A Blur of Motion
Came the dawn, Katja was up with the chickens. Not that the Suite had any chickens. Maybe we ought to fence off the side yard and keep a flock, she mused, as she slipped on a robe and climbed the ladder to the floor above. With as much business as the Suite was doing these days, they needed more and more foodstuffs. The ovens that had been added to the kitchen were a help, but they could use expanded cooking facilities as well. Preparing the food for the two forthcoming parties was going to be a challenge.
She slipped into the hot pool, which she had to herself at this hour. Even as her body relaxed and enjoyed the water her mind was churning with ideas, to-do lists, and a thousand concerns. She really didn’t want to forget anything, but there was so much to do! Bread and sweet rolls were already baking in the kitchen, the delicious smells causing her stomach to growl and remind her she was just lying here in hot water when she should be eating breakfast and getting to work on the day’s projects.
After toweling off Katja went upstairs and put on some appropriate clothing. She was going for a fusion between practicality and dressiness, as the trip on foot to Whiterun was never guaranteed to be free of peril, but she also expected to be stopping in at Dragonsreach. She didn’t want the society matrons to write her off as one of those women, when she asked them for the name of their seamstress.
So, Katja put on an ankle-length velvet skirt with soft, agile leather boots below and a silken blouse with mutton-chop sleeves above. Over the blouse she wore a moonstone cuirass of her own design, more delicately and decoratively worked than normal Elven armor so that it resembled jewelry rather than the protective garment it actually was. She’d even set it with a few gemstones, rubies of course. Her work with jewelry was still pretty basic. She was able to turn out rings, necklaces, and circlets of the standard Skyrim designs, but for finer stuff she turned to professionals.
The cuirass was enchanted with a tripartite benison obtained from a legendary artifact she’d found while questing a few months before. It enhanced health, stamina, and magicka. Katja let her long auburn hair flow down around her shoulders, pinning it back from her face with a copper and ruby circlet she’d made and enchanted. It offered increased magicka recovery as well as a boost for Destruction spells. A ring and necklace, likewise pretty to behold, boosted her magical abilities. She was likely never going to approach Anders in her skills as a Destruction mage, but thus garbed and with her lethally enchanted dagger at her belt (not to mention her Shouts), she should be more than a match for anything that might accost her between here and the city gates. Unless it was a dragon, of course – in which case, her plan was to run like hell.
Katja tucked the party invitations into the decoratively worked leather pouch she carried when her full pack was not needed. It didn’t have nearly the carrying capacity, but she had need to carry only the invitations and some gold, along with the small collection of clothing she wanted to sell. She descended the stairs, looking regal, and made her way to the Owner’s Table, as they’d now begun calling it, where a small pot of hot tea and a plate of warm sweet rolls soon appeared. Ellis was awfully good at his job.
The Suite guests and residents were beginning to stir now, but the two elderly members of Markarth’s former ruling family had not yet put in an appearance. Katja ate her breakfast with a certain amount of dispatch, anxious both to get moving and to avoid being delayed by falling into conversation with them. They’d taken her invitation to stay at the Suite whole-heartedly, and seemed now to believe that she was here for no other reason than to entertain them and see to their every need.
Lane was up and wandering around though he hadn’t gone on duty yet. She grabbed him and Ellis for a brief consultation. “We need to have a conference about the party here on the 18th, and also the one next month. Can we all get together here this afternoon after I get back from town?”
“You’re the boss,” they both assured her. Neither of them ever left the Suite if they could avoid it. Departing with a smile and a wave, Katja set off out the Suite’s front doors into a winter morning bright with promise.
It was amazing, Katja mused, as she began walking down the road to the south, what an equable climate Whiterun had. Sure, it rained here frequently. That led to plentiful crops and no shortage of water for those who collected it in cisterns or dug wells, which never needed to be all that deep. But it almost never snowed, the wind was seldom more than a gentle breeze, and there were never the oppressively leaden skies or thick fogs that plagued some other regions. At the moment, here at the end of the first week in the new year, a deep blue sky was dotted with cumulonimbus clouds that suggested little threat of precipitation. A perfectly lovely day for a walk, even if she did have the map back again.
