“Wow,” Tara said.
“Impressive, isn’t it?” Katla said.
Tara and Katla were walking up the long, stone stairs that wound their way up to Dragonsreach, the jarl’s home and, well, castle. It didn’t look like a castle in Cyrodiil, or in High Rock, but its distinctive design made a lasting impression.
Rich wood pillars holding up an overhang with intricate carvings were the first visual sight. Dragonsreach sat at the highest point of the bluff Whiterun was built upon. The different levels of the city rose along the bluff, and Dragonsreach was the epitome of it all. To call it a longhouse was insult, though it was one, a Nord longhouse in the most splendid way.
It was a busy place, numerous people passed them going to and fro, as they crossed the bridge over the moat and stream that surrounded it. Two guards stood outside the massive, carved wooden doors.
Stepping inside, a great hall greeted them. Servants were sweeping the rugs. The place was immaculate. Wood benches lined the sides close to the entry. Up some steps was a long dining table, food spread out. Pillars reached high to the peaked ceiling. At the far end of the room, was the throne. Jarl Balgruuf sat on it. Next to him stood the man Tara and Katla were here to see, his steward, Proventus Avenicci.
Tara immediately liked Balgruuf. His face was serious, with a sense of noble cause. Not noble snobbery. He looked like someone who’d earned the right to sit on the throne, not been sat there due to birth order.
Proventus, an Imperial, indicated for them to approach him. Katla had already told Tara not to consider disturbing the jarl.
“The stewards handle all the day to day minor business, like bounty payments,” she’d said as they traveled to Whiterun.
Tara let her take the lead, and Katla chatted with Proventus and collected the bounty. They’d brought along the bandit chief’s journal as proof. While Katla handled things, Tara studied the rest of the patrons in the hall.
The most impressive was Balgruuf’s housecarl, or bodyguard. Tara wasn’t sure if they used the term housecarl in Skyrim. The woman, a Dunmer, had the look of an experienced fighter. Not someone to mess with. Three kids were running around, two boys and a girl. Tara assumed they were the jarl’s children.
She spied a room off to the side, and noticed an enchanting table within. Was there a court wizard here? Maybe she could ask them questions about the College of Winterhold. Tara was about to ask Katla to wait while she inquired, when Katla surprised her.
“I need to see the court wizard, Farengar,” she said, after handing over the money from the bounty payment.
Tara smiled. “Great. I actually wanted to meet him.”
“I, um, can you wait out here?” Katla said. “I want to see him alone.”
Tara gave her a quizzical look. Katla gave her a wan smile in return.
“I…look, I’m not ready to talk about this yet,” she said. Her eyes dug into Tara’s. “I will, though. Just…give me time?”
Tara could see pain, and vulnerability, in Katla’s eyes. She nodded. “Okay.”
She sat at small table outside the entryway to the wizard’s study. She wanted to be respectful to Katla, keep her head turned away and not listen to anything she could gleam from her and Farenger’s conversation. She was too curious, though. She stole glances as she could and strained to pick up some words, some hints.
Katla kept her voice low, but Farenger’s naturally carried, and he seemed to not understand, or care, about the privacy Katla was angling for.
Tara saw Katla hand him something small, something that fit in one hand. She couldn’t tell what it was, as Katla blocked her view with her body.
At least I can admire her backside, Tara thought to herself.
Whatever the object, Farenger seemed to turn it over in his hands for several minutes, before answering Katla’s questions and handing it back.
“Not in my…” “You’d want…” “…the volume…” “Perhaps ask U…” “In the Ar…” “…hold”
Tara tried to commit the words to memory. She hadn’t heard enough to understand anything. But, “…hold”. That had sounded like the end of a word. Winterhold, perhaps? Did Katla now need to go to Winterhold?
Give her time. She wants to tell you.
Katla stepped out of the study and smiled down at Tara. “Ready?”
As they stepped outside of Dragonsreach and made their way down the stairs, Tara asked, “So, where to? The Bannered Mare?”
Katla seemed distracted, lost in thought. “Oh, yes. I could use a drink.”
