Upstairs, Katja gave herself a sponge bath before putting on her clothes. She wanted something that bespoke authority for talking with Balgruuf, but also offered a bit of protection in case they were ambushed by hostile wildlife on the way into town. Even within the shadow of Whiterun’s walls, one could sometimes find peril in broad daylight. She added a finely wrought leather breastplate to an ensemble of soft wool with fur and velvet accents. Then she looked over the contents of her pack.
From the way it was nearly empty, it was high time to do some more crafting – and selling. Her enchanting skills could still use some work. And, stuck at home for a few days, without the map, seemed like the perfect time to improve them. For now, though, she just took her bow and arrows plus a well-honed Elven dagger for protection. Everybody carried a dagger for cutting meat, and polite society didn’t look askance at one whether you carried the most basic iron dagger that would have trouble dealing with a haunch of goat, or a gleaming glass one enchanted to turn your enemies into glowing pink slime.
Hmm, Katja mused as she assembled her outfit. That “glowing pink slime” enchantment would be a nice one to learn. I wonder where I could get that? She laughed to herself. As fantastic as the world and its many magics was, it could not outstrip her imagination. For some reason, she just seemed to be in an awfully good mood this morning.
Returning back downstairs fully dressed and ready to go, Katja found Anders and Serana finished with their meal and standing up as Wyll, having deposited his breakfast tray at the bar, was walking across the room to join them. The four of them strolled out the Suite’s front doors and stood on the porch conferring. “Do you have everything you need?” Katja asked Anders somewhat anxiously. He was wearing his armor and appeared to be carrying all his usual weapons. “Potions, money?”
He smiled at her reassuringly. “It’s all covered, Mom.” Ouch. Evidently she had not really come to terms with his going off and leaving her. He was a grown man ten years her senior and a proven warrior. Get a grip, Kat.
She smiled ruefully at him and stepped up to give him a kiss and the sort of hug one wearing street clothing gives to someone in full armor. Turning to Serana, she said “Would you like to come to the wedding parties? We’re having them both here at the Suite. There will be one on the 18th for Argis and Lydia, and another one the 11th of next month for us. In fact, I’d like to invite everybody in the Dawnguard crew to that one. But they’d have to make their own way here. Maybe you could all walk into Riften and take a wagon to Whiterun from the stables?”
“Whether anyone wants to come with me or not, I will definitely be here for your party on the 11th,” Serana promised. “I think that in some ways, the love you three share is a large part of what convinced me to become human again. I want that kind of love.”
Katja felt tears threatening as Serana’s words touched her to the soul. “Don’t worry,” she told her friend. “You’ll find it. There’s probably not an unattached straight man in Skyrim who wouldn’t leap at the chance to be with you.”
“Thanks,” Serana said wryly, a little smile quirking her lips. It wasn’t just a matter of finding somebody to jump into bed with you, after all. But that was certainly a start…
“Anders,” Katja said, suddenly remembering her curiosity when the subject had come up last night. “Stand over there and pull out the map.” Looking puzzled, he walked down onto the road and did so. “What cities do you see?” she called to him. He’d looked at the map over Kat’s shoulder many times in their months of traveling together, and what he saw now looked pretty familiar. “It looks about the same,” he called back.
“Can you think of any places you’ve visited without the map, and see if they’re showing?” Anders considered for a moment. He’d been to most places in Skyrim over the past decade, including some that were not on any map. But Wyll’s hometown of Dawnstar was a logical one. Katja had never been anywhere near it. Hmm, it was there. But, he realized, major cities generally appeared on the map before you’d visited them, as did places you’d been told about. Yet that didn’t mean the map would take you there, not until you’d visited them the old-fashioned way. And after learning about the time consumed by fast-traveling, he wasn’t about to try it. They might all be standing around for another day and a half waiting for him to return.
Oh, wait. There was a giant camp not that far from Dawnstar, he recalled now. What was the name? It had been 4 or 5 years ago, when he’d been wandering as a solo adventurer, that the Jarl of Dawnstar had offered a bounty for killing the giant at… Red Road Pass, that was it! It was out in the frozen waste some hours south of the “city” of Dawnstar. He’d dispatched the giant, a feat facilitated by scrambling up a pine tree out of reach of the angry fellow’s massive club, and claimed the bounty.
Anders searched the map area south of Dawnstar, but there was no sign of the encampment. He turned and walked back to where Kat, Wyll, and Serana awaited him. “I went to a place a few years ago that’s not showing on the map,” he said. “I think that means that this map will only take the person in possession of it to places that they have visited while they had possession. Since I was part of your party, as far as the map was concerned, I count and it’ll take me – and whoever is ‘with’ me – to all the places we went together, including some I only visited when you took me there using the map. But if we were to walk into Whiterun and hand this map to one of the guards at the gate, I don’t think it would take him anywhere. Not even any places he’d been to before he got the map.”
