Now and Forever
And so it was, finally, that Turdas the 16th of Sun’s Dawn arrived. Everything was in readiness. The new cooking table had been delivered, the food and drink for the party were on order and scheduled to be here early on the 18th. The last of the chairs and tables would be here by the time they returned. Katja had a splendid but sober (not wishing to outshine the bride) dress to wear for the occasion, and had seen to it that Wyll, Anders, and Argis all had suitable clothing as well. Now that had been like pulling teeth. Why would an activity so enjoyable for women be such a trial for men? She knew that once they were polished up and wearing their resplendent garb, they would feel good about it. Little Anja had a lovely dress made for the occasion too.
Katja had gotten Larissa, an exotically beautiful young Elf woman Lane had hired a few weeks ago to help out at the Suite, to pile her hair up on her head for her this morning, and she liked the effect. Not only did it look elegant, it kept the hair out of her eyes and away from anything she might be working on. She only hoped it would hold up for the several hours of travel ahead of them.
Katja had made a pair of simple gold rings and after enchanting them with the Blessing of Mara (which she’d learned from the ring obtained from Madesi), had given them to Wyll to pass to Maramal for the ceremony. He was acting in the role of head groomsman. Large bouquets of flowers had been picked from the surrounding countryside. She’d invited Lydia, Argis, and Anja to join them for supper at the Suite this evening, as they didn’t really need to leave for Riften until about 8.
Lane outdid himself, serving a perfectly seasoned and roasted haunch of venison with roasted potatoes and vegetables that had been sautéed with herbs. For dessert, he produced something he’d worked out with Anders beforehand, but had not yet tried out on his customers. He’d mixed cream, milk, sugar, and some kind of tart, pureed fruit. Then Anders had applied a frost spell to the bowl while Lane stirred the mixture constantly with a long-handled Breton whisk. The result was an icy but soon melting, rich and creamy treat. The general opinion was he was going to have to come up with a way to produce mass quantities of this delight in order to meet the demand he was sure to find – especially once summer came around.
After the meal Katja along with Wyll, Anders, and Lydia all went up the stairs to change. Anja was already wearing her wedding outfit, as was Argis his. The men quickly slipped into their finery. Then Katja and Lydia helped each other get into theirs. Once again, Katja was struck by how truly beautiful Lydia looked in that dress. You would never guess she had spent most of her adult life as a hard-bitten fighter wearing chain mail.
Wyll and Anders had returned to the lower level, and they were clustered with Argis, Anja, Igmund, and Raerek at the Owner’s Table watching as the ladies descended the stairs. Wyll and Anders had already seen the dress, of course, but this was the first time Argis had beheld his bride in her magnificent wedding gown. He was gaping at her in silent awe. He could scarcely believe his good fortune that this goddess was his. And she truly looked like a celestial vision in that dress!
Katja thought Argis looked pretty darn good himself in the fine clothing she’d induced him to wear. His face might be little scarred, but his body was superb and those clothes showed him off to good advantage while making him look wealthy and respectable in addition to studly. Argis stood as Lydia approached, all of his attention on her and her alone. His one eye glowing, he approached her almost hesitantly. He would have liked to crush her to him, but that was out of the question. He settled for taking her hands and looking into her eyes. Her look of love and joy filled his soul.
The rest of the party just watched the pair as they drank each other in. Awww… Igmund and Raerek were beaming. Their lives had been awfully dull before they came to the Suite, and now there seemed to be always something interesting going on, such as this touching love story unfolding before them. Both of them were delighted to see young Argis, who had given his oath of service to Igmund when he was little more than a boy, marrying such a lovely young woman – and with such an important patron as The Dragonborn.
Last-minute good wishes were distributed to the couple from various Suite employees, most of whom knew Lydia from her months as a resident here. Katja’s checklist was produced and double-checked, then they all stepped out onto the front porch and she gathered them around her. Here goes! After a few seconds of blackness, they found themselves standing in bright morning sunshine just inside the gates of Riften. Katja was relieved to find the entire party here and accounted for.
Anja, who did not remember her only other fast-travelling experience (having been unconscious at the time), was riveted. “Ooh!” she exclaimed. “Where are we?” She clung to Lydia’s skirts, her little hands fortunately having been cleaned after supper.
“This is Riften, Ani,” Lydia told her. “We’re here for the wedding!” Anja had thought of little else since the idea had first been explained to her, and she was so excited at the thought that she brushed aside her unease at their translocation in a moment.
They took a little while to orient themselves, then began walking down the street to their left, heading toward the Temple of Mara. From the activity in the central marketplace ahead of them, it was just around 8 in the morning – as planned. They were pleased to encounter Jarl Balgruuf and his party as they approached the temple, coming in the other direction after having put up for the night with Jarl Maven Blackbriar at Mistveil Keep. He’d brought along his two eldest children; and as his wife was long deceased, his housecarl Irileth also accompanied him.
