The Work Begins
Anders woke in the Suite’s master bed and reached sleepily for Kat, before coming awake enough to realize she was not there – and he didn’t know when she’d be back. She’d often enough been sleeping elsewhere during their time together, but this was the first time in weeks that he actually had no idea where she was. She’d said Markarth, but where was she going from there? As much as he missed her, and missed making love with her, he hoped she would stay away a little longer. He and Wyll had a lot of work to see to, if they were to prepare their surprise.
The thought of that project galvanized him, and he jumped right out of bed. This time, mindful of his embarrassment yesterday, he took the time to wash up and neatly comb his shoulder-length hair before going downstairs. Maybe I should let it grow and tie it back, he thought. That might be less work. Anders found Wyll up and eating breakfast at their usual table, though he could see from the color of the light coming in through the Suite’s bottle glass windows that it was pretty early in the morning.
He pulled up a chair and grinned at his friend. “Anxious to get started?” he asked.
Wyll smiled back at him around a mouthful of sweet roll. Then, washing it down with a mug of hot tea, he said “I can’t wait. Not that we’re actually doing the work, but I think one or the other of us needs to be there from the start and make sure it’s being done right.”
“You know more about that kind of thing than I do,” Anders told him, biting into his own sweet roll.
Wyll glanced at him. Hum, he’d never considered that he might know more about anything than his older and more erudite friend did. But their life experiences had not been the same. It stood to reason that, though Anders might hold a much larger and wider store of knowledge in that brain of his, Wyll could have more expertise in one or two areas. He’d worked with his hands often, while Anders had been studying magic and poring over musty old tomes.
“I have the feeling it might be a good idea to have Argis join us, too” Wyll said after swallowing another bite and washing it down with some hot, sweet tea. “I think he’s done enough building to have at least some idea of what he’s seeing when somebody else is doing the job.” Anders continued chewing and nodded.
When his mouth was free again he said, “Why don’t you and I go into Whiterun this morning and talk with him? We can drop off a few supplies and say hi to Anja, and check at Warmaiden’s to find out how soon we might get the rest of our money. I really hope we’ll have enough to cover Hegmar’s needs without asking Kat for more. That could get awkward.”
Wyll smiled, nodding. “Sounds like a good idea. We’ve hardly ever asked her for cash. She’s likely to get suspicious if she returns from her errands and the first thing we have to say is ‘Honey, give us some money.’”
Anders, finished now with the couple of sweet rolls and mug of tea which were all he really wanted at this hour, mused “There’s some ingots and soul gems down in the basement. We could sell those to Belethor, or maybe Farengar would pay us for the gems. Or we could just ask Lane to give us some gold.”
“You’re right,” Wyll said, looking relieved. “We should have more than enough to finish the project without bringing it to Kat’s attention. Are you ready to go?”
Wyll stood and Anders followed, brushing crumbs off his trousers as he rose. They stopped off at the bar to pick up some supplies. As Kat’s fiancés, they were both lauded by their fellow Suite employees (Farquhar in particular was sorry it had not been him who’d claimed the beautiful Dragonborn’s heart) and treated as if they were her proxies in her absence. So there was no problem taking anything they wanted without paying for it, or issuing orders.
They found the weather on the raw side this morning, with rain threatening and a stiff breeze making them wish they’d brought along cloaks. But walking soon warmed them. As Anders and Wyll approached Chillfurrow Farm they saw Hegmar outside it with a couple of helpers. He had a pair of curious-looking instruments mounted on tripods, and coils of twine knotted at intervals, with which he and his crew appeared to be taking measurements. This looked promising. Anders greeted him, and said “We’re going into town but we’ll be back in the next hour or two. Can we confer with you then?” Hegmar, focused on what he was doing, broke his concentration long enough to give them a lopsided grin and say “A’right. See you…” before returning to the task at hand.
