The Dragonborn Hunts

Solitude Again

As she’d feared would be the case, Katja materialized inside the gates of Solitude in pitch darkness. A light rain was falling, and she made a dash for the Winking Skeever. Her first order of business was learning the time, so that she would know how much extra time to allow for trips here in the future. Corpulus Vinius was behind the bar, as usual. She had been here numerous times since first arriving in Skyrim, and he had only rarely been absent no matter what the time of day.

“Hello, Corpulus,” she said with a wry grin. “Dragonborn! How kind of you to grace us with your presence,” the Imperial replied. From anyone else that would sound snarky, but Katja knew he really meant it.

“Do you happen to know the time?” she asked him. He checked for her. Palaces and inns were the two places in Skyrim you could usually find a clock – rarely elsewhere. “It’s a bit past midnight,” Corpulus informed her. “Say, 12:15.” Almost exactly 11 hours, she thought, confirming her earlier guess. Not bad… and not good, either. A pity fast-traveling wasn’t as instant as it seemed.

“I’d like a small bottle of wine and a wedge of Elswyr cheese brought to my table,” she said beckoning toward a small table over against the wall. “And I’ll be needing a room in a while. But I’m not ready to go to bed yet.” He nodded cheerfully and Katja made her way over to the table she’d indicated, sighing slightly. She missed Anders, she missed Wyll, and she wished to hell she could just conclude her business here right now and go home, already. She was sure the men and Sorine must be back from their Dwemer expedition by now.

Corpulus hurried right over with the wine and cheese and she paid him. “Your usual room all right, Miss?” By this, she knew he meant the one where she and Wyll had spent a remarkably exciting night on her first visit to this establishment several months before. It was large and comfortable, and she had often slept in it when visiting Solitude overnight. At this rate, she could sleep there every night for years to come and still be ahead financially over plunking down 25,000 septims for Proudspire Manor.

Katja nodded to Corpulus, acknowledging that his choice of the room was satisfactory. Then she sat sipping her wine and nibbling at the excellent cheese, lost in her thoughts. When she’d visited this city for the first time with Anders and Lydia, stepping aside from their quest for the horn of Jurgen Windcaller, she’d been dazzled and excited by the size and splendor of the place. Now, familiarity had worn away much of the excitement and she realized she didn’t really want to live here. Not now, and certainly not after she and her loves were married. But here was where the wedding would take place, and she had several chores to perform.

The inn was sparsely populated this late, most customers having gone home or retired to their beds here; but to discourage any unwanted attention she pulled out her journal and sat reading (perhaps “deciphering” would be a more accurate term) her past adventures. I ought to write this up and publish it as a book, she realized, remembering her concern that the deeds she and her companions had performed were already receding into legend. Of course she had absolutely no idea how to go about doing that. Perhaps a consultation with someone from Cyrodiil might shed light on the subject.

The wine and cheese finished, Katja arose feeling fairly well buzzed. She’d hoped that the snack and alcohol would work to make her sleepy, enabling her to drop off in her inn bed and catch a few hours’ sleep at what felt like 3 or 4 in the afternoon, in terms of what time she’d arisen this morning. There was not much else she could do but sleep, until the stores opened in the morning. She swung by the bar to collect her key from Corpulus, then made her way up the stairs, yawning.

In the morning, Katja awoke feeling a bit the worse for wear. Maybe drinking half a bottle of wine on a nearly empty stomach wasn’t the best sleep aid possible. Bleah. However, a few seconds with her Healing spell soon put things to rights. Between potions and these spells, it was a wonder anybody in Skyrim ever endured a day’s sickness or died of anything besides sudden trauma or extreme old age.

Shouldering her pack, Katja descended the stairs and sat at the bar eating a couple of delicious, warm sweet rolls washed down with hot unsweetened tea. The astringent tea cut the sugariness of the rolls nicely. Then she thanked Corpulus, told him she’d see him next time, and sauntered across the road to Radiant Raiment.

Taarie greeted her with what, in a member of the Altmer race, passed for extreme friendliness. Katja was, after all, a VIP as well as a client prepared to part with plenty of cash. By making high-profile clothing such as The Dragonborn’s wedding gown, Taarie had found herself besieged with requests from the high and mighty of Solitude for expensive clothing that was rapidly making her, and her sister, wealthy.