Greetings were exchanged at the entry to the temple, and Balgruuf smiled avuncularly at Lydia. By the Divines, the girl had turned into a beauty! He remembered her as a half-starved orphan lurking around the kitchens at Dragonsreach, then as a grim and doughty warrior seldom to be seen without full armor. But now! He felt quite pleased with the arrangements that he and Proventus had worked out with The Dragonborn regarding this young woman’s future. She surely deserved all the best.
The party, jostling a bit, climbed the steps of the Temple and entered through the doors. It was now approaching 8:30, and the priests and priestesses were getting ready for the ceremony to begin. Lydia, Anja, and Argis took a bench at one side of the altar for now, while Katja, Wyll, and Anders sat on the other. The rest of the wedding guests, certainly not a large group, took seats on benches in rows behind them. The entire temple, fully packed, would not hold much more than two dozen people. Weddings in Skyrim were not usually large affairs.
They all sat talking quietly, waiting for Maramal to arrive. He appeared in a few minutes and engaged in some consultation with the happy couple and their adopted daughter, then had a few words with Katja and her posse. A little while later he indicated it was time to begin. While he stood near the altar Anja, who’d been given a basket of flowers cut with short stems, walked up the aisle between the rows of benches. She was dropping the blossoms to either side of her in time with her steps, and grinning from ear to ear as all those assembled grinned back at her.
Behind her, Argis and Lydia walked hand in hand. For the moment, their attention was focused on the little gamin who had brought them together and was ushering them into a new life. As Anja approached the altar Wyll, Katja, and Anders stood to the right and Anja joined them – standing on Wyll’s left. He patted her shoulder and gave her a smile to let her know she’d done an excellent job. Her little face was shining like the sun, joy rendered solid.
Lydia and Argis reached the altar, standing before Maramal with Anja and Wyll on Argis’ right hand. Then Maramal began the ceremony. “It was Mara that first gave birth to all of creation and pledged to watch over us as her children. It is from her love of us that we first learned to love one another. It is from this love that we learn that a life lived alone is no life at all. We gather here today, under Mara’s loving gaze, to bear witness to the union of two souls in eternal companionship. May they journey forth together in this life and the next, in prosperity and poverty, and in joy and hardship. Do you agree to be bound together, in love, now and forever?”
His question was initially directed to Lydia. She had been gazing at the young Redguard priest, but now turned her shining eyes to Argis. “I do,” she said proudly. “Now and forever.”
Maramal repeated the question to Argis, who also replied, his deep voice rumbling with emotion, “I do. Now and forever.”
Wyll handed the rings to Maramal and he continued, “Under the authority of Mara, the Divine of Love, I declare this couple to be wed. I present to the two of you these matching rings, blessed by Mara’s divine grace. May they protect each of you in your new life together.”
So simple a ceremony, and so brief. The effort to bring all these people together had taken a hundred times as long, and more. But it was all worth it! Argis slipped one of the rings onto Lydia’s finger, and she did the same for him. Then they kissed, a gesture that started out chaste and ended up with a little heat trail that suggested there would be fireworks back at Breezehome tonight.
After that the happy couple thanked Maramal and Katja gave him yet another “donation.” The wedding guests clustered around to congratulate them, and Katja said “I think it’s time. Jarl Balgruuf, might I get you to do the honors?” She passed him a sheaf of papers she’d been keeping in the bag she carried with her when she was dressed more formally and didn’t want to lug a pack.
The old man, so often grim and careworn, grinned. Katja had a brief glimpse of the vigorous young Nord he must have been back around the time her parents were starting to eye one another with interest. He drew himself up, aware of his own importance. “Lydia,” he said, “it’s my pleasure on behalf of the Hold of Whiterun to thank you for your years of faithful service. I am hereby releasing you from your oath, so that you can live your life as you wish. Should you desire to continue in service to the Hold, that will be your choice. But you are now freed from all prior obligations. And in recognition of the service you have already given, I present you with this token of our gratitude.” He deposited a purse of gold in her hand, along with a parchment declaring her obligations to the Hold concluded.
Lydia was stunned. Her oath of service, given to Jarl Balgruuf when she was barely into womanhood, had given her a sense of purpose in life. But she now had a new purpose, and she’d been wondering how that purpose was going to conflict with her preexisting obligations. Now she found herself free, and incidentally quite a bit richer. “My Jarl! Thank you!” she curtsied to him, liking the way the silken fabric of her dress rustled as she did so.
Balgruuf was not finished, however. “It has come to my attention that you and your new husband have been acting as parents toward a young orphan girl” – he nodded toward Anja, who was taking this all in goggle-eyed – “originally from the Hold of The Reach. Is that not right?” Lydia and Argis nodded a little uncertainly. Balgruuf smiled at them. “Have no fear! I have received confirmation from the Jarl of The Reach that he has no claim on this child. Therefore, I am confirming you two as the official and legal parents of… Anja, is it?” He glanced at the girl again. My, she was cute.
