Katja and Wyll climbed the basement’s second ladder, which led directly to the Suite’s rear deck. From there it was the work of moments for Katja to carry them both to Markarth. They arrived inside the city’s main gate in what looked like late morning, local time. They could have fast-traveled directly to the Jarl’s palace, a curious and sprawling Dwemer ruin called Understone Keep; but Katja wanted to visit with a few of the townspeople on her way there.
She led them up the winding, intricate stone pathways, crossing and re-crossing the whitewater stream that cut its way through the center of town, and stopped at the forge of Ghorza gra-Bagol. The middle-aged Orc woman had been one of the first people in Markarth Katja had befriended, during her first visit to the city not long after she, Anders and Wyll had killed Alduin in Sovngarde and lived to tell about it.
They had traded weapons and armor on several occasions since, and Katja had often noted how Ghorza’s human apprentice, Tacitus, seemed to infuriate her. She wondered why the Orc didn’t just turn him out, sending him back to Cyrodiil or wherever he’d come from; but having accepted the young man as an apprentice, she seemed determined to hammer him into an approximation of an Orc smith in much the way that she daily hammered steel, and more exotic metals, into swords, axes, and armor.
In fact, Katja found Ghorza berating Tacitus as she and Anders arrived at the forge. She greeted the smith formally. Orcs were, by and large, a formal people – tied to tradition. In Skyrim it was only rarely that they ventured outside their strongholds, as Ghorza had done, and rarer still that they allowed outsiders within. “He just doesn’t seem to learn by doing,” Ghorza lamented. “I think that these Imperials need book-learning to penetrate their minds.”
“Any particular book?” Katja asked. “There’s one called Last Scabbard of Akrash, that I think might be able to get through to him,” Ghorza replied. “But I haven’t been able to lay my hands on a copy.” “I’ll find one for you,” Katja promised. Frequently, she had discovered, merely being asked by someone to obtain something would result in the map revealing its location. It was like having a magical oracle and a mystical transport device rolled into one!
Setting that aside for the time being, Katja spent some time negotiating with Ghorza. She bought some items that were hard to come by, even for someone with the resources of the Luxury Suite’s basement; and sold her some of her surplus weapons and armor. Then she continued up the stairs to The Hag’s Cure, Markarth’s alchemy shop.
The proprietress, Bothela, greeted her warmly. The old woman had named her shop after herself, supposedly. It was hard to say what her age truly was, as her face was covered in tattoos. It almost made Katja wonder if the woman might have been Forsworn in an earlier life. Whatever the case, Bothela regarded Katja as a valued customer.
Katja picked up a few of the harder-to-find ingredients from her, and sold off a double handful of potions she’d crafted that were not likely to be needed. In her quest to become good enough at alchemy to produce the potions she really wanted, Katja had generated gallons of stamina poisons, potions that would temporarily boost carrying capacity, and other arcane substances she had no immediate use for.
Thanking Bothela and moving on her way, Katja continued up a steep stone path beside rushing water to the steps that led to the doors of Understone Keep. Wyll followed behind. Since the peace conference the Jarlship had changed hands, and it was now Thongvor Silver-Blood who sat the throne. Katja had met the previous Jarl, Igmund, on a visit to the Blue Palace in Solitude. He was now living in the bowels of that stone edifice, in company with Siddgeir and other former Jarls who had fallen from power as the result of her negotiations – along with members of their courts.
She felt a little regretful at the hurt she had caused during that taut session of negotiations. With the possible exception of Siddgeir, to whom she had taken personal exception, she had no rancor against any of these people and her support of the negotiations that led to their downfall had been strictly a matter of expediency. The political landscape of Skyrim, and the eventual outcome of the struggle between the Empire and the Stormcloaks, was not something she cared about a great deal. Stopping Alduin from bringing about the destruction of the entire world had been her only consideration.
Katja and Wyll made their way up through the massive, mostly-ruinous Dwemer edifice that was Understone Keep. It encompassed the Jarl’s palace, a museum of Dwemer artifacts maintained by the mage Calcelmo, Markarth’s House of the Dead, and a major Dwemer archaeological site. Katja couldn’t really understand why the Jarls of Markarth would choose to make such a place the seat of their power. It almost seemed as if they were mice, living inside the baseboards of a dwelling belonging to others. And there were others, she knew. Deep in the bowels of this place were a world of Dwarven automatons, Falmer, and chaurus.
Arriving at the throne room, where Thongvor Silver-Blood now sat as Jarl, Katja addressed herself to the steward sitting on a chair several feet down and to the Jarl’s left. “The dragon is dead, as you requested,” she told him. “Thank you. You have done a great service for the people of the Reach,” he replied, handing her a hundred septims as a reward. Katja would happily have killed that particular dragon gratis. But she’d been hoping to hear that this latest effort on the Hold’s behalf would have won her the Thaneship she sought. No luck. Nor did the Steward offer her any other employment.