Katja was ushered right back into the rear of the shop, where a magnificent wedding gown in a traditional style stood displayed on an extremely buxom mannequin. The fabric shimmered, the cut was designed to flatter the goddess-like curves of the mannequin’s hourglass figure, and accents of ribbon and lace were strategically placed to provide the gown with more modesty than it seemed at first glance to possess.

Katja’s eyes lit. This could only be Lydia’s wedding gown, and it was just what she had envisioned. Lydia was going to love this! It might well turn into an heirloom of her house, worn by daughters and granddaughters for generations to come on that one special day of their lives – provided the body shape bred true, of course… “Taarie, this is wonderful!” she said, her sincerity shining through and bringing a faint blush of pleasure to the Elf Woman’s cheeks.

“I’ve prepared a muslin bag for you to carry it in, so that it won’t get soiled or wrinkled,” Taarie said, her usual cool, businesslike demeanor reasserting itself. “And now, for your own dress…” She pulled out the drawing that she had begun when Katja was here some time ago. It was now finished. The pencil lines had been replaced with ink, and the drawing was alive with color. There was Katja, looking remarkably radiant with her auburn hair piled atop her head, her blue-gray eyes seeming to glow with happiness, her skin pinkish where it showed – which was not all that much. The arms were mostly bare, but other than that the dress flowed in multi-colored streamers from her neck to the ground.

Katja was captivated by the image. To see one’s imagination brought to life on the page was an amazing thing, a kind of magic they didn’t teach at the College in Winterhold. There was one thing that seemed a little off, though it enhanced the overall appearance and emphasized the gown’s vertical flow… “I’m not that tall, am I?” she asked, perplexed. The rest of the drawing was so exact that it seemed odd for this exaggeration to have crept in.

Taarie smiled at her, an expression that made Katja realize for almost the first time that the Elf woman could be lovely. “Ah, but you will be!” she said, and produced from under the counter the most curious-looking pair of shoes that Katja had ever seen. Throughout Katja’s life shoes had been practical things. They protected your feet from dirt and rocks, ice and snow and sharp objects, perhaps supported your ankles to help prevent sprains and gave you extra traction on slippery surfaces. A nice pair of leather boots could be quite handsome, and a soft pair of velvet slippers was pretty enough below a gown, provided you weren’t planning on leaving the house. But these!

They appeared to be made out of leather, but the leather was bright red. They were sandals of a sort, not a common style this far north, with soles of wood and laminated leather, and straps to hold the shoes to the foot. But the most amazing thing about them was their height. The part of the shoe that went around the ball of the foot was elevated on a wooden platform more than an inch tall, and the rest of the shoe curved up from there, with a wooden heel less than half an inch in diameter but four or more inches in height protruding downward like a spike. Red leather ankle straps helped to assure that the shoes would stay on your feet, but it would be like walking on tiptoe – permanently!

What an absurd concoction. Totally impractical. But… somehow, the shoes beckoned to her. Taarie was taking in her reaction. Katja wasn’t the first pretty young adventuress she’d met, and she had an instinct for these things. “They’re not for running or fighting in, yes? But I think you’ll find that the extra height will make you look utterly magnificent in your wedding gown. And your husbands? They’ll go crazy for these.”

Katja blinked. Damn, they were impossible! But they were so sexy-looking. Anders was 8 inches taller than she was, Wyll nearly a foot. Raising her height by four inches wouldn’t put her in danger of looking either of them in the eyes, even. “Go ahead,” Taarie urged. “Try them on. Take off your skirt, so you can see what they do for your legs.”

Somewhat reluctantly, Katja peeled off her skirt and the leather boots she was wearing underneath it. Now in her underdrawers, she sat on an upholstered chair and slipped her feet into the shoes. They were a good fit, as if Taarie had expertly measured her feet when she was not looking. Perhaps that was the case. Her toes slipped down into the web of strapping at the front of the shoes, her neatly trimmed and clean but quite plain-looking toenails peeping out. Her feet were bent into a remarkable curve as she fastened the ankle straps, which were held together by tiny brass buckles.

Now she had them on, Katja gazed down at her feet encased in these ridiculous fripperies of strappy red leather. Her feet were arched, her toes pointed, and she had to admit that they looked, if anything, even sexier on her feet than they had looked sitting on the counter. But what was it going to be like standing in them, let alone walking? Well, nothing for it but to try.