She soon came up on Chillfurrow Farm, and was impressed at the speed with which the work there was progressing. Already the stonework for the foundations was done, and a tower some 20 feet on a side was rising behind the house. She spotted Argis standing amid the construction workers looking supervisory, a sheaf of drawings in his hand, and gave him a friendly wave as she went on past.
This led her to musing about their own home, again, and she ran through in her mind the areas where land might be available. There was a bandit den in a shallow cave tucked down below the city walls over on the west side. Perhaps they could get Balgruuf to cede them the land after they cleaned out the bandits (again; she and Wyll had killed them all several months ago, but like all such places it had soon found new tenants), and turn the cave into the house’s root cellar – then build out from there.
Hmm, not a totally bad idea. It was a bit far from either the city gates or the Suite, but both could be reached by fast-travelling in seconds. And the view out over the plains to the west, if not as attractive as the river view on the east, was not unpleasant. Lost in thought, Katja had continued her progress up the road from the river, moving across Whiterun’s southern overlook; and was taken completely by surprise when a skeever popped up to attack her.
As usual, her first response was the Unrelenting Force Shout. It was the first she had fully learned, and one of the most useful in her repertoire. The hapless creature flew through the air, tumbling, to land in bushes some 30 feet away. Meanwhile she readied twin streams of the Chain Lightning destruction spell, and blasted it to oblivion. Damn! That’ll teach you to be mooning while you’re supposed to be keeping a lookout, she told herself with annoyance. The creature had left several dirty scratches on her lovely velvet skirt. She brushed at it as best she could with her hands, wishing the Restoration school offered some spells for dealing with property damage.
Katja came in through the gates in Whiterun and waved to Adrianne, who was already out working at her forge. Then she continued on up the road to the central marketplace. As she’d hoped, Anja’s young friend Lars was hanging around. She had the general idea that he was the son of one of the stall holders. He appeared to be around 8, a handsome lad with dark brown hair and blue eyes. Most people throughout Tamriel learned to read and write, usually taught at home as there were no schools established for children. Katja hoped Lars was one of them.
“Hello, Lars,” she said. He smiled uncertainly at her.
“You’re The Dragonborn, right?” he asked bluntly. “Wyll and Anders’s friend? And Anja’s?”
“That’s right,” she said giving him what she hoped was a motherly smile. Anja had opened up a whole new world to her, but Katja didn’t really think she had this motherhood thing down yet. “Lars, I was hoping you could help me with something. Can you read?”
He sneered, an expression that looked out of place on his cute, boyish features. “Of course I can read,” he replied. “I’m not a baby!”
“I’m sure you’re not!” she replied, anxious to get back into his good graces. “I have some letters here,” she said, proffering the ribbon-tied bundle of invitations, “that need to be delivered to some people here in Whiterun.” She untied the ribbon and sorted through, removing three of them from the stack. Those, she would deliver herself. “I was hoping that you might be able to help me with delivering these. Do you know any of these people?” She handed him the remaining stack.
In part, she was testing whether Lars’ claim to be able to read was justified. He went through the folded, addressed missives, studying what was written on each of them in Katja’s neat calligraphy. His lips moved slightly as he read each one, then nodded and tucked the folded paper to the bottom of the stack. In a couple of minutes he had the bulk of the stack in one hand and 3 or 4 in another. “These,” he said, waving the larger stack, “are all people I know. These others I don’t know but I can take it where it says.”
Katja’s face lit with pleasure. “Excellent!” she said. “I’ll give you ten septims if you can deliver all of these to their recipients and meet me back here in three hours’ time. And I’ll buy you lunch. Deal?”
Lars’ eyes were wide. Ten septims was a fortune! And lunch, too?! “It’s a deal!” he cried, then dashed off. His agile mind was already planning his route. Whiterun wasn’t that big a city, but what if some of the people were not at home?
Katja smiled as the lad vanished. She had reason to believe he could be trusted. In a town the size of this one, almost anyone who had stayed here for long came to know almost everyone else. Reputation was everything, and you didn’t screw people and expect to be able to survive for long. Plus, Anja had vouched for him.