Anja, Lydia, and Argis all nodded in unison. Jarl Balgruuf handed them another signed and sealed document. Then he went on, “You are now truly a family, but you do not have a family name. At the behest of The Dragonborn, to whom you have given steadfast service, I am pleased to grant you this official patent establishing the Clan of Steadfast. Henceforth you will be known as Lydia Steadfast, Argis Steadfast, and Anja Steadfast, and this clan name will pass to your descendants.”
Lydia and Argis were stunned. To be granted a name for their House was almost the same as being elevated to the nobility! But what of Argis’s obligations to The Reach? At this point Katja stepped in, trying hard to suppress a grin though delight was practically seeping out of her pores. Wyll and Anders, as surprised by all of this as anybody, were just watching her in love and admiration as she made things happen.
“Thank you, Jarl Balgruuf, for all you have done. I have my own contribution to add. Argis, I have made arrangements with Jarl Thongvor Silver-Blood, who inherited your oath to The Reach with his accession to the Jarlship. He has happily agreed to release you from that oath.” She handed a sealed document to Argis.
Igmund, who was standing close, patted Argis on the shoulder. “Congratulations, boy,” he said quietly and with glee.
Argis took the paper with a smile of satisfaction. Since the change in Jarlship, he had felt a little like a slave who’s been sold down the river. “Thank you,” he murmured.
“And there is one last thing,” Katja said – the smile finally escaping her not-so-well-schooled face to glow like the sun on all assembled there. “I have in my hand the deed to Breezehome cottage. It has duly been transferred to Argis and Lydia Steadfast, signed and sealed by Proventus Avenicci.” She passed it over to Lydia, knowing full well who’d be presiding over that little home.
Lydia’s face lit up, and she whooped. They were free, Anja was theirs, and they owned their home outright! Life opened up before her like a vision of Sovngarde. Only without quite so many battle-axes. And with lots more adorable babies and little children. “Thank you, thank you, Katja!” she exclaimed. “Clan Steadfast owes you everything, and we will be eternally grateful.” She gulped a little, and then her happiness spilled out of her and she decided not to try holding it back any longer.
“I have my own announcement to make,” she said. “Before this year is out, Anja will have a baby brother or sister.” This was not news to Katja, but certain other members of Lydia’s audience were riveted by the announcement.
Anders and Wyll were surprised and delighted, and Argis was well-nigh floored. “Liddy!” he exclaimed, his one eye alight with love and joy. He drew her into his arms and kissed her thoroughly, never mind the damn dress. She didn’t object in the slightest.
The party broke up at this point and they left the Temple, allowing Maramal and his coreligionists to prepare for the next wedding. As this was the only temple in Skyrim devoted exclusively to Mara, it got the lion’s share of the province’s wedding business. They milled around on the sidewalk, and Katja suggested that they all repair to the nearby Bee and Barb for some celebratory drinks before their return to Whiterun. It would likely be 10 in the evening on this day, the 17th, before they were back.
Everyone liked this idea; and Keerava and Talen-Jei, the Argonian proprietors of the Bee and Barb, were not displeased with it either. Katja passed a large quantity of gold across to the respectable-looking lizard matron, then slipped away in the hubbub and made her way across to Madesi’s jewelry stand in the marketplace. “Ah, Dragonborn! You have returned as promised,” he said in his curiously dry voice. Did you expect me not to? she wondered.
“The rings are ready?” Katja asked, skipping the bush-beating with her usual direct approach. Argonian faces could not precisely smile, or maybe it was better to say that they were formed in a permanent smile; but in any case Madesi looked pleased.
“Ah, yesss… I think that you will like them.” He reached under the stall and produced a small velvet bag, spilling the rings out onto a velvet-lined tray atop the counter. The fabric set off the glimmer of the gold and gems that were his stock in trade.
They were locked into their joined forms, each consisting of sinuous bands of gold in colors of yellow, red, and bronze; but the jeweler took a ring in his scaled and clawed hands and demonstrated how it came apart to form three separate rings. It was exactly as Katja had conceived it, but had not had the skill herself to turn into reality. “Madesi!” These are wonderful!” she exclaimed, then looked about her. She didn’t have much time. Paying him the additional gold they’d agreed on – and a hefty tip besides – she tucked the rings in their velvet pouch into her bag. Then, thanking Madesi again, she hastened back to the nearby inn.
No one appeared to have noticed her absence. The mood was jubilant, and everyone was toasting and chattering away, delighted with the wedding and all that had come after it. Mindful of the time, Katja called for everyone’s attention. “It will be late when we get back to Whiterun,” she pointed out. “I think that we should return now. Jarl Balgruuf, unless you’ve made other arrangements, I’d like to try to include you and your guests in our party for fast-traveling.”