As the two friends continued up the road to town their discussion mostly revolved around Hegmar. There was something about the man personally that made him seem questionable, somehow – but from what they’ve seen of him on the job he knew his shit. Getting in the main gates of Whiterun by around 9, Anders and Wyll made straight for the door of Breezehome. Co-owners of the house in theory, if not in actual law, they still respected the privacy of the occupants and knocked. Then they waited for admittance.
It was Argis who opened the door to them, greeting them with a broad grin. “Good morning!” he said heartily, seeming to be in as good a mood as ever they’d seen him. He ushered them inside the cottage, where they found Lydia standing at the fire stirring a pot of wheat porridge while Anya sat at the table reading her alphabet book. Clearly, Argis had captured her imagination with that.
“Have you eaten?” Argis asked them. “Thanks,” Wyll said. “We ate before leaving the Suite.” “Well, have some tea then,” their host said, gesturing toward a tall pewter pot sitting atop an iron trivet on the table. They thanked him, and helped themselves to a couple of steaming cups as the rest of the family tucked into bowls of the porridge, lightly sweetened with honey and swimming in butter and milk.
Wyll, whose breakfast had been cut somewhat short by his eagerness to leave this morning (and whose appetite had been further stimulated by the walk here) looked at that porridge a little regretfully. But he felt it best to hold his peace. You can’t just pop in on somebody cooking for the family and expect them to magically stretch the meal to feed extra mouths.
As the family ate, Wyll and Anders began telling their co-conspirators about developments in the project, also obtaining Lydia’s collusion in their plan to take Argis with them as part of the “oversight committee” to make sure that the work was done as they wanted. About halfway through this, it abruptly occurred to Anders that Anja was sitting there, eating her breakfast and taking all this in. What “news” might she happily share with Kat on their next meeting?
“Anja,” he said, making sure the little one was paying attention to him. “Do you know what we’re talking about?”
The girl looked a little unsure. “You’re making a house?” she asked, hesitantly.
“That’s right,” he told her. “We’re making a special house where Auntie Kat and I and Wyll are going to live, and you and Lydia and Argis will come and visit there whenever you want. But we want to make it a special surprise for Auntie Kat. Do you understand?”
The youngster’s warm brown eyes lit up. “Oh! I love surprises!” Anders grinned at her.
“So do I, and so does Auntie Kat. But in order to make the surprise, we need to do everything in secret. That means that you can’t tell anything you know about the surprise when Auntie Kat comes to visit. And you shouldn’t tell her that you know there’s a secret, either, or she will get suspicious. Do you think you can do that?”
Anja gave him a coy look that was somehow much older than her five years, and batted her eyes at him innocently. “What secret?” she said.
The four adults in the room looked at Anja in surprise. Just how bright was this child, and what did it portend for the future? Anders had a feeling it would all come back to haunt them when she hit adolescence; but for the moment it appeared their secret was safe. After Argis had finished his breakfast (and washed up his bowl, spoon, mug, and the cooking pot as well, his friends noted), he kissed Lydia and Anja goodbye. “I’ll be down at Chillfurrow Farm most of the day,” he told them. “You can send a runner if you need anything.”
“We’ll be fine,” Lydia told him somewhat coolly. “Do you want me to pack you a lunch?” Argis glanced at the other men in the room.
“We’ll get lunch at the Suite,” Anders told him.
Their schedule for the day thus arranged, the three still-impressive but increasingly domesticated warriors left the cottage. They found Adrianne outside Warmaiden’s just resting with her back against a post. “’Morning Adrianne,” Anders greeted her. “I was wondering whether you had any more gold for us?” She smiled at him. “Yes, quite a few of those pieces you placed with us have already been sold. Katja does good work.” She produced a sack of gold and counted out another 3,000 septims. “That leaves us owing you, let me see, 7,000 septims, right?” Anders nodded. Adrianne had him sign a receipt, and they went on their way.