He realized at this point that his audience’s eyes were taking on a glazed look. Skeevers. “Let’s just say, it should take me and Serana to Fort Dawnguard. But Kat, I think you and Wyll should stay way back or you might end up coming along with us.”
“Why don’t you and Serana walk up the road a few dozen paces? Wyll and I will stay here on the porch,” Katja suggested. She had followed Anders’ explanation, more or less, but it had only raised more questions. She suspected the “science” of magic maps might well take years of study.
She and Wyll stood as the other two descended the steps and began walking up the road. “Goodbye! See you soon!” Katja called, once again gripped by a feeling of painful separation as she watched Anders walk away. She’d left him plenty of times, for days at a time. What was her problem? When Anders and Serana had reached a point in the road a hundred or so feet from the Suite, he stepped close to his female companion, mentally encompassing her as a part of his “group” or whatever it was, touched Fort Dawnguard on the map and wished them there.
Katja and Wyll watched Anders and Serana waver slightly in the morning air, then vanish from view. She turned to her companion, smiling. “It worked! Well, shall we be off?” The two of them strode away in the direction their recent companions had taken, and before long they were abreast of Chillfurrow Farm. “Oh my!” Katja exclaimed, staring open-mouthed at the horde of workers swarming around the place. Massive amounts of stone for the basement and foundations had now been delivered, Hegmar’s final estimate having been approved and a further deposit made by the conspirators.
“Oh that,” Wyll remarked nonchalantly. “Seems the owner, Nazeem, has decided to expand the place. He thinks he’ll make more money if he gets more people living there.” Katja looked a little puzzled, but readily accepted Wyll’s explanation. After all, he had been around the area a lot more than she had of late. More often than not even when she was in the area, she would fast-travel into town and never go past this little farm.
“I thought it was just one old man living here?” she asked.
“New tenants coming,” Wyll explained. “More hands, more crops. That’s what I heard, anyway.”
They resumed walking up the road, soon leaving both the farm and the discussion behind. Inside the gates of Whiterun, Katja greeted her friend Adrianne with a wave of the hand and made for the door of Breezehome. “I’ll hook up with you later,” Wyll told her. “I’ve got some business to take care of.” Katja looked at him nonplussed. Wyll usually visited with the family at Breezehome on an almost daily basis, and she was surprised he would pass up the opportunity to be there when she gave them the news that their wedding was definitely on the schedule.
“All right then,” she told him. “I’ll probably be heading up to see Balgruuf at Dragonsreach within the hour.”
“I’ll meet you up there,” he promised, hastening off up the road. What was he up to? Katja wondered. Well, time would likely tell. She continued on to rap at the cottage door, which was shortly opened by Anja. The girl seemed to have grown a little since the last time she was here, if such a thing were possible. She was wearing a pretty dress and had her long auburn hair in two ponytails, held high on either side of her head with pink ribbons.
Katja grinned at her. She was so adorable! Personally, pink ribbons were not her thing; and she was hard put to imagine they were Lydia’s either. But they looked awfully cute on a five-year-old, and she didn’t doubt Anja would grow out of them in time. Anja’s face lit up, and she hurtled through the door to hug Katja around the middle, crying “Auntie Kat!”
A moment later, with that ferret-like speed that seemed to characterize all her movements, Anja had stepped back to admire Katja’s raiment. She’d often seen her in more businesslike garb, but seemed to approve of this outfit. “You look very pretty and important!” she declared.
“Thank you Anja,” Katja replied sincerely. “May I come in?”
Remembering her manners, which her foster parents had been trying to teach her, Anja curtsied and stepped aside, saying “Please!” and gesturing to the interior of the small home.
Lydia was in the kitchen area, washing dishes with lye soap in a wooden tub. “Katja!” she exclaimed, “you’re back!”
“Yes,” Katja responded, swelling with pleasure, “and I have good news. Is Argis around?”
For some reason this question seemed to catch the other woman off guard, and she appeared to miss a beat before saying, “Oh, he’s off working on a project. He’ll probably be gone all day.” She gave Anja a look, which Anja returned with an expression as of someone unjustly accused of malfeasance.
Katja was disappointed. She’d envisioned telling the couple together. Well, Argis was a man – and men can’t be expected to sit around the house all day. “You’ll have to give him the news for me, then,” she told Lydia. “Your wedding will be in the temple of Mara in Riften at 9 o’clock in the morning on the 17th of this month. We’ll all be gathered together at the Luxury Suite no later than 7 o’clock on the evening of the 16th, and will fast-travel to Riften from there. We expect to arrive in Riften a couple of hours before the ceremony. After the wedding, we’ll fast-travel back to Whiterun. I can drop you three off back here to spend the night. Then the following day, we’ll have the big party at the Suite starting around 2 in the afternoon.”