Thanking the Steward for the gold, Katja turned away and walked back down the dimly-lit stone staircases leading to the main doors. “Well, shit,” she remarked to Wyll as they strode along. “I really thought that was the last one. I guess I still haven’t made myself ‘known to all the people of the Hold,’ or however he put it.” “Jarls…” Wyll said, derision in his tone. “They’ll tell you whatever they think will get you to do what they want, then give you whatever they feel like giving.” Hmm, Katja thought. That sounded like Wyll might have had an unfavorable encounter with authority in times past.
Once they had emerged into sunlight outside Understone Keep’s doors, Katja considered their options. “Well, there’s that book Gorzha wanted. She’s definitely a citizen of the Reach.” She consulted her map, holding Gorzha’s quest in her mind, and found that the marker for Fort Sungard seemed to be glowing. This was so useful! Furthermore, as she and Anders had visited Fort Sungard on their way to search for the Word Wall in Althume, she could fast-travel herself and Wyll there in a moment or two.
However, Katja had some reservations about simply showing up at Fort Sungard. Would the map deposit them outside the front gates? Last time, the place had been crawling with Forsworn. During her months in Skyrim, she had noticed that fortifications did not tend to remain unoccupied. Clean out a gang of bandits, and in a week or two you might have to do it again. Or some other group of hostiles might have taken over the place.
Well, nothing for it but to forge ahead. Warning Wyll that they might be shortly fighting for their lives, she readied her bow and assumed a stealthy posture before touching the map. As they winked into existence outside Fort Sungard’s main entrance, in full view of any who might be moving within its walls, Katja spotted figures and drew the weapon, ready to deal death. Then she realized the figures were dressed in Stormcloak armor.
Oops, never mind… Katja quickly resumed a normal posture, Wyll following suit, and with her bow slung behind her back she simply strode in through the gates. The Stormcloaks ignored them. So far, Katja had managed to tread a thin line between supporting either faction; and neither the rebels nor their Imperial foes had yet marked her as an enemy. Feeling somewhat pleased that this place had been taken over from the Forsworn savages by forces that at least had a semblance of official authority, she led her companion on a tour of the fortifications. Deep in one of the barracks dormitories, she found the book she was looking for.
Grinning, Katja turned to Wyll. “We got it!” she crowed. She had never expected it to be this easy. Wyll, now long experienced with the combination of skill and sheer dumb luck that seemed to follow his dragonborn lover in all of her enterprises, was not at all surprised. He just smiled back at her and squeezed a small area of her arm that was accessible around the armor.
Daylight still reigned when the pair returned to Markarth. They made their way up the confusing stone walkways to emerge at Ghorza’s forge, and Katja happily presented the olive green-skinned, surprisingly petite woman with the volume she requested. “You found it!” Ghorza exclaimed. “I will spread the word to the strongholds that you are a friend.” This was an unexpected plus.
Months ago, Katja had been tasked with finding the Forgemaster’s Fingers by a sentry at the Orc stronghold of Dushnikh Yal. At the time she had been eager to pursue this opportunity to become Blood-Kin to the Orcs and get to know them better; but other concerns had intervened and she had never gotten around to fulfilling the quest. Now, she might have a chance to visit those insular strongholds at last.
After taking their leave of Ghorza, Katja turned to Wyll. “Whatta you think?” she asked. “Should we just go back to the palace and try again?” “Sure, why not?” he replied. Show up on the wrong end of Wyll and his axe in a dark dungeon, and you were seriously in trouble. Find him under more benign circumstances, and he was the easiest-going guy you were likely to meet.
They trotted up the series of staircases leading from the forge to the doors of Understone Keep. Katja was really coming to like Markarth, even if the political situation here was a little questionable. The Silver-Blood family owned a major silver mine in the heart of the city, and used slave labor (“convicts,” of what crimes not even the convicted were always sure) to dig the ore. Ignoring that, the setting was fantastic, the views superb; and the Dwemer architecture attractive and enduring. All you needed to do was toss out the Dwarven stone beds in favor of something more comfortable, and you had ideal living quarters.
Katja and Wyll headed back up the series of staircases to the throne room, and this time found they were welcomed with more warmth. “You have proven yourself to be a friend of the Reach,” the steward told her, “and you are now awarded the honorary office of Thane, and authorized to purchase property within the city. You are also granted this shield as a badge of your rank, and the services of a housecarl at such time as you buy a house.”
