Jordis warmly before looking at Rigel. "though you have exchanged some of your party members with new faces as well as old."

    "Mother, this is Rigel of clan Orionis, Father's housecarl from Markath." Lucia said.

    "Honor to you Lady." Rigel said with a slight bow.

    "Be at ease shield-sister." Lydia said. "I also have the honor to be housecarl to the Thane in Whiterun, as well as adopted Mother to this pack of ravenous wolves. We must send for supplies if we are not to starve."

    "We will need more supplies still when Tayen visits shortly to interview the Jarl's guest." Aric said.

    "The girls left some time ago to deliver that message." Lydia said. "Should I ask the nature of your delay in returning, or will my guess be sufficient?"

    "Lacking specific details, your guess will be accurate." Aric said. "We have much to discuss."

    "More than you realize, I will wager." Sophie said. "We bring news from Windhelm."

    "News?" Aric asked.

    "Information is a more appropriate word, perhaps." Collette said.

    "After you departed, we set our spies to watch the Palace." Sophie said.

    "Spies?" I asked

    "Spy. Singular. Silda." Collette said.

    "Also known as Silda The Unseen." Aric said to me.

    "She delivered an interesting list of visitors to the Palace of the Kings. Visitors who waited until you were well away from Windhelm.

    "The Jarl of Whiterun has a visitor of his own." Lydia said. "One that does not reside in the dungeon."

    "Who?" Lucia asked.

    "Jarl Idgrod Ravencrone." Lydia said.

    "Gods" Runa said, "why would she come here?"

    "I asked her." Aric said. "This is a matter requiring a council of more than just two. Elisif cannot leave Solitude. Idgrod and Balgruf are of a kind. Neither takes a side in the civil war. Both cares only for their people. She is the only Jarl excepting Elisif and Balgruf who knows all."

    "Is it wise to confide in her?" Lydia asked

    "I did not confide in her." Aric said, "Her daughter Idgrod the younger has the gift that Noxaura's mother possessed."

    "Her daughter is an Oneiromancer?" I asked.

    "It appears so. She is still young, and her dreams do not yet come clearly to her, but she discusses them with her mother." He said. "So, when I began to speak in generalities to the Jarl about these recent activities it took no leap of logic for her to connect the one with the other. There was little point in continuing in my obtuse manner. I asked her to confer with Balgruf. I had not thought she would be here when we returned."

    "Speaking of Morthal," Lucia said, "Our family may increase by one. Father rescued a newly orphaned girl on the road from Morthal to Dragon's Bridge."

    "There is much more news from that road than one orphan." Runa said, "but that can surely wait until Lucia and I have removed our armor."

    The house was a hive of activity, filled almost to overflowing with laughter, and conversation, the storing of armor and weapons and assorted belongings in a house surely never designed to hold nine adults. A house in which I did not have a place. A house with three women who had claim to Aric's company during the night, Lucia having ceded the large bedroom to her father for the duration of his stay.

    Jordis and Lydia had obviously reached an accommodation. They acted more like sisters than competitors. How would they react to the number of their sorority increasing by one? Do Jarl's count in that membership? How did Elisif factor?

    These thoughts and many more passed through my mind as I borrowed Lydia's bedroom to change out of my travel garments into some of my more radiant raiment.

    "You look quite courtly." Lydia said. "That is a lovely dress."

    "Thank you." I said. "I was able to save almost nothing from the wreckage of our cart in the Rift. Enduring the slights and barbs and condescension of the dress makers in Solitude was a small price to pay."

    "I am familiar with the sisters." Lydia said, "Though you would not think it from my attire."

    "I would never make such an assumption, good Lady." I said. "And you may recall my borrowed attire when I last visited. I must surely have resembled a poor relation when compared to you and your daughters. You are all so beautiful and blessed with a natural elegance."

    "You flatter me" She said, "I am no Lady. I am a housecarl. I take great pride in it."

    "Truth may be complimentary, Madam, but it is not flattery." I said, quoting Aric. "Any traveler who may pass you on the road can see for themselves your beauty. It is what we cannot see with our eyes that matters most. That which is important is invisible to the eye."

    "You remind me of Tayen." Lydia said. "She has such a gift."

    "Now you compliment me." I said. "I need no gift to see your heart. I see it in your children, in how they treat others, and in how you treat each other. You are the model for what they have become."

    "I fear that you do me more honor than I deserve or can bear." Lydia said. "I will surely burst if you continue."

    "Then let us discuss another topic." I said.