The Bannered Mare was crowded. It was mid-afternoon, but drinking seemed to be in full swing for many patrons. Nords and their drinking, Tara thought.
A gorgeous, voluptuous Redguard woman, Saadia, took their order. Katla had found them a table in a back corner. She again sat in a chair that angled her to have full view of the main door. Tara had noticed a second entrance, in the kitchen. She wasn’t sure if Katla had seen it, so she took the chair that let her catch a glimpse of it. She felt like she was on guard duty. Whoever Katla was always on the lookout for, Tara wanted answers soon. She couldn’t protect her if she didn’t know who Katla was afraid of.
They listened to the bard, someone had called him Mikael, for a bit. Tara couldn’t put her finger on it, but he rubbed her the wrong way. A blond Nord woman reminded Tara of Freta, as she sat nearby, dressed in steel armor, boasting of adventures. The pang of sadness didn’t cut as deep as it once had.
Drinks arrived and they enjoyed them slowly, and quietly. Katla stayed lost in thought. Tara threw out an occasional observation about someone. Katla would nod in agreement, then drift back into her own thoughts.
“And then Nazeem grabbed me and kissed me hard. I gutted him for that,” Tara said.
Katla nodded, looking distant. Then, she looked at Tara, confused. “What?”
“Welcome back.” Tara winked.
Katla laughed. “Sorry. Guess I’m not very good company at the moment.”
“See what happens when you leave me alone,” Tara said. “I make up stories about people you’ve warned me about.” Katla had pointed out Nazeem when they first arrived in Whiterun, pulling her out of his way. Apparently, he liked to brag about his wealth, by asking if people had been to the Cloud district of the city. Tara still wasn’t sure if Katla had pulled her away for her sake, or his.
Katla laughed. “I see. Not very original ones, either. Everyone wants to gut Nazeem.”
“I fed him to the slaughterfish? Tossed him on a giant’s bonfire?”
Katla winked. “Slaughterfish. Go with that one.”
Katla stayed present and they chatted about the patrons. One stand out was a red-haired Nord woman with stunning tattoos over her body.
“Her name is Danyca,” Katla said. “I met her on my last visit. A bit quiet, but there’s some fire there.”
“Are you making assumptions about redheads?” Tara asked. She wanted to sound insulted, but, wouldn’t that prove the point?
Katla gave her a grin. “I’m stating facts, milady.”
They both laughed.
As afternoon turned to evening, The Bannered Mare continued to get crowded. Tara noticed Katla get lost in thought again.
“Do you want to rent a room here, or…” she asked.
“No.” Katla stood. “Let’s camp outside the city. Where it’s quieter. Less crowded.”
They found a place to camp in a small grove of trees, within sight of the city walls, and not too far from a nearby watchtower. A Khajiit caravan was camped outside the city, as well. The area felt safe to Tara. Just enough people around, between the stables, farms, and the caravan, but the trees offered them privacy and a way to be out of sight.
They setup camp and made a small fire. Katla joked a little, but continued to get lost in thought.
Don’t pry, Tara reminded herself. It was frustrating. The woman was clearly upset by whatever Farenger had told her.
“I know I haven’t been good company since I met with Farenger,” Katla said. She offered a small smile. Her eyes held a sadness.
“I want to help,” Tara said. “Something’s bothering you.”
“I’ll…” Katla paused. “I’ll tell you a few things tomorrow. I…” She paused again. “It’s not easy for me to trust. But you’ve been patient and I…I really like you.” Another pause. “Maybe tomorrow, we can answer questions back and forth? Share more?”
Her eyes were imploring. Tara felt her heart skip a beat.
She smiled. “I’d like that. I certainly have stories to tell.”
“Thank you,” Katla said. “Can you take first watch?”
Tara nodded. “I’ll watch over you.”
She realized she’d now said that to Katla every night since they’d started traveling together. She liked the way it sounded.
Unlike those other nights, this one didn’t stay quiet.
(Check out the Danyca follower mod on Nexus, to see the red haired Nord I mentioned in The Bannered Mare: Link)