She drew herself up onto her feet, mostly just poised on her toes and not trying to put her full weight on the heels. They were possibly a little more comfortable than she’d expected, the footbeds deeply cushioned. The straps didn’t cut into her feet as much as she’d feared, either. “Here,” Taarie said, pulling aside a length of silken cloth that was hanging from the ceiling to reveal a full-length mirror. Ooh, Katja thought, I want one of those. The surface was of polished silver, probably a thin coating over a baser metal and varnished after polishing to prevent tarnishing.

Looking at her reflection, Katja twisted and turned in place. The posture her body was thrown into by the tip-toe posture the shoes forced on her did remarkable things to her silhouette. Her legs, which were lithe and muscular, seemed more curvy. Her butt protruded a bit more, her back slightly arched to compensate for the displacement of her weight. And she was so tall! The floor looked a long way down compared to what she was used to seeing.

This wasn’t too painful, but what about walking? She took a few steps, putting her weight on the heels for the first time. There was a bit of wobble, and Katja could tell that twisting an ankle was a real hazard if you didn’t pay attention to what you were doing. But she was an athlete, strong from head to toe, and it was easy enough to keep her balance. Those heels were broad enough to provide support if you kept your weight in a straight line from hip down the length of the leg to the floor, envisioning the shoe and its four-inch heel as only an extension of your leg bone.

After a few tentative steps Katja was strutting around the small fitting room, admiring herself in the mirror, and grinning from ear to ear. “Yes, Taarie! This is genius!” she exclaimed. “I don’t think I’m going to be wearing these on my next expedition to kill dragons, but I am definitely wearing them to my wedding! And probably for the wedding night… at least the start of it, anyway.”

Taarie smiled back at her. She’d known it. “Excellent,” she said. “And the dress? You approve?”

“The dress looks just like I envisioned it,” Katja said. “And the construction? It’ll peel down without a lot of effort?” Taarie produced a handful of brightly colored, silken tongues of fabric. In a few moments she had draped several of these around Katja’s body. She was still wearing a blouse above so the fit was not right, but she could see how they attached, and more importantly, detached. Still wearing the high heeled sandals, Katja did a little pirouette and plucked a length of fabric off, waving it around her head in a hypnotic swirl of color before letting it fall to the floor. She was careful not to step on it.

“Perfect!” Katja declared, her delight shining for all to see. Then she reverted to a more serious mode. “Let’s see, I guess I’m going to have to be here by mid-morning a month from today so you can build the dress onto my body. I can’t imagine being able to put it on by myself. I’ll show up with my hair done and soft shoes, and if you can provide one of those muslin bags for the, uh, ‘take me’ shoes, I can carry them down to the temple with me and put them on before the ceremony.”

Taarie considered this request. “If you want me to match the dress to the extra height, you’re going to need to wear the shoes or else part of the dress will be dragging on the ground,” she pointed out. Katja thought about it. She had very specific plans for the dress, but could not be sure that she wouldn’t find herself required to do walking that would not be wise in those shoes.

“Better take the dress up a little then,” she said. “Make it hang to ankle length, and that way I can show off the shoes – when I’m wearing them. And if I’m not, it won’t be a problem.”

Pleased with her customer’s sensible approach, Taarie nodded. She whipped out a tape measure and confirmed the distance between Katja’s shoulder and her ankle. Then she produced the muslin bag she had mentioned, and slipped it over the top of Lydia’s wedding gown after inserting a curious sort of metal contraption into the gown’s neck. It seemed to support the shoulders and rise in a shallow triangle to a hook maybe two inches in diameter, situated at the dress’s center line. A hole at the top of the bag allowed the hook to protrude, giving Katja something to carry it by. This was just the sort of thing she’d been thinking about, a few weeks back!

“I’ll need to come by and pick this up on my way out of town,” Katja told Taarie. “I have a few more errands to run, and this is far too bulky to be carrying around. But here’s the additional payment I owe you.” She slipped Taarie a substantial tip on top of the agreed-upon price. The work had been excellent. “I’ll be back as soon as I conclude the rest of my business here,” she promised, getting out of the sexy shoes and into her soft boots and skirt.

Leaving the shop, Katja forged up Solitude’s main street with a will. Occasionally greeting familiar faces without stopping to talk, she cut to the left on the far side of the wall dividing the city’s western section from the upper-class district beyond it. Passing Proudspire Manor (and feeling a slight pang of regret that she couldn’t see her way clear to buying it, even though she had more than enough money to do so), she fetched up at the entrance to the famous Bard’s College.

