The man was usually to be found roaming Whiterun’s marketplace, Anders knew. And it didn’t take long before they spotted him descending the steps that led up toward the Gildergreen. A trim, dark-skinned man dressed in rich clothing, he was unmistakable. Anders had dressed in clothing that was respectable if not opulent. He was beginning to wish he’d put on the outfit Kat had gotten him for their diplomatic mission, back before the Peace Conference.
Wyll trailing behind, Anders approached Nazeem as he stepped down onto the market square. “Nazeem!” he called. “Might we have a word with you?” Nazeem peered down his nose at them, not recognizing Anders. “Anders Lanya,” he said, proffering a hand that was pointedly ignored. “We’ve met before. My associate Wyll Jarskarvir and I are agents for Thane Katja, The Dragonborn.”
Nazeem’s eyes lit with recognition. In Whiterun, at least, no citizen had failed to take note of Kat’s exploits. “Oh yes, Mister Lanya” the Redguard replied stiffly. “How may I help you?”
“I wonder,” Anders said smoothly, gesturing toward the door of the nearby Bannered Mare, “if you would care to join us for some lunch? We have a business proposition we would like to discuss with you.”
Nazeem seemed to be quite amenable to this suggestion. Anybody offering to pay was not to be dismissed. Wyll nodded to him, looming slightly. He often found that his huge size had a salutary effect when trying to convince people to go along with his wishes – not that he’d ever been a bully or anything close to it. In this instance though, he sensed that he’d been cast in the role of the ominous enforcer. He wished momentarily that he were darker of aspect and perhaps possessed of an eye patch or at least a few facial scars.
The three of them crossed the market plaza and entered the inn, where they were greeted by Hulda. Everyone who had spent much time in Whiterun knew Hulda, and she knew them. She was forever talking of selling the Mare and retiring from the innkeeping business; but somehow she seemed to hold on, year after year.
Anders took a table for the three of them over in the far corner of the room, then went back to the bar and quietly asked Hulda to give them some bottles of mead and whatever was cooking in the kitchen. She smiled at him and accepted his gold, before handing over the mead. “The food will be right out,” she promised. Anders returned to the table carrying the mead. Over the past few weeks he’d become accustomed to having his bottled drinks chilled, and was regretful that these were at room temperature. But applying a frost spell directly to a bottle could have unfortunate effects, so he just carried them over and rejoined his companions.
Handing the drinks around Anders said, “Our food will be here shortly.”
Ungraciously, Nazeem demanded “I would really like to know what it is you want. You realize that I’m an important man. I’m often called upon to advise the Jarl on political matters. My input is invaluable, of course. But this is all probably a bit over your head,” he added, taking a swig of his mead.
Anders and Wyll exchanged a brief look. What an asshole, indeed. Politely, Anders said “Ah yes, Jarl Balgruuf. My fiancée and I – that would be Katja – brokered the deal with Balgruuf that resulted in the peace treaty between the Empire and the Stormcloaks, so that she could trap a dragon and learn the location of the World-Eater. I’m sure you must have heard about it?”
Wyll was impressed. His friend Anders had many abilities and was one hell of a smart guy, but he had never personally witnessed this facility with political manipulation. Nazeem was taken aback. For once, he had the feeling that he was in the presence of personages who might, just possibly, approach his own lofty importance. “Perhaps,” he said hesitantly, “we’ll discuss it after we have our lunch…”
The food arrived and it was nothing fancy. You had to go far into the dining rooms of the high and mighty in Skyrim to come up with a meal that went beyond the basics. The three of them tucked into their bowls of stew with bread rolls, washing it all down with mead and making polite conversation. Anders was a bit surprised, actually, that Nazeem was capable of such. Every time the two had met in the past the man had treated everyone around him as if they were something he’d just scraped off the soles of his boots.
The bowls were emptied and the last sheen of savory stew wiped from them with the last of the bread. The three took swallows of their mead to wash it down, and then assessed one another across the table. Nazeem was the first to speak. “Well then,” he said, burping politely and patting his mouth with a linen handkerchief he’d produced from his waistcoat pocket, “how may I assist you gentlemen?”
Anders, who had been devoting his attention to the excellent stew for the moment, bore in once again on his objective. “Wyll and I have been speaking with your tenant Wilmuth out at Chillfurrow Farm,” he said. He tried to affect an air of hauteur similar to Nazeem’s, but found it a bit hard to pull off. “As it happens, that property is in very close in proximity to ours, the Luxury Suite.” He glanced at Nazeem and saw recognition. “I’m sure you’ve been there? It’s the premier inn in Skyrim, some think…”
“Ah yes,” Nazeem said. “Of course…” In actuality he had never set foot in the place. His wife Ahlam had heard stories, and there would never be an end to it if she learned he had been spotted in such a notorious den of iniquity.