    "I am about to visit the marketplace to purchase supplies." Lydia said, "I would welcome your company if you are willing."

    "I would like that." I said. "I had intended to wander about the City. When I was here last with my father, we both commented on how happy a city is seemed. It is one of my last happy memories of the two of us together."

    "Let us join forces then." She said

    The afternoon proved as beautiful as the morning. I could almost forget the interview that would take place once Tayen was present. I would never forget what these attempts on my life have cost me.

    "I understand that all of your children who have any skill with a sword owe that skill to your instruction." I said.

    "You give me too much credit, I am sure." She answered. "I gave them all their first lessons in swordsmanship, it is true; even Lucia, who chose a different path. But it was Aric who honed those skills. He would find a tutor for each later, when it became apparent where each of their talents led."

    "I understand he is familiar with many skilled teachers." I said.

    "Yes." She answered with a grin. "Several of them made his acquaintance from a distance of two sword lengths."

    "He sends his children to be tutored by swordsmen he has faced in battle?" I asked, not fully sure I took her meaning.

    "That they survived their encounter with him says all that is needed for their skill. That he allowed them to survive says all that is needed about their character." She answered. "It is quite often in life that our firmest friendships begin with conflict."

    "You have the wisdom of a High Priestess." I said, thinking back to how my relationship with Aric progressed.

    "No." she answered. "I have the wisdom of a Mother. My four daughters who are as we speak eating me out of house and home were not always friends. Quite the reverse.

    Sophie and Collette were always a pair. It seemed to them that it was they two against the world. It was true, in part when they were alone in Windhelm, surviving as best they could. It took some time once they were adopted before they were convinced that they would never be sent away or abandoned. Before that time Lucia and Runa found it necessary to bond together in mutual defense. When Samuel and Sara arrived, they were so small, arriving so close together that they naturally bonded. They would hide in a cabinet together when their four older sisters would wage war in the house."

    "This must have been difficult." I said, my mastery of the understatement on full display.

    "Yes." She answered, "it was when Aric was away quite often. All of them were still working through their anger and grief. Most were still angry at their parents for leaving them alone. It did not help that Aric adopted them and brought them home and them immediately left. None were yet ready to accept me as anything other than a caretaker. They were all bundles of pent up pain and anger and energy."

    "I am sorry." I said, "I did not know it had been so difficult."

    "I was young." She said "I had never cared for anyone other than myself, and my own Mother, at the end of her life. I had no skill in parenting. So, I used the only skill I knew. I asked Adrianne to make me four wooded swords and four rudimentary sets of hide armor.

    From that day on, their lives were regimented. An hour of training in the morning, another hour in the evening. An hour of reading, and hour of writing. Chores with Adrianne for an hour, chores with Danica for an hour. When they were old enough to sit in a saddle alone, they began lessons in horsemanship and were assigned chores in the stable. It did not take long for my four saber cats to band together. They became an exhausted sisterhood with a common enemy: me."

    "You must have also been exhausted." I said, "And it must have grieved you to have four children who had banded against you."

    "I had not yet begun to think of them as my children, and they had not yet begun to think of me as their Mother." She said. "That took time. I was lucky in that I found unlikely allies to assist me."

    "May I know the names of these allies?" I asked

    "You know their names already." She said, "Vilkas and his twin brother Farkas."

    "You astonish me." I said, "They are barely older than your four saber cats."

    "It astonished me at the time." She said. "It was not possible to live in Whiterun without seeing my four daughters training or going about their chores, and the reasons why. It was natural for them all to associate, all being of an age, and the two boys even then were attractive enough that more than just my four girls showed interest. But the boys were also orphans, also adopted. They Father was also often absent. That is why they made a stronger connection with my four, and that is why they confronted them as they finally did."

    She was quiet for a moment before she continued.

    "Usually, it is Vilkas who speaks first, but in this case, he took a bit too long to consider what he would say, and Farkas had reached the limit of his patience. 'What is wrong with you four? You have been given a gift. If you are all so dimwitted that you do not recognize it, climb up to the top of Dragon's Reach and throw yourself off so this gift can be given to someone with the intellect to recognize it.' It was the longest statement I can remember Farkas making. Vilkas was only slightly less direct. 'This is your home and your family if you would only make it so. But it is for you four to accomplish together. All the energy you expend in anger would be better spent building rather than destroying. You have been given this opportunity and you are wasting it. Once it is gone all that you will have left is regret."

    "What you say amazes me." I said truthfully.