He smiled at her. “It should work,” he said, “from my experience with these things you can take up to a couple of dozen people with you provided your mind is strong enough.” They all looked at him questioningly. He looked mildly embarrassed. “In my youth,” he added, “we used to use them for transporting raiding parties…”
Katja smiled radiantly. “Well then,” she said brightly. “No problem! Shall we gather outside?” They all gathered around: Katja, Anders, Wyll, the newly-made Steadfast clan, Igmund and Raerek, Balgruuf and his small entourage. Katja enfolded them with her mind and wished them all back in the direction of Whiterun. Out of respect for the Jarl, their first stop was at Dragonsreach. “See you at the party tomorrow?” she asked.
“Wouldn’t miss it,” he promised. Addressing Argis he added, “Take care of those girls, young fellow. You’re a lucky man.”
Argis nodded, murmuring “I know.”
They debated whether to fast-travel down to Breezehome, and decided to walk instead as it was a pleasant night. Katja’s only concern was for Raerek, but he navigated the many steps down to the lower city with a sprightly air, requiring only an arm from his nephew in the way of assistance. At the door of Breezehome, Lydia, Argis, and Anja (who was beginning to wilt, it being well past her bedtime), thanked and hugged the rest of the party before bidding them good night. They’d all be walking down to the Suite tomorrow after lunch for the party celebrating their marriage.
Katja then fast-traveled herself, Wyll, Anders, and the two old men from Markarth back to the Suite. By now it was well past 11 p.m., and their elderly companions thanked her for the enjoyable experience before heading right upstairs to bed. The life of the Suite at this late hour had mostly subsided, and no one was around the common room but Ellis, a couple of night-owl guests, and young Larissa. She greeted Katja saying “Oh, good! Your hairstyle has survived beautifully!”
Katja patted her ’do, realizing that is was in fact still perfectly arrayed atop her head. Of course, it had only been around 4 hours of subjective time since it was first arranged. Still… “Thank you, Larissa!” she said. “I really appreciate your help. You’ll do it again for me next month?”
The Elf woman smiled shyly. “I’d be delighted to, Dragonborn,” she said.
“Please, call me Katja.” There were a few occasions where she valued her fame and was happy to be identified as The Dragonborn; but not with people that she interacted with as friends. Larissa smiled, and went back to her duties. There was a lot of clearing-up to be done after a typical evening at the Suite.
Though the hour was late and they had a busy day tomorrow, the three were not yet ready to turn in. They’d lost a full day in fast-travelling, but they needed time to decompress, and to savor the emotions that had been provoked by that day’s momentous events. They decided to take a soak in the hot pool together, and since there was almost nobody around they stripped on the spot and hopped right in. Before disrobing completely, Katja had a thought and asked Ellis, “Did the chairs and tables get here?”
“All good,” he replied. “Actually, they brought a couple more chairs than they’d promised. Oh, and the musicians from Solitude came in too. Lane put them out in the tent, and they were fine with it.”
Katja smiled in relief. After weeks of planning and organizing, the culmination of some of those plans had driven others completely out of her mind. “Thank you, Ellis,” she said sincerely. Then she dropped her drawers and stepped into the pool with (in her opinion, at least), the two finest men in Tamriel. Probably, all of Nirn. She slipped in between and put an arm around each of them. Not that she could get her small, slender, but well-muscled arms very far around either of these exemplary hunks. Love welled up in her like a hot spring, bubbling to the surface and suffusing her with joy.
Her guys were less overcome. “Kat, that was sensational,” Wyll said. “I had no idea what you were up to. And then, when Balgruuf started in…” he lapsed into a happy grin, reaching down to squeeze her naked body.
“And Lydia’s announcement,” Anders threw in. That had struck him to the core, watching Argis’ reaction to the news that he would soon be the father of a new baby. He wanted that more than anything, wanted to hold his child – and Kat’s – in his arms. “Did you know?...”
Katja smiled and squeezed his thigh. “She told me a couple of days ago,” she admitted. “But I don’t think anyone else knew. Certainly not Argis, and Anja wouldn’t have a clue. But the signs were there, if you thought about it. I’ve got a couple of much younger siblings, so I watched my mom through two pregnancies. I hope everything goes all right.” A silent prayer went up from all three of them to the Divines, Mara in particular, for the health of Lydia’s unborn child.
They all sat there soaking and enjoying the hot water and warm feelings for a while. Then Katja sighed. “Well, we’re up next. I hope you guys are ready for this.” The two of them exchanged glances over her head, confirming that they were, indeed ready. Except for the fact that their home was little more than half finished. Then Katja added, “But first, a party!”