She noted that Belethor’s was now open for business, and stepped across the way to enter the shop. Dealing with Belethor was as pleasant as immersing oneself in a mixture of honey and cow dung; but the man provided a service and he wasn’t horrible to look at. Katja sold off her extra clothing and acquired some raw materials for future projects. Then she went next door to spend some time bartering with Arcadia. She endured the wizened Imperial woman’s usual claims to have detected some hideous pestilence infesting her person, bought an enchanter’s draught superior to the ones she was currently able to create, and purchased a few ingredients she needed. Her recent activities hadn’t given her many opportunities for harvesting.
This business concluded, Katja returned down Whiterun’s main street and knocked at the door of Breezehome. Lydia answered the door, and greeted her with a smile. With Argis going off to work each morning, she found herself short of adult company sometimes. Though really Anja was so adorable, it was hard to complain; and they always had the opportunity to walk about in the business district, where she could chat with the stall holders while Anja played with their children.
“Your wedding party invitations are being delivered as we speak,” Katja said with satisfaction. Hiring Lars to do the legwork had been a great idea. Now she was free to simply hang out with Lydia and Anja until lunchtime. Well, nearly lunchtime. She had another project she needed to deal with while she was here; but that could wait for a while.
Lydia had finished tidying up after breakfast and the cottage was clean. She made some tea and she and Katja sat chatting, while Anja played at their feet or joined the conversation at her whim. A couple of hours flew by and Katja took her leave, saying “I’m off on some errands soon, so I probably won’t see you for a few days.” There were hugs and kisses, then she stepped out the door and walked a good 20 paces over to Warmaiden’s.
Adrianne, in between armor pieces, was leaning up against a post that supported the building’s porch roof. She greeted Katja, her newly established business partner, with a smile. Katja smiled back at her, then said “I have an odd project for you. I think this is something you and Ulfberth can handle better than I can.” Motioning toward the crafting bench, she walked over and pulled a sheet of paper out of her pouch and spread it on the gray metal surface.
It was a drawing she’d made. She was not nearly as good at this sort of thing as Argis was, but was capable of sketching something that, heavily annotated with dimensional details, might serve to tell a craftsperson what was wanted. It pictured an iron table mounted on six three-foot steel legs, each with a small round foot on the end to increase stability. The flat iron tabletop surface was perforated with small round holes, and wrapping around it was an iron skirting some six inches tall, forming a sort of box that sat on the legs. A small lip ran around the top edge of the skirting, set on the inside and perhaps half an inch down from the top. And resting on that lip was a series of 4 iron grates, each of them three feet (the depth of the table) by two feet (one-quarter of the table’s length).
Katja and Adrianne studied the drawings for quite some time, Katja answering questions and explaining the purpose of this or that design element. It was clear to Adrianne, who had visited the Suite and seen Katja’s smithy there, that something this size could never be crafted there. There’d be no way to get it out of the basement. But here at her open-air forge, there’d be no problem. Making something like this was little different from crafting armor or weapons, and the iron would be cheap.
“This shouldn’t be too difficult,” Adrianne told her friend. “How soon do you need it?” Today was the 7th.
“I’d like to have it ready by the 15th,” Katja told her. “And I’ll need Ulfberth to help with moving it. I should be able to fast-travel it back to the Suite from here, but it’s probably going to take three or four people to move it around to the deck in back.”
“And you’re going to cook on this?” Adrianne confirmed, still wrestling with the concept.
“Sure,” Katja told her. “Just think of it as a long, shallow firepit on legs with a lot of cooking grates on top.”
Adrianne pondered that for a while. “We should easily have it ready by the 15th,” she said. “Will you be bringing us any more arms and armor in the meantime?”
Katja smiled slyly. “Are you interested in some Daedric pieces?” she asked. Adrianne’s eyes widened. “Daedric? You’ve got Daedric?”
“I made myself a Daedric bow last night,” Katja replied. “And I’ve got plenty of ebony ingots and a handful of Daedra hearts. A lot of the weird creatures that have attacked me over the past few months had them, and I didn’t know what to do with them until now.”
“That’ll be great!” Adrianne said. “We have a few really wealthy clients who are always looking for top quality.” She stood for a moment, gazing inward, then smiled brilliantly at her friend. “You know,” she said, “I think we’re all going to be rich!”