“As I was saying,” Anders went on, “we learned from Wilmuth that you are the owner of Chillfurrow, and we are interested in acquiring it. We are thinking of expanding our interests in the vicinity of the Suite.” He hoped he’d struck the right tone.
Nazeem frowned, appalled at the suggestion. While he had other holdings, Chillfurrow Farm (which he rarely actually visited) provided him with income as well as a sense of being an important landowner in his adopted land. He hoped never to have to return to the stinking desert of Hammerfell that had given him birth, and anything that might erode his status here in Skyrim was to be regarded as a threat. “Chillfurrow Farm,” he said stiffly, “is not for sale. It’s a very successful business, as you can see.” He gestured to his rich garb. “Thank you for the meal, gentlemen,” he said rising. And stalked out of the inn.
Wyll and Anders looked at each other in consternation. “I thought that was going pretty well,” Wyll said.
“Shit,” Anders muttered under his breath. Then he looked at Wyll and said, “So did I. What did I do wrong?” The two of them sat there finishing their bottles of room-temperature mead.
After a minute or so Wyll had a thought. “Have you met Nazeem’s wife, Ahlam? She spends a lot of time up at the temple of Kynareth.”
Anders, still slowly swallowing the last of his mead, looked electrified by Wyll’s remark. “I have met the lady in question,” he said, a wicked smile coming over his features. “What do you say we go have a chat with her?” Wyll returned his smile in kind. Once again, it appeared that they were both thinking the same thing. Leaving a tip on the table for Hulda, the pair exited the Bannered Mare and climbed the steps toward the Gildergreen. On its left, they entered the doors of the Temple of Kynareth, Goddess of the Air.
As they’d hoped they found the dusky Ahlam within, performing her daily duties at the temple. She was a priestess and healer, an odd occupation from what they knew of her personality. Both Wyll and Anders had encountered her out and about in Whiterun over the past two years, and she made no secret of her contempt for her husband and his haughty airs.
She greeted them coolly, and asked “How may I help you? Do you have wounded for us to tend?” Despite their clothing she could spot a warrior at a glance.
Anders smiled winningly (he hoped) and said, “No, we’re fine. Ahlam, I’m Anders Lanya and this is Wyll Jarskarvir. I believe we’ve met a few times?” Ahlam nodded, and Anders continued, “The reason we’re here is that we’d like to talk to you about your husband Nazeem.” The woman’s dark features took on an expression of scorn. If those two had married for love, clearly that bloom had withered over the years.
“Is there somewhere we can talk privately?” Anders asked her, and she motioned them over to a quiet recess in one corner of the temple.
“So, what about Nazeem?” Ahlam asked. “That man acts like he’s married to himself.”
“We just met with him,” Anders told her. “We were prepared to offer him a large sum of money for Chillfurrow Farm, but he refused to discuss the matter with us.”
The woman’s eyes gleamed. “How large a sum of money?” she asked.
Ahlam cared nothing for the farm. She and Nazeem had a comfortable lifestyle here in town and she had her work at the Temple. But the idea of puncturing Nazeem’s ego and reaping a large amount of gold at the same time definitely appealed to her. How she had come to loath the man! Anders hesitated. He was pretty sure that Ahlam was not in a position to sell the farm to them herself, and he’d planned to start with a low offer and then bargain the price up. The nearly 25,000 septims they were lugging around was five times what he and Kat had paid for Breezehome, and should have been more than enough to buy the small farm.
But now he needed to name a figure that would encourage Ahlam to work against her husband’s wishes and assist them. “I was going to offer 20,000,” he told her, trying to sound confident. “Of course if necessary, I’m prepared to go higher. We’re negotiating the purchase on the behalf of The Dragonborn,” he added.
Ahlam’s opinion of men in general was none too high. It seemed to her that all they cared about was war and politics – and they treated their women like cattle. But The Dragonborn was a different story. There was a woman she could admire, and if these men were her agents she would be happy to do them a favor.
“If you’re associated with The Dragonborn you must have some influence with the Jarl, yes?” she asked. Anders considered. Certainly, Jarl Balgruuf welcomed them courteously when they visited at Dragonsreach, and he was deeply indebted to Kat. Everybody on the planet was indebted to Kat, whether they knew it or not. On learning of her destiny she had not quailed or faltered, but had stepped right up and put her life on the line to stop the World-Eater.
“I think you could say that Balgruuf will listen to us when we speak,” he replied. “What’s your idea?”
“Nazeem won’t listen to me,” Ahlam said. “But he spends half his time with his lips pressed to the Jarl’s backside. If you can get Balgruuf to tell Nazeem to sell to you, he’ll do it in a heartbeat.”
Anders smiled warmly at Ahlam, causing her to slightly revise her opinion of the male sex. There was something about that smile… “Thank you, Ahlam!” he said, and the two took their leave.