A housecarl? That would be interesting. Lydia’s loyalty had always been unquestioned, and if it was hard to penetrate the Thane-housecarl barrier in a quest for a deeper human connection, Katja at least appreciated that being provided with the services of a housecarl was a singular honor. “I would like to purchase a house in the city,” she told the Steward.
He was most obliging, his usual stiff demeanor waxing positively cordial as he relieved her of some 13,000 in gold for the purchase of one Vlindrel Hall, with all furnishings. Ouch. But really, they could afford it now. With the Suite continuing to bring in profits in addition to providing Katja with free room and board, she had a steady income and almost no need to pay for anything. And her constantly-improving skills in smithing, alchemy, and enchanting were turning her chance-found loot and ingredients into valuable treasure.
Getting some vague directions, in a fog of pleasure at the achievement of her goal, Katja wandered back out into the brilliant afternoon and began threading her way through the maze of Markarth looking for her new acquisition. Houses in Markarth were all packed together, no plots of land separating one from the other. Wyll, as lost as she was, just followed behind her.
Finally they stumbled into the small market area just inside the main gates. Katja approached a pretty Redguard woman, who with her husband and young daughter operated a stand selling the jewelry they crafted. As it happened, the woman knew the location of Vlindrel Hall. Katja and her companion were directed to a steep, narrow, stone staircase off to north side of the market. Then they were to take a right, followed by a sharper right up another flight of steps, which would then lead them up several turnings to the doors of their new residence.
Walking in through the intaglio Dwarven metal double doors, Katja was immediately impressed with the charm of the place. The entry hall soon opened out into a broad dining area, with rooms for alchemy and enchanting off to the left and a wide hearth with some cozy chairs to the right. And, sitting at the table in the spacious dining room, was an enormous man clad head to toe in heavy armor.
Oh! Katja had not been sure whether all housecarls were female, or what. Clearly, not. This one introduced himself as Argis the Bulwark, and assured her that he was entirely at the service of his Thane. She was quite taken aback. This guy was a serious hunk! Nearly as large and well-muscled as Wyll, he was handsome save for an old injury that had blinded his left eye. She stifled the impulse to command him to strip on the spot, so she could admire those muscles in more detail and see whether the package came with a suitably sturdy cock.
Almost immediately, an idea came to her. Katja knew she was sometimes too impulsive, but this just felt so right! For the moment though, she asked Argis to prepare them some food while she and Wyll explored the rest of the house. This place had cost only about half again as much as Breezehome, but it seemed huge by comparison. Leaving the dining area they came to a broad living room/hall with another huge fireplace and cooking facilities. On either side of that was a spacious bedroom, the one on the left having a double bed while the one on the right, of a similar size, had only a single. The “servant’s quarters,” no doubt.
Still no hot baths, alas. But Katja had an idea that there would be plenty of room in which to install a decent-size bathing pool in the living area near the cooking hearth, if not elsewhere. She envisioned this place providing a more-than-adequate home away from home for her, Wyll, and Anders. Maybe the city even offered some night life! There was an inn just down a few flights of steps, near the main gates. While waiting for the meal, they peeled out of their armor and put on some casual clothing.
Argis came up with a better repast than she might have expected, served up on the large dining table that could have seated 8 or 10 with ease. There were salmon steaks, grilled leeks, boiled potatoes with fresh butter, and plenty of fresh bread – all washed down with Nord mead. Katja tried to draw Argis out, but Wyll was more successful. They were fellow Nords, both big, bluff men of action; and they spoke a language Katja was not fluent in.
As the mead did its work, the evening became almost jolly. A hand on Wyll’s thigh, Katja did more observing than participating as the conversation swirled around the finer points of mayhem in the Reach. Wyll was enjoying himself, talking shop with a guy he had a lot in common with. He was a freebooter, with no one to call master (not counting this smallish woman whose quiet presence at his side loomed oh-so-large in his consciousness); and Argis had been oathbound to the Hold from an early age. But other than that, their paths in life had been similar. They were both adept at wreaking violence on all who were branded Enemy.
The hour was getting late when Katja began yawning, and suggested that they all turn in. Argis dealt with the washing-up, then retired to the small bed in the second bedroom. Katja and Wyll, holding hands, headed for the master bed. They stood there at the foot of the bed, Wyll enfolding her in a gentle hug as he towered above her. She pressed herself to him, loving the warmth and solidity of him, the scent that was uniquely Wyll.
“I really like this place!” she said, backing off slightly to look up into his face. “Don’t you?” “It’s great!” he replied enthusiastically. This spacious Dwemer-style residence was a lot more his size than the cute but overly-cozy Breezehome. “I think we need to break in the bed, though” he suggested. Eyes bright, she leered at him. “I believe that’s obligatory,” she replied.