The sun, playing peek-a-boo with the fluffy clouds above, looked to be approaching high noon; so Katja walked back up the street to the market square. Lars was not in sight, but in a minute or two she spotted him sprinting down the stairs from the direction of the Gildergreen on the level above. He was panting a bit as he saw her and hurried to her side. “Done!” he cried, smiling.
Katja smiled back at him. “I’m very impressed, Lars. Here is your gold.” She pulled 10 septim pieces from her pouch. “And what would you like for lunch?” she asked.
He looked at her slyly, wondering how far her offer extended. After all, an offer of lunch might be no more than a bread roll and a slice of cheese. “The Bannered Mare has some venison stew,” he suggested hesitantly. “And they’ve got potato chips!” he added with enthusiasm. Aha. Katja was not surprised to learn that this dish, first created in the Suite’s kitchen, was beginning to spread to other establishments. They were so addictive!
“Sounds fine,” Katja told him. She let the boy lead her up the stairs to the Mare’s front door and they went inside to sit on stools at the bar. She greeted Hulda, who as usual was talking of how she hoped to sell out and retire from the innkeeping business, and ordered two bowls of stew along with two servings of potato chips, with water to wash it down with for both of them. The day was young, and she needed to keep her wits about her.
They ate mostly in silence, punctuated by the crunching of the slightly greasy but delicious chips. Lars’ appetite seemed to be in fine condition after his morning of dashing all over Whiterun. Katja did manage to learn that his father ran the game stall in the market, that his mother had died when he was born, and that he was usually at loose ends during the day. He went hunting with his father some days, but mostly spent his time hanging around the business district looking for paying work or (so she inferred) a little mischief.
Thanking Lars again for his excellent delivery service, Katja left the inn and mounted the steps heading for Dragonsreach. As usual, she was greeted with great courtesy by the guards. They were a rough lot, but they could admire someone who’d performed such feats as she had. Many of the court residents were sitting at table having a midday meal, but she found Farengar crouched over his enchanting table in the room to the east of the main hall.
He jumped as he suddenly became aware of her silent presence behind him. “Dragonborn!” he stammered, his face (what she could see of it inside his wizard’s hood) reddening. Having the object of your nighttime fantasies appear at your elbow can be disconcerting.
Katja gave Farengar a reassuring smile. “Katja, please. How are you, Farengar?”
“Oh, I’m fine… uh, can I help you with something?” He was mindful of the need not to blab about Wyll’s request.
Katja proffered the invitation with his name on it. “It’s your invitation to Lydia’s wedding party,” she told him. He smiled. There was another woman who’d occasioned some nocturnal throbbing.
“I heard she was getting hitched,” he said. “Didn’t think I would ever see the day. She used to be so solemn…” Wow, he realized, that was two parties he was being invited to in less than a month. At this rate, he might actually acquire a social life. But what he really wanted, above all else, was to get laid. Maybe there’d be some unattached women at the party. “Thanks!” he grinned at her, then said, “got to get back to work…”
Katja took her leave and went in search of Lydia’s other invitees. Each of them was delighted to receive the invitation, the more so as it was hand-delivered by The Dragonborn herself. Lydia’s friends in the palace were not the sort of people to have their clothing tailored by others, though; so she still had to do a little schmoozing with the ladies of the court. She invited herself into a group of them still seated at the table, and was welcomed.
They ooh’d and aah’d at her outfit, admiring the cuirass. It was martial-looking and feminine at the same time, and richly ornamented enough to appeal to their sense of snobbery. After chatting for a while, Katja came away with the name of one Gerde Gray-Mane, part of that sprawling clan of Nord chauvinists, who had become the dressmaker for several of Whiterun’s wealthier matrons.
Ooh, I’m gonna be a wealthy matron, Katja thought as she trotted down the stairs. She wasn’t ready to go see Gerde yet, and the afternoon was young. She decided to go back to the Suite and practice her smithing, see if she could make some more Daedric pieces. Plus, she needed to do some sketches of clothing she wanted made. To speed things along, she used the map for her return trip.