    "If anyone else had spoken to them in that fashion they would have rolled their eyes and paid it no mind." She said. "But they knew the brothers, and what they had endured. They could not so easily dismiss what they heard."

    "It must have been a shock to them." I said.

    "That evening I thought that my hearing was in question." She said, "the house was so quiet. Each of the girls lost in their thoughts. It took time, but that was our first step to becoming a family."

    "You no longer object when the call you 'Mother' I see." I said

    Her smile was instant. "I will not admit that it was fear that made me resist. I had never had so much to lose. I thought it would protect me in some way. It is silly to think about it now, believing that the lose I would feel would somehow be diminished because they called me 'Lydia' rather than 'Mother'. They are all adults now and may call me what they wish, but my heart sings when they call me 'Mother'."

    "You will make me cry if you continue." I said.

    "Then let us speak of happier things." She suggested.

    We have walked a fair distance through the residential district, seeing Whiterun that was normally reserved for the local denizens. We emerged by the Gildergreen and sat, enjoying the silence of the moment while the priest of Talos was absent.

    "You mother was an interpreter of dreams?" Lydia asked me.

    "Yes." I answered. "She was born with the gift; much like the Thane of Morthal's daughter it seems. It was how she supported the two of us after my father died."

    "Was her experience as difficult as Idgrod the Younger's?" she asked

    "She never spoke of it." I answered. "I was very young when I left home to become a novitiate of Cybele. By then, she was already very skilled."

    "It must have been difficult for you to leave home so young." She said.

    "it must have been just as difficult for your children to depart for Solitude." I said.

    She never struck me as prone to tears, and she shed none now, but I could see the memory of pain on her face.

    "It was the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life, keeping that brave face in place while my family rode away in the cart; waving until they were out of sight." She said

    "I apologize." I said, placing my hand on her arm, "I did not mean to cause you pain."

    "it is only a memory of pain now" she said, as if she had read my mind. "I walked back into our home to complete silence. I walked through every room. It was as if I was searching for a limb I had misplaced, not remembering where I had left it. For several days I did not move one object in that house. Everything remained just as they had left it."

    "I cannot imagine how that must have felt."

    "My isolation did not last so long, though." She said. "Aric quickly discovered 'urgent matters' that required me to travel to Solitude. Regularly. Occasionally Jarl Balgruf, tiring of the specter of me wandering Whiterun after dark, would conjure 'messages for the Thane of Whiterun that cannot be trusted to a common courier.' I became very familiar with the route from Whiterun to Solitude."

    "I should not be so relieved to hear you tell it so, already knowing that this story has a happy ending; but you lift a weight from my heart by saying it." I said.

    Lydia began to laugh. "Jordis was confused at first, thinking me Aric's wife who had been delayed. She and I had a similar conversation as Rigel, and I had earlier today. Later, when she had begun to share Aric's bed, she would not look me in the eye during my visits. I was several years older than she, and I found an opportunity to ease her burden. 'None of us can claim ownership of the Sun, however much we enjoy it's warmth or light.' I told her. 'The Sun belongs to no one, and to everyone. I do not resent the Sun for shining, or anyone on whom it shines.' It took her a moment to take my meaning, but it eased her mind."

    "It was very kind of you to do so." I said, feeling an acute sympathy for Jordis' situation.

    "Aric is a force of nature." She said. "One cannot own such a force. We can marvel at it. We can love it and share it with others, but we cannot own it."

    "You state it beautifully." I said.

    "I did not always." she said. "Like some many things in life, it took time."

    "Seeing you and Jordis together today, you reminded me of Sara and Runa where we arrived last; the way you greeted each other, the warmness in your relationship." I said

    "That also developed over time." She said. "She also had no parenting experience. It was somewhat easier for her, since our family bond was well formed by then, and she became more a sister that a mother to those six. But it was still an adjustment for her."

    "I fear I have taken up too much of your afternoon." I said "I apologize. I have enjoyed your company so much I forgot the pack of wolves in your home who have surely eaten all your furniture by now."

    Her laugh brought a smile to my face. "Do not apologize." She said "I do not often have the opportunity to sit and converse in this manner. It is a rare gift for me."

    "You are too kind." I said. "If it will not diminish the value of the gift, we should choose another afternoon to sit in this same spot and continue our conversation."

    "I would like that very much." She said.

    We were walking to the marketplace for the requisite supplies when we both saw Lucia and Vilkas walking slowly and closely, talking quietly. The looks on their faces spoke volumes.

    "Silda is confident in what she saw?" Aric asked.