Lydia was just standing there, a soap-dripping pot in her hands, looking at her raptly. “Well?” Katja prompted, “What do you think?” Lydia glanced down at her hands, dropping the pot back down into the washtub.
Then a radiant smile spread across her features as she gazed at her benefactress and said, “Katja! This is wonderful! I can hardly believe it’s happening…” Anja, too, seemed delighted by the news.
“You can be the flower girl,” Katja promised her. “I’ll give you some flowers to carry and you’ll walk down to the altar ahead of Aunt Lydia and Uncle Argis. You drop the flowers one by one on the floor in the aisle. And then you come stand by me and Uncle Anders and Uncle Wyll while the priest says the wedding words.”
Anja was goggle-eyed at the prospect. “Oh, and you’ll wear your prettiest dress, too.” Lydia smiled at that. Even she, destined to become a swordmaiden and bondswoman to the Hold, had liked pretty dresses when she was that age. Of course, that was before she’d been orphaned. She wished she had a prettier one to wear for her wedding, but really any of the clothes she’d acquired since starting this new chapter of her life were prettier than what she’d owned before.
“Now that we have the date,” Katja was continuing, “I need to have that list so I can send out invitations to everyone for the party. I’ll be formally asking Jarl Balgruuf to the wedding in person, of course.” She considered for a while, then decided surprise was not called for and said, “I already have ex-Jarl Igmund and his former steward, Raerek, staying with us at the Suite. So you can tell Argis I have his request covered.” Lydia smiled, pleased at this news. She knew it had troubled Argis to have his bond summarily handed over from one Jarl to another.
She went over to a nearby bookcase and pulled down a roll of paper, on which she’d written the names and locations of the people she and Argis wanted to have invited to their wedding celebration. Katja scanned it quickly. The list wasn’t all that long, but of course it didn’t include any of the Suite employees who would be there in any case, all of whom Lydia had come to know during her months as a resident of the place.
Everyone was in the local area, and there should be no problems getting them to the Suite. The inn was becoming so popular, any local who hadn’t been there yet was either scheming on an excuse to go or pretending they’d already been. Katja wondered idly whether, at this rate, she might end up getting more prestige points for being the inn’s proprietor than she did for being the savior of the planet. Now that would be typical…
Katja lingered talking with Lydia and Anja for a few minutes more. Meanwhile, as soon as Wyll had left her he had headed up the nearest staircase at a trot, and (puffing a bit; there hadn’t been enough of either questing or athletic sex to keep him in peak condition of late) reached the doors of Dragonsreach within a minute or two of the time he and Kat had come in through the front gates.
Smoothing his clothing and catching his breath for a moment, Wyll then strolled through those doors as if he owned the place. He might lack the polish and panache Anders could bring to bear when confronting the nobility, but he had his own sort of gravitas. Plus, people generally liked him. In fact, Jarl Balgruuf liked him. A fine example of a young Nord, he thought as he saw Wyll approaching the dais. Today as it happened was a slow day for Hold business, and the older man welcomed the chance for a little converse with this jovial young fellow who was, it seemed, of some importance to The Dragonborn.
“May the gods favor your battles,” he said as Wyll approached.
Wyll bowed respectfully and said, “the same to you, sir.”
“So, how is Chillfurrow farm working out for you?” Balgruuf wanted to know. “I’m assuming the purchase was satisfactory?”
Wyll gave him one of his famous blue-eyed, boyish grins sure to disarm anybody and said “Thank you, sir. Nazeem was most accommodating to us. We’ve purchased the property and are now employing a large crew of local residents to extend the house.” He wavered at this point from his bluff, forthright manner and admitted almost shyly, “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about…”
Under Balgruuf’s penetrating inquisition the whole story came out: Katja’s betrothal to them both, their desire to surprise her on their wedding day with her dream house, the problems they were having keeping the project a secret now that she was here and spending several days in the area before the wedding. Balgruuf cocked an eyebrow at the revelation of The Dragonborn’s unusual wedding plans. This sort of thing was just not done, in his experience. But on the other hand, she was The Dragonborn. That she wanted to bow to convention enough to be formally married was something, at least. And he found the whole situation with her two fiancés’ efforts to surprise her charming.
“So,” the Jarl said, summing up, “she’s coming here in a few minutes to talk with me. And you’d like me not to mention that I’m aware of any real estate transactions involving you two?”
Wyll smiled, happy that he’d managed to get the point across. “That’s it exactly! Er, if you’re all right with that…?”
Balgruuf smiled broadly. “Of course I’m all right with it!” he said. “We men have got to stick together, right?”