Throughout her time in Skyrim, Katja had heard this place mentioned over and over again – almost as much as the Mages’ College in Winterhold. She had visited both, but had no great ambitions toward a career as either a bard or a mage. Why would she need to spend years studying magic, with Anders by her side? Well, there was that “instant hot bathing pool” notion; but she held out hopes that at some future date she might get him to take on the project, and save her the trouble.

But she now had specific business at the Bard’s College that had nothing to do with enrolling as a student. Entering the spacious quarters, Katja sought out and soon found Viarmo, the headmaster. They had met a few times previously, and he greeted her with respect. “How can I help you, Dragonborn?” he asked. She smiled at him. “I have a commission for you,” she replied, cutting to the heart of the matter with her usual directness.

He looked at her questioningly. “I’m in need of a small musical group,” Katja explained. “I’m throwing a party near Whiterun on the 18th of this month, and another one on the 11th of next month. There should be three or four musicians including some kind of percussion and a good singer, and they should be able to perform all the standards as well as music we can dance to. I’ll pay for coach fare for them both ways each time, and put them up and feed them while they are at my inn, in addition to your fee.”

Viarmo’s demeanor brightened at this news. Like most people in Skyrim who hadn’t been living in a cave for the past six months, he was aware of The Dragonborn’s fame and assumed that she must be fabulously rich due to the services she had performed. Actually, Katja’s wealth was almost entirely due to hard work, though of course there had been some treasure gathered during her various quests – most of them performed at the behest of one Jarl or another, and of course aided by her valiant companions. Whatever the source, rich they were – and she was delighted to spend some of that wealth in the cause of throwing a couple of parties that people in the Whiterun area would not soon forget.

Katja respected Viarmo’s judgment as to the actual personnel, and left him with a large sum of money and instructions that the musicians should present themselves at the doors to the Luxury Suite no later than 5 o’clock in the evening on the 17th. Likely she and the rest of Lydia and Argis’ wedding party would not be there at that hour, caught in the interstices of time as they fast-traveled back from Riften; but Lane and Ellis would be there to take them in. She was beginning to think they might need to run off the triceratops and other local monsters and pitch a large tent in the field to north of the Suite, to create sleeping arrangements for all the extra people.

Resuming her brisk pace, Katja surged up the road toward the Blue Palace, passing the palatial homes of Solitude’s elite along the way. She greeted Dudestia, or perhaps it was his earthly manifestation as an 11-year-old boy, with a nod and a smile as she made her way to the front doors. The guards admitted her politely. She’d proven a useful person to the people of Haafingar Hold, stopping the return of the evil Wolf Queen Potema and earning the gratitude of Elisif and her steward. Not to mention that whole saving-the-world thing with Alduin.

Climbing the stairs to Elisif’s throne room, Katja found the lovely young Jarl on her throne and her faithful Steward Falk Firebeard standing by, as usual. He was having some kind of illicit affair with the rather stern-looking Thane Bryling, she knew, but it didn’t seem to affect his judgment or the performance of his duties as Steward.

Formal greetings were exchanged, after which Katja smiled at Elisif. She couldn’t help liking the young widow, who seemed to be little older than herself yet had bravely taken on the job of ruling Skyrim after her husband, the High King Torygg, had been killed. “I bring good tidings,” Katja said. Elisif looked interested. Katja felt that her liking was returned, though it was sometimes hard to tell. People in Elisif’s position did not have bosom friends.

“Rorlund at the Temple of the Divines here in Solitude has agreed to perform the marriage ceremony for me and my two betrothed,” Katja stated baldly. “It’s to be at one in the afternoon on the 10th of Sun’s Dawn, and it would honor us greatly were you and your Steward to attend.” Elisif blinked. A written invitation was much more customary, and what was this about “two betrothed”?

Katja pulled a folded piece of paper out of her pouch, handing it to Elisif. “Here is the official invitation,” she told the young Jarl. In fact it was the only written invitation she’d produced. She and her fiancés wanted to throw a big party with as many of their friends as possible in attendance on the 18th, but they’d be having only a few people at the actual ceremony. Had any of them had family they were in regular touch with, these would have come; but the three of them were orphans of circumstance.