By the time the three men had gotten back to Chillfurrow Farm, it appeared that Hegmar and his crew had finished their measurements of the existing small farmhouse and were now laying out the new wing. Twine was affixed to small iron stakes, marking out the boundaries of the structure and the interior walls of each room. Anders, Wyll, and Argis were captivated. It was as if their mental vision was being transformed into reality before their eyes. Admittedly a sketchy reality; but here on the actual building site it was possible to visualize the additions much more fully than when they were just making marks on paper.
Anders introduced Argis to Hegmar, who shook his hand and reiterated his offer to take Argis on as an assistant. Argis nodded at him rather gravely, but informed him that he was oath-bound to serve The Reach and not free to take on any permanent assignments without the express command of his Thane – and ultimately, his Jarl. Should his service to Katja terminate for some reason – such as her death, a falling-out with the Jarl, or her simply no longer claiming his services, his duty would revert to Markarth.
The little builder eyed him appraisingly, “’S a pity,” he declared, then shortly got back to showing them around the site. “Here’s your new wing,” he said gesturing at a rectangle somewhat wider than the original house and joined to it at the northern end. “We’ve got your craft room on the west side, along with the bathroom and the ‘privy’. The hall leads down the middle. On the east side, there’s your bigger bedroom with smaller ones on either side, with the deck running along the east side of those and a door out to it from each of the bedrooms. And your nursery runs across the width of the wing at the northern end of the hall.”
Hegmar gestured to where his crew were even now laying out a square maybe 20 feet on a side, somewhat to the west and north of the original house. “They’re laying out your water tower now,” he said. “I’ve got the bathroom and privy right next to the original structure, so the water can serve those rooms and the kitchen with the minimum amount of piping. Now that waste system, it’ll have drain pipes running underground west of the annex to the tank over here…” more gestures, to an area that was currently marked with what looked like powdered chalk, “and the water from the kitchen and the bath will drain there too. Then your drain field goes down the slope toward the road.”
The discussions went on for some time, Katja’s three adherents becoming more and more impressed with the way Hegmar was handling things. For the first time since they’d hatched this scheme, Anders was starting to think they might actually pull it off. They paced around the site, making sure that the dimensions of the rooms seemed right. The only thing the design seemed to lack was a single large room where the entire family could relax together; but in warm weather, at least, the roofed veranda would meet that need. And they could always add more rooms as needed over the years.
Anders had a thought, and asked Hegmar, “Can you get some decent sized clear windows?” large areas of plate glass were unheard-of in Skyrim, but the farm’s picturesque setting called for windows you could actually look out of.
Hegmar shook his head. “I’ve got nobody can make glass you can see through, to speak of. But your friend said you’re a wizard?”
Anders nodded. “What I can do, see, is frame the windows in and make shutters for them. All tight and secure, come night or bad weather. Then in fine weather, you just open up the shutters and there’s your view. And mayhap, you can figure out some way to make a sheet of glass that could go in there so you can see out but not get the wind and the bugs? You do it, and everybody in Skyrim’s going to want that. You and me, we could set up in partnership, like. What d’you think?” Hegmar smiled what Anders assumed was intended to be winningly. He smiled back.
“Sounds like a good idea, Hegmar,” Anders said. “You frame those window openings and cover them with shutters we can close and lock from the inside, for now.” He and his cohorts continued walking around the place, their minds alight with inspiration and anticipation. They could hardly wait to see this actually take shape. As morning wore on into afternoon Hegmar’s crew took a lunch break, downing tools to plop down beside the house and produce bread, cheese, apples and ale which they consumed with enthusiasm.
“Are we good, then?” Hegmar asked them. The lines of the addition, as delineated by the twine, appeared to be properly placed, square and true. There were still a few details of construction to be worked out but it appeared that the “map” was in order and work could proceed. Anders and Wyll, after a glance at each other, said in unison “I think so.” Hegmar produced yet another piece of rolled paper from inside his cloak and they all trooped inside the house. He spread the paper on the table near the door and Anders and Wyll were required to sign off on it.