He pulled his shirt off over his head, then reached down to untie the laces on her dress. This outfit was one he’d not seen before, and it took him a moment to figure out how to peel her out of it. Soon, though, his surprisingly nimble fingers were working the laces loose until he was able to push the dress off her shoulders. Meanwhile, she was doing the same for the laces on his trousers. Flushed with these simple accomplishments, the two stood confronting each other a few inches apart. Katja’s breasts were spilling over the top of her dress, her nipples just peeking out; and the last couple of inches of Wyll’s cock protruded where his pants were opened at the top.
Katja stood there admiring him for a few moments. No matter how many times she got naked with this guy, she could still not get over how absolutely magnificent he was. She shrugged her dress the rest of the way off the upper part of her body, pulling her arms out of the sleeves, and cupped her breasts in her hands while gazing into Wyll’s eyes. “You like?” she asked, though it was a rhetorical question. She knew well how much he loved these appurtenances growing from her chest.
She stepped closer to him and gripped the waistband of his trousers, peeling them down toward his knees. His cock towered from the nest of light gold hair at his crotch, eager for whatever she might have in mind. Smiling, Katja bent her knees and, still holding her breasts, squeezed his rampant member between them. As she’d done for Anders, she let him fuck her tits while she applied her mouth and tongue to the tip of his cock as it emerged above them. Wyll’s eyes lit and he grinned like a maniac at this unexpected move. He loved it when Kat came up with a new trick!
This was fun for Katja as it was for Wyll, but it was starting to get to her back and legs. She rose to her full height again and beckoned him over to sit on the edge of the bed. His trousers slipped down to his ankles, nearly hobbling him; but it wasn’t a long walk. Then she slid her dress the rest of the way off her body and kicked it aside, standing naked. She walked up to Wyll, finding his face almost at a height with hers, and seized his mouth in a passionate kiss.
He reached out to grab her, his strong hands caressing her breasts, her torso, her hips as her tongue went into his mouth and she stroked his head and shoulders. Then she bent to grasp his quivering cock with one hand as, seating herself in his lap with her legs wrapped behind him on the bed, she lowered herself down and engulfed him.
Each of them gave a stifled cry as his cock pushed home. Ooh! Wyll liked this. She had ridden him on a few occasions before, but never with him seated upright. He was able to grip her buttocks and bounce her up and down on his shaft without also having to support his own weight. Kat was soon screaming, her cries rising in pitch and volume. He pulled her all the way down on him and just held her in his strong arms as she spasmed, her vaginal walls clutching him in waves. Ah! That felt fantastic!
The evening of good food and drink, and the fact that they had made love this morning as well as the previous night had taken a little of the edge off of Wyll’s usually fiery lust, and as good as this felt he was able to delay his own orgasm. After holding Kat tenderly until her pulsations subsided, he lay back on the bed with her in his arms, then flipped them both over so that he was on top. Now he knelt and began stroking gently in and out, sending waves of pleasure through both of them.
He rose on his arms above her, just watching her face. Her complexion was flushed, her luminous eyes gazing into his with love and complete surrender. Of all the women he had known in his short life, and there were a lot of them, this was the one he wanted over and over again, the one without whom he felt incomplete. Merging his body with hers was such bliss! He bent to kiss her, and as she took his tongue in her mouth it felt as if a link had been forged between his tongue and his cock, running through the center of his being like a burning cord. Suddenly he was seized by an excitement he could not suppress, and his strokes became harder and faster. Kat screamed again, and Wyll gave a loud, drawn-out groan as her pulsing cunt milked him of his seed.
Katja dropped one leg down while still pinning Wyll’s magnificent member within her, letting them rotate to lie on their sides so she would still be able to breathe. They lay there enfolded in one another’s arms, panting and grinning. “Oh Wyll, what you do to me,” she murmured. “Me?” he replied in his bass rumble. “Look what you do to me! I can’t be in the same room with you without getting a hard-on.” She smiled at that. On one level they were fond friends, and on another, it seemed, there was an almost supernatural lust connection between them.
Across the hall, Argis lay there in the darkness on his narrow bed, envy of Wyll burning within him. It had been so long since he had a woman! A housecarl’s life was not his own to command, and if the Jarl wanted to put him on guard duty for six months, he was expected to be here keeping an eye on things – not out wandering the streets looking for female companionship. His new Thane was beautiful, and she’d gotten to him in a big way. Not that he could imagine actually approaching her for sex. The social barrier was too great. Plus, obviously, she was taken. He grasped his stiffened member in his right hand and began pumping, reliving those cries of ecstasy in his mind as he sought some relief.