Katja didn’t care to stand there in front of Elisif’s court trying to explain the details of her unorthodox marriage. The invitation laid out the details quite clearly, and she felt it was up to Elisif to decide whether she wished to give her unofficial blessing to the proceedings by standing by as the three were wed. Hesitantly, Elisif broke the seal and scanned the parchment. As she read, an expression of delighted disbelief came over her pretty face.

Katja stood there for perhaps a minute, her carriage erect and her head held high, as Elisif read. It was just a courtesy, she was telling herself, because they were marrying in Solitude, to invite the ruler of that city and the Hold of which it was the capital. It didn’t matter to her in the least whether the Jarl approved of their arrangements. She was The Dragonborn, and she and the men she loved could bloody well do whatever they wanted…

“Katja!” Elisif interrupted her internal dialog. “Congratulations, this is wonderful news. Falk and I will be honored to witness your vows. Will there, um, be some sort of party afterward?”

Katja swallowed, schooling her face to avoid broadcasting the relief she felt to the entire court. “We’re having a gathering near Whiterun on the following day,” she explained, “at my inn. The fastest we can return after the ceremony would put us there in the middle of the night, so the celebration will be from around 2 p.m. until whenever on the 18th.”

“That sounds delightful!” Elisif said, looking at Katja expectantly. Oh. “If you would like to attend, I could include you in my group as we fast-travel back to the Luxury Suite. I can’t guarantee the quality of the overnight accommodations, but possibly you and your people could stay with Jarl Balgruuf at Dragonsreach?”

Elisif considered for a moment. “That’s a good idea, actually,” she said. “Could you deliver a letter to Balgruuf for me, if you’re going back soon? But we won’t need you to carry us to Whiterun. I have my own magic map.” Oh right, of course. Elisif and her entourage had all appeared at High Hrothgar for the Peace Conference by the time she and Anders had gotten there after enlisting Ulfric in the enterprise. Katja hadn’t been paying close attention to the time, back then.

All of this caused Katja to realize that she had probably better run up another invitation and formally invite Balgruuf to her own nuptials. She’d already arranged his attendance at the wedding of Lydia and Argis, but he was the political boss of the entire Hold in which she’d decided to make her home. It would only be polite. Meanwhile, Elisif had called for parchment and a pen and had quickly written a note to which she affixed her official seal. “We look forward to seeing you on the 17th of Sun’s Dawn, Katja,” she said, handing over the note. Katja bowed and smiled, and made her exit.

Katja realized as she descended the stairs that her heart was pounding. Was she ever going to get used to rubbing elbows with the powerful – and learn to converse with them without putting her foot in her mouth? Shrugging it off, she continued down the stairs and out into the courtyard that fronted the Blue Palace. She needed to pick up Lydia’s dress, so she’d have to walk all the way back down to the gates. But there was one more thing she felt she ought to do while she was here.

So, after passing Proudspire Manor, instead of taking the left turn that would lead her to the break in the wall and the lower city, Katja continued up the hill and through the stone gates of Castle Dour, the Imperial Headquarters. She had not been here since the occasion when she and Anders had come to convince General Tullius of the need to forge a ceasefire with the Stormcloaks. That agreement was supposed to have lasted only until she and her companions had defeated Alduin; but it had held to this day – and if she had her way, it would continue indefinitely.

Katja passed through the ranks of Imperial guards, some few of whom recognized her, and entered General Tullius’ headquarters. Despite the cessation of hostilities, he and his troops were still actively involved in strategy and espionage. She was not surprised to find him pacing around the room, in the center of which stood a strategic map of the province. Military minds didn’t know any other way to act.

Tullius was much quicker to notice her on this occasion. “Dragonborn,” he said shortly, according her grudging respect. He, like others on either side of the conflict, had never really approved of her neutral stance. To them, if you weren’t on their side, you were at least suspect – if not in fact The Enemy.

Katja nodded curtly and murmured, “General Tullius.” She intended to match him cool for cool.

Katja shortly broached the reason for her visit, and Tullius was not as hostile as she’d feared he might be. She hadn’t had many expectations of this effort, but after a half-hour discussion the two of them had reached an agreement. She left him with a sincere smile and a firm handshake, surprised to get the same in return, and hurried on her way to Radiant Raiment.

Katja collected the magnificent wedding gown and draped it, in its protective cover, over one arm as she pulled out her map and wished herself back to the Suite. If wishing had been all it would take, she’d have been there hours ago.

72

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