    "Yes. She knows Niranye very well." Sophie said. "Amaund's visits are rare, but Silda does not easily forget a face. And his bodyguard is a simpleton who will not take the simple precaution of replacing his imperial armor with something less conspicuous in Windhelm."

    There was barely room to move as we all held council after dinner.

    "You will understand if I am not familiar with this list of individuals." I said. "But I recognize a clandestine meeting well enough."

    "Niranye is a high elf living in Windhelm. She is reportedly a shop owner, but likely a Thalmor agent." Sophie said

    "Ulfric has in the past been a Thalmor agent." Aric said. "He has a close but dormant connection to Elenwen, the Thalmor ambassador."

    "It is no accident that the moment Father left Windhelm she paid Jarl Ulfric a visit." Collette said.

    "It was not that quick." Sophie said. "It was three days according to Silda's report."

    "Amaund Motierre is likewise an agent, though it is less clear for which agency, though he has a connection to the Dark Brotherhood." Aric said, "His bodyguard Rexus is an imperial who has apparently never learned the art of disguise."

    "Amaund and his idiot guard stayed in Candle-hearth Hall, where Silda could not follow." Sophie said "She is known to the proprietor Elda Early-Dawn, however, and loitered outside begging until Elda began her walk home. Silda accompanied Elda on her walk and was able to learn from Elda that Amaund and Rexus kept to themselves and barely spoke to each other, let alone anyone else."

    "That surely did not go unnoticed." Aric said. "Candle-Hearth Hall is not known for its quite atmosphere."

    "It was certainly noticed." Sophie said. "It was comment on. But that is all."

    "Two agents visit Ulfric after a conversation where he is informed of unusual activity, possibly aimed at Imperial camps." Aric said. "It would be understandable if he wished to investigate on his own, but not when the agents are these two, and not when it requires three days to summon Amaund."

    "He was reporting to his masters?" Runa asked

    "That does not explain Amaund's presence. "he answered. "Amaund is a Breton, his bodyguard is an Imperial. Niranye is Altmer. Three groups that Ulfric usually does not trust."

    "A cosmopolitan conspiracy." I said.

    Aric looked at me and smiled. "Indeed." He said, as my heartbeat increased.

    Do not excite yourself. I thought He is not yours tonight.

    "It seems we know only slightly more than previously." Lucia said.

    "Will you now finally ask Tayen for assistance?" Lydia asked

    "No." Aric answered. "This is dangerous territory. She is powerful, but whatever we have bitten into is now looking to bite back. They have already attacked two young girls for no other reason than that they resembled Noxaura and Sara. They are spread across Skyrim, possible across Tamriel. They have lost over four-hundred men. They will take any target they find. She is powerful, but she is not prepared for this. None of us are prepared if they choose to bring their full weight to bear. We must stay hidden for now."

    "What about the other Jarls?" Lydia asked.

    "Thongvor Silver-Blood and Maven Black-Briar knew nothing." Aric said. "Thongvor is too focused on foresworn attacks, Maven is too focused on herself. Siddgeir you have already heard of. That is a separate item on my list to discuss with Balgruf. Skald and Korir have not seen Thalmor troops in months."

    "With good reason." Sophie said. "The Thalmor wish to avoid freezing to death as much as the rest of us."

    "So, our list of allies is Balgruf, Elisif, and Idgrod." Jordis said.

    "Is not Idgrod half mad?" Colette asked.

    "No." Aric said. "She is very wise, but enigmatic. It is for the latter quality that her people distrust her. Do not be deceived by her relaxed nature. She misses nothing."

    "She encountered no Thalmor?" Lydia asked

    "None that were still alive." Aric said. "During the height of Morthal's vampire incidents they would find dead groups of Thalmor, small groups of two or three, but no larger groups."

    "They were dead? Not nightwalkers?" I asked.

    "Dead." He answered.

    "That is odd." I said.

    "Perhaps Thalmor do not taste good?" Runa asked to general laughter.

    "They were obviously not prepared properly." Lucia said to more laughter.

    "This is a mystery with no quick solution." Lydia said. "Any continued inquiry must be handled carefully."

    "I agree." Aric said. "We have risked much traveling across Skyrim in search of answers. We believed we left no witnesses alive, but someone obviously described Noxaura and Sara to the Thalmor. Both of you will have to take extra precautions." He said looking at me.

    "Do not ask me to cut my hair sir." I said. "I have grown too fond of what remains after the incident on the road."

    It took some time for the laughter to die down.

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