Wyll nodded, feeling a bit like a kid despite his size. “Thank you, sir!”
The Jarl having nothing else to occupy his time for the moment, he and Wyll engaged in a casual discussion almost as equals. Balgruuf might be a hereditary aristocrat with the running of an entire Hold as his responsibility, while Wyll was just a young Nord sellsword from a tiny town in the far north; but his forthcoming marriage alliance with The Dragonborn, however unconventional, had elevated his status in Skyrim society. Wyll accepted this as equably as he did most things in life, and chatted amiably with the older man until Katja appeared.
She strode up to the area below the dais and gave him a smile, squeezing his hand. “I’m sorry you missed Anja,” she told him. “You should have seen her face when I told her she was going to be the flower girl at the wedding.”
Wyll smiled beatifically back at her, and said “Well, my business is concluded. I think I’ll leave you to your own business and go pop in on Lydia and Anja. Shall I meet you at Breezehome for the walk back to the Suite?”
“That would be fine,” Katja said, squeezing his hand again.
Wyll nodded respectfully to Balgruuf and said, “Good talking with you, my Jarl.” Then he took his leave. As he walked back down the hall she followed him with her eyes, wondering how he happened to be talking with Balgruuf. The Jarl had certainly met both him and Anders on the occasion of the trapping of Ohdaviing, before they’d killed Alduin. But she didn’t realize they were on speaking terms.
Turning back to Balgruuf, Katja looked him in the eyes and was pleased to see him sitting erect, rather than in the half-reclining posture the jarls of Skyrim often affected when greeting their subjects. Many of them were quite nice and respectful, but that slouch always seemed to say to her, “your presence here is of so little import that I can barely stay awake.” Indeed, the old man’s blue eyes were twinkling and he appeared to be actively anticipating whatever she might have to say.” What was going on?
“Ah, Dragonborn!” Balgruuf said warmly, a trace of amusement in his tone. “In what way may I assist you?” Katja cocked an eyebrow at him.
Then, following her usual policy of simply plunging ahead in the face of puzzling evidence, she said “I bear good tidings, my Jarl.” Mentally she thought of him as ‘Balgruuf,’ but she maintained a modicum of respect for his rank and for the man who held it.
To her delight and astonishment, he replied with “Please, Dragonborn, I think that you might call me Balgruuf. And may I call you Katja?”
Almost thunderstruck at this turn, she smiled at him and said, “All right… Balgruuf.” It certainly helps, sometimes, to be a good-looking woman in your early 20s. For almost the first time since she and her companions had defeated the World-Eater, Katja felt as if the respect she was due was coming to her at last. Why should she not move among the circles of the elite, on a first-name basis with jarls and other nobles? She had poured out her life’s blood for her adopted province, and everyone in it owed her recognition, at the least. She smiled secretly to herself and continued, “My news concerns the housecarl Lydia, whose services you assigned me when you first made me Thane.”
Both of them seemed lost for a moment in memories of that day. It had happened in the aftermath of the first dragon attack in the Whiterun area, the day she had first discovered she was dragonborn. Balgruuf looked thoughtful. “I remember Lydia well. She gave her oaths to me and the hold when she was scarcely more than a girl. Has she given satisfactory service?” he asked.
Katja smiled at him. “Satisfactory, and more than satisfactory,” she said. “I now also have in my service one Argis, a housecarl of Markarth, and the two of them are to be wed.” By Skyrim law, you might marry when and whom you would. But if you were pledged to the hold, there was no guarantee that you would not be forced to leave your spouse’s side if your sworn duty called.
Balgruuf’s lined face lit in a smile of pleasure. “Lydia, to be wed… how wonderful! I confess, I never thought I would see the day. She’s such a serious young thing. Beautiful, to be sure, but…”
Katja returned his smile. “Things have changed quite a bit for Lydia in the past few weeks,” she told him. “In any case, the wedding is to be held at the Temple of Mara in Riften at 9 in the morning on the 17th of this month. Lydia hopes that you will be there to see her wed. As I’m sure you know, she has no surviving family.”
The old man looked touched. He’d felt sorry for the fierce, beautiful young orphan woman who had come to offer her service. How remarkable that her life could have taken this turn! Looking up at Katja, he said “Of course, I will be there.” He called to Proventus, who was hanging off to the side of the dais being unobtrusive, and said “Please make a note in my calendar. I think that we’ll take a fast coach on the 15th. That should put us in Riften in plenty of time for the ceremony. And arrange some suitable wedding present, if you will.” Proventus nodded, pulling out an appointment book and making notations.
Katja’s smile deepened as little as she said to the Jarl, “As for the matter of wedding presents, Balgruuf, there are some other matters I would like to discuss with you. And I think Proventus will need to be involved, as well.” She stepped closer to the dais and began speaking softly.