“I need your okay before I get started on the digging,” he explained. “I’ll have another crew with shovels out here after lunch. Then tomorrow I should have the final construction drawings done, and I’ll be giving you the final estimate after I cost the materials. We should be starting to rise above ground level in another few days.” Wyll and Anders gulped, and signed. They needed this to proceed in a hurry, but the fact that it was doing just that left them feeling as though they wanted to pull back and reconsider. Being men of action though, they stifled their misgivings and forged ahead.
Leaving Hegmar to eat his own lunch and send for his digging crew, the three strolled on down the road a short distance to the Luxury Suite. Argis had not been here before, and he was fairly dazzled at the handsome, well-built inn with its upper story and several pools. Particularly, of course, the hot pool in the common room. Early afternoon was a slow time for the pool, though, and no naked people of either gender were to be found therein.
Argis bent to put his hand in the water and his good eye lit. “You’re planning something like this for the house?” he asked Anders. In the minds of the three conspirators, their project had become “The House.”
“Smaller,” Anders demurred. “Maybe a third this size, but deep enough you can get wet up to your armpits. I still haven’t worked out the water system, though. A tub this deep holds a lot of water, and if we’re relying on our cistern for filling it we can’t be draining it every day. It rains here a lot, but not that much – and we know Kat’s going to want to bathe every day.”
They all headed for the “Owner’s Table,” as they were coming to think of it, and Wyll motioned Lane over. “What’s on the fire?” he asked.
Lane smiled. “How about some fresh-caught salmon? Pulled them out of the river an hour ago. And there’s bread and some grilled leeks…”
“Sounds good,” Wyll told him. “And some chilled ales all ’round?” Lane nodded, and soon returned with three bottles of the best.
As the three men enjoyed their frosty bottles of ale and waited for the food to arrive, they resumed their discussion. “The hot pool over there and the warm one out on the deck operate with some kind of Dwemer mechanism that keeps the water circulating, filtering and purifying it somehow while maintaining the temperature,” Anders explained. He went on, “While Kat and I were chasing Auriel’s Bow we met some actual snow elves, the race that was corrupted into the Falmer by the Dwemer.”
Argis had gotten some of this tale after they’d returned from their vampire-killing expedition; but he hadn’t heard all the details and his eyebrows raised as Anders continued. “From what that Gelebor guy said the Dwemer were a bunch of bastards. But it’s too bad there aren’t still a few of them around. Or better yet, some really comprehensive technical manuals explaining how their machines work – along with a Dwemer-to-Common Speech dictionary.” He sighed.
Their salmon steaks and leeks arrived, sizzling from the grill and looking juicy and delicious. They were accompanied by more chilled ale and a plate of bread rolls, and for the time being the three men abandoned talk for food. Lane had used some kind of herbs on the salmon, that lent it a piquant and delicious tang. When appetites had been blunted, conversation resumed – with frequent pauses as they continued to work their way through the rest of their repast.
“Anders,” Wyll said, “I don’t think we need all three of us out there at the site this afternoon. They’re just digging holes, after all. Why don’t you put your mind to the hot water issue this afternoon, while Argis and I go back up there and oversee the work? I know I’m eager to see every detail of how they do it, in case I want to do it myself someday. How about you, Argis?”
The somewhat grim-looking warrior smiled and nodded. “I’m thinking that some of the improvements that are being made to the house might be applied to Breezehome,” he speculated.
Anders thought that a fine idea. His mind had leapt to the challenge of the puzzle before it like a trout to a tempting fly, and he was already chewing over half a dozen possible solutions. He had a few ideas about the glass, too, that would require some experimentation. The three finished their meal and, burping gently from the bubbles in the ale, split into two groups. Wyll and Argis left by the front door and went down the road to Chillfurrow, while Anders went upstairs and changed into some lightweight armor. What he planned to do would require some protection.